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New year, new me: the right way Print
Guest column
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Journey with Faith
Deacon Lawrence Oparaji

In November, I visited my uncle in Dallas, Texas, and while I was there, we went to a barbershop to get a haircut.

While waiting for my turn, I overheard a man say to the barber that he was moving to Las Vegas. The barber asked further why he was doing that, and the man simply said, "I want to start the new year and new decade in a new city. You know what I mean -- a fresh start?"

Take concrete steps to change

On hearing this, I thought to myself, "sounds great, but it's not sufficient." It is a new year and new decade quite right, but what concrete steps are we taking to make whatever change we desire, other than just moving to a new city, like Las Vegas?

A priest friend of mine has this habit of asking people what their concrete plans are, especially when they are struggling with habitual sin. As Our Lord pointed out to us in Mathew 9:17, we cannot put new wine into an old wineskin, because there is bound to be an accident as the old wineskin will burst and the wine will be wasted. We cannot be doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

Look to past and future

The month of January gets its name from the Roman god Janus, who is usually depicted as a god with two faces -- one face looking at the past and another face gazing into the future.

What this naturally calls for is a reflection, a reflection on the past and a commitment to grow and be better in the future. As Socrates once beautifully put it, "an unexamined life is not worth living"

You and God's grace

There is a temptation sometimes to think that the new year has some kind of magical phantom in it, that will bring some magical change with it. This is a huge mistake, because we deny or forget the human agency needed for whatever change we desire, and of course the need to cooperate with God's efficacious grace.

The most essential element for change is YOU and your openness to God's grace. It is not 2020 that is essential; 2020 is just a conventional date. You and your action is what is essential!

When I was in seminary, I was introduced to American football by some classmates and Fr. Bart Timmerman. Over the years, I have come to love and appreciate this beautiful game.

Making first downs in life

Of all the elements of the game, I have come to fall in love with the idea of a first down; it has come to have a deeper meaning for me on a spiritual level. I have come to see life as a process of making first downs in life virtues and holiness.

Almost like the law of gradualness where we grow in our relationship with God, in our love for him and the moral life through a step by step process, not jumping for perfection immediately, but through daily commitments and conversions.

And so in this new year, I urge you all to seek for first downs in whatever areas you desire to grow or seek to excel in. Make some concrete resolutions, and find a way to keep yourself accountable. Gradually, after achieving some "first downs," you can "score" a "touchdown!"

Prioritize God in our lives

Of all resolutions that could be made, I think the one we all need the most will be to prioritize God in our lives. Once we have this resolution well-grounded, it becomes easier to build on.

As Psalm 125:1 reminds us, "those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion that cannot be shaken." So let us all prioritize our relationship with God in this new year. Let us find ways to spend time with God in prayer, let us find ways to serve God in our neighbor, let us find ways to bring God's peace to our troubled world, and let us become more active in our parishes! There are a lot of ministries in need of the many talents that we possess.

Ultimately let us lead a holy life by surrendering to God's will, which sometimes might disrupt our plans, but let us never hesitate to surrender to God because He knows what is best for us. He is on our team and desires nothing but our ultimate victory!

May Our Good Lord, His Blessed Mother, and St. Joseph bless us in the new year, and may whatever goals we set for ourselves be accomplished according to God's loving will and our diligent efforts.

Deacon Lawrence Oparaji is a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Madison serving at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie.