I don’t know about you, but I stopped making resolutions for the New Year, years ago. It’s not that I wasn’t keeping my resolutions (well... sometimes) but that it all seemed so arbitrary. We should always be trying to improve, no? So why only do it at the end of the year? It’s sort of like Lent. We give things up for Lent as penance, but deep down inside we figure that if the penance also improves us, then we win twice.
Maybe it is just me.
For the last couple of years I’ve resolved (however) to do less during Christmas. It’s so easy to get so busy at this time that we lose focus on what the season is really about. I have to admit that my whole family has gotten really good at this: We’re holed up (literally) for two weeks. And if there is a lot of snow, cold or ice storms, even better! My resolution to spend time with family was not that hard this year.
But since my ordination in May 2012, it’s been a bit harder to do less. On top of work and family commitments, I now have Parish and diaconal commitments and at this time of the year, these usually include many parishioners inviting the deacon to dinner, coffee, dessert or whatever gathering they may be having. I can’t do them all, but my resolution is to do one of these a year.
The other thing that has changed is that I now receive many more chocolates than I used to for Christmas. It’s very important to appreciate and thank people who work for the Church and so I do not object in principle to giving gifts to the deacon, but gifts of cash do make me uncomfortable. My resolution is to take all that cash and donate it to a charity.
I also try to do a bit more reading during my Christmas break. This year I’m reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Envangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. I don’t think I’ll finish it before my break is over, but I don’t have to stop reading when the break is over. So far I’ve been moved by his call to all pastoral workers (I guess that includes all deacons and all of us at Salt + Light, so it includes me) to see our call to evangelize as who we are and not just as an extension of ourselves or our work (EG#78). That sounds like, “stop complaining that you don’t have any free time or time for your family.” But what he’s really saying is that I don’t complain about having to be a husband 24/7 because it’s who I am. I don’t take a break from that. We evangelize because it's who we are. We evangelize because we love. Evangelizing is loving. That’s all.
My resolution is to love more and complain less.
I’ve never told you, but I love preaching. It’s one of my favourite things about being a deacon. Because in my parish there are two priests and two deacons, I only get to preach about once a month. Last year I only preached once during Advent and then once again at the end of January. But this year the first Sunday in Advent found me in Venezuela where I had the chance to serve at a Mass at a local Parish in Maracaibo and then speak to the congregation after Mass. Back home, I had the opportunity to preach for two Sundays of Advent as well as for our parish’s High School Christmas Mass. This was perhaps the highlight of my Advent season. But God has a sense of humour. The Gospel reading for that day was Matthew 1:1-17, the genealogy of Jesus! Always a good Gospel reading for a high school Mass. Preachers do love a good challenge. My resolution is to take as many opportunities to preach as possible (this one actually makes me a little afraid - I guess I still have to get to that part of Evangelii Gaudium).
My parish, Holy Martyrs of Japan in Bradford, Ontario, has a Spanish-speaking community and we have a Mass in Spanish every Sunday. It is the only Mass in Spanish north of Toronto, so it is fairly well attended. Since last year we’ve been offering a Christmas Eve Mass in Spanish. It was well attended last year. This year, our priest said to me, “I’ve been a priest for 25 years and have preached at many Christmas masses. You preach this year.”
“Sure,” I said.
The issue when preaching for me is not standing in front of a group of people and speaking. I can do that just fine. The problem is having something to say. That’s really up to the Holy Spirit. And Christmas is one of those occasions when you can make your homilies a little different, a bit more creative. What to do? What to say?
I looked at the readings and I discovered that the Gospel for Christmas Eve Mass in the evening is Matthew 1:1-25: The genealogy of Jesus, and then some. Thanks
My resolution: Let the Spirit do his thing.
And so what came out (and by this I don’t mean that I winged it – I prepared extensively) was what really had been in my heart: Family, helping those who need help and proclaiming the Word.
Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? God comes into the world into a family (and into our families) so we can get to him and calls us to lovingly proclaim that Good News in word and deed. That’s not just what Christmas is about, but what our whole Christian life is about. This is why I think the whole world is so taken by Pope Francis: He feels like he’s family and he talks the talk, but he also walks it. Those are always the best teachers, said Pope Paul VI: The ones who are witnesses first.
Today I went in for a quick, half hour meeting with my pastor to finalize our prayer service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I came out two and half hours later, with seven dates in my calendar: More opportunities to preach, to serve and to help build up marriages and families; More of preaching the Gospel with joy. No complaints. My resolution: Let the Spirit do his thing.
So much for no resolutions!
Photo: Deacon Pedro proclaiming the Gospel on the first Sunday in Advent at San Ramón Nonato Parish in Maracaibo, Venezuela.