“Let us together pledge that no matter what 2022 brings, we are going to use it to become saints.“
A BIT OF A REPEAT?
It’s easy to give advice as one year ends and another begins. But what about looking back at the advice you gave last year to see how well you did this year?
While part of me feels as if it’s cheating to repeat a post from last year and just change the dates, I can’t help but read the post I wrote for New Year’s Day 2021 and think how valid it is for today. Am I repeating myself? Yes. But because we need it. I think back to the story about St. John the beloved disciple, who supposedly got a reputation in his later years for preaching the same homily over and over again: Love, love, love. (Read 1 John and you’ll get the jist.) When his disciples asked him for a different message, a new message, he told them as soon as they learned this one, he’d move on.
Last year, I reflected on hearing someone say they wished 2020 never happened – that we could make a pact on December 31 to ignore the entire last year that we just experienced. And I disagreed. “2020 has been given to us. Regardless of whether it is what we wanted, it’s here. And it’s a gift. To ignore the days we’ve been given—even if they’ve been a dumpster fire – is to ignore the opportunities God has given us for holiness. Each day we wake up, regardless of what awaits us, is a new opportunity for grace, for conversion, and for mission. What will you do with what you’ve been given today? Maybe you’ll be given an unexpected cross. Or maybe you’ll be given an unexpected joy. Both can be used to further God’s plan in your life. Both can bring you to holiness.”
And it’s not just a grin-and-bear it holiness. We can actually feel incredible peace in the midst of the suffering. I was reminded of this recently when a friend reflected on the ups and downs of 2021. She had more suffering than most this year, but she also had moments of great joy. She reflected on how she can feel peace through it all … because she is rooted in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps people would see her smile and laugh and think she had not a care in the world. They wouldn’t fathom how she could have peace in the midst of immense suffering. People think if you’re suffering, you have to be grumpy and drowning in misery. So if you’re smiling or feeling peace, you must not be suffering! But it’s not simply a matter of being an optimist vs a pessimist, or a sanguine vs a melancholic. It is living in the present moment, living gratitude, and living unafraid.
So without further ado, what we need to do in 2022, (barely) adapted from “Three Lessons 2020 gave me for 2021”…
LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS.
Before the last few years, it has been perhaps a little too easy to think we were in control of what was happening. If I work hard enough and dream big enough, I can do anything. Or perhaps we have been too confident to assert that we would never do something or that something would never be happen.
The last two years have taught us that we do not know what the future holds. All we do know is that when it comes, God is there.
Live in the present moment. That is where God’s grace is. You can spend your days in shame about the past or in anxiety about the future, but to do that risks losing all the blessings and graces God has to give us right at this moment. As Thomas Jefferson (not a believer in grace, but an astute observer of nature) once wrote to John Adams, “There are indeed…gloomy and hypochondriac minds, inhabitants of diseased bodies, disgusted with the present, and despairing of the future; always counting that the worst will happen, because it may happen. To these I say: How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened?”
Stop letting the past or the future ruin your present. Live in the present moment and be flexible enough to let God surprise you.
Avoid ultimatums – it’s dangerous to say “I would never…,” or “it could never…” The saints are not rigid; rather, they are those who are humble enough to let go of their own plans, to alter their agendas, and to find peace and happiness in the unexpected.
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED.
Each day is a gift. Each opportunity to go to Mass is a grace. We cannot take for granted our employment, the food on our table, our gatherings with family, and our freedom to be with those we love. Thank God for these gifts.
It is easy to think about what we lost. Our conversations can naturally veer toward lament and complaint. Do we focus on what went wrong in 2021 and what might go wrong in 2022? Or do our thoughts and conversation aim to edify? As St. Paul admonishes us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). And these are words from a man who endured a lot more in his life than I have. Rather than focus on what we lost, be grateful for what we have learned.
DO NOT FEAR.
Ultimately, it does not matter what 2022 holds. There is nothing that can remove us from the love of God. Even the greatest calamities do not have to rob us of peace, if our foundation is God.
Are you anxious about the future? Give it to God. He is already there. “Fear is a phenomenon which covers almost every aspect of life. It is often the result of ignorance or of selfishness stemming from an excessive concern for oneself or anxiety over things that perhaps will never happen. But, above all else, fear often stems from the awareness that the security of our life is based on very weak foundations.” (Father Francis Fernandez)
Live without fear. It’s not a rash, throw-cares-to-the wind way of living, but rather choosing to live not dictated by anxiety but guided by trust in the Lord.
It is said that the notion “be not afraid” appears 366 times in Sacred Scripture: one for every day of the year, even for leap years. Perhaps it is a message that the Holy Spirit must keep repeating until we pay attention. It is not that the future will necessarily be easy; it is that the security of our life depends on an unchangeable God who does not leave us orphan.
I leave this year grateful and encouraged for 2022. Not because I think anything will drastically change tomorrow or the next day. But because 2021 has given me enormous opportunities for grace. It is often the case that we have to be broken to grow. I leave this year differently from how I began.
Is it tempting to think 2022 has to be better than 2021? Perhaps it will be, perhaps it will not. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
Your joy should not depend on anything changing. Your joy does not depend on the capricious whims of this world – wealth, politics, or even health. We are in this world to become saints, and God makes saints in every age. So let us together pledge that no matter what 2022 brings, we are going to use it to become saints.