New Year resolutions courtesy of St Ignatius

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12 Dec 2019

‘Make your resolutions in the morning, and twice during the day make the examen’, St Ignatius once wrote.

It’s that time when people reflect on the start of the New Year, and discern what changes they might make in the way they live in the world.

The founder of the Jesuits was a proponent of making discernment an ongoing part of one’s life. It’s one thing to make resolutions today, but how can we make behavioural changes that will continue to hold us in good stead throughout the year?

Here’s a few Ignatian ideas for New Year resolutions that are worth trying.

1. Be slower and more considerate in speaking

Our world is wired for fast communication. On social media we’re fed quick news grabs and headlines, and asked for our instant reaction. This feeds a culture that thrives on outrage and emotion, rather than reflection and compassion – and that culture is now shaping people’s day to day interactions as well.

In response we can commit to taking more time to listen and take in different perspectives before we offer any opinions ourselves. As Ignatius advises Jesuits:

‘Be considerate and kind, especially when it comes to deciding on matters under discussion… Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus, you will better know when to speak and when to be silent.

‘If the matters being discussed are of such a nature that you cannot or ought not to be silent, then give your opinion with the greatest possible humility and sincerity, and always end with the words salvo meliori iudicio—with due respect for a better opinion.’

2. Do some small good each day

In the Ignatian worldview, everything in our lives is done in the service of God’s greater good. We may have our daily needs, and the work we need to do to sustain ourselves, but our broader objective is always what helps bring ourselves and others into closer relationship with God.

Many people resolve to become more involved in charitable works such as joining a soup van as a volunteer, or doing a fun run to raise money for charity. Unfortunately, these big ideas can often be set aside as the busyness of the year takes over. To avoid this, commit to smaller, everyday good works. These might be offering encouragement to a colleague each day, or making regular donations to charity. 

These small acts are just as important in our journeys toward God. As Ignatius writes:

‘We should never postpone a good work, no matter how small it may be, with the thought of later doing something greater. It is a very common temptation of the enemy to be always placing before us the perfection of things to come and bring us to make little of the present.’

3. Regularly seek feedback and wisdom

An important aspect of Jesuit community life is meeting with a superior, receiving feedback and advice on how to better go about one’s life.

Ignatius suggested to Jesuits that rather than dwelling on the imperfections of others, their time was better spent discovering their own imperfections.

‘Here’s a bit of advice: sincerely humble yourself before your superior, seek his help, open your heart to him in confession or in whatever way you like, and gladly and devoutly accept the remedy he prescribes.’

For most of us who aren’t living in communities with superiors, we might commit ourselves in the new year to finding someone we trust and respect, and spend regular time with them exploring what we might do to be more loving people.

Says Ignatius: ‘To make progress in the practice of virtue, it is of great advantage to have a friend, whom you yourself have chosen, to advise you of your faults.’

4. Make prayer a part of your life (and your life a part of prayer)

It’s hard to find time for prayer, but making space for God in our lives is a vital to our spiritual growth. As Ignatius wrote to Jesuits:

‘I must remind you to frequent the sacraments, to read spiritual books, and to pray with as much recollection as you possibly can. Every day set aside some time so that the soul will not be without its food and, thus, you will not be induced to complain like the one who said “My heart has withered because I have forgotten to eat my bread” (Psalm 102:4)‘

However, we don’t necessarily always have to take time out of our lives for our prayer. One thing to consider in the new year is considering how we can be more conscious of God even as we go about our day to day activities. So long as our lives are lived with a view to how we are serving and following God in all we do, everything that’s part of our life can become a form of prayer.

‘Since your studies do not give you much time for anything else, not even prayer, you may make up for this by your holy desires, that is, the time you spend on your studies becomes a continuous prayer for you have begun these only with a view to God’s service.’

Michael McVeigh is the Editor of Australian Catholics magazine, and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.
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