What is to be done with the Januaries of our lives?
Rev. John Roche, SDB
I will admit that I do not like January. I can't complain about the bitter cold, ice or snow since we are spoiled out here in California, but nonetheless, January is the take-Christmas-down period of the year.
It's true that the liturgical season of Christmas extends nearly two weeks into the month, but it does not feel like it. The radio stations halted their Christmas music by midnight on Christmas Day, store decorations have already shifted to Valentine's Day and many curbs are cluttered with ousted Christmas trees.
The emotional build-up is jolted by this shut-down. And no matter how much I prepare for this shift, I feel it more and more each year. I suppose there is something of the half-empty or half-full debate going on inside my head. Certainly God's gift of his Son is something that extends beyond decorations, parties, gifts and music stations. But it is harder to embrace in the hum-drum of everyday life.
So what is to be done with the Januaries of our lives? That is a tough question. I suggest that we can take a lesson from the saints and those saintly people whose lives are measured not by seasons but by mercy. We have all met some of these people.
They are the ones who never seem upset no matter the circumstances in their lives. These are the people who are more concerned about others and whose passions are driven outward to the service of humanity.
And these special people come in all sizes and shapes. They are not concerned or preoccupied about their own appearance or reputation. Instead, they have a rhythm that is all their own, moving in and out of lives as the Spirit moves them offering hope and joy wherever they happen to be.
Isn't this precisely what the world has noticed about Pope Francis? Somehow he brings the Christmas Joy with him wherever he goes casting out any shadows of January. He exudes a readiness and an availability that has the masses transfixed — conquering even the most hardened scrutiny of the media elite. His first apostolic exhortation reads like a loving invitation and radiates an effusive joy. Always, he directs the attention of the world outward to see people and love them deeply where they are. This is the Incarnation in and out of season.
If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God's handiwork, his creation.
God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God's glory. Every human being is the object of God's infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.
Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God's faithful people. We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names.
(Evangelii Gaudium No. 274)
So as you take down those lights, sweep up the crumbs of a holiday celebration, think of the ongoing gift of the Father — his Son, Jesus.
Let this reality melt through the inner cold of any January and let it turn your heart and mine outward to the people and events to which God leads us. Let us, like Jesus, be ready to offer our lives "to help at least one person to have a better life." Not even a cold January storm can extinguish the fire that burns in a heart connected to Jesus. Stay connected in and out of season.
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.)
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