By: Paul Murano – Jan. 2020
New Year’s resolutions are common but often not all that successful. It makes you wonder why: If people are resolved to change a bad habit and replace it with something good, why is there such a poor success rate? The answer to this question lies at the heart of anthropology, psychology, and theology.
Isn’t a person’s will power enough to allow one to change lifestyle to a healthier and happier one? Experience tells us the answer is no. Compare the local gym the week after New Year’s Day with the gym a month later. You see the initial zeal and desire, but not the perseverance. Will power alone does not enable one to successfully persevere and overcome deeply ingrained habits.
The human being is a creature of habit. That is why it is so important to develop good habits. How many other animals are mired in bad habits… obsessed with food, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.? Only the human being has the ability to live contrary to his nature and against his own good.
Habits mold one’s character and lifestyle. They are either virtues or vices. Virtues lead to positive growth and integral fulfillment, while vices lead to wasted time and poor health (physical, mental, and/or spiritual).
We know vices impede life, and that they can easily develop into obsessions and addictions. Yet, as already noted, even the person of good will who wants to transform his vices into virtues can’t seem to do it alone. Vices become like little pits of quicksand from which one cannot seem to rescue oneself.
From a theological perspective, this is because original sin weakens our nature and gives us concupiscence – the tendency to sin. We know that choosing what is bad is irrational on a variety of levels; yet we choose it anyway. Once we delve into the vice, it is not easy to get out.
Twelve-step secular programs initiated by Alcoholics Anonymous acknowledge that one must depend on a higher power to be rescued from vice, obsession, and addiction. These programs reflect the age-old Christian claim that we need a Savior, that we cannot save ourselves from the mire of sin into which we’ve got ourselves. Christ came with a similar message: Choose to overcome your sins and vices and I will give you the means to do it. He does not command the impossible. As He states metaphorically: He is the vine, we are the branches, and His Father is the vine grower. The supernatural life (of grace) necessary to overcome sin and live life to its fullest is found in union with Him. When we live in vice, however, we spiritually die, being cut off from that Vine.
If we want to overcome those self-inflicted obstacles (vice) that hinder fullness of life – before we renew our gym membership we better first renew our relationship with God. We can’t drive a car without gas, or be physically fit without food. So too the human spirit has little chance to persevere in our resolutions of virtue without grace.
Paul is talk host of ‘Beneath the Surface’ radio and video podcasts, teaches college philosophy and theology, is a staff writer and producer. Check out Paul’s website at Paulmurano.com and email: PJDM@aol.com.