Dodging the Eternal Return: Weekly Message for 12-31-2019

Dear Fellow Digital Pilgrim, Pax Christi:

Pagan religions throughout human history often developed a concept called the “eternal return”.  It is a rather discouraging dogma. It basically sees the seemingly endless repetition of the natural seasons as the pattern of all reality.  From that pagan point of view, human life is no more significant than the life of a fern or a mushroom: we are born, we grow, we die, we disintegrate back into the soil, then the whole thing starts over again. 

If that pagan dogma were true, the bottom line of the meaning of life would be – well, there would be no meaning.  It would just be a meaningless cycle, repeating itself forever without actually going anywhere. The image used in ancient times to refer to this dogma of the Eternal Return was a snake circled around on itself and devouring its own tail.

I bring up this historical allusion to highlight how blessed we are as followers of Jesus Christ.  Somehow, in God’s wisdom and providence, he has allowed us to hear and believe in the gospel. And so we know that the dogma of the Eternal Return is not true.  We know that we are actually going somewhere. We have an origin in the heart of God, a destination in the Father’s house, and a path to follow in our friendship with Jesus Christ.  What a relief to know this truth! What a blessing to be invited to live our lives in light of it!

A Curious Tradition

As we end one calendar year and begin another, it’s worthwhile to pause to thank God for all his gifts, especially the gift of life and the gift of faith.  

In my religious congregation, we always spend the last day of the year in a silent retreat, contemplating all the blessings of the past year and looking forward to the promise of the coming year.  It is a beautiful and spiritually nourishing tradition. It reminds us afresh of the bigger picture and helps us to avoid falling unconsciously into the myopic dogmas of our post-Christian and somewhat Neo-pagan culture.

If you would like to do something similar, giving a spiritual boost to your New Year’s celebration, you will find plenty of help in our growing library of Retreat Guides.  And if you have difficulty choosing which one to use for your end-of-the-year personal retreat (after all, we now have more than 50 of them, thanks to your generous support), would you mind if I make a recommendation?  

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day occurs during the first week of each new year, on January 4th. She was the first native-born American citizen to be canonized, and her story is remarkable, encouraging, and filled with practical lessons of how to follow God more closely.  A few years ago we created a retreat guide on her life called Sitting in the Side Pew.  To this day, it is still one of my very favorites.  We filmed it on-site at some of the locations important for her own life.  I can highly recommend it.

If you give yourself an extra few hours of prayer and reflection at the end of this year, I am absolutely certain that the Lord will take full advantage of that and grant you some well-needed graces as you start the new year.

And as you do, please know that we here at continue to pray for our digital pilgrims as we wish you all a Happy New Year!!

Peace in Him,

Fr John Bartunek, LC

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Retreat Guide on
Elizabeth Ann Seton

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