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On the occasion of the Lord's Nativity 2011

Pope Shenouda III | 9 January 2011

  In the beginning of the New Year people usually make wishes for the world, for their country or community, or for the church. It is a good thing and a duty, but what about your private and spiritual life in particular: what are your wishes in the New Year? Actually if the individuals are good, the whole society, the church and the country will be good.
I would like to remind you of the Lord's promises in the Book of Ezekiel: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them."

 
   Wonderful promises indeed!
   This is God's message and divine will for you in the New Year. Your will should comply with His will. The New Year ought to be new in your hearts and in your practical life, not a mere end of a year and beginning of another year, with the approach of the feast and end of the fast.
 
 
   St. Paul the Apostle says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Rom 12: 2)
   Do not be conformed in your shape, appearance or conduct with the present world which is far from God, but rather renew your mind and your way of thinking, and maintain a new look to the principles, and to the way of conduct and life. When your mind changes your way of life will change.
 
   There should be a change in your ideals and your aims, for your trends, purposes, and hopes will determine your way of achieving them. The scientific goals of a person for instance will absorb all his effort and time, and likewise the political goals. A person whose goals are social will focus on building himself to be a leader, whereas a person whose goals are spiritual will focus on his eternal life, preparing himself for it, struggling and working in a way that does not contradict his goal.
 
   According to the ideology the methodology will be, that is, the ways and means to achieve the principles and ideals.   
   What are your means? Are they spiritual, satisfying your conscience? Or is your conscience only concerned with fulfilling its purposes with whatever means? What is your way to attain your desires? Do not blame your conscience or silent it if it is awake, but let it act before the heart become silent.
 
 
   Seize the opportunity of the beginning of a new year to examine yourself, blame or punish yourself, that you may change to the better.   
   Examine yourself with an upright conscience that judges fairly. Let your conscience be a just judge. Do not justify yourself or give yourself excuses. Do not follow the Machiavelli Principle: "The end justifies the means", but say to yourself, 'My goal should be to do good, and my act should be good in itself, in its purpose, and in its means.'
 
 
   Using wrong means to do good is like seeking Satan as a means to attain to God!
   In the beginning of the year, remember the saying of St. Macarius the Great: 'Judge yourself, brother, before they judge you.' Put before you the words of the Lord, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent." (Rev 2: 5)
 
   Let the New Year be an incentive to repentance.   
   Repentance is required everyday, but the New Year is a reminder, that you may leave your old sins and say with the apostle, "Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Cor 5: 17) The old things include all types of sins, of the mind, the senses, the heart, or the flesh, as well as sins related with our relationship with God, with the others, and with oneself, and sins like tepidity, weakness, and slackening.
 
   In the New Year set before you a plan for the future.
   Examine your spiritual state from all sides, and see how to reshape your character anew to change into better. Ask yourself what sins are immovable and you repeat every time you confess; how can you get rid of them? What are the causes and sources of such sins? How to avoid them?
 
   Set for yourself spiritual exercises.
   Be careful that such exercises be within your power to perform. You can grow gradually in virtue and not jump up at once to the top of the ladder. This applies to the exercises related to the spiritual means like prayer, fasting, spiritual readings, and meditations. As for exercises related to repentance, these need firmness and strictness, because keeping even a slight thing may cause a spiritual relapse.
 
   We notice that some people continue with the same faults and character without change for years.
   They do not repent, do not want to repent, or perhaps they are righteous or wise in their own eyes! They think they have no sin that requires repentance, nor a defect that needs correction! They forget the words: "Do not be wise in your own eyes." (Prov 3: 7). Do not justify yourself, because, "There is none righteous, no, not one." (Rom 3: 10) Job was blamed for being righteous in his own eyes (Job 32: 1).
 
   Be convinced that you have to change something within you, because a person who is righteous or wise in his own eyes does not see anything that needs change. His self is beautiful and his ways are good in his eyes! This makes a person persist in his way, and not benefit from the new year for renewing his mind. He holds to his own views, with the same mind and means, not blaming himself for anything, nor accepting the blame from others! Such a person resembles those who refused to enter the ark with our father Noah, or those who refused the advice of the righteous Lot, and he seemed to them to be joking (Gen 19: 14). The fire of God descended and destroyed everybody.
 
   Therefore, you ought to discover your faults and try to correct yourself. Nevertheless, correction of faults is the way of beginners, but those already walking in the way of God aim at continual spiritual growth to attain the life of holiness and perfection. They have before their eyes, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor 7: 1) "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.' And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear." (1Pet 1: 15- 17)
 
   Be strict in implementing your spiritual exercises.
   Some people plan exercises but forget them. Some others perform them but do not persist in them. Others continue, but only for a while!
 
   Let the new year be a year of seriousness and firmness for your spiritual life, and do not falter between two opinions (1 Kgs 18: 21). It is impossible to gather in your heart the love of God and the love of the world, because, "Friendship with the world is enmity with God," (Jas 4: 4) and because eating of the prohibited tree prevents approaching the tree of life (Gen 3: 24). One cannot put a piece of new cloth on an old garment (Mt 9: 16). Do not live in duality, ascending one day, and descending another, but rather let your repentance be for continual and steady change to the better, without return to the old faults. Put strong barriers between you and the dark past so as not to return to it or even desire it. Do not let your doors open before the enemy, but say to yourself with David, "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your children within you." (Ps 147: 12, 13)
 
   Beware. When you start a way with God, the devil will start a war to hinder your way.   
   Be ready then, and if any hindrances face you to make you break your exercises, do not be amazed, but be steadfast. Say as the apostle said about the devil, "We are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Cor 2: 11) Struggle with all power and firmness against sin, and remember the reproach of St. Paul to the Hebrews, "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." (Heb 12: 4) He meant resisting even if one will be martyred for the sake of preserving one's purity. A soldier in the battle struggles to the last shot or to the last breath. You, likewise, have to struggle to the utmost of the power God gives you, and to the utmost action of the grace with you.
 
   You have to struggle even with God.  
   Say to God as our father Jacob the Patriarch said to Him, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!" (Gen 32: 26) Chant from your heart the request in the Psalm, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Ps 51: 10) Say to Him, "Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth." (Ps 25: 4, 5) "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Ps 51: 7)
 
   Remember the Lord's promises when the war lies heavy on you.
   Say to the Lord, where is Your promise, O Lord, that says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you … I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes … I will deliver you from all your uncleanness." (Ezek 36: 26- 29)
 
   Say to Him: O Lord, I lay before You my weakness and inability to comply with Your commandments, and I hold to your promise that says: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11: 28)
 
   Trust that if you succeed in prayer you also will succeed in your spiritual struggle.  
   Your prayers and spiritual struggling in the beginning of the new year will accompany you all through the year. Let them be your continual program, and always say to the Lord, "Restore me, and I will return" (Jer 31: 18) "Hold me up, and I shall be safe." (Ps 119: 117)
 
   When God grants you such repentance, preserve it, and deepen its roots within your heart, so that its fruit may appear in your life. Give thanks to the Lord for whatever He gives you, recalling the words of Mar Ishak: [No gift is without increase, except that for which no thanks are given.]
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