My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we begin this New Year, we all are certainly filled with anticipation. If we look back on this past year, we know that no one would like to repeat 2020. Yet, what 2021 has in store for us we do not know. Certainly, our main hope would be that the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines will bring an end to this terrible virus that has controlled our lives for the better part of 2020.
There is still uncertainty, however, and there certainly are hardships that we must endure in 2021 as it does not seem that we will see any major positive change before June. Please God, it will happen before that time. Looking at the trajectory of past pandemics, it seems that a virus such as this one does linger for some time even with the vaccination.
We truly know that the year 2020 was filled with unexpected challenges, some hardships and much stress because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. But New Year’s Day 2021 will mark the beginning of a year that ideally brings new life and new hope, with positive health changes that might lessen the stress that we have all felt these long months. How important it is that we look to this year with hope. As I have previously said quoting our Holy Father, Pope Francis, every crisis has the opportunity either that we come through it better or somehow we might be worse off because of the crisis. Usually, this depends on the virtue of hope, as how we see things makes a big difference of how we are able to cope with difficulties and overcome them in our lives.
As each New Year begins, we usually think about New Year resolutions. It seems to be in the human psyche that as we begin again we want to clean the slate, we want to start over, we want to make sure that we are better than we were in the past. It certainly is good to understand that our new resolutions, even if we do keep them, are a beginning point of change. Change is never easy for we humans. Change comes with great difficulty. Everyone likes to set new goals, something new for the New Year to come. We want to begin over again and that human disposition is something that we should not dismiss.
Unfortunately, one of our problems is that we usually break our New Year resolutions. But, why? Psychologists tell us that we first have difficulty breaking our old habits. If we are trying to overcome a smoking habit or alcohol dependency or trying to lose weight, we generally go so far and then give up easily because first we focus on too much of a special outcome. We want to stop completely, yet we do not realize that perhaps a gradual change is more in keep- ing with a positive outcome. People then recognize that the problems that they would solve by making a resolution are no longer motivated to make that change in their life. It is important that we see improvement in our lives, especially in the spiritual realm as a continuum of beginning over and over again.
We must never lose sight of our human frailty, but we must also never forget the grace that God gives to each of us to continually change for the better. However, we must cooperate with God’s grace. Some psychologists remind us that in order to keep our New Year’s resolutions that perhaps we should find a clear purpose, but avoid focusing on specific outcomes. For example, if we want to lose weight we become disappointed if we only lose two pounds when we thought we should lose ten pounds. We know, however, that our resolution produced some good effect. Secondly, we need to categorize our goals and resolutions into components that are realistic and achievable. Sometimes we want to change all at once, but lasting change comes little by little. For example, when we promise to eat less, perhaps we cannot do it all in one week. We might cut down our carbs one week and then work on some other part of a change in our eating habits the next week.
Gradualism is really the way to make things happen and be successful in our resolutions. And finally, we need to make our commitment and resolution into a resolution that is somewhat public. We need to share it with other people because they can help us keep our resolution, especially if they make the same resolution. If a husband and wife make the same resolution, they can support one another in their commitment. The same thing is so with children and parents. Yes, we need human support as well as God’s grace which will help us keep some of our resolutions.
One resolution I, myself, will make and heartily encourage everyone to make is that we receive the coronavirus vaccine. There have been some questions posed by some regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine and the morality of the vaccine. In regard to the effectiveness, we know that science tells us the two vaccines now available to us in the United States — Pfizer and Moderna — are at the 95 percent level of effectiveness. Effectiveness meaning that the vaccines can mitigate the worst part of the contagion. Even if we should contract the virus, after getting the vaccine its effect will not be so severe.
The second question is its morality in regard to the origins of the vaccine. As you may know, vaccines are normally made from stem cells that come from aborted fetuses. In fact, the process for developing these two newest vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna never used stem cells to begin their study or production. The beginning of the development of the vaccine started with a totally new way of developing vaccines, not using eggs to intubate the virus, then killing the virus and then injecting into animal subjects to see if the vaccine is effective. This new process or system is a totally new science that has been developed.
There are some other vaccines that may be made available that might come from long-established cell lines, meaning over 50 years ago. The Holy See has opined on this question of tainted vaccines and made it clear that there is immorality in using tissue taken from aborted fetuses. However, the Holy See has made a distinction in terms of moral responsibility of the various actors involved; specifically between those involved in designing and producing a vaccine and those receiving a vaccine. Most importantly, the Holy See makes it clear that at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no other alternatives and there is a serious risk to health since there is no formal or immediate material cooperation in evil on the part of the recipient.
Clearly, the circumstances today present a serious threat to our health, not only to our own but to others around our nation and our world. In addition, we might not have a choice as to which of the vaccines are available to us. So, it is clear that the Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life in their 2005 study, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses,” and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith both agree that taking the vaccine has no negative moral implications for recipients.
As we put out into the deep of 2021, we hope for the best. We know that we must work to eradicate this virus by maintaining all of the rules imposed upon us, even if they are not very agreeable. We have kept all of the rules regarding our participation at Mass, we have kept things safe, according to science and logic, but still we must wear a mask, and we must use all of the sanitary conditions necessary to inhibit the spread of this virus. The Year 2021 holds much promise for change; change for the better. We pray that we may use this crisis, as our Holy Father tells us, to come out better and not worse.