FAITH AND CULTURE | Renewed in the Spirit

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For many, cultural celebrations of a new year involve the familiar ritual of reviewing the past in order to prepare and plan for a better future. We identify concrete goals and resolutions that, hopefully, will become real in the coming year. Encouraged by friends, family and colleagues, we move forward with enthusiastic resolve and purpose.

And, yet, some people are skeptical — if not cynical — about engaging in this cultural norm. These naysayers are quick to point out that statistically, we're doomed to fail, because resolutions are too unrealistic or unattainable. What makes their observations and criticisms particularly sharp is that those critiquing us are often those closest to us; they're keenly aware of our failed attempts and shortcomings.

But whether we're optimistic about our resolutions or pessimistic about our chances, the human spirit opens to new horizons and imagines fresh possibilities with each calendar year. Ultimately, how we respond to this timely invitation fluctuates yearly. We know, all too well, that our existential predicaments are seldom fixed and our human desires are vast and restless — yet still driving us forward.

This periodic openness and striving of the human spirit also finds fertile ground in our faith life and spirituality. As a community of faith and as individuals, we believe that the Spirit of God is always hovering over us, bringing light into the darkness and breathing life into the sedentary dust and clay (Genesis 1:1-2; 2:7). And, far from being domesticated, stagnant or predictable, the Spirit of God is full of surprising newness: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed way and no longer was there any sea. I saw the new Jerusalem, the holy city coming down from God. ... The One seated at the throne said, 'See, I make all things new'" (Revelations 21: 1-2; 5).

The challenge is remembering the truth of the Spirit of God, which is calling us to renewal in our time and in each and every moment of our lives: "From now on the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have told you" (John 14:25-26). However, it's easy for us to resist the Spirit and opt for habitual and comfortable ways, forgetting that the Spirit flows freely and wants to awaken us to different and, at times, uncomfortable views. Furthermore, this same Spirit of renewal surely guides us into the whole truth that is needed for our times (John 16:13-14).

The renewal in our hearts is ultimately a gift from God, who invites us to remember and make things new. And, as we remember, we recognize the power in letting go of the old self for the sake of the newness of life. Perhaps most striking about being renewed in the Spirit is the wonderfully gentle offer God placed in each one of us, asking us to bring the Gospel into the world. As we prepare to live out our New Year's resolutions, let us boldly embrace the messiness and new order that comes from the Spirit. "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love."

Orozco is executive director of Intercultural and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

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