Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Every year right about now, I vow I’m going to change. The new me. I’ll adopt a new and improved outlook on life (I’ll be more positive). I’ll get a new hairstyle (to accommodate the few strands I have left). I’ll take multivitamins (but only the Flintstone brand).

Things will be different going forward. Today will be the first day of the rest of my life, however long or short it may be.

And every year, a week or two later, it’s back to business as usual. I suspect I’m not alone in this lack of resolve when it comes to making changes in my personality or lifestyle, although I recognize there are changes to be made. Unfortunately, I’ve been making them, or resolving to make them, for about 30 years with little success.

Most people don’t even think they have flaws or are perfectly willing to ignore them, but I’ve been blessed in that area because I have a wife and four daughters who are always eager to point out my deficiencies, and it often seems they do it as a group.

Some popular examples:

• I make a mess and don’t clean up.

• When I have an appointment, I arrive 35 minutes ahead of time, before everyone else. This, of course, totally scandalizes my family when they’re with me, especially if it’s a party.

• I’m self-centered and have a big ego (I tell them, let she who is without sin cast the first stone).

• I spend too much (this isn’t a problem when I’m spending on them).

You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m trying to change. I go to confession regularly, although I find myself repeating the same sins. Despite this inability to erase some sinful categories, I believe the graces I get from confession are doing something even if I’m not aware of my personal progress. At least I’m more aware when I’m committing certain sins, which is to say the swearing has gone way down.

However, I’m still as critical of other people as I always was. Put me in a room of gossips, and I’ll be right there at the podium.

Yes, we’re all sinners, as the evangelicals say, but blaming Adam and Eve or our natural parents, which I did for decades, doesn’t seem to help my situation.

For years, I didn’t believe we could change for the better. I was a true determinist in the spirit of dour philosophers like Schopenhauer. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be changing – but for the worse. Angry people got angrier. Abusive people got more abusive. Cheaters just cheated more. And that still seems to be the way of the world.

Nevertheless, I came to believe we could change if we wanted to change, and the person who shattered my theory that we were doomed to die the same person we were born was my father.

In him, I witnessed firsthand the power of grace. I saw a man who was a chronic alcoholic turn his life around. I saw a man change who had lived a life of despair, resentment, emotional abuse and anger. I saw a man who was given a second chance. A man who looked for answers in the bottom of a bottle, and on the verge of death, was given a gift when he found Alcoholics Anonymous and his "Higher Power," whom he called God.

Change wasn’t easy, but it was undeniable. He lived the last 25 years of his life sober, abandoning resentments, going from anger to joy and moving from self-centeredness to compassionate caring for others.

When we say "yes," God can do great things. Even though he was still flawed, my father died a good man.

The change was real. In the old days, he would spend his evenings sitting in the recliner with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. In the new days, he had a water bottle in one hand and his prayer books in the other.

The week after his death, we cleaned out his room – and there was a lot to clean because one personality defect he never overcame was, in the words of my mother, that he was a "junk collector."

As I went through his piles of clutter, I came upon handwritten pages of names with dates beside them.

"What’s this?" I asked my wife, Sandy.

She leafed through the pages and then realized.

"These are the people he prayed for over the years." The dates showed when he had begun and completed a novena.

Yes, I saw the miracle of change. In fact, God showed me for 25 years just in case I had any doubt about what he could do for a person who says, "yes."

As they say, with God all things are possible, especially for us sinners.

Happy New Year.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.