As we prepare to enter a new year, we realize that the coming year is still a mystery. That is particularly true for us priests with On Mission going on in our diocese. But whatever happens, we have the promise of Christ that He will be with us always. That is why I always find it fitting that the new year begins at the Octave of Christmas. We are still celebrating the birth of Christ, even if all the stores are now promoting “after Christmas” sales. Our society tries to make the festive season start earlier and earlier each year, with the result that we are ready for Christmas to be over by December 26. But in the Church we go through a period of preparation called Advent that is not yet Christmas. So now that we have celebrated the big day, we realize that it is not just one day. This is our time of celebration. This is our time of recognizing that Christ our Lord came to share our human nature for our salvation.
At this time of the year, I often like to make the point that we do not have a God who is so far above us that He makes impossible demands upon us. Rather, we have a God who shared our humanity and who thus knows first hand what we go through. That point can be a good starting place for meditation as we prepare to begin a new year. When we have any difficulties over the next twelve months, we know that God understands our struggles and is there to help us. When good things happen, we thank God for His blessings and His support.
There are many ways to dedicate the new year to Christ. One is to recognize that January 1, as the Octave Day of Christmas, is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. We are excused from the obligation on that day when it falls on a Monday, but for anyone who would like to come to Mass, we will have Mass at 9:00.
Another way I like to dedicate the new year to Christ is in prayer right at midnight. I was never much for New Year’s Eve parties when I was younger, so when I was ordained I had the idea of going to church for prayer right at midnight. I decided I would offer that same opportunity to parishioners one year, although I guessed that only one or two people would show up at that time – that anyone who was staying up had a party to go to. That again shows that it is hard to make predictions, for we had a nice gathering that first year and every year thereafter, in whatever parish I have been in. That time of prayer has developed into an annual New Year’s Holy Hour, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and prayers and readings related to the time of year. So I invite you to join us in church at 11:30 Sunday night, at which point we will give thanks for all of God’s blessings in the past year and to place the upcoming year in His hands.