When I was single, New Year’s Eve celebrations were fun but there was always that empty feeling when I went home alone to my cold, dark apartment. However, in the morning I would wake up with a smile on my face because I felt like I now had a clean slate. It was the first day of a brand new year and it was full of promise and hope. I could start all over again, and anything was possible! And so I would spend some time reflecting on the year that had just passed and thought about what I wanted to change to make myself and my future better.
Many think the idea of making New Year’s resolutions is a silly one. I’ve often heard people state that when changes need to be made, they don’t wait for New Year’s to roll around to act, they just do it. Personally, I agree with that statement and think that’s a great idea. But, it doesn’t discount the significance of making New Year’s resolutions and the importance of pausing and reflecting on the year that is passing.
Pope Francis’s recent papal exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), is a timely offering to assist us in ringing in the new year the right way. His opening words are a refreshing approach to personal renewal. Although the document is a treatment of many different modern issues, his opening remarks are full of outstanding points for reflection. The third paragraph is one of my favorites:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!
One of the things I love about his invitation is his compassionate acknowledgement of our human condition and that each one of us approaches Christ from a different angle. You might have a strained or even non-existent relationship with God at this moment, and the pope asks you to have “at least an openness” to encountering Christ because even a door that is slightly cracked is an opportunity. You might have a very vibrant and active relationship with Christ but regardless of the angle you are approaching Him from, our Holy Father’s reminder is this invitation is definitely meant for you.
He says “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk” and this is yet, another powerful way of acknowledging that human, sinful condition we all suffer from. You know that when you consider the option of taking a step toward Christ the risk you face is letting go of selfishness and being open to making personal changes. But this risk-advisory is trumped by the promise of what you will find when you do take that step… Jesus, waiting for you with open arms.
New Year’s resolutions are usually about making changes to better yourself and all of them include some sort of need to let go of a behavior that is holding you back, which is very much the same thing our Holy Father is asking you to do “unfailingly each day.” Why not take some time to contemplate this paragraph from Pope Francis’ exhortation in light of your own personal circumstances? Or even better yet, read the entire document as a way of taking this all-important step toward Jesus and opening the door to a renewed relationship with Him, as well as a brighter path for you in 2014.
My prayers are with you this Christmas season and as always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.