It is my hope that your Christmas and New Year's celebrations allowed you to feel the presence of Christ in your homes and in your lives as well as the beautiful closeness of family, even those who might be geographically far away.
As we enter the new year I must admit that I have been more than amused as I watch various Hollywood type figures on television discuss their New Year's resolutions. For the most part they have proven how little will power they have in various areas of their lives, and so their reliance on what they seemingly lack rather blows my mind - but it seems that at this time of year New Year's resolutions must be discussed, ready or not. It also seems that most people's New Year's resolutions focus on various sorts of diets, and I choose to pass over that without going into detail!
New Year's resolutions can be a very good thing for all of us if they are founded on humility and trust.
Three classes of factors
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, a man not without his critics, but a very intelligent man, made an interesting distinction recently in terms of our country's ability to deal with terrorist attacks. He spoke of those factors which could be called "the known known," those factors which could be classified as "the known unknown," and thirdly those factors which are "the unknown unknown." It is this third classification, the "unknown unknown," which of course presents the greatest difficulty as we seek to address possible or actual terrorist attacks.
But these three classes of factors will be part of the year 2004 for each of us in our own lives apart from their relevance in the area of terrorism. Each of our lives in the year 2004, our lives in family, our lives as Church, and so on will include the known known factors, the known unknown factors, and the unknown unknown factors. But the inclusion of the unknown unknown in our personal and communal lives in the year 2004 provides the most solid invitation to grow in our faith, that is, in a real humility.
Just a year ago in the early days of 2003 I not only did not know that in the early days of 2004 I would be the Bishop of Madison, but if someone had predicted that I would be, I would have told that person that he or she must be smoking funny cigarettes. My presence here with you right now, gift from God that it is, wonderful as it is, was a year ago among those unknown unknown factors in the new year. And so as we are planning for the new year or make New Year's resolutions, we must take account of the unknown unknown as possibly appearing in our lives. Whatever we plan or resolve, we must plan or resolve with great humility knowing that God's Providence may be moving in another direction. We must humble ourselves before the real possibility of the unknown unknown in our lives.
Possibility of unknown unknown
At the same time this humility, which should undergird any formulating of New Year's resolutions, must take account of the weakness of our human will power, the weakness that comes from our sinfulness, and the need for the support and strength in our life that only God's Grace can give. The possibility of the unknown unknown in our lives in 2004 and the need for grace raise the question for each of us of our practice of the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.
This is the ordinary way which the Lord gives us for receiving the forgiveness of sins, for coming to a deeper understanding of and acceptance of the unknown unknown, and for being evermore receptive to God's grace. Humility as undergirding our New Year's resolutions points us to the possibility of the unknown unknown, that is warns us not to try to be "control freaks," and points us to the necessity of grace.
Complete trust in God's Providence
The possibility of the unknown unknown means of course that the ways of God's Providence may not turn out to be my way or your way - that is what the unknown unknown in our lives is all about. And therefore complete personal trust in God's Providence becomes another cornerstone of any plan or formulation for New Year's resolutions.
It is so fitting that on January 1st we celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God whom Scripture praises most highly with the words "Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled." It was this special and unique privilege of absolute trust which enabled her to be full of grace and to welcome into her life the unknown unknown which turned out to be her giving birth to the Son of God and the only Savior of the world. Whatever New Year's resolutions we might undertake, let us undertake them with Mary and like Mary in this spirit of trust that the Lord's words to us will be fulfilled, and aware that the path of God's Providence might turn out quite different from anything that we might have in mind.
If we can receive these blessings, these gifts, these graces of humility and of trust, then our New Year's resolutions would have some hope of success, not that we can do so much, but because all things are possible for God. Thank you very much for reading this and God bless each one of you. Praised be Jesus Christ!