Filling Our Empty Pockets
By FATHER PAUL KEENAN

Colette, the French novelist, is said to have referred to January as a “month of empty pockets.” I suppose by now your credit card bills from Christmas are rolling in and perhaps for you Colette’s description is apt, indeed. Sometimes you feel afraid to go to the mailbox, lest you be presented with yet another bill for something that a month ago seemed like the perfect way to mark the Christmas season and its festive celebrations. If this is your circumstance, take heart. The same thing probably happened last year and the year before and somehow you survived. There is plenty of room for hope.

There is another sense in which January is a “month of empty pockets.” In our house, growing up, we expressed it a bit differently. We spoke, on New Year’s Eve, of “sweeping the Old Year out and sweeping the New Year in.” If, by a short stretch of the imagination, you think of yourself wearing your favorite overcoat and, on an impulse, decide to empty the pockets, you will have an equally good metaphor for what takes place in a New Year. If you’re like me, your pockets notoriously fill up with gloves, scarves, odd pieces of paper, store receipts, used paper clips and the like—mementos, to be sure, of places visited, purchases made, and things stuffed away for future use. After awhile, just try to find any one of them without having to shuffle through all of the others. A pocket, well utilized, can become a bit of a challenge to retrieval.

Sooner or later, we can’t abide it anymore and off comes the coat, out come the contents of the pockets and we begin sorting out the wheat from the chaff. It’s pocket-cleaning time, and, lo and behold, before long our pockets are empty. It feels good to have emptied our pockets. Once burdened, now we are freed. Our coat seems lighter, and so do we.

January is like that. Ending an old year is a bit like emptying our pockets. We look, we sort, we discover that some of what we have been carrying about is no longer useful and that the rest can be relocated to a more suitable place. Come New Year’s Day we have empty pockets.

This is not a sad thing, as our empty financial pockets might seem to be, but rather an exciting thing. For now we get to decide what to do about those empty pockets—what to fill them with and what to refuse to place in them. We can’t let them stay empty— remember what Jesus said about the man who swept his house clean but didn’t fill it with anything: all his old demons came back to locate themselves in their former home. In a New Year, we must choose what to do with our empty pockets—do we fill them with things useful or do we slip back into our old junky ways? The New Year, like our empty pockets, is filled with wonderful potential. It was Robert Louis Stevenson who, in A Child’s Garden of Verses, said, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” There is so much of joy and goodness, right action and loving-kindness that we can put into our pockets. These things never clutter. When our pockets become full of them, we are moved to share.

Happy New Year! In this “month of empty pockets” may you and I fill our pockets with the best that life can offer: faith, love, companionship, things that build peace. When we have filled them with those good things, let us remember to share them. Those treasures in our pockets can enrich the world.