A New Year is upon us. Many of us have made New Year's resolutions and look forward to a year of health, peace and prosperity. However, at the beginning of a New Year, it is most fitting to look forward to the year in the perspective of our faith. It is our faith in God who created us out of love with meaning and purpose that gives direction to our lives. With so many concerns - personal, national and international - before us, it is only our faith that enables us to face both the known and the unknown in a manner that gives us a sense of peace. It is not only our faith in God that makes a difference but also our personal relationship with Him that enables us to ground ourselves in what truly matters.
Each year, the Pope has given us a message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, which is good to place before us in setting the tone for the New Year. Pope Francis' theme for his message this year is Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace. In his message, the Pope speaks of the violence that is present in our society and world and stresses how violence must be overcome. He states, "Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at its best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not all." Pope Francis’ message helps us understand better that, following the message of Christ, we must embrace peace and nonviolence as a means of bettering our world as God intended it to be.
In his message, Pope Francis makes reference to two great people of our times who spoke of peace and have a great deal to say to us about the New Year. They are Mother Teresa, who Pope Francis recently canonized, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Both gave a great witness to peace and nonviolence, in their personal lives and in their teaching, and have a great deal to say to our world today. Pope Francis quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict that, "in the world today there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This 'more' comes from God." Pope Francis quotes the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, "We in our family don't need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world." The words of Pope Benedict and Mother Teresa, as reflected in the words of Pope Francis, seem so obvious and yet are so far away from our world and society. They also are sometimes far away from the lack of peace we experience in our own lives.
As we reflect upon the message of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, her saintly life gave an extraordinary example to our world and to us of how to find peace. Pope Francis refers to her as “a symbol, an icon for our times.” Indeed true peace comes about by turning ourselves over to God and trusting that His will and plan are far better than our own. Mother Teresa understood the love and mercy of God and shared that love and mercy with the poorest of the poor and the most helpless and vulnerable. From the unborn child in a mother's womb to the infirm and those at the final stage of life, Mother Teresa recognized the dignity of every person as made in the image and likeness of God. She realized that every person had a value which did not come from what a person achieved but from God Himself. Likewise, she realized that no one lost their value and dignity through any fault or sin on their part. It is God's mercy and love that makes the difference and only by recognizing this will true peace become more of a reality for our world.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta gave us wonderful words to keep before us as we begin a New Year especially seeking peace within our own lives. She was fond of saying, "God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God, results are not important. Faithfulness is what is important." How true these words are. We can easily become disappointed in ourselves and in others because we do not see the results that we want to see. This does not mean we should not strive for those results but it does mean that we realize it is not the results that make a difference to God. What matters to God is our faithfulness to Him and our persevering despite the lack of success we may have. As we look at our New Year's resolutions, as good as they may be, it is not our success with them that will matter but our faithfulness to them. If we give up on them the first time we fail at them, we are not being very faithful. However, if we persevere in those resolutions, despite our failures at them, it is that faithfulness and perseverance that makes all the difference.
Pope Emeritus Benedict also gives us a wonderful example as we begin a New Year. His life of prayer at his Vatican monastery is a great example of faithfulness. Unfortunately, there are some popular views of Pope Emeritus Benedict that view him as unsuccessful. This view is the furthest thing from the truth. Pope Emeritus Benedict lived his life and papacy in saintly faithfulness and because of this his success is beyond measure. Pope Francis, above all, recognizes the greatness of Pope Emeritus Benedict and sees him as a mentor and model of what it means to be a man of the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, like Saint Teresa of Calcutta, lives his life relying upon his relationship with the Lord and always trusting in His love and mercy. This enables him always to move forward with great peace as he does even in his retirement.
Pope Emeritus Benedict has given us a great gift this past year. It is his book, Last Testament. This is a work of a series of interviews with Peter Seewald about his life. Through the interviews, Benedict reviews his life and gives us deep insights into himself as well as to what the meaning of life is all about. The great peace which his words exude remind us that it is only our relationship with the Lord in faith that gives us direction and purpose. He puts all of the matters of this life into that perspective and this gives him the ability to face the remaining days of his life with great peace and hope. All of us need to do the same, matter at what stage in life we may be. Doing this, with the understanding that God wants us to be faithful and not successful, gives us a perspective that will bring a greater peace to our lives and to our world as well.
As we begin this New Year, we ask the Lord to help us realize He is with us. We have just celebrated His Birth and experienced the depth of His love for us. We pray for our nation and for our world that it may experience a new peace and an end to violence which wreaks such havoc upon it. Only faith in God will enable our world and us to come to this peace.
A blessed and peace filled New Year to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 13, 2017