The Joy of a New Year

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As popular as weight loss and other health-related New Year’s resolutions are, the ubiquitous “I’m gonna make this the best year ever” and “I’ll finally make my dream come true” resolutions remain. Folks are still willing to buy into the irrational but admirable optimism that a new calendar year brings. More mundane but likely more statistically realistic, though, are the gritty resolutions that are never shared, or only with our intimates, or only with our God. These are the constant albatrosses, often desires upon which we have effectively given up, but we resurrect out of a childlike desperation and blind hope on New Year’s Eve. Watching the illusion of joy as the ball drops and scads of celebrants scream and kiss, we repeat the precious and dread resolution to ourselves, to God, to the spirit of the new year, even as we may outwardly clink champagne glasses and receive hugs from loved ones.

What do these haunting resolutions look like? They differ infinitely. But if you get to know someone well enough to peer into their recurrent resolution box, you’ll see several that you may recognize. What does your hidden resolution sound like? Is it a scream in your head that only you hear? Are you throwing the wish out there one last time that someone will hear you and cure you of an addiction? Of a phobia? Of a pattern of sin? Or is your resolution a whisper, one that you barely want to listen to anymore?

It’s a tiny, nearly crushed little bug of a voice – “I want another baby,” or “I want my father to say he loves me before he dies.” What is the point, you ask, dear reader, of wallowing in these darker shades during a time of light and newness? Well, mustn’t we? How do we go on, how long can we go on, without taking these deeper resolutions to God in fervent prayer and to the people who could actually help us to finally conquer, achieve, break, or receive them?

My mother would start weeping approximately three seconds into the song “Auld Lang Syne.” I knew why: – she thought of her father, whom she lost when she was only 19, and her mother, who died at 63 years old, just like she herself would similarly die at 64 years old, leaving me here, with my own inexplicable tears, with my own buried resolution. “I will get better this year. I will stop being a mourner and start celebrating my mother’s life instead of replaying her sufferings.” This is the time of year when we look back, and either smile with wonder and gratitude, or wince with regret and pain.

For most of you, I bet it’s a combination of the two. I know it is for me. 2014 did not bring us the third child whom my husband and I have wanted so desperately. Instead it brought me a third chronic medical condition with which to wrestle. I watched three people, all under the age of 30, die of cancer. And, as I say to my best friend Melissa when we are employing gallows humor in order to cope, “another year passed and my mom is still dead.”

On the other side of the stitching, though, the threads aren’t so loose and frayed. They are quite beautiful. My family found a wonderful new school and parish. I began attending Daily Mass. I had another year with the universe’s best and most patient husband, and, if possible somehow, I love him more than ever. We have had a lot of laughs. I’ve watched my daughter flourish in her spiritual life and in her dancing. I’ve watched my son, riddled with food allergies and asthma, a delayed speaker who wouldn’t potty train and who wouldn’t be a foot away from me, begin, succeed and shoot straight to the top of his Kindergarten class.

For a Catholic, the calendar year takes a back seat to the liturgical year, or should. So I immerse myself in the gifts of this Christmas season as it continues. If I can be bold enough to suggest some New Year’s Resolutions to you, my friends, the first among them would be to become more alive in your faith. You belong to The Church. The. Church. Realize it fully and take advantage of what She has to offer you. Whatever areas of your life need work, work on them with a Saint of your choice, and/or with a Spiritual Director. Take the Eucharist as often as you possibly can. Let it be the medicine it is intended to be. Go to Confession and receive absolution.

Give yourself that gift. Do more spiritual reading. And do more spiritual *talking*. Talk openly about your faith in places you haven’t before. Hand a friend or co-worker a chaplet or a Catechism. Never shy away from answering questions about Catholicism. Guess what? You just became a fisher of men! Congratulations—a new job for you in 2015!

I also recommend using the Ten Commandments as a template for ten New Year’s resolutions. You can custom fit them to your life and your disordered appetites, your strengths and your struggles. Maybe the sixth commandment doesn’t apply to you as a resolution, because you know you would never cheat on your spouse. But you can resolve to love your spouse better, in a way that he or she needs to be loved, not in the way that is most comfortable for you.

You may be a person who hasn’t ever stolen so much as a stick of gum, but you can certainly resolve in 2015 to be more generous, because as the saints tell us over and over, our surplus goods are to be shared with those in need, or we are indeed committing theft of a kind. Some of you will get stumped right out of the gate. The first commandment is probably a lock for you in your own perception. But stop and “get real.” Do you really put God first before everything else? Have you no idols? Do you never make an idol of your appearance, your children, your car, your career, even the volunteer work or ministry you perform?

And as far as those deeply buried, secret resolutions, those that seem to accompany us from year to year, I resolve to pray for you about them, whatever they are. One thing I know for sure tonight is that every single one of us carries a cross even as the ball drops, and we will carry it right into 2015. Some of us will finally and at long last be unburdened by it at some point in the new year. Some of us will be right here, anguished over the same cross as 2016 rolls in. No matter – the comfort is the same – you are not alone. I am not alone. Jesus carried a cross, the heaviest in history, the most hurtful and gruesome in all of time and space, for it was comprised and constructed of all of our ugly sins, the sins of the entire world, past, present, future. As the ball drops and the horns toot and the bells ring, let your cross go for a second, just a second, and give it to Jesus. He can take it and He WANTS to take it. Your deepest and most covert prayer may already be answered.

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