So, here we are. A New Year is upon us and we ponder it in the Christmas season. The old year has been a trying time for all of us in different ways. The Gospel reading from St. John speaks of: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God. I am attracted to the term: beginning. It speaks to me of a fresh start given by God to each and every one of us. How can we have a fresh start?
When St. Luke gives us of the reactions of people to the birth of Jesus he tells us many people were astonished. The shepherds astonished their hearers when they spoke of what they saw. Astonishment is often used to indicate a state prior to people opening up to mystery and grace and coming to faith. Astonishment breaks through the surface and opens the person to new possibilities. It is like a field that must be ploughed, the soil opened up, in order for it to be fertile and for seeds to take root and grow. I would like us all to feel astonished by this holy season. To have a renewed sense of joy at the Incarnation of Jesus coming to us fully Divine and fully human. That the soil of our life has been turned over anew and we are ready to be replanted with gifts of stronger faith, unconditional love, generosity, compassion, and unstinting service in the Kingdom of God.
There has been a lot of darkness in the year that has ended and it has continued over to 2021. God wants us to never be intimidated by the darkness that comes in so many forms. Our Gospel today reminds us that Jesus is the Light that darkness could not overpower. The Lord wants us to feel secure and confident in His ability to care for us and keep us safe in His service. Our readings today remind us: God is always God. Wisdom recreates and illuminates us. Jesus is Light and Life – nothing can change this. The Lord became one of us to take us into Himself, into the Light. We see darkness for what it is: the absence of light, of life, of hope. We will cling to the Light and we will courageously challenge the darkness. We will penetrate it with Divine gifts and dispel it in God’s Name.
To begin a New Year properly we must make peace with our past. I’d be the first to say I am not good at this. Before we move ahead, we must put unnecessary stuff behind us. We are sensitive and loving people. This has its price. Loving sensitive people are easily hurt and not immune to getting things wrong. We all have a rucksack on our backs and the contents vary. We carry a load with us from the past that weighs heavy on us and can inhibit our confidence, joy and progress. We have regrets, disappointments, failures, mistakes, and we have said and done hurtful things. We may have wondered why God didn’t do something that we felt desperately needed to be done. Our faith feels a little dented and threadbare in places. Of course, God doesn’t want us to feel this way. He wants us to make a fresh start worthy of the name. This week, I looked into the crib and I asked Jesus if I could feel a little born again, a coming to life anew at this holy time. I want to bring some newness to my old, fresh to my stale and energy to my tired. I will be happier if I can leave the crib carrying more of Jesus and less of myself into the future.
In a sense, every day is a fresh start. I’ve often mentioned the importance of our morning offering prayer. The morning prayer is the time of appropriate aspiration: in it I can seek to realise a dream, something good to do, someone to love alongside the Lord. To offer all my thoughts and activities as acts of love for God and His glory. In this prayer, I must ask for the Lord’s anointing and the strength of the Holy Spirit to do good and avoid evil. A particular problem for me is that I am easily hurt. I don’t want to change and become insensitive in order to be less easily offended. Someone once said: “Write your hurts in sand and your blessings in stone”. I hope I can make some progress in this.
As we leave the old year behind, what will we take from it that is positive? There was a father whose two sons were always quarrelling and falling out with each other. Their father called them to him. He tied a bundle of sticks together and asked each son to break the sticks, they tried as hard as they could but failed. He cut the string and the sticks fell apart. He asked them to break the sticks, they did so easily. The father told his sons that together, no enemy could hurt them. But separated they were too weak and vulnerable to protect each other. One of the lessons from recent times for me is the reinforcement of something I have always believed: that we are stronger together. The fear of the virus has done its best to create distance between us. Thankfully we have maintained our sense of unity. I am grateful to our helpers who helped us to come together for Mass safely. Self-isolating parishioners have found the parish website valuable in helping them feel acknowledged and kept up to date. God willing in the not too distant future, we will be as we were before the virus. Pope Francis has asked we be strong and promote a culture of encounter. The bonds that hold us to God and each other are a strong as ever. In this regard, the Feast of the Holy Family has had particular power for me this Christmas. The Lord was born into love, devotion and unity in difficult circumstances. I thank God for the parish family He has made us and I rejoice in the good will and concern that is our nature. I found this poem and I share it with you:-
Another year is dawning, dear Father let it be. In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise, another year of proving, Thy Presence all the days.
Another year or mercies, of faithfulness and grace. Another year of gladness, the glory of Your Face.
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast. Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of service. of witness to Thy love. Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning. Dear Father, let it be on Earth as it is in Heaven, another year for Thee.
(Francis Ridley Havergal)
God bless you all and have a blessed 2021.
Fr. Gerard X