Well, it’s time to decide what New Year’s resolutions should be considered, again. I have made New Year’s resolutions in the past and have failed in keeping them. In previous years I convinced myself that I was going to start eating healthier, begin a good exercise routine and lose some weight. This past year was no different – in fact, it was brought to my attention when I recently received a Christmas greeting from a friend back in Somerset, PA who saw my picture in the Inside Passage (our newspaper for the Diocese of Juneau) and added, “I can see that you’re not going hungry.” In addition to losing some weight, I hope to increase my time for prayer and reading.
In 2011 I hope to become a little more active in the community at large. Recently I attended a performance of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Perseverance Theatre and realized that despite my good intentions, it was the first time I had been to there. So during this coming year, I want to enter more deeply into the life of the community. A number of people have mentioned that they have heard me on the radio and I am grateful to the radio stations for being very generous in offering such air time. In particular, as the leader of the Catholic community in Juneau and in Southeast Alaska, I want to get to better know my neighbors in the various religious and civic sectors of the community.
I ‘googled’ new year resolution statistics and found that 40 – 45% of Americans make one or more resolutions each year. In addition to my own resolution above, another favorite resolution is better money management and many also try to quit smoking. Recognizing that I am just like everyone who seeks to improve themselves in the New Year, it is my desire to also see how I can help benefit the larger community by certain tasks that help improve my neighbor. What I would suggest is something that is so very familiar to living a life rooted in faith and based on helping others. For such New Year’s resolutions, we could see how best we can live out our lives by acts of charity and mercy. Allow me to present seven works of mercy.
I have seen the good works that are done by the Glory Hole soup kitchen here in Juneau. On many occasions I have joined parishioners in serving meals to the poor. Feeding the hungry is the first work of mercy. The second, giving drink to the thirsty continues our care of the poor by providing them with sustenance for their body. Some resolutions also include cleaning out some closets and getting organized. It seems that this could be coupled with the third work of mercy – clothe the naked. If you are like me, I have more than enough in my closet and I am compelled to give what I have to those in need.
A 2009 report from University of Alaska indicated that there were 4,583 homeless people in Alaska and that 327 of them live in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings or on the streets. The fourth work of mercy would help alleviate this tragedy if we could work to shelter the homeless.
I learned early in my priestly ministry that the majority of people who are sick will always remember who visited them. Visiting the sick is another charitable task that would make for a great resolution. To call on someone who may be elderly, confined to bed or in need is a wonderful way to help and for the most part, the only thing it costs is time.
The sixth work of mercy is not easy – visit the imprisoned. I have been in contact with a man who has been in prison for the last 12 years. We have stayed in touch over the years and I have visited him in three different institutions. While I cannot visit him easily anymore due to the distance, I hope to write more often. Nevertheless, we have our own here locally, in representing the Diocese of Juneau and conveying the prayers of the people of our Catholic community, I have celebrated Mass on Christmas at Lemon Creek Prison for the last two years. Prayers for those who are incarcerated help tremendously.
Caring for and burying the dead is the last work of mercy. It is a good tradition to remember the dead, especially our fallen soldiers and loved ones. It is important to show respect for those who have died. In the Catholic tradition, we continue to see them as a part of the community of believers – here on earth and in heaven. From my perspective, I think it is shameful that certain groups feel compelled to protest at funerals of fallen soldiers.
In my hope that things improve in our world, I know that I can only shape a society by reshaping my own heart through charitable and merciful works. It’s true, I have to lose a few pounds, but when it comes to improving myself in the New Year, I see that by helping others I can live the Gospel message and enrich my life with hope, peace, joy and love.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.
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