By MARK WOOLSEY, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 9, 2020
ATLANTA—It’s the time of the year when millions of Americans are buckling down to their New Year’s resolutions. That can be a tall order: Statisticians say 45% of Americans will make a resolution at the dawn of each calendar year, but only 8% of them will still be following the script 365 days later.
That sounds familiar to Father Mark White, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, one of a number of clergy and laypeople in the Archdiocese of Atlanta taking on faith-based resolutions for 2020.
“I’m always kind of making resolutions,” he chuckled. “I just wish I was better at keeping them.”
To be sure, secular intentions such as losing weight, exercising more, stopping smoking and learning a new skill rear their predictable heads year after calendar year. That said, faith-based resolutions also seem to stake out familiar turf. They might be more concrete and demonstrable, such as going to confession more, eliminating less-than-optimal habits and stepping up volunteer work, or more reflective of such inner practices as more concentrated and fervent prayer.
There’s one commonality and Kathy Hoffman, who attends St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta and directs interfaith religious classes, sums it up neatly.
“My goal for this year is to become a better disciple and better reflection of Christ’s love and compassion in the world,” said Hoffman.
Father White’s faith intention for 2020 sits squarely in both camps. He says that when he establishes a resolution he does so “with the underlying thought of what are better ways to receive the gift of a deeper relationship with God” and how lifting into that higher spiritual realm can be a better gift to others.
His resolutions involve daily bread.
“I’m going to go back to fasting on Fridays,” he says. “I plan to be more intentional on that.” He also wants to push back from the table more readily, utilizing an app that aids in counting calories and making better food choices.
“If I eat right, I pray better” is how he put it.
A way of life
Prayer also is a major part of the mental landscape for Brother Callistus Crichlow, OCSO, of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, but for him it doesn’t seem to boil down so neatly to a specific pledge.
“We live a life of continual resolution,” is his contention. “We pray to become more fervent in our devotion to God. Each year we seek to go deeper into his presence.”
In line with that, Brother Callistus looks to double down on prayer, silence and the spiritual practices of his Trappist order.
Another change in interior outlook is on the radar for Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.
“Recently my sister pointed out to me that I seemed to be distracted. Rather than being present with her in the moment, I seemed to be focusing on getting the visit done so I can look at the next item on my agenda,” said Bishop Shlesinger in a narrative. “So my spiritual resolution is to better journey with Christ in the moment and to better discern his will for me in the momentary situations that I encounter.”
Sister Mary Priniski, OP, vicar for religious, has a similar resolution involving paying attention.
“The Gospels tell us that we never know the day or the hour that the Master will come. I believe that we also don’t always know where or through whom we’ll meet the Christ,” said Sister Mary. “Therefore, since I can get caught up in my own agenda, for me there is always a need to pay attention.”
Other resolutions hinge less on the mental interior and more on demonstrable action aimed at both self-improvement and at bettering the lives of others.
Al Hardee, a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, says he can be rough on himself as he assesses his faith and practices and looks to improve in concrete ways, such as going to confession more and guarding himself against slips into inappropriate language.
Fellow parishioner Bob Wannemacher also hits the “keep doing what you’re doing” button. He’ll continue volunteering at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, spending time with terminally ill patients and talking to them about their fears and hopes.
“It allows me to just appreciate the fact that dying is a natural part of life and is something to anticipate rather than fear,” said Wannemacher.
For others still, 2020 will mark a return, as opposed to a continuation, of such volunteer work.
Mike Lynch attends St. Anthony of Padua Church in Atlanta but has set his sights on the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, vowing to pitch in again with the twice-yearly Cursillo retreats there after time away.
“I got busy with work and married life and moving to a new home for a couple of years,” admits Lynch. “I need to get away from busy daily life and recharge the battery.”
Even though only a small fraction of those making New Year’s resolutions of any sort will see them through to the end, clergy and laypeople in the archdiocese exude an air of iron-willed determination.
Lynch says that as long as he glimpses a bit of progress at the outset of the journey, his track record of keeping his vows is very good.
“I don’t make a lot of resolutions but the ones I do I stick to,” said Hardee. “And as far as the church goes, I don’t have a problem seeing them through because I enjoy it so much.”
And as 2020 begins, Msgr. Henry Gracz of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta is working toward being civic-minded as it relates to his faith.
“My resolution is to be doing careful research on the candidates who are afforded to us and hoping they reveal the entire spectrum of concern for life,” said Msgr. Gracz. “Given the tribalism we are experiencing in our country and the division that’s causing, the Gospel is the one unifying thing.”
For Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor and director of the permanent diaconate, he is going to try and create a greater sense of balance. Deacon Dorner expressed gratitude for his wife of 47 years and how well she is doing after a trying year.
“Life is precious and as we have learned in the past few months can be very fleeting,” he said. “Taking, no making the time to be with and enjoying life with those closest to us is really important.”
Staff Writer Samantha Smith contributed to this story.