By the grace of God, Catholics can obtain a "fresh start" in the Christian life every time we freely participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. As we flip the calendar to a new year, we have a different kind of opportunity before us -- one that challenges us to look at how we will spend the empty days, weeks and months facing us in 2017. Will we live the Christian life to our fullest potential?
Here are five ways to begin:
+ Be a Christian witness. The United States just completed one its most contentious elections in history. The country is divided by race, class and even within individual families, and, at times, it seems everyone has forgotten what it means to participate in civil dialogue. As Christians, we have the ability -- indeed the obligation -- to offer a different path. Instead of contributing to the fighting, we can demonstrate what Pope Francis means when he asks us to encounter one another with respect and love. When we look at our fellow human beings as those who have dignity rather than treat them with rancor, we give witness to what Jesus meant when he said, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).
+ Carry on the message of mercy. The Year of Mercy may have ended in November, but the message of mercy carries on. If you developed a habit of living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in 2016, don't abandon them because the "year" has reached its end. If you never got into the habit, it's never too late to begin. Living and acting mercifully in our daily lives means witnessing perpetually to the Father's love on earth.
+ Give of yourself. What better way to start the new year and continue the Christmas season than by thinking of others? Men, women and children in Syria, in particular, are in need of both great financial assistance as well as many prayers. So, too, are Christians in the Middle East. Both of these populations can be assisted through organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Many opportunities for involvement and assistance exist closer to home, too, and it's never too early to teach young children or grandchildren the importance of generosity and selflessness.
+ Participate in formation. Our Catholic faith is a treasure, and one of its great gifts is that there is always more to learn. The start of a new year can be an opportune time to recommit to learning more about the faith.
+ Rediscover the rosary. This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Mary had much to say to us, but one of her primary messages was for us to pray the rosary every day for peace. If we are not heeding her direction perhaps as often as we should, this anniversary year affords us the perfect opportunity to once again take her words to heart. If praying once a day is too much at first, work up to it by beginning once a week and then extending the practice as it becomes more habitual.
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