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It is winter, it is cold, we are waiting for another round of snow to blow in this afternoon. It is, as I write this, the end of 2020, those last few days when I spend time reflecting and writing or at least considering resolutions in preparation for the New Year. From a number of vantage points, I have reason to ring in and welcome January 1, 2021. I have many things I desperately wish to say good bye to. There are many changes and improvements to which I look forward, for which I am planning , for which I am consistently praying. I am in a word, hopeful. And yet, will the word January replacing the word December really bring all this about? It seems a great deal to expect.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was and is a sign unto us. So yes, it seems it is true, a word can, indeed does make that much difference; only, rather than the word January, the Word, I think, is Jesus. My reason for such hope, rather the dropping of a crystal ball and midnight fire works, is the dwelling in me and in each of us of Jesus Christ.
We read in (1 JN:2) that the darkness is passing away and the light is already shining . In that reading, I am told in that if I love my sisters and brothers, I will remain in the light and nothing will make me fall. Conversely, in the same reading I am told that if I hate my sisters and brothers, I am and will be in darkness.
I hope for important things in 2021, so my resolution, I feel, is important; and must be more than self promises with regard to exercise and nutrition, books to read and minimalism to embrace. My important resolution will be to stay in the Light that John speaks of. That is so straightforward… and often so very difficult. I need resources to teach and inform me about my biases and prejudices so that I am able to truly love all my sisters and brothers. I need to actively work to show that love. I need opportunities to pray for justice, I need to embrace the person of Jesus, embrace the light I am offered. I need my Basilica community to work with me. And most thankfully, I have that. It is still January as you read this, it is time for more light, indeed, it is already shining.
The Basilica of Saint Mary
I am not an enthusiast of new year’s resolutions. Perhaps it comes from seeing too many advertisements for gym equipment, dating sites, or weight loss programs during the last week of December, knowing most resolutions fade just a few weeks later. While the desire for self-improvement is admirable, some resolutions feel half-hearted or even self-loathing.
But 2020 has been a year like no other and, as it comes to a close, I have been thinking more about new year’s resolutions. As we near the Epiphany of the Lord, I am considering new year’s resolutions with a new perspective. Epiphany means manifestation, and the Epiphany of the Lord is Jesus’ manifestation to the three Magi and to the whole world.
In 2020, the whole world has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. So much of what we’re accustomed to -- our routines, habits, and activities -- came to a screeching halt. That lockdown continues in many ways as we begin 2021.
I have come to see a small silver lining in the lockdown. With most commitments on hiatus, if and when things “open up” and we can start activities again, I hope to carefully evaluate what I choose to bring back. The difficulties of 2020 may bring an epiphany of sorts in 2021, with the invitation to prayerfully and deliberately evaluate what I do -- and, more importantly, what I don’t do. Every activity, every commitment, every social or volunteer opportunity, is an invitation for me to prayerfully ask, “Why should I do this? Does this help someone? Does this bring me joy? Does this bring me closer to God? Or should I not bring this back?”
While I, like you, anxiously await for the pandemic to ebb (hopefully soon!) and for life to return back to “normal,” I pray for an epiphany in this new year. As we wade into 2021, may we look for the star that God is using to call us. May our new normal be focused on God and how God is speaking to us, now more than ever.
As I write this column, we are coming to the end of 2020. I suspect all of us are exhausted, but at the same time excited that this year has come to an end. We have had to deal with many changes and in some cases accept unanticipated losses. There also have been a seemingly never ending number of adaptations and adjustments we have had to make, often with little or no notice. Tempers are on a short fuse, and the ability to deal with differences and disagreements is almost non-existent. And yet, every now and again, a cause for hope emerges.
Most recently for me a cause for hope occurred in the form of a note from a friend in her Christmas card. After acknowledging that the year had not gone as planned, my friend said: “And yet, there have been several blessings.” My friend went on to say that she had learned to slow down and enjoy some of the small pleasures that came her way. She had learned to listen better, to enjoy quiet, and to communicate in new/different ways. Additionally she had learned to enjoy and appreciate times with family and friends virtually, or when wearing a facemask. She also mentioned that her prayer life had improved. She found that she wasn’t squeezing prayer in amongst other activities, but rather giving prayer its own time and place in her day.
I have to admit that my friend’s note was exactly what I needed. Prior to receiving her Christmas card, I had been lamenting everything that had gone wrong the past year. Her note, though, caused me to realize that in the midst of all the difficult and bad things that had happened, there was cause for hope. God is still with us, and is always and everywhere offering us God’s good grace. To be honest, though, recognizing and being open to God’s grace is not always easy.
Often without choosing or intending it, I can get caught feeling sorry for myself. I take on a “woe is me” attitude and in its worst expression throw myself a little “pity party.” (The upside is that I serve my favorite foods at my pity parties.) When I recognize these times in my life, I have learned that I need to take things to prayer. Prayer doesn’t change the situation, but it does change me and my attitude. And even in difficult situations, I am reminded that there is cause for hope.
Our God is a God of second chances and new beginnings. Our God is constantly inviting us to new life in those situations where we feel helpless and where things seem hopeless. The thing is, though, that God never forces God’s way into these situations. Rather God waits patiently for us to invite God in and to open ourselves to God’s grace. As we begin this New Year, let us pray that we might to open to the grace that God is offering us that even in the midst of this pandemic that we might see and choose anew, a future full of hope.