Sacramentum explores the sacraments of the Catholic Church – the depths of their meaning, history, and, above all, the impact they have on each of us in our daily faith lives. In this reflection, Sister Connie Harkin of the School Sisters of Notre Dame reflects on how our faith in God can guide us and renew us as we embark into the new year.

In ancient Roman mythology, there is an image of a god, Janus, with two faces – one facing back and the other forward. It has often been considered the origin of the word January. Like Janus, in the month of January we seem to be both looking back on the year we have just endured and looking forward to the new year ahead of us.

We began a new year – 2024 – on the first of January. The old year has passed and now this year has 366 days – a leap year!

Does this image of Janus hold meaning for us? For some of us the past year gave us many vivid and cherished memories, for others it has already become a blur. Only when we “look back”, will we recall the ways we were blessed. This could mean the welcoming of a new life, like a new member of the family; a new job opening us up to endless possibilities; or a new place to call home. Indeed, if we were to stop and think about it, there were likely situations we went through or new relationships we formed this past year which we could have never predicted nor dreamed of.

The image of Janus

We often hear of making New Year Resolutions. There are those who would tell us, “make too many, don’t keep any.” May such a slogan remind us that a lengthy list is not required. Rather, it is easiest to focus on a few essentials.

We have just recently come from celebrating the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This same Jesus is the One with whom we desire to grow in relationship with, to be like Him and to share His love with others. As followers of Christ, when we think of our New Year Resolutions, we may ask the question ’What does God require of us?’ The prophet Micah answers this so simply yet so profoundly to the core of our being, “… to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 6-8)

When we pause and ponder the phrase, “to do justice” – what comes to mind? There are many areas of our world, our countries, our homes and our lives where we hear the cries of injustice. We cannot stand by while others experience discrimination nor can we turn a deaf ear or blind our eyes to the needs of others who are suffering. We may need to join others who also seek the elimination of pain, betrayal and exploitation. Let us share with each other the ways we can take a stand and speak for the speechless. This takes courage, time and openness to the Spirit to make the first steps on the path to justice.

How about “to love kindness”? As children, at home and at school, we were taught many words and actions to show respect and kindness. We learned to share our time with those who are lonely or even isolated from others. Some time ago, a popular song – “Try a Little Kindness” – stirred the hearts of many of us who heard it frequently. This song became a wake-up call to each of us if we actually heard it and took positive action. Jesus sought out the downcast, the sinner, the weak and the downtrodden. We need only open the Gospels and there, before us, we witness His kindness and His love.

Can we not imitate Him, the Master Teacher, who encountered and served the multitude, who loved to the core of his being?

Sr. Connie Harkin reminds us that the new year provides the chance to be renewed, and it is through an openness to God by prayer and action that He can renew us.

How do I love ‘to the core of my being’? The God of Love planted love in our hearts. This love cannot be static. It invites action. It implies growth like a plant which requires nourishment to survive. What better way to imitate that love than to spend time with Him. Prayer is the lifeline to connect us to God, to praise, to thanks, to being present. We may even want to learn and to share what we have learned with others. Some engage in Bible studies to become familiar with the life of Jesus, the Son of God. Or we take time away to reflect on the goodness and love that God has for each of us. All the time God is loving us, and we are His constant recipient. Remember, ‘”God is love and all who dwell in love, will live in God, and God will live in them”.

Finally, “To walk humbly with God” – may this be what underlies our desire each time we wish others a “Happy New Year.” With the new year there will be many new steps, moving us forward into a future that is unknown to us, yet is known to God. We will surely encounter many situations, places, and people on this journey. Time will open the door – or open our hearts – to what the good Lord has in store for us.

We may feel anxious about what lies ahead. However, we need to heed the promise Jesus left us: “I am with you always”. Let us take to heart, to place our trust, to remember each day can be a blessing – a gift. May we find time to communicate with God – to pray – to be silent and to allow Him to speak to our hearts. The Lord holds the key and enters our hearts in various and surprising ways. Or do we allow ourselves to be occupied with so many concerns that we become deaf to His entry? He does not use force but rather in a gentle, peaceful manner, will make His presence known. Are we open? Are we welcoming when we meet Him in the downtrodden, the abandoned, the lonely? Open our hearts, open our eyes and ears, open our hands, Lord.

The Lord Jesus is here at the threshold of our lives. Will the Lord find us ready to offer a loving, trusting welcome? The new year begins, a time for renewal, a time for looking ahead. So strengthen your faith, for renewal begins within you!