The New Year is an opportunity to reach out

I’ve a vague memory of last year’s ambitious resolutions for another 12 months but I’m afraid that, like a lot of people, I didn’t do quite as well as I’d imagined I would. I’ve a slightly different approach this year: I’m making out a bucket list of all the things that I really want to do, but never got around to. A lot of the items on the list would involve me having a lot more time and a lot less children and probably don’t factor in the levels of stamina and energy required. I’m proud to boast that 2013 saw me managing a sponsored walk from Navan to Slane, Co. Meath, but abseiling off Table Mountain might be a bit of a tall order.

There’s one item on my bucket list that I have a good chance of achieving. I’m hoping that this item might be a bucket list of sorts for the whole family. I’ve been attempting to make my way through the recent papal document Evangelii Gaudium. Not as difficult as it sounds – the language is accessible to all with a simple, easy-to-understand style. While reading through the inspiring words of Pope Francis, it occurred to me that it contained endless suggestions and gems of wisdom that an individual, family, community or parish could take on in the New Year. The opening appeal in the first paragraphs of the 224 page message to the faithful is a call to rediscover a sense of joy in following Christ. The Pope talks about Christians “whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”. He explains that even if joy adapts and changes, it should always be there because of the Christian’s knowledge that he or she is “infinitely loved”.


One great resolution in the year ahead could be to take the advice of Pope Francis to never act as if “we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met”. Often, our faith is a dull dreary faith, a religion of dos and don’ts rather than one which attracts the attention of others because of the inner happiness which its followers radiate. Being of good cheer can be as simple as forcing a smile on our faces when everything is going wrong and we feel like throwing in the towel. I really believe that parents set the tone for the whole family. I notice that if I’m having a bad day, my long face affects my husband and children and sparks a cycle of ill will and negative emotions. It’s easy to blame the weather or hormones or even genetics on our grumpy moods, but sometimes being joyful has to be a conscious choice. If our children see us smiling through our tears, they’ll learn that being joyful is something that we might have to work to attain. If faith is a direct encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, this friendship will help us to restore our sense of joy and start anew. That has to be a good reason to smile.

Fulfilling life

It’s clear that Pope Francis hopes that Evangelii Gaudium will encourage Catholics to reach out in new ways to those who have not yet heard the Gospel message or have fallen away from the Church. Each Christian and each community is challenged to be part of a Church that “goes forth”. The message is clear: “If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good.” As we face into the post-Christmas period, there are plenty of people in our communities who won’t be feeling too happy or experiencing much joy or hope for the future. The Pope describes the grim effects of poverty which results in so many people finding themselves excluded and marginalised “without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape”.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis outlines some of the challenges in today’s world. Some of the questions he poses encourages us, in no uncertain terms, to look beyond our own immediate environment and move outside our comfort zones. How can we, as followers of Christ, rest easy when we read what Pope Francis has to say about how it’s newsworthy that the stock market loses four points, but an elderly homeless person dying of exposure fails to hit the headlines? Being Christian involves more that sympathising with those whose conditions involve a stripping of their basic human dignity. If we are to heed the Pope’s exhortation “to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness”, what better time than the start of another year to explore how we can make this wish a reality?


The One Percent Difference Campaign provoked some cynical reaction and some complained that it can allow the Government to opt out of its responsibilities to the most vulnerable. This doesn’t concur with what Pope Francis says and perusing the website gives individuals and families ideas about what they could take on in an attempt to embrace the spirit of the Pope’s vision for the Church throughout the world.

With its passionate message of a return to the ways of love, mercy and personal encounter with those in desperate need, reading and trying the live the words of Evangelii Gaudium will probably bear richer fruit than any half-hearted resolutions that will be binned by the end of January.