2021: A time to stop, a time to start

By Father Richard S. Jones

Chaplain, UPMC Mercy Hospital

A New Beginning

For God, every day is New Year’s.
Every day the sun rises is His act of confidence that creation continues.
Every baby born is His act of Hope that humanity goes on.
Every marriage is His trust that love is stronger than hate.
Every morning brings a new chance.
Every prayer a new hope.
Every blocked path a new route.
Every sin repented a fresh burst of grace.
Every mistake a lesson learned.
Every death a new life.
We have a God who relishes fresh starts, new dreams, trying again, resolutions made.
He is the Lord of second chances.
He never tires of giving us another opportunity.

-Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

What a year 2020 was!  No one was spared its challenges, changes, complications, hardships, headaches or losses. In my hospital ministry, I have a frontline view of this menacing global coronavirus pandemic.

Recently I spoke with a 103-year old patient who was an infant during the pandemic of 1918-1920. When I asked for her secret to longevity and resilience, she replied, “Make faithfulness to God a daily priority.” 

Her words echo the Scriptures. David wrote in Psalm 42:8, “May the Lord show his constant love during the day, so that I may have a song at night a prayer to the God of my life.”  The mystic saint, Teresa of Avila said, “When we accept what happens to us and make the best of it, we are praising God.”

Looking outside the Scriptures, January gets its name from the Roman god, Janus, who is depicted with two faces, one looking back and the other toward the future. Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions, which was one reason we make New Year’s resolutions for January.

When we do so, we are simultaneously looking back to see how we performed in the old year and looking ahead to see how we will improve in the New Year. We long to make a fresh start. Yet, “Better not to make a promise at all, then to make a promise and not keep it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:5)

So how do we choose wise resolution under God’s guidance? When I make my annual retreat, the Holy Spirit prompts me to answer two questions: What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to start doing?

Someone once said that the best spiritual director is life itself. God speaks to us through  experiences.

Saint Paul was a wise life coach who constantly encouraged the followers of Christ as he prayed that we would be well-conditioned disciples regardless of our circumstances. He understood that, while we are redeemed, we remain wounded and vulnerable, easily distracted from God’s path.

As Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) said, “Virtue does not consist in making resolutions but carrying out one’s good intentions.”

While we consider what resolutions to make, we know that we are called to love rather than hate, to reconcile rather than retaliate, to show humility rather than hubris, to humanize rather than demonize, to be a good-finder rather a fault-finder. Christians must let go of ranking or elitism and embrace cooperation and collaboration, seeking flexibility rather than rigidity and control.

We are called to practice daily meditation and mindfulness, to be liberated from the imprisonment in the citadel of the ego. We must count our daily blessings and delete life’s imperfections, cultivate friendships and forgive our enemies.

In that list of God-ordained virtues, each of us can find the basis for New Year’s resolutions. We do not carry them out alone, but with aid from the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and the prayers of the saints.

Pope Francis has declared 2021 the Year of Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus, husband of Mary, and patron saint of the Catholic Church. Let us pray for his guidance to surrender to the divine will, to pray always, to trust in grace, to live the fruits of the Holy Spirit. He can help us to live a grateful life, to have a sense of humor, to share our good news with others.

Let our New Year’s resolutions guide us to live in loving ways, to encourage others without exception, to respond to social concerns.  May we seek to lead a saintly life and show the heart of God in all we think, say, and do. Happy New Year 2021!