By Elizabeth Tomlin
At 12 am on January 1, 2019, my family gathered around the TV screen to watch the ball drop in Time Square. Droves of people, saturated from spending the day in persistent rain, cheered the New Year and its possibilities. People danced, couples kissed, and Frank Sinatra belted New York, New York, for all to hear. My family clinked champagne flutes and enjoyed the music.
In those first moments of 2019 I wondered, “What should my New Year’s resolution be?” I rapidly ran through noble and not-so-noble things I could do: Keto diet! No. Weight Watchers? Volunteer for the PTA! Take the kids with me to volunteer! Leave love notes for my husband more frequently! Don’t skip my prayers in the morning! Organize my closet! Stop listening to naysayers! The list went on.
In less time than it took the champagne to travel from my mouth to my stomach, I had overwhelmed myself with scads of things I could do. However, a New Year’s resolution is better if it is something you should do. A New Year’s resolution should be something good for us and something that we have fidelity to accomplish. A spur of the moment, arbitrary decision to swear off carbs for a year just because every third ad in my Instagram feed promises that doing so will drastically decrease my hip circumference is probably not a helpful resolution. Rather than make a snappy decision, I decided to take time to discern what I should resolve to do in 2019.
I found my resolution from St. Katharine Drexel. During the first week of January, I read a book about her life and work. I learned that as Katharine discerned her vocation to religious life, people around her urged her to get married, become a cloistered nun, or live a single life in service to the poor. Throughout her discernment, Katharine’s spiritual director urged her to “festina lente” – make haste slowly. Festina lente – I found those words encouraging.
Always drawn to serve the poor, in 1887, when Katharine attended a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, she urged that the Holy Father should send missionary priests to the United States to serve the Indians. He responded, “Why not my child, yourself become a missionary.” In one sentence, the Holy Father named Katharine’s “should” statement for what it was: an expression of the vocation that the Holy Spirit had placed into her heart. But Katharine made haste slowly. It was not until four years later, in 1891, that Katharine became a missionary and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order dedicated to working with Native Americans and African Americans.
Katharine spent the rest of her life founding missions and schools throughout the United States. Notably in 1925, while schools in the United States were still plagued by segregation, Katharine founded Xavier University of Louisiana, for African American students. By 1987, more than forty percent of public school teachers in New Orleans were Xavier alumni. Had Katharine jumped at all the things that she could have done with her life, she might not have become, as some describe, an “apostle to the poor.”
Meditating on this reading made my New Year’s resolution clear. My resolution is a prayer to festina lente – to make haste slowly this year – to avoid that instinct to accomplish all the things I could do, and instead, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that reveal the things I should strive to accomplish.
2019 is still new, and as the adage goes, it takes 21 days to form a habit. St. Katharine Drexel, perfected her vocation of missionary service through over fifty years of active ministry. I’m going to need more than 21 days and a lot more practice to learn to festina lenta. Did you plunge head first into an unrealistic resolution at midnight on January 1, 2019? Have you already abandoned your resolution? Are you still looking for that perfect resolution? Is so, perhaps you could make haste slowly with me.
About the author:
Elizabeth Tomlin, contributing writer to WINE, mother of three, and army wife, is General Counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. She is a founding member of the Military Council of Catholic Women Worldwide Inc., the women’s ministry of the military Archdiocese. Elizabeth speaks broadly on Catholic topics, blogs at joyfulmomentum.org, and has a forthcoming book with the same title.