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New Year’s resolutions

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Every January, my husband and I do goal setting. We hire a babysitter, go out to the basement bar/restaurant at the Colonial Inn in Concord, eat a nice dinner and set our family, personal, professional, financial and “thing” goals for the year. It’s our version of setting New Year’s resolutions.

People have mixed reactions when they hear about the practice. I think they usually smile and nod encouragingly while quietly assuming that Steve and I are complete geeks. Fair enough.

Still, I would love it if, this year, Catholic families around the archdiocese would join us in the spirit. What if every Catholic family set a couple of goals or New Year’s resolutions this year around Catholic social teaching?

There are a few things I like about this idea. First, the dinner table conversations. Imagine a family of five sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday night trying to decide what two resolutions they might make together to live Catholic social teaching more fully as a family. It would be a tremendous opportunity to educate the children about Catholic social teaching, one of the great gifts of the 20th Century Church. Imagine the conversation about what solidarity actually means. How would the 13 year-old son perceive the core meaning of human dignity? What would the eight year-old daughter ask about the meaning of justice? And what would the high school senior’s thoughts be about peace? The parents might even find their own ideas and understanding challenged in a constructive way.

Second, I like the potential for action. Just as the family that prays together stays together, so does the family that acts together. What if one of the two goals, or even both of them, was to do something action-oriented on behalf of the poor and marginalized? The family could agree that for every new thing someone gets, they give something old away. They could decide to volunteer together once a month. Perhaps they would decide to join the Arise program in their parish, or to write a letter to their legislators about the importance of protecting the poor in next year’s state budget. If every Catholic family in the archdiocese took one such action this year, what kind of difference could we make?

Third, I like the awareness it could engender. That could happen on three levels. At one level, it helps raise a family’s awareness of its role as a Catholic family, rather than a family of individual Catholics. At a second level, it calls people, especially kids and young adults, to increase their awareness of what is happening in their communities and for their neighbors. Children might start to recognize that some of the other kids in school may not have homes, or enough to eat, or warm enough clothes to wear. Families could support pastors as they struggle to minister to increasing numbers of people in their own parishes who are being torn apart by economic crisis.

And at a third level, it could raise awareness of the state of the social safety net in the Commonwealth, and the need to actively nurture and protect it during incredibly difficult budget years. Most Catholics don’t realize that the Archdiocese of Boston has a group of social service organizations with annual budgets totaling about $100 million dedicated to helping preserve the social safety net in this state. The Church is invested. Is everyone?

I recognize that my enthusiasm for this is a little, well, geeky. Most family time is spent just keeping it all together. But some families might be ready to try something new, and might find that shared resolutions, in fact, help keep it all together. It can’t hurt to try.

Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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