Self-help books share scores of ideas for New Year’s resolutions and how to keep them. People embrace renewing their gym memberships, planning out new diets, cutting out carbs, or making other lifestyle changes for a more wholesome and healthy life.
Jan. 1 also marks the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Her “resolution” was more “big picture” — more of a focus on fulfilling God’s plan.
“God, where do you want me to go? What are your plans for me in 2017?”
God’s plan for her meant a virgin birth — with the hope that God would somehow explain this to her future husband, St. Joseph. God’s plan for her meant that she would need to rush over a 120-mile mountainous region on a donkey to accompany her cousin, Elizabeth, during the birth of John the Baptist. God’s plan meant there would be no room in the inn. It meant accepting the harsh reality of a cold cave, with piles of straw and smelly animals as the receiving room.
God’s plan meant rushing off to Egypt in the middle of the night, with Herod’s soldiers in pursuit, who were trying to capture and kill her child. God’s plan meant 30 years in obscurity and poverty, not fully seeing the divinity of Jesus until his first miracle at Cana. God’s plan meant losing her husband Joseph and watching her son die on the cross, an innocent lamb led to the slaughter.
Like Mary, we are all on our personal journey. I liken it to a hard hike up a steep mountain. For several years, I brought a group of dads and sons to the Adirondack mountain range for a week of mission work and backpacking. We would pick a mountain to climb each day, build an altar at the peak, and I would celebrate Mass for the group from some of the best views in Upstate New York.
The climb was often muddy and challenging. We did not always have a view of the valley below given the plethora of pine trees, but we knew we needed to reach the summit. Each mountain provided its unique set of challenges, but also its unique picturesque view from the top. God rewarded the climb!
Recently I had dinner with a family involved with one of our youth programs, and one of the boys, an 11-year-old from Connecticut, made this comment: “New Year’s is about setting new goals and resolutions. It’s a fresh start! One goal I have is to be kinder to my brothers and have a better relationship with them.”
Each new year presents a unique opportunity to scale new summits and personal peaks. Weight loss, better abs, a lower golf handicap — these are all good things. But I encourage all of us to look to the heights and ask: “God, where do you want me to go? What are your plans for me in 2017?”
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.