The celebration of the new year is on different days in different cultures and at different times in history. For the most part, the Western cultures follow the Roman tradition, traced back to Julius Caesar, of celebrating the new year on the first day of January to honor the god of beginnings, Janus. After the past year, I’m sure that many of us need a new beginning, but we’re better off looking to Christian tradition to see what they renewal should look like.
When you restore an old, warped, rusted piece of equipment, the first thing you need to do is look at the original form. This lets you picture what the final product should look like and make a plan to get there. For a renewal in our lives, we may listen to motivational speakers and read self-help books, but we have to ask ourselves if they’re giving us a true picture of what life should look like. Instead, let’s look to the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Creator who created humanity in the beginning and who personally created each one of our souls. When we look to Jesus Christ we see how humans are supposed to live. We see, in a way, the original plan for our creation. Jesus was uncompromising with what was true and right and made a whip of cords to clear the money changers out of the Temple, but He was also gentle and compassionate in calling sinners to repentance. He knew the mission His Heavenly Father gave Him and didn’t let any obstacle deter Him. He was comfortable with the poorest of the poor and in the presence of kings and Roman governors. He shows us that sentimental love isn’t enough; we are called to a sacrificial love.
Once you know what it’s supposed to look like, then you need to start taking off what doesn’t belong. Clean off the dirt, remove the rust, and scrape off the old paint. You may need to use a sander and a wire brush, but all of that stuff needs to go. In the same way, we need to see what in our own lives is a corruption of the original plan. Once we know who we’re supposed to be, who God is calling us to be, then we can see what parts of our lives are distorting that vision. All of our sins and all of our vices need to go. Even some good things may be getting in the way of being the person, the spouse and parent, the friend, and the Christian that God is calling us to be. In the Christian tradition we call this asceticism, which is the practice of disciplining ourselves by denying ourselves some things so we can obtain greater things.
Finally, we may have to reshape some things so the tool can come back to flush and everything can fit together and work smoothly. We know that in our lives things don’t always work smoothly, and sometimes it seems like we’re just treading water. God doesn’t expect the impossible, and we can’t expect perfection, because then we may give in to discouragement and give up. What we should expect is to make an improvement every day, to grow in holiness every day, and to grow closer to Christ every day. We can do that, as one of my teachers said, by looking at Jesus, looking at ourselves and seeing where we don’t measure up, and then making an adjustment. Renewal isn’t something that happens once and then it’s finished, it’s a process of responded to God’s invitation to renewal every day.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.