Charles Lewis: Make this a year to put words into action

  • January 8, 2020

I am writing this column late in December, thinking of the annual ritual of making resolutions. I do not think in my life I ever followed through on a New Year’s resolution — but I have made resolutions at other times of the year that I have stuck to like glue. 

I resolved to quit smoking on my birthday 22 years ago and was successful. I resolved to become a Catholic one fall day in Kentucky. And I did that, too.

Here is my problem with New Year’s resolutions: Most revolve around food. However, we live in a cold country. Who gives up comfort foods in January, February or March? It would be like giving up smoking on a battlefield for health reasons. Better to make that resolution on June 1. Other resolutions include alcohol. The timing could not be worse. Cognac and scotch are great comforts when it is dark and cold outside. 

The fact is, even if you do follow through no one really cares but you. Eating less can make you healthier. That is good. But it could also turn into a self-beautification program in which “me” and “I” become one’s favourite pronouns. 

Instead, consider looking outward — away from the mirror. This is the time to look what is around you and see what needs fixing in your own community. 

The issues in our cities are vast. There are people on the streets that most people step over. There are lonely people in hospitals who have been there for months. There are people not far from you who do not have enough food. There are shelter programs that are likely understaffed. There are people in your parish who are at home, alone, discouraged and sick, wondering where their friends have gone.

This is the year to decide to live our faith in concrete terms. By all means give money to worthy causes. Consider donating to Catholic charities. Shelters and food banks can all use your cash.

But when you think about it honestly, giving money is easy to do. It requires no more work than signing a cheque. Volunteering takes courage and steel. Seeing people in need up close, in the flesh, takes courage and heart.

Years ago, before my spinal problems got in the way, I volunteered at an Out of the Cold program run by a parish. I had to be there at 6 a.m. to help cook breakfast. The moment the alarm went off I began making excuses about why I could not go. But I went because I was too embarrassed not to show up.

I remember the first time walking down into the church basement where about 80 men and women were sleeping on mats on the floor. You could cut the smell with a knife. People who live on the street do not use scented body wash. They sleep in their street clothes, not flannel pajamas.

It felt a bit like hell. But then we got busy: the aroma of scrambled eggs and bacon and toast and coffee took the place of reek. The guests stirred. None looked like they had really rested in weeks. We fed them breakfast. 

And then I thought about how I would get into my warm car, go home and have a hot shower and then get dressed for work. On the other hand, that legion of homeless men and women would go coughing and sneezing in the freezing cold. 

I am not patting myself on the back. But I realized that even my small gesture, at least for a moment, brought temporary relief to those who need it the most. 

Myself and the other volunteers had given them a gift. It touched them. Maybe for a moment being warm and fed it gave them an idea that life could be better.

There is a wonderful quote that allegedly came from St. Francis. Even if he did not utter these exact words it catches the great saint’s spirit: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” 

Try it. Your soul will shine.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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