With the differing time zones, the celebrations of the New Year are staggered around the globe as we welcome the end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one. The manner of celebrating may differ, but we all have a common hope, the desire to start over, to begin again.
Every New Year I read articles about the efficacy of New Year’s resolutions. However, the fact remains, we all make them. The experience is universal. The question is why? I suggest that they reveal something of our deepest longing.
Nations use different calendars, but the passing of one year to the next is universally marked by a deliberate period of reflection concerning the year that passed and a pledge to begin anew, to change, in the year to come. This is because we all hunger to be made new!
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions.”
Chesterton continues, “Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We all want to be better, to live our lives more fully and to love one another more selflessly. As we end one year and look to a new one, we pause to take inventory. In a rare moment of reflection and honest self-assessment, we admit our failures. We pledge to learn from them and move toward a better future.
In Little Gidding written by T.S. Eliot we find these often quoted words, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
Over the years I have realized that every end truly can become a beginning, for the man or woman who has faith in a living God who invites us to begin again, again and again. He alone makes it possible by sharing his very life with us. This gift is called grace and through receiving it we become what the Apostle Peter called “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
As we repent for the failures of the past year, reflect on the gifts it brought and resolve to do better in the coming year, we are faced with the reality of our human condition and our fractured freedom. We know that our resolutions to change often end in failure. We are prone to making wrong choices in daily life. Classical theology speaks of this inclination as “concupiscence”.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this experience to the early Christians in Rome. “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me…Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:19-20, 24-25).
Our freedom is a reflection of the image of God within us. Our ability to choose correctly was fractured by the effects of the first sin. In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II “freedom itself needs to be set free” (The Splendor of Truth). Through the Incarnation, the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are capacitated to live our lives differently. Our freedom can be set free. Jesus can make all things new within us and continue his work of making all things new through us.
On the first day of the New Year, Catholics celebrate the feast of the Mother of God. This is no liturgical accident. She who beheld the face of the Savior invites us to hear the words of Jesus Christ, “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) He alone can fulfill the desire at the heart of the New Year’s celebration. She is the mother of the new creation because the One whom she held in her womb is the only One who can make all things new!
I am more grateful every year for the opportunity to attend Holy Mass on New Year’s Day and celebrate the feast of the Mother of God. Mary is the first disciple, the prototype, the symbol of the whole Church. We who are members of the Church are invited to emulate her “yes” to the invitation of God and make it our own. We are to make a place for him within us and become bearers of Christ to the world. He alone can make us new.
Millions will utter words on New Year’s Eve and Day promising to do better. Lists will be compiled, and promises made, to oneself, to others and to God. Sadly, many will not be kept. These words attributed to Mark Twain too often ring true “New Year’s Day – now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
When I was a young man, I would write my New Year’s goal list first and then, in a fit of self-generated enthusiasm, ask the Lord to bless it! I know better now. I need the light of the Holy Spirit to even comprehend what is needed if I ever hope to change. I now pray first and then, my list has become increasingly simple. Mary’s Fiat has become my prayer. “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
I pray that in the Year of Our Lord, 2022, we may all find the fullness of grace which comes through a living relationship with the One who makes all things new, Jesus Christ. There is a universal longing in every human heart to be made new, to begin again, because the Holy Spirit prompts it in every human heart.
In and through Jesus Christ, there is a path to truly being made new. That promise is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News! Paul reminded the Christians in the City of Corinth, and reminds every one of us, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
New Year’s Eve is a global existential moment, ripe with anticipation and expectations. It invites a spiritually cathartic time of reflection, offers us hope for change and invites us to make choices. In reality, our choices will make us. Let us choose in 2022 to live our lives in, with and for Jesus Christ. That is the way we can turn resolutions into reality. St Josemaria Escriva wrote, “For a son of God each day should be an opportunity for renewal, knowing for sure that with the help of grace he will reach the end of the road, which is Love. That is why if you begin and begin again, you are doing well. If you have a will to win, if you struggle, then with God’s help you will conquer. There will be no difficulty you cannot overcome” (The Forge, 344).
Happy New Year!