Resolutions ~ The Will to Win


Painting by Norman Rockwell

by Fr. E. Boyd Barrett, The Will to Win, 1917


“RESOLUTION” as you know is an act of the will whereby you set yourself to achieve something. You resolve, for instance, to go to early Mass every day for a week. You propose, promise yourself, and make up your mind to do so. You mean to do it, and you commit yourself to this course of action.

You make a contract with yourself to do it, and you feel in consequence under an obligation to do it. That course of action has now a certain claim upon you. If you neglect to fulfill your promise you are conscious of a certain unworthiness, or even of dishonor.

The course of action resolved on calls for fulfillment — you have promised, and you feel that you should make good your undertaking. The promise, or contract you make with yourself, about achieving something, is the first part of the Resolution – the making. The actual fulfilling of the promise is the second part of the Resolution – the keeping.

This too is an act or series of acts of the Will, wherein the Will, as master of mind and body, calls upon and commands the other faculties to perform the work stipulated.

This power of making and keeping Resolutions is one of the most important powers we have. Here the Will performs a great function; it directs and controls our conduct; it decides our future. It is responsible for that conduct which it decides on and brings into being, and so it is, in a sense, a creator.

If it produces what is good, we are virtuous. If it produces what is evil, we are bad. If it faithfully carries out the Resolutions it makes, it is strong. If it fails to carry out such resolutions, it is weak. Its ability to keep Resolutions is its supreme test, and hence the man who “keeps his word,” and is “faithful to” or “sticks to” his principles is the most honorable of men.

From these remarks you will see that a Resolution is a very serious matter. It concerns us vitally. It tests and tries us. It is of deep significance. It is the most “sacred” of our natural acts, in so far as natural acts can be “sacred.” It is not a thing to trifle with.

If we make and break Resolutions carelessly and lightly we injure our Will, we undermine its strength, we lessen, so to say, its dignity, and we degrade it. A Resolution should be made well, or not at all. It should only be made after careful thought, and with deep earnestness. It should be kept with rigorous exactitude.

We should not make Resolutions that may be perhaps beyond our strength. If we do, we run the risk of failure, and failure is injurious to the Will. We must secure a victory every time in every Resolution.

Let us now suppose, in order to study a little the art of making and keeping Resolutions, that we set ourselves to overcome a habit of unpunctuality. That is what the Will sets itself to achieve. Now, how are we to go about the work? How are we to make the necessary Resolution well, and to secure success?

First of all we must formulate the Resolution. To formulate the Resolution thus, “I will never be late for a duty,” would be to court failure. Such a resolution would be too vague, too great, and too difficult. We must render it definite, small, and well within our powers.

Perhaps this would do. “I will never be late for important duties.” Even that is too vague and too great. Divide et impera! Take the matter in parts and conquer the parts one by one.

So let us resolve about punctuality in one important duty. “I will get up at once when called in the morning.” That is now sufficiently precise and it will strike hard at one of our faults of unpunctuality. Still we can render it more definite by means of a time limit. And so we resolve thus, “Each day, for the next ten days, I will get up at once when called in the morning.”

So far we have merely formulated or drawn up the Resolution. It must now be made by the Will as earnestly as possible. It will not suffice merely to say it over a few times and to memorize it. The whole Will with all its force and energy must, so to speak, be hurled into the Resolution. I must make it as firmly and seriously as if my life depended on it.

Again and again, every day, I must make it in this manner. I must strive to secure that success will be absolutely certain, almost inevitable. I must make my Resolution part of myself, and identify myself wholly with it.

I must be able to say, “Yes, before God, I really mean to get up every morning, at once, when I am called for the next ten mornings. I will keep this Resolution. I know I can keep it and I will keep it. I will take every precaution to keep it, and I will make any sacrifice that reason demands in order to render its fulfillment certain.”

So far we have described the part of the Will in the Resolution, but the intellect too at the command of the Will plays its part. The intellect is the light that illuminates. It ponders over the uses and advantages of punctuality and proposes new motives to elicit a stronger determination in the Will. It throws new light on the object resolved on by the Will and renders it more attractive. It exposes the fallacies of hostile motives and maintains by its reasoning the sense of conviction.

Next, in the making as in the keeping of a Resolution, we must solicit help from heaven. Above all we need God’s grace. We must pray then for the grace to be faithful to the Resolution, remembering that the attainment of punctuality and the mastery over ourselves in this matter will count for God’s glory and our own salvation.

We even go so far as to offer little acts of self-denial, or undergo some trifling self-inflicted pain, in order to win the desired grace, and to intensify the seriousness of our Resolution.

Resolutions made in this thorough way are certain of success — provided always they be well within our strength and that we keep up our efforts to the end. The making of a Resolution thus passes imperceptibly into the keeping of a Resolution, for we go on making and reiterating it until it is fulfilled.

When at last it is fulfilled to the letter we experience a splendid sense of satisfaction, of duty well done, and of self-confidence. We realize, at such a moment, the meaning and the value of Will-power. We realize fully that we have within us a great power, and that there are things, even hard things, that we can do, if only we set ourselves to do them.

I suppose then that you have acquired the power of getting up at once when called in the morning. This is a first and important step towards acquiring the virtue of punctuality. Other similar steps should now be taken in due order — resolution should follow resolution, each directed towards a different part of the virtue, each well made and duly fulfilled — until at length the virtue as a whole is acquired. This, of course, will take time, and demand perseverance, but it will involve nothing beyond your strength.

These are now a few points, which I shall summarize briefly, and which it is well to bear in mind. Some of them are repetitions of points already noted.

(1) The Resolution should always be definite, limited in scope, and well within our power.

(2) Careful consideration should precede each Resolution. It must not be hastily formulated. It should be carefully chosen, and well directed towards an important point of the object to be achieved.

(3) The making and keeping of the Resolution depends wholly on yourself. In this matter the burden falls on your own shoulders, and no one can bear it for you. Some help may however be obtained from advice in the matter of formulating your Resolution.

(4) Resolutions demand a great output of effort. Effort is the price you must be prepared to pay for success. If the price is not paid, success will not be secured.

(5) If through weakness or passing carelessness or misadventure we fail in a Resolution, let us suppose on the third or fourth day, the Resolution must not be abandoned. It is still there and it calls still for fulfillment. We must at once remake and reiterate it with redoubled energy, and we must persevere in it until the stipulated time is up. If the first lapse or failure meant that ipso facto the Resolution ceased to exist, we should be working on the absurd assumption that our Resolution was only to be kept until it was broken!

(6) Some Resolutions, those for instance which aim at avoiding a moral fault, something bad in itself, must of course be kept absolutely. They are absolute and do not admit of exceptions or conditions. We must keep them even at the expense of displeasing those we love. Other Resolutions however are not absolute, and so, without harm, they may be conditioned. They admit of exceptions. An example will make this clear.

Suppose, for instance, a boy resolves to go to early Mass every day during vacation. Now it may happen that during vacation he catches a bad cold. However he resolves all the same to get up and go to Mass. When he is getting up, his mother comes in and says, “No! you must stay in bed today.” What is he to do? If his mother really insists, and he sees there is question of obedience, then evidently his duty is to obey. But does this break his Resolution? Surely not! His Resolution, if it was properly formulated, carried with it at least the implicit condition, “I will go to early Mass, etc., unless it is my duty not to do so. In all such matters we must obey right reason.

(7) Resolutions I said should be definite, limited, and well within our power. What then of big, heroic Resolutions? Are they never to be made? Well, some Resolutions though apparently very big are well within our power. They are shown to be quite possible by the example of other men who make them. Take, for instance, the Resolution to abstain from all intoxicating liquors during our whole lives. This Resolution we call the “Heroic Offering” or the “Pledge for Life.”

It is of course a gigantic Resolution, and it seems contrary to all our rules to attempt such a Resolution. Still strangely enough it is not so. It is well within our powers. It is definite, precise, and limited in many ways. Besides, it is shown to be quite possible by the example of others who make and keep it. Also it carries with it great graces, and a great inspiration — it means so much good for our Faith and our Fatherland and so we need not be at all afraid to make it.

(8) The good results achieved by Resolutions are very wonderful. Whole lives have been changed for the better by well-made and well-kept Resolutions. Often the good results seem to come very slowly, but they come very surely.

In the morning the mountain-top in the distance that you mean to reach, seems very far away, and each step that you take as you walk towards it is a very tiny advance. Yet by mid-day, or a little later, you find yourself on the summit and you are astonished when you think of the distance that stretched before you that morning.

So too, by fidelity to your Resolutions, you will achieve very remarkable results, results as remarkable, for instance, as that of learning thoroughly a difficult language by devoting to it five or ten minutes a day.


“I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” — John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Photo: Solemn Mass of Exposition for the Forty Hours’ Devotion on March 12, 2013 at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London. Photo credit: Charles Cole

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