We count our years from the birth of Christ, and Christmas begins the year of the Lord 2023. The secular practice of making a resolution for the new year can find deeper meaning when connected to the birth of the savior. The focus on presents and cheer can overshadow the Christmas feast’s great transformative power. A resolution for the new year should begin at the manger, asking Jesus to draw us into the grace of his birth, as we reflect on how we need saving this Christmas. The baby Jesus comes in power, and his birth frees us and helps us to start again, renewed for the new year.
Rather than petering out by February, which happens all too often with New Year’s resolutions, a Catholic’s resolution should only intensify by the time we hit Lent. There is more of a connection between the seasons of Christmas and Lent than we might think. Jesus came into the world precisely to save us. He was born to die, offering his very life as a gift for our salvation. A great liturgical arc moves from Christmas (which finds its completion on the Presentation, Feb. 2) to Lent and finds its culmination in Easter, calling us to make a gift of our own selves in imitation of Jesus. As we bring our need for greater freedom to the creche in prayer, we may find the answer comes precisely as we take up the battle of prayer and fasting in Lent.
Men in particular should be challenged in this new year to embrace a greater call to Christian leadership. Our culture seeks to push men to the sidelines, preventing them from fighting to protect what our culture wants to undermine: the presence of God and strong families. To this end, a good New Year’s resolution for men could be, “This is the year that I will step up and embrace the fight for the good of my family and the Church!” This resolution will require getting in shape spiritually, doing the interior exercises needed to be fit and strong for a different kind of fight, one with an unseen enemy that uses all the distractions at hand to divide, distract and weaken. Rediscovering the will to enter this fight will go a long way.
Having worked in education in various capacities — in parishes, a college, a graduate program, and within a diocese — it is easy to get caught up in the obstacles to spreading the faith. The role of fathers continues to stand out in urgency as a solution. Every study on the faith-life of youth points to parents, and especially fathers, as the primary influence. Fathers are the spiritual leaders of families and, as John Paul II taught us, “the future passes by way of the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 86). I have come to the conclusion that supporting men in their faith life is the most urgent task to bolster our families, society and the Church.
Following this realization, I recently made a major career change, accepting a position as the Director of Content with Exodus 90. The organization was founded in 2015, growing out of seminary formation, in order to help men to find freedom through prayer, asceticism (cold showers, fasting, media fasting) and fraternity. Taking its inspiration from Israel coming out of Egypt, the 90 days help men to make a new start, breaking out of bad habits of distraction and addiction by focusing on God with the help of other men. A 90-day period seems to be enough to make real change, beginning to form habits that can last, finding freedom and starting to live differently.
We are losing the spiritual battle because there are simply too many forces working against our spiritual and familial life. Without taking a stand, saying “no,” and pulling back, we too easily get pulled away from what matters most. Exodus has found remarkable success in helping men to make a new start in pulling back from attachments to technology, overeating, wasteful spending and other unhealthy habits. This happens not simply by cutting these things off but by filling the empty space with a greater focus on God and others. Men have discovered a deeper prayer life as well as stronger relationships with their wife, children and friends.
Most often, men choose to start Exodus 90 so that it ends with the celebration of Easter, drawing out and intensifying the Lenten disciplines. That schedule begins this year on Jan. 9 (even though the program can be started at any time). It’s hard to keep up our resolutions and we need the support and friendship of fellow men. To do Exodus, therefore, you need to find a group of committed men with whom to journey. If you’re interested in starting, ask some other men in your parish, call your friends and family, or you can find other men online through the Exodus 90 app (www.exodus90.com). Exodus may be just what is needed to make a New Year’s resolution stick, to find the freedom we need for the battle, and to begin the path to living differently.