Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Be it resolved that

This is Mr. Weber's New Year's assembly address to the students of JPII.

I once had a professor who must have weighed 400 pounds. I'll never forget the first day of class. He walked in the door, introduced himself and said “I know what you're thinking, but I've actually lost 1,000 pounds.”

“1,000 pounds?” I thought to myself. "Good God, you must have been absolutely the fattest man alive.”

“I know what you're thinking again,” he said with a smile. “I didn't lose it all at once. I lost weight, gained it back. Lost more weight, gained it back. I am continually trying to diet, without much success, but I figure I've lost over 1,000 pounds during the course of my life.”

I was reminded of this professor recently as I thought of all the people trying to lose weight after the holidays. The average American gains somewhere between 4-6 pounds during the holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fitness clubs capitalize on the collective guilt we all feel by advertising yearly memberships in their fitness clubs. In fact, if you go to these fitness centers during the month of January, you're likely going to find it hard to get an open exercise machine because everyone has made a new year's resolution to lose weight, and for a month, anyway, everyone is committed to their promise. But if you're a frustrated member who can't find an open treadmill, be patient! Come February, there will be plenty of spots open. No matter how resolute people are coming off the holidays, by February, almost everyone has gone back to their same old habits.

There's a lesson in all this for us, I think. Bad habits are hard to break. That's because, first of all, we are creatures of habit, and if we allow ourselves to fall into a bad routine, it's hard to break out of that cycle. From a Christian perspective, we are sinful, and so it's much easier to eat too much than it is to exercise, and flabbiness is the result.

We're beginning a new semester today, which coincides with the new year, when people make new year's resolutions. Some of you, I suppose, weren't happy with your grades from the first semester. Now rested, you are resolved to do better this semester. Or maybe you've gained a few pounds and want to lose weight. Or maybe you believe you should be praying more. Or maybe you've been too shy, too withdrawn and you've resolved to put yourself out there more. Those are good goals--worthy areas to work on.

It is, after all, our self-awareness and our ability to step outside of ourselves and be self-critical that makes humanity different from all other animals. Apes can't say to themselves "I believe the quality of my relationships with other apes within the clan has deteriorated, so I am going to try to be more altruistic over the next several months. Dogs cannot say "Though my master has been feeding me generously, I'm going to have to leave some food in the bowl for the next several weeks to lose some of this extra weight I've been carrying. It's getting to be spring, and I'll that extra spring in my step to chase squirrels." Animals are creatures of instinct, slaves to these instincts. We are part animal, and if we let ourselves go, can become slaves to our baser desires and instincts. But we are also much more than animals, imbued by God with a conscience, with the ability to discern right from wrong, able to sacrifice what may be pleasant now for our long term benefit.

That's what new year's resolutions are about, after all: putting off something pleasant in the here and now--eating fast food, watching too much TV, spending too much time on the internet--for something more important, like our good health, more success in school or better quality relationships. New year's resolutions are a good thing; I encourage you to make one. But let's learn something from my former professor and all those other people in the fitness centers right now. If all we're doing is making a private promise to ourselves to do better, the likelihood is we're going to fail in that resolution. Weight-loss organizations like Weight-Watchers understand that. Of all the faddish dieting programs out there, WW has been proven to have the greatest success. The whole foundation of their program is that you are accountable to others: every week, you must stand in front of other people trying to lose weight, get on the scale and weigh in. If you lose weight, you are cheered. If you gain weight, you are booed. So the lesson for us is make a pact with a close friend for your resolution and ask that close friend to help you. Make yourself accountable to that person, so when you begin to weaken, he or she can be there to encourage you. Perhaps that same person can make himself accountable to you for his new year's resolution. If not a close friend, ask your parent or a brother or sister.

I've asked my wife to help me lose 20 pounds. She's going to help me do this in two ways: first, she isn't going to buy stuff like ice cream. If there's ice cream in the house, it doesn't matter how resolved I am now to lose weight, I am going to eat the ice cream. Second, we joined a fitness center in October, and she's going to harangue me, when I don't feel like going, to go.

What is it you need to do? Who can you ask to help you? How can you help that other person in return? Questions worth answering.

May all of you have a great second semester. My congratulations to the seniors, who begin their last semester of high school today. I'll be praying for you that you don't quit too early--I want to hand each of you a diploma in May!