New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken; I am going to be more patient, until God puts me in the position where I shall need to practice patience. I am going to be more kind, until someone takes my parking space. The list is endless, but every year we write the catalog and hope for the best.
The human spirit is indomitable, it never gives up and when the bad times come, we miraculously pick ourselves up and go on. We are living through the most terrifying economic crisis in a hundred years yet we go to our work, cut the grass and do whatever needs to be done and keep on trying.
We support one another.
Since my car broke down I have been offered a couple of cars to use ‘til I find the vehicle I want.’ I have not had to walk an extra mile in this past week; though maybe that would have helped my diet resolution. We all help one another in so many ways and we don’t even really think about it. Teachers help pupils, husbands help wives and friends help friends.
Maybe our New Year resolution should be to allow people to help us more. We are all great at giving charity but a lot of us are loathe to receive it. There is a large dollop of pride stuck in the hearts of many of us; taking help from someone else is beneath us.
I have said this before but it is worth saying again, since I have started writing for this paper over two years ago I have been amazed at the amount of good work that people do for others. These are all the people who help raise funds for respective charities. I have come across some people for whom this has almost become a full time job, retired people who have started out doing something for a few hours a month and now find themselves constantly going to this or that event.
Then there is the ‘one-off’ people who do some charity walk on one occasion and leave it at that. Something happens and these people decide that they are going to organize an event or raise money in some way.
Another group is the (mostly) young people who go out to different parts of the world to build houses or visit orphanages or something like that for three or four weeks. They give up their summer holidays to help others.
The world is full of good people.
You know, when you think of it, the good outnumber the bad by a long way. You drive through the countryside and you pass houses of farmers and civil servants whose only concern is their family, work and friends.
When the Fathers were writing about the Church in the Modern World, (Gaudium et Spes) during the second Vatican Council they said, ‘a person cannot fully find himself/herself except through a sincere gift of himself/herself.’
For a person to be truly human they must in some way reach out to others.
Have you ever seen a statue put up in the middle of a city square for a person who did nothing for anyone?
St Augustine in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, says that Jesus gave us two commandments, “Love God and love your neighbour.”
“The love of God is a disposition of the heart,” says Augustine, “The love of our neighbour is the first action we are to carry out.”
We honour the people who go out of their way to help others, which is the nature of human beings. When we enter into a New Year we always do so with hope. Hope is what keeps us going; that belief that things shall be better this time around.
We never give up.
Without hope we would not get up in the morning. I hope that my new car, whenever I get one, shall be better than the old Volvo with a quarter of a million miles on the clock. When I sit in my new car I shall feel the thrill of something new that shall bring me miles of joyous motoring.
About this time of the year many of us are planning our holidays. We are turning over in our heads where we want to go and at what time of the year we shall try to get away. We take in all sorts of considerations and then ask our friends what Majorca or Magaluf are like, if we are sun lovers.
Maybe like me, if you are a lover of art and architecture, Paris or Amsterdam or even Rome might come high up in your list of possibilities. Already I am toying with the idea of Rome. I haven’t been there in a few years and there is a longing in me to see the great churches and statues of that city.
What is best about Rome is the ability to walk about the streets and just drop into obscure little churches which contain exquisite works of art on the walls and ceilings, or to get on the open top bus and marvel at the buildings as you drive through the streets.
Or perhaps I may go to London. And during my visit I might take a dander down the Mall and call in at the big house on the corner and visit the wee old lady with the tiara. While I am there I might thank her for the speech she gave on Christmas Day.
To my objections that I have never watched the queen’s speech and had no intentions of ever doing so, he replied, “Don’t be such a country republican. Let some of your bigotry go. It is a brilliant speech.”
What could I do? I watched the recording of the 2012 speech and lo and behold, at 3pm on Christmas Day, your Uncle Turlough, 59 and a lifelong country republican, sat down, for the first time in his life, to watch Elizabeth Windsor, 87, queen of the Sassenach, and a lifelong member of the royal family, address the nation.
“I once knew someone who spent a year in a plaster cast recovering from an operation on his back. He read a lot, and thought a lot, and felt miserable.
Later, he realised this time of forced retreat from the world had helped him to understand the world more clearly.
We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock. Be it through contemplation, prayer, or even keeping a diary, many have found the practice of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding, even discovering greater spiritual depth to their lives.”
Imagine my surprise at hearing these opening words of the Queen as she addressed the nation. What was more, knowing the troubles that she has had in her own life, I honestly believe that sElizabeth meant every word she said.
Elizabeth has watched her family fall apart and looked on helplessly as their private lives have been held up to the scorn and mockery by the whole world. From her sister Margaret, through to her sons Charles and Andrew and her daughter Anne, the queen has seen as much pain and heartache as any mother in the land.
In her lifetime she has had as much to reflect upon as any of us. Now, as she approaches the last few years of her life, and taking her position as head of state seriously, Elizabeth is passing on some of the wisdom she has gathered from reflecting upon her own life and experiences.
And somehow as she sits there and looks straight into the camera and talks about prayer, reflection, contemplation and the doing of our duty to neighbours and others, you can believe her and believe she is genuine. I found it amazing.
After talking for a while about the importance of family, friendliness and neighbours the Queen finished with the following:
“For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.
On the first Christmas, in the fields above Bethlehem, as they sat in the cold of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection. Suddenly all this was to change. These humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ - the first noel - the joy of which we celebrate today.”
Can you imagine any of our politicians in Ireland, north or south, or in Britain, giving such a speech? We could not possibly take them serious. But in fairness, the Queen does not have to face a secular, non believing electorate every few years.
Perhaps not having to face election is what gives her the freedom to be herself when she sits down to talk to her subjects. If an elected president had to say something genuine, he would more than likely not be allowed to in any way proclaim his own faith. In the secular world, being a Christian is looked upon as being an enemy.
But Elizabeth is above all that.
As I sat listening to her talk I had a little think about me and my attitudes.
What way do I see the Queen and through her the English people? Well, as my friend said to last year when he told me to watch the speech, “You are only a country republican.”
There is nothing wrong with being a country republican, a man who believes that Ireland should be free from outside domination. But for me being Irish means adhering to the ‘Faith of Our Fathers,’ that faith for which we fought and died against Elizabeth’s forbearers.
Times have changed. In Ireland now it is the politicians who are the enemies of all things Christian. We Irish are in a rush to do away with such old ideas as family, friends and neighbours: we want the Euro as our god.
Finally the Queen looked into the camera and said:
“I wish you all a very happy Christmas.”
Letting go of a lifetime of bigotry and preconceived ideas, and really believing that the Queen meant what she said, I can in my turn now say to the old dear with the tiara, and giving her out of respect the full honour due to her:
“And a happy New Year to you, Your Majesty”
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