Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.
The above statement indicates our tendency to want to reform the world by changing some other person. I think that this is a tendency that runs deep in us. You see it all the time. People threaten war. Violent people condemn violence in the Middle East but not in their own heart. We know people who bemoan hatred in the world who cannot get along with their own children.
I believe that Goethe’s idea was one of Thomas Merton’s prime principles. Merton said that all the evils of the world exist in the human heart, each human heart. Before we campaign to change the world, we must look to what is inside ourselves. “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door.”
Which leads me to some pertinent questions. Like, when was the last time I made a major change inside myself? Am I better at forgiving or carrying a grudge? Do I decry violence and then make a steady diet of TV shows which portray violence as the only solution to any problem? Do I pay lip service to spirituality but find my joy only in material things?
I do hope such questions make you uncomfortable. They do that to me. This sweeping in front of your own door involves getting very real with oneself. What does God want of me? What, right now, does He want me to change? That could be your healthiest imaginable question.
Fr. James O'Leary
When I was a very young priest, in my first year, I was put in charge of a multi parish program for high school students. I was too green to know the intricacies of organization. One of the pastors involved was a good friend. I had particularly wanted to impress him. I apologized to him for my short comings. He just laughed and said, “Never forget, time moves forward. Tomorrow is a whole new day.”
When I heard that statement, I understood very little. At that time, it simply meant that I should get over the bad feelings. Put it behind me, learn, and move on. In the 41 years since that incident, I have thought about those words, and that failure, not my last, by the way. Those words tend to mean more to me all the time. They mean that each day is a fresh start. It means we cannot let ourselves get bogged down with a bad day. The world begins fresh everyday. It means that it is never too late to have a good day, or a good life. A prophetic message!
I think that the celebration of New Year's reminds us all of this wonderful message. The New Year proclaims to us that time moves forward. New Year’s reminds me that I have a new gift from God. That gift is called 2004.
It is indeed never too late to have a good life. It is never too late to have our greatest year. We can accept this gift with that expectation. Time moves forward. It is never too late.
Fr. James O'Leary