The coming of the New Year is a time when many people make New Year resolutions. They take a look at themselves and decide that there are things they would like to change and January 1st sees them trying to put those changes into place. However, most of these resolutions are expressed in terms of actions – e.g. I will do 20mins exercise each day, or maybe say the rosary each day – but I have found that trying to change myself through actions – i.e. doing or not doing certain things – can be a very uncertain way of proceeding, for should I slip just once, I invariably give up the whole project. “My resolution is broken, so, I may as well give the whole thing up!”
I remember, in the days when I used to smoke, I would usually take the beginning of the New Year and the beginning of Lent as opportunities to stop smoking – and so ruin several Lents by losing heart when I slipped just once with my self-imposed smoking ban. I still clearly remember one Ash Wednesday, travelling to an Iban longhouse for Mass and the blessings of ashes, and this journey took me past the home of a Catholic Chinese family, set back a little from the road. I knew that if they were at home they would invite me in for a drink and the Papa would offer me a cigarette, and so, to avoid stopping, I speeded up as I came near the house and tried to look the other way, so I could say that I had not seen them wave, but when I got near the house, I found the Papa standing in the middle of the road waiting for me. He knew I would be coming, as he would be at the longhouse later for Mass, and he must have heard my car from a way off, because only few cars travelled that path – the upshot was that I had to go into his house have my cup of tea, accept the proffered cigarette – and so another Lenten penance ended in collapse!
I am gradually discovering, however, that there is another way of changing my way of living, one which does not concentrate on particular actions, but on choosing the type of person I would like to be – and by doing it this way, I make sure that the Lord is a part of the project. The problem with “act-based resolutions” is that I myself decide on the act and I depend on my own strength to carry it out – I may ask the Lord for the grace and strength to do so, but I realise now that I never used to ask him whether I should be making these resolutions in the first place. It was me saying: “I have decided on this, but I need your help”, but by doing that I reduce the Lord to my servant, instead of my Master – and in my experience, he will not go along with that!
If I am to change, then the Creator must do you – I have neither the inspiration nor the power how to do it – and as St Irenaeus teaches, the Father creates by using “his two hands” – the Word and the Holy Spirit. Through his Word, God gives me a vision, not of what action I should do, but of what type of person I could become; and, through his Holy Spirit, the Father fills my heart with longing and so enables me to choose to become that person. This “choice” is my part in this transformation, however, it is not a choice to do something, but to become someone and it is also a choice which is not made just once, but many, many times, for, through the situations I meet in my life’s journey, Lord leads me to make that choice at ever deeper levels in my soul – and it becomes ever more a choice for Christ, the choice to be his companion, the choice for an ever-deepening friendship with him. This choice will involve me in doing or not doing certain actions, but these actions will change for what may be a good action in one situation may not be so in another and the only way I can know what I should do is by handing the situation into the Lord’s hands. For instance, it is good to go to Mass to seek the Lord’s grace, but should there be someone in my house who is sick and needs my attention, then it would not be a good action to leave that person by themselves while I go to Mass. So an action which is right in one situation is not necessarily right in another. Our journey, then, must be a journey of trust, and one I can never be certain that I have got right.
Because of this, it may well seem safer to hold on to rules and actions, which I believe to be “right”, for fear that I will sin and so be cut off from God, but our weakness or sinfulness does not necessarily cut us off from God, they can instead reveal to us what we are really like and so open the door to God at a much deeper level than we had reached before. For, as I sit in sorrow, amidst my weakness and failure, I can turn to God and say: “Lord, here in my failure, I see more clearly nowl which way I want to go. I want to be like you; I want to be your companion. Lord, here in my failure, I choose you, please accept me”. And my baptismal promises become even more firmly rooted – as the Exultet at Easter says: “O Happy Fault, O truly necessary sin of Adam that brought us so great a Redeemer!”
The Christian life is a journey, a process – it is not a series of “right” actions. This can be a little frightening, and we may worry, “because perhaps we have got it wrong!” This is where trust comes in. We are only Christian because the Lord has asked us to share in his mission and we have chosen to do so. If we hold on to that vision, he will not let us fail – even though at one time of our life we follow him in this way, and at another time we follow him in that way. He is the “Master of the meeting” and he is the one who moulds us, even though we may not realise what he is doing. This is the meaning of the Lord’s first miracle – changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. We are like that water and only the power of God can change us into wine. This is not done overnight, but is a process which takes our whole life for God to accomplish – and our failures, weaknesses and sins have a vital part in that process. So, our failed resolutions – be they at New Year or Lent – may be of greater benefit to us that if we succeeded in carrying them out.
Over Christmas, I had a three-week break from chemotherapy – God bless the Doctor! I still feel weak, but I also feel normal, but last Thursday I started the treatment again. I was fine on Friday and Saturday, but it laid me flat on Sunday. I am gradually getting ready to go again tomorrow. Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes over Christmas and New Year – and if I did not reply, I do so now.
The seminarians are away on vacation and will not be back until Chinese New Year. This means that I have to sit and watch the grass growing all around me with no one to cut it. The growth is helped in that we are in the rainy season and so with the sun and then the rain and sun once more, you can almost see the grass shooting up; a good lesson in patience.