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Let the new year bring in new beginnings

The most difficult resolution might also be the most worthwhile—to forgive, and heal family rifts, Fr Michael Kane writes.

The Christmas season seems to encourage our deepest reflections. I always find it a time for introspection and consideration of life’s priorities. In a particular way, our focus on the Holy Family of Bethlehem seems to shine a light on our own families.

We ask important questions about our relationships and the atmosphere in our own homes. How do we energise our homes in the light of the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph? How do we learn from them and try to imitate them in our own homes?

The start of a New Year is also a time to consider our resolutions. Diets and gym workouts now have a somewhat strange appeal in the midst of a season of endless eating! We commit ourselves to restoring our former waistbands and promise to claw back a healthier way of living. The intentions are noble, even if they struggle to get off the ground. A shiny Quality Street wrapper is always more inviting than a treadmill!

 

Resolution

Perhaps it would be better to focus our attention on a different kind of resolution for 2020, more connected to our family life. Imagine if we all promised to heal what is broken in our families over the next 12 months. Imagine how healthy such a promise would make us!

The truth is that so much division, unrest and disharmony arises in our homes because we have not learned to love unconditionally or to forgive unconditionally. And true peace can never reign in our homes and families without these key ingredients—unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness, which are really one and the same thing.

The one who loves already knows how to forgive from the heart. Yet these are virtues which are so difficult to master at home. It always seems so much more difficult to forgive those whom we know best. How strange it is that we offer forgiveness much more readily to a friend or a stranger.

 

Healing

When a close relative hurts us, we often prefer to bask in that hurt without any real determination to heal the wound that has been created. Sometimes we prefer to add conditions to our forgiveness. We will forgive, but only when certain criteria are met.

Of course, this type of conditional forgiveness is absent from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He teaches us that the gift of forgiveness must be given freely to the deserving and undeserving, friend and foe alike—with no conditions attached.

It is surely one of the most challenging aspects of the Gospel; giving and receiving forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we do as human beings. Unconditional forgiveness seems so unfair when measured up against the hurt which we feel.

 

Division

One of the saddest things I see as a priest is a family that is ruptured. It might be at a wedding rehearsal or a meeting to prepare a Requiem Mass when I see the painful divisions in families. This can be especially true of adult siblings who, for whatever reason, have replaced love with bitterness.

Sometimes families can be broken into factions or certain members can be excluded, with one side refusing to even speak to the other. Such deep-seated resentments have often built up over years—all because no one had the sense to say sorry and put the past where it belongs.

So, as we emerge into a New Year, let’s take time to reflect on our own family situations. At this moment, where is there a lack of love or forgiveness in my family? Are there family relationships which are broken or seriously strained and in need of repair? Is there some family member who is ‘outside’ the family? Are there untreated tensions which have hardened hearts over the course of years?

 

Estrangement

More specifically is there perhaps a brother or a sister or some other relation who has hurt me or brought problems to my door? Perhaps that hurt was caused a long time ago but never repaired. Which family member stands in need of my forgiveness and love? Is there someone who has grown estranged because of some old disagreement? More importantly, what am I prepared to do about it?

This New Year let’s pray that God will give us all the humility and the courage to repair what is broken, to take the first step, to lift the phone or write the letter, and offer a second chance to the ones we love who have failed us in the past. Let new beginnings and fresh starts be the order of the day for 2020.

Let this be our New Year’s resolution and promise: that we will do all we can to repair what is fractured in our families and so become more like the Holy Family of Nazareth.

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