Some Questions To Guide Us Into The New Year

Sun’s rays in the form of a cross above ice-crusted bare winter branches.
“What are the positive signs of God’s spirit acting among us?” (Photo by Pat Leyko Connelly).

What are the positive signs of God’s spirit acting among us during these difficult times?

That is a question Abbot Gregory Polan recently posed to Benedictine monastic communities across the world.

The abbot is a tall, slender, soft-spoken man and the elected leader of Benedictine monks worldwide. I had the privilege of interviewing him a few years ago for a radio piece after he had completed a new translation from the Hebrew of the Psalms. I’ve since met with him several times in Rome. Every time I’ve felt as though I’m witnessing the Benedictine values of hospitality and humility personified.

When this Chicago-born abbot speaks, it’s the real deal.

For the final #SundayThoughts of this momentous year, I offer not my own remarks, but some wise words from a year-end message Abbot Gregory wrote to monastic communities — words that can resonate with all of us.

Meeting with Abbot Gregory Polan, center, and fellow Benedictine lay associate Rev. Greg Peters, left, in Rome in 2017.

The abbot describes meditating throughout Advent on the Book of Revelation. The author of Revelation writes:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away … Then I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race … Behold, I make all things new.’

“Behold, I make all things new.”

Something in our psyche irrevocably changed this past year. If the great pandemic of 2020 has made anything abundantly clear it is the fragility of human life. The crisis has shown us how connected we all are.

Abbot Polan rightly points out that the only way forward is to recognize our interdependence. He asks us to consider, “Is God taking this natural disaster and creating something new, good, and even wonderful for us? Will we come to see this new earth that the Scriptures are speaking of?”

The nation was inspired by the courage and compassion of health care workers who cared for deathly ill COVID-19 patients and comforted their family members. (Photo courtesy of ABCNews)

Scripture is full of so-called “happy faults” where an event that at first seems tragic (think of the crucifixion), then takes on new life and meaning by the grace of God. The lessons seem clear. We have an opportunity we cannot miss. We simply cannot go back to “normal” and fail to address the needs that the pandemic has laid bare.

The abbot offers a series of questions that monastic communities might contemplate as this year ends. I’ve paraphrased several of them because they are questions that we all can ponder as we face a new beginning:

What are the positive signs of God’s spirit acting among us during these difficult times?

What are we doing to serve one another?

What are ways in which we have seen compassion shown to others in need that we might emulate?

Have we seen a new potential for vibrancy in our work, whatever our vocation might be?

How can we go deeper into our expression of prayer and communion with God?

What have we learned that we wish to take with us into the future?

This week, may we take time to reflect on these important questions. Perhaps we can choose a different one to reflect on each day.

May these questions, and the answers they uncover, help us to walk confidently and hopefully into the new year.

(Many thanks to Sister Jennifer Halling of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS, the monastery where I am a lay associate, for sharing the abbot’s letter).

Abbot Gregory Polan urges us to walk confidently and with hope into the new year. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt)

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.