We have completed a year and are entering into the New Year. New enthusiasm, new hopes new ideas, all this being an integral part of the New Year. Somehow every time a New Year sets in there is an attitude of newness. Haven’t we so often heard and maybe done ourselves, ‘The New Year List’. A list of promises, and resolutions: I will pray regularly, I will not smoke, I will stop drinking, I will get up early etc. the list goes on and on, so much so, that the enormity of the list itself is a clear indication of how much time we had on our hands when we were claiming to be very busy. And since we ourselves have written the list we proudly show it off to everyone in sight, but would never again have a glance at the long, point by point, essay. Does this whole drama have much meaning or is it a very good way of systematically wasting your time? What is it that we can derive from a New Year?
For many it is that the old has died and passed out and the new is coming in. But after the high, the fact sets in that everything is the same and the only thing that has changed is the page of the calendar or the whole calendar itself. This is when many of us fall into a rut and think that it is never possible to change our ways and so why try at all. Many do come to me and tell me “I have given up trying because I always end up doing the same mistakes. My life will never change; I will never be able to give up smoking or drinking.” Maybe we are missing the point, as to what actually the New Year is all about.
It is not just the change but rather the chance to get up once again; a chance to fight back; a chance to start on a clean slate once again. This is an opportunity that Jesus gives his faithful every minute of the day. This is the opportunity that Peter used to the fullest. If we glance through the pages of the Gospel, especially the life of Peter, we find that he was far from perfect. Perfection is what we would expect from the first Pope. Rather he was one who kept making blunders after blunders. He denied the Lord; he went back to his old trade of fishing (Jn 21:1 ff); he never understood the importance of Jesus dying on the cross (Mt 16:22-23); at the last supper he does not seem to understand the significance of what Jesus was about to do and foolishly replies, “Lord wash my hands and head.” (Jn 13:9) But inspite of all this, he always got up and humbly made his way back to Jesus. When he denied Jesus he turned back to him; after going fishing in John 21 we see him swim back to Jesus. He was always humble enough to go back to Jesus when he made a mistake and that is what makes him so special and the perfect model for us as disciples. Christianity is not about doing everything right but rather it is about holding on to the one Person who is right, our Lord and Saviour. I feel he was not made the pope because of his holiness but because he was one of the few who had so clearly understood that Jesus is a forgiving God and will always be ready to take us back. Peter would be the best representation of normal people like us. We are humans and there will always be the dangers of falling off-track. But by moaning about our offence or faults we will never be able to get out of it. The only other option is to get up once more. We are never defeated by our sins but rather by our stubbornness in not getting up. We are familiar with the life of King David. He was chosen as king not because of any great quality. In fact his very own father, Jesse dismisses him as insignificant when Prophet Samuel enquires about him. He who was a nothing was given a highly exalted position by God. It is this King David, who inspite of having close proximity with God, falls into sin (1 Sam 11). But the moment he realises his sin he decides to turn back to God and tries once again to be the just king that he is supposed to be. Walter Hilton says, “When you attack the roots of sin, fix your thought upon the God who you desire rather than upon the sin which is abhorred.” Irrespective of the extent of our sin we have to make repeated efforts to get up. God always leaves his hands extended so that we could use it to stand up again. Tertullian says, “Repeated sickness must have repeated medicine. You will show your gratitude to the Lord by not refusing what the Lord offers you. You have offended but still can be reconciled.” Let us not refuse the hands of the Lord which will help us get up again.
Many of us are able to grasp that God forgives and lifts us up but we falter when it comes to forgiving ourselves. We have to learn that if God can forgive our sins, we should be able to forgive our self for what we have done. Many times the pain of our past life and failures remain because we fail to forgive ourselves. A lady once came up to me and spoke of how she was in a lot of depression because of her past life. Seeing her condition I asked her if it was her first retreat. But she replied that it was her sixth retreat. I asked her if she believes in a forgiving God and she replied in the affirmative. This lady though she has been forgiven way back and believes in a forgiving God, she still pains within herself thinking about her past life. The reason is simple – she fails to forgive herself. She is holding onto a sin that Jesus has already forgiven. This is what happens in our lives as well. We fall into sin time and again and though Jesus is ready to forgive us at anytime, we stubbornly fail to forgive ourselves. This then makes us sit in our filth and keep moaning about our failure to lead a life worthy of the Lord.
Let us make that decision to forgive our self and get up once again. Let us never get disheartened by the failures in our spiritual life. Life in this sinful world is a continuous struggle and the one who fights to the end is the one who will be rewarded. In the letter to the Philippians chapter 3: 13 -14 we read “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” This New year let us get up once again and march towards the glory that the Lord has promised us. And let everyday of our lives be a ‘New Year’, with new resolutions and the strength to keep striving towards the perfection that the Lord has called us to. God’s hands are always open, the question is, are we ready to walk back into them?
– Fr. Michael Payyappilly V.C.