Catholic Values Column: Looking back and looking forward


Maybe this new year doesn’t feel so special to you. Advent and Christmas seasons have already passed, and we are now beginning Ordinary Time. I usually look at this time liturgically as a time to slow down. Christmas is over but the preparations for Easter haven’t begun yet. We’re a month into 2017, and even though I’m still writing 2016 on all of my papers, the excitement of the new year has faded. We are back into the swing of things class-wise, and we don’t need to worry about Easter until the friars don their purple.

All of a sudden we are stuck in a sort of boring limbo state. There is nothing exciting in Ordinary Time; that’s why it’s called “ordinary,” right? This is the time of the year when it is easiest to lapse into a routine faith, in contrast to all the excitement of the other seasons.

However, although it seems like nothing major is going on right now, I find that sometimes this can be the most important season of the year, if it is approached with an open mind. Rather than being an off-season, Ordinary Time can actually be the best time to make a positive change in our lives. This is the perfect time to stop and think about how we have lived our lives in the past.

In fact, I’ve recently begun to personally reflect on how I’ve spent the past year of my life. My reflection was bittersweet.

On the one hand, without a doubt, 2016 was one of the best years of my life. I was blessed with so many great opportunities as I finished off my high school career, I spent a summer in excited anticipation of the school year to come, and I’ve already made some genuine friends and joyful memories here at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

But unfortunately, not all of my reflections were so happy. They were important, though not necessarily comforting. In looking back, I’ve also looked at how I’ve lived my life as a Catholic. Did I always love my most annoying classmates, or did I turn my back to them? Did I always treat my siblings and parents with respect, or did I let my short fuse win out? Did I make good use of my time, or did I waste hours a day being lazy? Did I smile through my sufferings, or did I let the whole world hear about every little trial I faced?

I am not proud to say how many times the latter option of each of these prevailed in my own life. So while 2016 held many joyful moments for me, I also had to admit to myself how much I have to improve on.

Which is always the hardest part, improving. It’s such a vague concept that it seems near impossible to ever make any ground in this respect. I find myself going to confession for the same sins every time, and it would be so much easier to give up, to stop trying to improve and just lean on the fact that God will forgive us.

Perhaps there is a way to escape this depressing cycle of the same struggles over and over again. If we keep looking back, we’ll notice how many mistakes we have made in the past. That’s good; it keeps up humble. But it is also important to not dwell on those mistakes.

Which is why in order to make a change, we must look forward. During this Ordinary Time, I challenge you to look back at the past year and see what needs improvement, but don’t stop there. Look forward, at the rest of 2017. There is a whole new year spread out before you, full of blank pages waiting to be written. And you get to fill them in.

I invite you to make a conscious effort to turn this year into your greatest one yet. And I don’t just mean great as in great worldly accomplishments. I mean great as in greater personal holiness.

Lent is not the only time of the year that we should work on bettering ourselves. We were baptized as Christians, but being a follower of Christ is a lifelong process of spiritual growth. And when you look at it that way, there is no time to “sit the season out.” Rather than a time to slow down and take a break, Ordinary Time is the perfect time to focus on your own spiritual growth without the secular aspects of the other liturgical seasons to distract you.

Lent will begin on March 1. There is about a month of Ordinary Time remaining. What will this season hold for you?

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