Saturday, December 31, 2016



While I was visiting my brother this week, my sister-in-law pulled out a photo album and some envelopes full of family pictures that I’d never seen before. I was particularly interested in a dozen snapshots of my sister, Eleanor, who died suddenly at the age of two in the mid-1930’s from an infection that is easily cured these days with antibiotics.

Among the photos of Eleanor that I was seeing for the first time, there was one picture of my mother holding this gorgeous baby; on the back someone had written, “Eleanor, two months before she died.” I began thinking how events can sometimes blindside us -- they happen without warning, without giving us the time to prepare to deal with them.

Yesterday (Friday) the church celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. Even Mary and Joseph had been blind-sided a few times by visits from angels, a mysterious pregnancy, the sudden need escape in the night to a foreign country. We would do well to remember that, from this perspective, the life of the Holy Family was very much like the life of most families -- in fact, their life was probably more troubled than most.


At this time of year we read or watch those “year in review” summaries of the past twelve months. I enjoy those retrospectives -- they answer our need to put things into perspective and see events in relationship to one another and to the larger picture of history.

But sometimes I hear people saying “I’m glad this year’s over! It was a rough one; so many bad things happened. I’ll be happy to see it go!” This sort of talk is different from “the year in review;” this is rather “the year on trial.” And the criteria for judging whether it was a good year or a bad one often center around pleasure and pain, and how things stacked up against the individual’s idea of “the way things are supposed to be.”

The end of the year is a good time to look back, certainly, but we might want to choose carefully the questions we ask about the past year. Besides asking “What were the times that made me feel great (or lousy), when things went (or didn’t go) my way?” we might also add a few questions that make more sense from the perspective of eternity: “Were there times when I responded to a challenge to be patient and loving with a difficult coworker or family member?” “Were there times when my faith in God was tested by circumstances?” “Were there times when I sensed God’s nearness in the midst of some trial or suffering?” “What were some of the ways God took special care of me this year by sending certain people into my life when I needed them?” “What were the times when I was surprised by something beautiful, like a sunset, or a baby’s smile, or a gesture of kindness from a stranger?” “When did God use me to answer someone’s prayer?”

Answering questions about my own attitudes and behavior is both more challenging and more useful than simply judging the past year on the basis of how much suffering and negativity it brought me.


I wonder what God’s perspective is on the way I spent the year 2016? As someone who reads the gospel, I believe I know pretty well the criteria that the Lord uses. And in regard to those personal tragedies, the problem remains that God’s will for me, which is always for my good, is often beyond my human comprehension. (I reflected on this problem in a previous blog post).

From my limited perspective, a certain event was a horror, but faith tells me that the more important perspective is the wider one that I won’t get to see until I reach heaven, when I will see the year 2016 as God already sees it.

In the meantime, however, I wish you a new year filled with graces and blessings, with health and joy.


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