It’s a new year, a new decade and a new beginning. Among all the goal setting, consider what you can do to transform your marriage.

Have you ever noticed that New Year resolutions often have a repentance nature? Resolutions such as ‘to drink less’ or ‘to give up smoking’ directly identify behaviours we readily associate with vice. Even those framed in the positive (e.g., ‘to get fit’) imply a rejection of the corresponding ‘negative’ behavior.

Repentance is central to the Gospel message. In the Advent readings we heard from St John the Baptist to “Repent! The Kingdom of God is near!” Jesus took up the theme of repentance in his preaching and ministry, dovetailing his healings with the command to ‘go and sin no more’.

Inherent to the New Year resolution is the idea of becoming a better person. No sane person aspires to drink more or learn how to smoke as a New Year goal. Yet so many of us fail to create the permanent change in ourselves that we seek. Why is that?

Date night – Catholic style

In the days before Christmas, we diarised a ‘date night’ to visit our local Cathedral to go to Reconciliation.

Waiting in a very long and slow line outside the confessional before Christmas, we were relieved after about thirty minutes to see another confessor take up residence in the next box.

Some preparation for an examination of conscience is always valuable, but too much time gives the devil more opportunity to talk us down from our good intentions. Many people gave up during the wait.

But not us. When the second confessional opened up, Francine moved like grease lighting, pausing only momentarily in a token gesture of politeness to the others waiting before she claimed her place at the throne of mercy.

Emerging after several minutes, she glanced over at Byron, still resolutely holding his ground in the original line with four others ahead of him. She said her penance prayers, twice. Still waiting.

A few other prayers. Still waiting.

Glancing over again at her slowly advancing husband she decided to visit the piety shop. Barely had she begun to browse than Byron appeared at her side. What? Wait? What happened?

Triumphantly, Byron explained that no sooner had he kneeled in the confessional than father said, “Make it quick, I have start Mass in two minutes!” Byron dutifully obliged and emerged with a smug look on his face suggesting to Francine that he needed to go straight back in… but alas! The opportunity had passed.

None-the-less, each forgiven, we moved into Christmas day with a lightness of heart and spirit.

A Transformation Road Map

Repentance is good for us. We all know this, yet, strangely, many Catholics no longer see participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as essential to the practice of their faith.

Prior to going to Reconciliation, we listened to a homily by Fr Jonathan Meyer from All Saints Parish, New Alsace, USA. In it, he outlined a process for making our confession a transformative experience; one that helps us confront the sin in our lives and root it out.

He pointed out that doing the penance afterwards should not be the last step. What we need to do at that point is to identify the counterpoint virtue to the sin we had confessed. So, if I routinely criticize my spouse, the counter virtues are humility and gratitude. If I am prone to lying and deceit, the counter virtues are honesty and courage.

He points out that we sin because we mistakenly believe that the sin will make us happy. We criticize because we hope it will relieve our feelings of frustration or inferiority, or we lie because we hope it will save us from embarrassment or trouble.

Yet sin never brings us happiness. Ultimately, it makes things worse for us. And it separates us from the God who loves us and desires to be one with us.

The next step according to Fr Jonathan, is to visualize ourselves acting and living that counter virtue. Look into the future and see that we will be so much happier if live the virtuous life rather than the sinful one.

Finally, he says to make a simple, practical plan to start practicing the virtue. For example, make a goal to affirm and appreciate our spouse every day.

This process builds a positive attraction to the good and a natural aversion to the sin by allowing us to experience the fruits of the virtuous life.

And when we back slide, as we inevitably will at some point, we repeat the process: confess the sin, receive forgiveness, do the penance, identify the counter virtue, visualize living the virtue, make a plan, and then act.

All personal growth takes persistence but if we don’t have a well-formed road map, we can easily be discouraged by setbacks.

With this in mind, it is easy to understand why most resolutions fail as they typically lack one or more of these elements. Think about the resolutions you have made… can they be improved by overlaying this road map for change?

Married Resolutions

As a married couple, our way to God is now through loving each other. Setting New Year resolutions, or annual goals or whatever we want to call it, is part of being intentional about our vocation.

That’s a great start but having good intentions is not generally enough to bring about sustained change.

For our resolutions need to persist beyond even the first month of the year, we need a concrete plan to confront and eliminate the negative behaviors in our life so the needed virtues can flourish. This way we can grow in holiness and in the process support each other in that journey.

A resolution according to Fr Jonathan Meyer’s road map is one that will have real sticking power. It takes the supernatural graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and backs it up with good psychology and practical life-skills.

And that surely is a resolution you can have and hold.