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Do we really need another New Year?


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 12/29/20

My counsel for 2021 is both humble and daring: Let’s do our duty.

Having been dragged kicking and screaming through the year 2020, I’m ready to call it quits! How about you?

How would you respond to such a lament? I’m asking, not only because I’ve heard such statements (more or less) but because as I write this, the year 2021 is almost upon us.

As I think about the coming of another year, ghosts of New Years Past come to mind. I see the New Year that began with the death of a friend’s child to a drug overdose. And I see yet another New Year that began with the death of another friend’s child, also to a drug overdose.

I recall the New Year that began with me riding in an ambulance, praying that my loved one would not die on the way to the hospital. If I persist, I can recall the New Year that began standing with my best friend in his backyard, looking at the stars. When I said, “This coming year has to be better than the last one!” he chided me (only half-jokingly): “Shhh! Don’t say that! The cosmos might hear you!”

Few people will recall the year 2020 with fond memories. Few people will face 2021 without some measure of anxiety. Both positions are understandable, perhaps even inevitable. But how is a disciple of Christ who weathered the storm of 2020 to face the mystery of the year 2021?

Well, there are a couple of tempting mistakes to be avoided. Witless optimism and wishful thinking, combined with a presumptuous, “Don’t worry! I just know everything will be OK!” would likely provoke me to verbal abuse and maybe worse. But I don’t think there will be very many people around the world organizing huge singalongs of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands!” as the year 2021 begins.

On the other hand, there is a darker option, a path better suited to my highly developed melancholic temperament, namely, the gloom of despair: “We’re doomed! It’s going to get worse before it gets worse! God’s judgment is upon us! Let’s pray for a quick and merciful death so that we don’t envy the dead!” That blinding response to darkness (darkness both real and imagined) blocks out the avenues of grace and hampers all natural virtues. People who love their children will refrain from walking that path. So will pastors who are true shepherds and not hired hands.

What, then, are we disciples of Christ to do as we are in sight of the ending of one year and the beginning of another? Remember the old joke: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!” There’s a nugget of wisdom in that statement, and a few grains of poison as well. The wisdom lies in the recognition that God’s knowledge, goodness, and power infinitely exceeds our own, and we are just not capable of molding the world to our insights, inspirations, and inclinations. As I’ve gotten older, I see the wreckage of so many of my plans and certainties and resolutions behind me. Life has reminded me repeatedly that it’s much bigger than me. Having said that, I don’t want to appear that I’m advising we all just give up and let the tides roll over us. That is a toxic temptation to be avoided.

Instead, I’ll counsel that we do something that is at once both humble and daring: Let’s do our duty. Let’s live up to our obligations, promises, and commitments. I will show up prepared when Mass is scheduled; I will hear confessions when I am asked to do so. I will answer emails and phone calls and pay bills. I will manage my time, energy, and resources in light of what God and neighbor have a right to expect of me. Weak and limited as I am, I will choose to conduct myself as one who lives in an uncertain world and who is certain that at the end of his days, he must face God.

When I am confused, discouraged, frightened, tempted, or pained, I will ask, “What good thing can I do right now?” And if I don’t feel like doing that, I will ask myself, “What can I do right now to prove to God that I am grateful for all His mercies and blessings?”

I don’t know what 2021 holds in store for me or for anyone else. I face the unknown with the certainty that God is faithful and provides what is necessary for our salvation. And, if God asks my opinion, I will tell Him that I would very much like 2021 to be better than 2020.

When I write next, I will speak of freedom. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.


Read more:
Praying this litany will give you peace about the past and future

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