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Letting Go of the Past

New things can be life-giving and refreshing

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AckermanTeachers have certainly endured a great deal of hardship and difficulty over the past several years. Schools switched to virtual learning during the pandemic, teacher shortages have led to fuller classrooms that are understaffed and, sadly, there has been a rise in cases of violence in schools.

I was surprised then when I asked a teacher friend of mine what has been the most difficult thing in light of the challenges in education. “Snow days,” he replied glumly. “We no longer have snow days with online learning!”

I can empathize. As a child, I remember fondly staring out the window on cold winter nights hoping and praying for a snow day, especially when there were tests. I used to even watch the ticker at the bottom of the nightly newscast hoping for at least a two-hour delay, if not a total cancellation. As a result, I can understand the hardship that comes with knowing that an unexpected free day is no longer possible. That does not mean that things are worse now, just different, and potentially better if we are willing to let go of the past.

Sometimes, nostalgia for things of the past blurs the actual perception of the present. A few years ago, one of my godchildren had a birthday party at a restaurant that caters to children. His parents and I talked, in anticipation of the party, about how much we enjoyed going there as kids and were certain that their son would love the experience. We were dead wrong. The restaurant was incredibly noisy and crowded, the food was not really much to write home about, and the prizes for the games were so overpriced that we needed a small business loan to obtain even a whistle. In addition, when costumed characters came out to sing happy birthday, my little godchild freaked out and hid under an air hockey table. It took many bribes to convince him that it was safe to emerge from his fortress.

I guess memories can mask reality, and perhaps we do whitewash the past to make it appear better. Needless to say, I do not think he will take his kids for the same experience.

Jesus, the divine teacher, often taught his disciples not to live in the past, but to look to what can and will be. When a disciple asked to follow him once after saying goodbye to his family, Jesus replied, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).

Allowing the past to go is not often easy, many of us are haunted by our past flaws, failures, fears or faults. We may even lament what lies ahead, thinking that it will always be inferior to what was. However, something new and exciting is always possible with God.

I went to a Mass for the closing of one of our Catholic high schools, and although it was sad, one of the students offered a great insight. “I know it is sad to see this school go,” she said, “but God always turns over a new leaf if we are willing to see it.”

This same sentiment marked the lives of many saints. St. Gianna Molla, a 20th-century wife and mother, had this great reflection about letting go of the past: “As to the past, let us entrust it to God’s mercy, the future to divine Providence. Our task is to live holy the present moment.” It is such a blessing to be able to start fresh and respond to what God is doing new for us.

In reflecting upon the loss of snow days, I asked a few kids in our grade school if they missed those unexpected winter holidays. “Heck no,” one boy told me, because, in this system, “you get to stay at home in your pajamas, work at your own pace, and you do not have to make up any of the days later in the year.”

He clearly understood that new things can indeed be life-giving and refreshing. I pray that this new year offers all of us a chance to let go of the past, embrace what God is doing new and experience the joy that only Christ’s love can bring — whether we are snowed in or not.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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