As we embark on yet another faith-filled adventure of a New Year and with it the thought of all those New Year’s resolutions, I would like to invite you to reflect with me on Jesus’ words offered to the Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark:
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.
Jesus, throughout the Gospels, is always inviting us to examine and “re-view” the condition of our hearts above everything else. His words above, albeit confusing at first, shed light on His Heart and His promise to us: “I have come that they might have LIFE and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
I think we would all agree a more abundant life is what we pray and hope for at the beginning of each New Year. The rising question, however, is “how do we get there?” The answer, I believe Jesus offers us, is contained in His advice given to the Pharisees. He says the pathway to an abundant life lies within the condition of our hearts – the readiness of our “wineskins.” Our hearts like the wineskins, Jesus says, must be constantly renewed and “refreshed” ready to hold that new wine or grace He is always willing to give to us – and thus become for the world a witness of “grace at work.”
You see, the Pharisees were so concerned with the do’s and don’ts on their list that their identity, as children of God, was lost in a sea of narrow-minded laws and disciplines. They gave up the opportunity for new wine and new hearts! Even though the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed that God wanted to give them New Hearts all along (c.f. Ezekiel 11:19), they didn’t want to give up their “old wineskins” (old hearts) and place the “new wine” (grace) Jesus was offering them into “fresh wineskins” (converted hearts).
In fact, this is what happens to many people and their “New Years resolutions” when their hearts remain unchanged and unaffected by Grace. They sometimes end up rejecting their resolutions because they had nowhere to store the new wine that Jesus offered them. They couldn’t see beyond the “do’s and don’ts” – the “idols” they had created for themselves are powerless towards true change. We must never allow our resolutions to become idols separated from the truth and light of Grace within our hearts. For only those who are pure in heart will see what God is truly offering them (c.f. Matt 5:8).
And so, in this sense, I would offer that the goals and resolutions we set every year are re-viewed according to the condition of our hearts. “Re-viewed” so that we’re careful the “new wine” (grace-filled change) Jesus offers us this New Year isn’t going to be poured into the same old “wine-skins” or wasted in a bucket of “empty promises” we often leave ourselves with. But, that our hearts are truly renewed and store within them the new wine, the new life, the new truth of who we are and meant to be.
Thus, in keeping our hearts renewed, we prevent the grace-filled resolutions (“new wine”) we accept from Him for this New Year from becoming just another space to fill up on the old “to-do” list (“old wineskins”) that is quickly abandoned and lost altogether.
Jesus, this New Year, is offering us an opportunity to really accept something completely new and re-energizing –a new heart ready for His grace to fill it and complete it. I’m talking about experiencing a real encounter with Jesus and a true conversion of the heart!
I believe that understanding our New Year’s resolutions from this perspective will inevitably lead us to a deeper relationship with Him and most certainly place us on the road to becoming the person we’re meant to be – physically, mentally, spiritually, the best version of yourself! At last, new wine in fresh wineskins!
Bart Zalvetta is a member of the Theology Department of Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska
The arrival of New Year’s Day often brings with it resolutions, goals, and new words or phrases that help us try to shape the next 365 days before us. Things like healthy eating, stricter budgets, more time spent in prayer, and increased amounts of exercise define our drives for self-improvement. We give extra time to turn our focus inward to make ourselves stronger, smarter, holier, and healthier. In an attempt to change our lifestyles, we might separate ourselves from our previous habits, relationships, or preferences so that we can sharpen our focus even more on self-growth. We hone our discipline and increase our self-reliance in the name of improvement. In the new year, our focus is often inward.
While this inward focus isn’t harmful in itself, we might find ourselves stuck in our self-reliance. Now that a few weeks into the new year have passed, many of those resolutions, goals, and mantras might have faded into the background of post-holiday life. At this point, many of us have lapsed in our new practices, or we might have abandoned our resolutions altogether. We might find ourselves isolated in the new patterns we have picked up or starting to flounder due to a lack of support. Even though our New Year’s resolutions may have been made with the best or holiest of intentions, we might find ourselves failing without others to encourage us, support us, or hold us accountable. While the new year is the time when our focus is inward, the weeks soon after, when our discipline begins to wane, give us cause to lean outward.
What would it look like to lean outward in our resolutions in the weeks ahead by seeking others to help us carry them out? Why might allowing ourselves to be helped by others and accompanied by them lead us to a more meaningful and spiritually significant pursuit of our resolutions?
Though as Catholics we frequently hear about accompaniment in a context of explicitly spiritual progression, its fruitfulness is still applicable in non-explicitly spiritual goals in an informal sense. As the final document from the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment reminds us, “accompaniment cannot limit itself to the path of spiritual growth and to the practices of the Christian life” (Final Synod Document, 94). Accompaniment can help us experience transformation in many areas of our lives in addition to our spiritual life, as it “fosters growth in holiness through everyday circumstances and interests” (The Art of Accompaniment, 15). Though on the surface it may look like simply reaching out for the help of a friend, seeking out accompaniment to help us carry out our New Year’s resolutions has a deep theological and spiritual significance. Accompaniment is a form of “bear[ing] one another’s burdens [in order to] fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). When we seek another’s help to bear our burdens, experiences, hopes, and challenges, we open ourselves up to be in communion with someone else; we profess that we were created by God out of love, to love, and to be loved by others. Accompaniment is a simple way by which we actively remember that “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). When we seek the help of another, we affirm the beauty of being human: we’re not meant to live life completely on our own effort and initiative.
Having a good listener, mentor, or friends helps us to turn our inward focus in our resolutions outward. We no longer remain alone in our efforts, strivings, or discipline. The support of another trusted person helps us remain steadfast in our resolution to be healthier, spend more responsibly, or love more generously. This support can take the form of a quick text from an accountability partner to check in on our progress, or a weekly meet-up with a mentor to discuss our challenges. Similarly, we can seek more formal relationships of accompaniment to help meet our goals. Beginning a relationship with a therapist might help us explore more deeply our relationship with others or just as seeking the help of a personal trainer might allow us to have the added accountability to eat more nutritiously or get physically fit. Relying on others in the pursuit of transforming ourselves reminds us of the beautiful gift of being human: as human beings, we can have a profound effect on one another in providing support, love, and encouragement in growing into the people God has destined us to be.
Whether sought out in a formal or informal sense, accompaniment challenges us to let ourselves be loved by others in the simplicity and complexity of our everyday life. Allowing ourselves to be supported by others, even in something as simple as our New Year’s resolutions, reveals the deep significance of others to our vocation to holiness.
Colleen Campbell is a collaborator of the Catholic Apostolate Center, and a 3rd year PhD student studying Catechetics at The Catholic University of America. She holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and a BA in Pastoral Ministry from the University of Dallas. Colleen is also an alumna of Notre Dame’s Echo program, where she served in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. She is co-author of The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church.