HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019: We Really Can Begin Again—In and through Jesus Christ.
By Deacon Keith Fournier
1 Jan 2019
New Year’s Eve celebrations are staggered around the globe due to the different time zones, but we all have this in common: no matter where we live geographically, we welcome the end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one. The manner of celebrating may differ, but we also share a common hope, that we can begin again. That hope can find its ultimate fulfillment by turning the One who can make all things new, Jesus Christ.
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 and, intuitively, we all know that means we must change within if we want to experience change around us. GK Chesterton once 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. 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.
Taking Inventory and Making Resolutions
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. We all want to be better, to live our lives more fully and to love one another more selflessly. So, we make resolutions.
Every New Year I read numerous articles about the questionable efficacy of these New Year’s Resolutions. However, the fact remains, we all make them. The experience is universal. The question is – why do we do it? I suggest that they reveal something of our deepest longing. They present us with an invitation to exercise our human freedom and to choose a better way of life. But, we cannot do it on our own. We need God.
In Little Gidding, the last of the four quartets written by T.S. Elliot, we find these often quoted words: “Both bad and good. Last season’s fruit is eaten And the full fed beast shall kick the empty pail. 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 and end is to make a beginning.”
Over the years, I have come to realize that every end truly can become a new beginning for the man or woman who has living faith in a living God who invites us to begin again, again and again. He alone makes it possible, by sharing His Life with us. This gift is called grace – and through receiving this grace 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 with gratitude to God, and resolve to do better in the coming year, we are also facing the reality of our human condition and our fractured freedom. We face the reality of sin. We know that our resolutions to change often end in failure. We are prone to making wrong choices in daily life. Classical western theology speaks of this inclination as concupiscence.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this experience to the early Christians in Rome in the seventh chapter of his letter:
“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?”
Fortunately, he answered the question a few lines later in the letter, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!”
Freedom and the Image of God
Our human freedom reflects the Image of God. We are not determined. Our choices truly matter. However, our ability to always choose what is true and good and beautiful was fractured by the effects of the first sin. In the words of Saint John Paul II (The Splendor of Truth) “freedom itself needs to be set free”.
The Good News is that freedom CAN be set free, through the saving Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By His grace we are made capable of beginning to live our lives differently – and of choosing differently. Freedom is set free by the One who brings true freedom, Jesus Christ. In the words of the Savior – if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
Jesus can make all things new within us – and then continues His work of making all things new through us. Even though our human freedom was fractured by sin, the splint of the wood of the Cross is the lasting and life-changing remedy which brings healing to the wound.
On the first day of the New Year Catholic Christians celebrate the Feast of the Solemnity of the Mother of God. They do so for a reason. This is no liturgical accident. She who beheld the face of the Savior invites us to hear the words of her Son and Savior Jesus Christ, “Behold I make all things new”! (Rev. 21:5)
Jesus alone can fulfill the desire which is really at the heart of the New Year’s celebrations, and help us, by His saving grace, to make them become reality. Mary is sometimes referred to in Catholic circles as the Mother of the New Creation because the One whom she held in her womb is the only One who makes all things new!
Mary was the first disciple, the prototype, the symbol of the whole Church. We who are members of the Church, the Body of her Son, are invited to emulate her Yes to the invitation of God and make it our own. We are called to make a place for Him within us and become bearers of Christ to the world. For He alone can make us new.
Millions will utter sincere words on New Year’s Eve and Day, promising to do better this year. 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.” But, this year can be different, if we turn to Jesus.
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, I would 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 really hope to change. Then, all my well-intended efforts are not enough! I need the GRACE OF GOD.
So now, I pray first. Then, my list becomes simple. Mary’s Fiat (Latin word for let it be done) has become my prayer. I seek to make the meaning of it become the pattern of my life. The full phrase opens the door to beginning again and again and again, “let it be it done unto me – according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
I pray that in the Year of Our Lord, 2019, we may all find the fullness of grace and the new beginning which comes through entering into a living relationship with the One who makes all things new, Jesus the Christ. (Rev. 21:5) There is a universal longing in every human heart to be made new, to begin again, because the Holy Spirit prompts it. It leads us back to the One who created us – and who can re-create us – through Jesus Christ.
In and through Jesus Christ, there is a path to being made new. He walked that path up the mountain of Golgotha, and through the tomb to the Resurrection. That promise of being made new, being born again, is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News! St. 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 Day 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 new choices. Resolutions can become reality, when we turn to the One who makes it possible, the One who truly makes all things new, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Our choices make us become the persons we become. In our choosing we not only have the potential to change the world around us, we change ourselves. In 2019, may we choose to live our lives in, with and for Jesus Christ. That is the way to turn those resolutions into reality and experience a real New Year.
St Josemaria Escriva once 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)
I Make All Things New
In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we read about an encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Jesus tells this devout Jewish leader, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The phrase born anew can also be translated born again or born from above, in the original Greek.
Understandably, the leader, a devout man, was somewhat confused by these words. The encounter continues, “Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:5)
The same John who wrote the Gospel, also wrote the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. He was given a vision of the ultimate fulfillment of the desire which surfaces during every commemoration of every New Year, that wonderful day when the Lord will return and make all things new. With those words I conclude:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21: 1-5)
Happy New Year! May the Lord Bless you and your family in the Year of Our Lord, 2019!
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Deacon Keith A. Fournier, the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, is also the Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and seven grandchildren. He is a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who has long been active at the intersection of faith and culture. He served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties. Deacon Fournier is the Dean and Chaplain of Catholic Online School, a project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation.