Over the past few days leading up to the celebration of the New Year, people across the world have given thought to their resolutions, by which is generally meant ways they might improve themselves.
Because the majority of people who make a New Year's resolution (however much care has been given to it) have no real intention of keeping them for more than a week or two into the new year, I have never taken such resolutions seriously. This morning, though, it occurred to me that New Year's Eve might be something like the secular version of Lent.
Lent, of course, begins with penance and sorrow for sins and and culminates in the great joy of the celebration of Easter. Throughout the season of Lent, we give something up or take on something additional (or both) with the goal - which is often forgotten - of helping us to grow in greater conformity to Christ.
New Year's Eve begins with the (usually) sad remembrance of the past year and hopes for the new year, and culminates in the celebration of the ticking of a clock (curious as that might be in a digital age). Before the stroke of midnight, a person should a resolution for the new year to become a better person, as it is often put.
Why do so many people fail to keep their New Year's resolutions? Our fallen human nature is certainly part of the answer, but part of the answer might also lie in the fact that there are no helps in the new year to encourage or remind a resolver about what he has committed himself to do. There is no real accountability; the resolution is simply up to the one making it.
Here, then, we see part of the beauty of Lent, which is not an individual but a communal act. While we decide to give something up or to do something extra on our own, we see others keeping their Lenten penances and are reminded about our own. What is more, our penances are made between us and God, which is why people regret breaking their Lenten penance (I've never known anyone to regret not keeping a New Year's resolution.)