So here we are again, ushering in another year. I don't know about you, but it is hard to believe that it is 2016. As a new year begins, it can be an excellent opportunity to reflect upon and give thanks for the year that just passed and to look ahead to the coming year with wonder and anticipation of what it may bring.
A common question that is often posed at the beginning of the year is, "so, what are you going to do as a new year's resolution?" Typical new year's resolutions are, to name a few: to lose weight, to work less, to sleep more, quit smoking, etc. Resolutions are powerful tools that can help us to be the best person we can be. Resolutions and personal goals can be set at any time of the year, however Dr. Mike Evans, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, makes a case in the following video that you are 10 times more likely to follow through on a goal made at the new year.
Thanks to Dr. Evans, we learn from this video that there is some advantage to New Year's resolutions to help us to kick-start our personal goal setting. The challenge is not only to put an idea into action but then to follow through with it enough times in order to make it a habit.
According to the video, January was named by the Romans after Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions who faces both the future and the past. Although the western world celebrates the beginning of a new year on January 1st (thanks to Pope Gregory XIII introducing the Gregorian calendar in 1582), as Catholics, we already started a new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent.
As I was reflecting upon the start of the new calendar year, and then remembered that we have already begun a new year in the Church, it made me realize how easy it is for me to overlook my spiritual self when I am setting personal goals. I am usually much more focused on the physical and mental self. And yet, that is not the full picture of who I am, and who God created us to be.
Listen to what these scripture passages have to teach us about resolutions:
"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43: 18-19)
"You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirits of your minds and clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
God desires to be at the heart of all that we do. He has something to say to all of us as we pass through human time. What new thing does God desire to do in your life? Do you not perceive it? Have you quieted down your mind and body enough to perceive what God is saying and how He is moving in your life? In what ways do you think God is calling you to put away old habits and put on a new self so that you may walk more closely to Him and therefore experience more joy, peace and purpose?
As 2015 was drawing to a close, Pope Francis gave a list of ten things that he called upon Vatican employees to do. They are powerfully applicable to each of us as we tend to our own spiritual resolutions for the New Year:
1. "Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are."
2. "Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love."
3. "Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy."
4. "Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence."
5. "Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others."
6. "Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord."
7. "Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people."
8. "Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation."
9. "Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker ... the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this."
10. "Making sure your Christmas is about Jesus and not about shopping."
I found these statements incredibly profound to reflect upon as each of them causes me to ask "how am I doing in my relationship to not only myself, but my friends, my family, the stranger and the poor. Pope Francis caused my inward-oriented resolutions to start looking outward.
Just as we look to form new habits when we create New Year's resolutions, Pope Francis is currently calling upon the Church and the whole world to make it a habit of being merciful.
On December 8, 2015 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis invited the Church and the world to enter into a Year of Mercy as he recognizes a great need for mercy, love, forgiveness and healing in our world today. The motto for the Year of Mercy is "Merciful like the Father" which comes from chapter 6 in the Gospel of Luke. When Jesus was teaching that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, He also says "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are called to live like God. If God is mercy, we are called to be merciful.
The following is a cartoon video which is inspired by the speeches and writings of Pope Francis on mercy:
|Pope Francis Minute Explains: The Year of Mercy
We are reminded in this video about the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy, in other words, how mercy is put into action. The corporal acts of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, harbour the harbourless, visit the sick, ransom the captive and to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted and to pray for the living and the dead. Pretty awesome ideas for us to add as "new" types of New Year's resolutions, if I do say so myself.
Each day is a new opportunity to make a fresh start, to do things in a new way and to let go of old ways of thinking and being. So as we enter the door of the new liturgical year, the year of mercy and calendar year, keep your eyes on the prize. What is the prize, the treasure and the goal that you seek for this coming year and how can you include serving others in these goals? Let it be known to God and trust that He listens and will help you to make your deepest desires turn into meaningful action for your good and for the good of the world.
Blessings on the year ahead!
Campus Minister for Youth
King's University College/Christ the King Parish
Questions/Ideas for Reflection:
What are the things that you keep meaning to do but keep putting off?
What are you passionate about? Are you giving time to explore these things? If no, why not?
Have you ever considered making New Year's resolutions that included your mind, body and spirit? What could you do this year to address each of these areas which make up your whole person?
Put 20 goals into a jar at the beginning of the year and see how many you achieved by the end of the year.
How does the invitation of the Pope to the Year of Mercy impact how I make my new year's resolutions this year?
How can your class participate in the corporal or spiritual acts of mercy? Perhaps you can take one on each month within the school community, the local community or the wider community.
Talk to your classroom about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and connect the sacrament with making New Year's Resolutions and the Year of Mercy.
Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation yourself and encourage your class to do the same. If possible, arrange for a priest to come to your school to give your students a head start in providing them the opportunity to receive the sacrament.
The calendar year is marked with the start of January where daylight is starting to break the darkness of winter. How can you let more of God's light into your life? How can you share some of your light with others?
Take some time to check out some resources about the Year of Mercy.
Some Year of Mercy Resources:
Word on Fire - Bishop Robert Barron:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops - Exercise
and Reflection on the Corporal Acts of Mercy for
ages 9-11 (adaptable to age 11+):
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Includes resources on the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, group discussion resources, etc.):