Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Jerome, who both translated, and wrote many works of commentary on, the Bible. He was an avid student and scholar of whom St. Augustine once said, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has even known.” Less attractively, I have also read that he had a very bad temper and and that some of the letters he wrote were quite vitriolic. However, although swift to anger, he was also swift to feel remorse for his shortcomings.
Having said that, Jerome was a believer that we should not dwell on our shortcomings. We can sometimes get so caught up in our failure to meet our expectations of what we ought to have achieved that we divert our energies and attention from moving forward.
I think St. Jerome’s motto on this is a good one to keep in mind: “Happy the [one] who makes progress daily, who does not weigh what he did yesterday, but makes his resolution for today and keeps it. The holy [one] sets his heart on ascending.”
Each day is a new one. Maybe we didn’t do as well yesterday as we might on whatever it is we resolved for the day – perhaps to be more patient with a frustration at work, or to be more gentle with someone who tends to raise our ire. One response is to castigate ourselves for our weakness, getting worked up at all of the ways we didn’t measure up. Another is to soberly acknowledge our shortcoming of yesterday and treat today as a new day, resolving to do our best as we go forward.
We’re all familiar with the ritual of New Year’s Resolutions. We vow that we will go on that diet and lose weight. Or we will quit smoking…or get more exercise…or [fill in the blank]. Then the days of the new year start to go by and it is not long before the resolution is forgotten.
Our failure to meet our usually-not-very-well-thought-out New Year’s Resolutions does not mean there is not value in using this transition to take stock. The end of the year is a good time to reflect a bit on where we’ve been and where we are going.
Someone once shared with me some questions for reflection that had been prepared for Elul, the time in the Jewish calendar that is a time of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I share some of those questions because they seem to me to provide a valuable tool for reflection as we prepare to usher in the new year.
What have been the happiest and most gratifying parts of this past year? In what areas have I acted as my best self? Which of my current habits or behaviors to I want to bring with me into the coming year?
What have been the most painful or difficult moments of the past year? When have been the times that I have not acted as I would have hoped? Which of my current habits or behaviors would I like to modify or leave behind in the years to come?
What are the relationships in my life of which I am most proud? The ones that feel most painful? What would it take to create change in these relationships in the coming year? Who are the people that I most need to ask for forgiveness?
You can think of many other questions to add. Unlike tossing off a New Year’s resolution, the idea here is to seriously spend time reflecting on particular things that did or did not go as well with respect to my relationship with others, with God and with myself. And maybe out of this reflection will come one or two concrete directions for change that we might seek God’s help in effectuating during the coming year.
Happy New Year!