By MARY HOOD HART
“The past must be abandoned to God’s mercy, the present to our fidelity, the future to divine providence.”
St. Francis de Sales
At this writing, we are days away from the New Year. During our holiday travels, my family and I stayed at a hotel which was busy making preparations for New Year’s Eve festivities. The hotel was virtually empty while we were there, but, on New Year’s Eve, revelers would fill every room. Great pains were being taken to ensure those revelers stay happy. Elaborate decorations, a stage, sound system, and special effects, as well as food and beverage, were all carefully prepared.
As you read this, of course, the New Year has arrived. All the decorations have been removed and the hotel has returned to its normal business of providing lodging for travelers, not party-goers. Life has resumed its usual rhythms, and most of us are glad for a quieter, more temperate routine.
The cycle continues, though, with many people already making reservations and plans for a bigger, more elaborate celebration in the year 2000. Such plans speak to our hope for the future, to the optimism that what lies ahead will be worth celebrating, and to the belief that the year was worth commemorating.
However, St. Francis de Sales challenges our traditional concept of time. Rather than, as he instructs, “abandoning” the past, present and future, we want cling to them more tightly than our most prized possessions. It seems appropriate then, as we start a new year, that we reevaluate our conventional views of these highly treasured marks of time.
The Past — I spent one New Year’s Eve in Italy, and I was charmed by the Italian custom of each household throwing something old and unnecessary out the window to the street below. In celebrating the new year, the Italians also recognize the need to toss aside the clutter of the past. It is very easy, particularly among families, to allow past injuries and bitterness to clutter our relationships. “To abandon the past to God’s mercy,” as St. Francis de Sales instructs, requires forgiving and forgetting our own sins, as well as the sins of others. This is much more challenging than throwing a few unnecessary items out the window, but it is possible through God’s grace. In our attempts to abandon the past, we can always remember that God’s mercy prevails. Simply to acknowledge that truth is to move closer to living fully in the present.
The Present — To live fully in the present, in “fidelity,” is to be completely confident that, as Christians, we have been shown how to live each day. In Christ, we have been given the perfect teacher, the perfect guide, and our daily task is to be disciples, completely faithful to him. Much of the confusion existing in our times could be relieved by thoughtfully and sincerely asking ourselves the question: “What would Jesus do?” Perhaps the reason we can so easily flaunt WWJD, and market it like a Nike swoosh, is that we’re unwilling to really consider it. To clearly examine our lives and our response to the suffering of those around us is much more difficult than to don a few initials. Indeed, the answer to that question is often unsettling, often more demanding than what we wish to hear. To dedicate our lives to the present, living faithfully as followers of Christ, is to abandon more than our concept of time… it is to abandon our very selves.
The Future — To relinquish the future to “divine providence” is to be relieved of all anxiety and unnecessary preoccupations. As believers in God’s divine plan for good, we see ourselves as workers whose mission is, through our labor, gifts and talents, to build his kingdom on earth. While suffering and hardship are inevitable, we look beyond our personal lives and find significance and comfort in the knowledge that, whatever happens, God is already there.
Indeed, by abandoning the past, the present and the future to God’s mercy, guidance and providence is to celebrate the New Year from a most exhilarating perspective — the perspective of a soul unhindered by time.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Sunset Beach, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and four children, ages 7 to 15.