by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
We are more than halfway through the first month of 2015.
If you are like me, you have forgotten the resolutions you made just a little over two weeks ago. In Father Francis Fernandez’s wonderful book of daily meditations, “In Conversation with God,” he proposes the question: What did we mean when we wished everyone a Happy New Year on Jan. 1?
Father Fernandez speculates that most of us mean a year free from illness, pain, trouble or worry. We usually intend that the recipient of our good wishes flourishes in every way, e.g., makes plenty of money, receives a salary raise, prices fall while wages increase. We are mainly hoping that nothing unpleasant happens to the recipient of our good wishes.
While it is natural to wish for prosperity and good health for friends, family and ourselves, this is not the best of what we as Christians can desire for ourselves and others.
In reality, we know that most years are a mixture of what we consider on the surface to be good and bad. What we should be wishing for those we love is not necessarily material prosperity nor even freedom from adversity, but that the new year will bring those we love and ourselves closer to God.
Father Fernandez points out that what the world considers great blessings can actually separate us from God. If we are too successful materially, then we can begin to operate under the illusion that we do not really need God. We can begin to believe we are able to handle our own lives without any assistance from God.
The same is true with academic achievement, professional recognition and social popularity. None of these are bad in themselves but, if they give us the delusion that we do not need God or if they impede our desire for union with God, then they become obstacles to our relationship with the only one that can satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts.
On the other hand, it is our weaknesses and adversities that often motivate us to draw closer to God. It is our poverty that makes it crystal clear to us that without God we are in a hopeless situation. In his epistles, St. Paul frequently reminded the early Christians that it is in our weakness that we discover our true strength, which is Jesus Christ alive within us.
When everything is going as we desire, we can leap to the mistaken conclusion that this is all due to our brilliance or industry. We can repeat the sin of our first parents, the original sin, by pushing God out of our life and making ourselves our own gods.
A wise desire for ourselves and others is that both what the world evaluates as good and bad will be an instrument for drawing us and those we love closer to God. This is a realistic wish, because we know that none of us are only going to receive exclusively the so-called good.
When I think back over my own life, it is clear that the greatest amount of personal growth happened as a result of overcoming challenges and difficulties. These apparent adversities drove me to my knees and opened my heart to receive in a new way God’s love, grace and wisdom.
We know that God only desires our good in this world and eternal happiness with him forever. This is why Jesus came into our world. If we truly believe this, if we truly believe the Gospel of Jesus, then we should approach a new year with eager anticipation to discover how God desires to use the events of this year to draw us closer to him.
If we are open to his grace, no matter what happens this year, Our Lord is going to use it to increase the capacity of our hearts to experience the joy and abundant life for which they were designed.
With that said, I wish all of you and all those you love a Happy New Year — one in which you will experience God’s love more profoundly and strive more completely to praise and glorify God in every aspect of your lives.