Out With the Old and In With the New?
For most of us, I suppose, the end of 2020 will be greeted with a feeling of immense relief! For most of us, it will surely rank as having been the worst year of our lives, although I recall, with some amusement, the excitement with which the year was ushered in. Naturally, in the light of what has been happening, there will be some trepidation at the prospect of yet more trauma in the New Year, but at least the news this morning with regards to the Oxford vaccine will raise the hopes of many that the end of the virus is in sight, although there are, of course, many unanswered questions remaining. So, here’s to a Happy New Year!
Although the concept of a ‘New Year’ is, in many respects, an artificial construct, with the dates of the start of the year varying greatly according to location and history (March 25<sup>th</sup> was, for many centuries, seen as the appropriate date for the New Year by Christians, heralding as it does the beginning of our salvation on the Feast of the Annunciation), there is nevertheless an understandable excitement at the prospect of a fresh start, a new beginning. With the optimism which seems to come naturally to the human race, we relish the opportunity, as it appears to be, for us to make changes, undo errors and improve our lives in fresh year, which will be different from the one just past – which we had greeted so eagerly only twelve months before and which, perhaps inevitably, disappointed us! Hope springs eternal, so it would seem!
Yet in all our excitement at the start of a year it is too easy to forget that we, as Christians, have a rather different perspective on the matter. We must remember that, although we live in this society, we are also apart from it, as the New Testament writers, particularly St Paul, constantly remind us. For us, the times and seasons belong to God, who created it all and the New Year, like all other years, is the scene, not of rejoicing for no particular reason than that it is a ‘new’ year (that went well for 2020, didn’t it!), but because we live in a time where there are more opportunities to work towards our ultimate salvation.
In our ‘modern’ society there is a belief, where God is even considered, that somehow our salvation and place in Heaven with God is guaranteed and we don’t really have to do anything towards it. Nothing could be further from the truth! God, it is true, has won our salvation through the saving work of Jesus Christ, who freely offered himself as the one sacrifice which is capable of taking away the sins of the world. Yet God forces no-one to accept this – we remain entirely free to go our own way, even if it means rejecting the love of God. We are required, if we wish to be saved, to cooperate with the Lord – by obeying his commands, repenting of our sins, and living the sacramental life, which provides us with the ordinary means of grace necessary for us to attain this salvation. It is a cooperative work – we can achieve nothing without God, but he requires our free assent in order to help us.
Properly understood, the world is a spiritual battlefield, and the Church is both its training establishment and its field hospital! The things which the world holds to be so vitally important very often are, at best, merely parts of the whole and, at worst, are actually hinderances and tools of the Enemy, who tries his best to prevent us from attaining Heaven. And prevented we can be – God will not, cannot, do other than respect our free will. Having given us this tremendous gift at our creation, even he cannot over-ride it! We must be free to reject God, even is that means eternal loss!
So, rather than focus on the usual New Year’s Resolutions (losing weight, going to the gym, and so forth), we need to spend more of our time concentrating on the things which really matter, and matter for all eternity. Obeying the Commandments, confessing our sins, being regular in attending Mass, learning more about the Christian Faith, doing the work of charity which the Lord puts in our way – these are the things which really matter, and these are the things Jesus will ask us about having done when we finally meet him. He will not be concerned about whether or not we have eaten fewer chocolates or pumped iron more often, except insofar as they have contributed to, or hindered, our progress towards him!
Above all, let us strive to make 2021 a year in which we make progress in prayer. The person who progresses in their prayer life is the person who will find it much easier to do all these things which the Lord has given us to do, for to progress in prayer is to walk more closely with God. As our prayer lives improve, so we find it easier to focus on the things which really matter to God and the easier it will be to walk more closely with him. Let us, in all things, entrust ourselves to the care and support of the saints, especially Our Lady, for it is they who have walked the path before us, are familiar with its pitfalls and are able, through their prayers and encouragement, to provide us with the help we need to reach that goal which they have already attained! So, too, trust in the help and encouragement of your Guardian Angel. St Pius – Padre Pio of beloved memory and very much a saint for our times (he died in 1968) - was firm in his conviction that the Angels are always most willing to offer their help, if only we would ask for it and listen to their wise words!
As we enter this New Year of 2021, may God grant you his strength and his blessing, no matter what the year has in store for us, so that you may continue to progress towards him and his Kingdom.