Preparing for the New Year

This is the time of year when every broadcaster, newspaper or online magazine is full of retrospectives of the year 2017. Several also include suggestions for making 2018 the year when we’ll all be slimmer, wealthier and in every way more wonderful than we were in 2017. Trouble is, it doesn’t work like that. A few people will indeed manage to learn a new language, shed a few pounds or otherwise fulfil some personal ambition, but most of us will reach the end of January realising that we are pretty much the same person we were in September 2017, just a little older and possibly a little crankier. So, is it all stuff and nonsense? Can we prepare for the New Year in any meaningful way, and does it matter anyway?

Certainly, the advent of a new year does provide an impetus for change. There is something about its untarnished quality that is immensely attractive. It is full of possibilities; and the fact that New Year’s Day falls on the eighth day of the Christmas Octave is highly suggestive (please see some of my earlier posts on the meaning of the octave if you don’t know why). Some people like to mark the New Year by apologizing to others for the wrongs they have done them. Unfortunately, the apologies on Social Media don’t always read as the writers intend so that I find myself wondering whether the apology is meant to absolve the one making it rather than put things right with the one receiving it. Saying sorry to God takes everything a step further. It is an essential step because without recognizing the fact of sin in our lives, we can hardly expect to be set free from it and become open to the grace God offers us every minute. Real change can only come about when we respond to that grace. And in case you think I am talking rarefied spirituality here, let me assure you I mean something with immediate and practical effect in our lives. To live a virtuous life is no mean achievement, but it can only be done by grace.

I like the fact that on 1 January we begin re-reading the Rule of St Benedict. The Prologue opens with a call to prayer and to a renewal of obedience — listening — to God. That surely is the best way of preparing for the New Year. Everything else is secondary. Those New Year resolutions that rarely last beyond January may help us identify areas of our lives that need some attention, but they are scarcely important in themselves. Nor is New Year’s Day our only opportunity to change. If you think about it, every moment is new. Every moment is potentially transformative. Every moment God is doing a new thing — if we let him. The old saying is true, ‘Without Him we cannot; without us He will not.’ If we make only one resolution for 2018, let it be to allow God to act in and through our lives.