Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Better Plan

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Old Year’s Night at Rosary Monastery-St. Ann’s
31 December 2009

“When the appointed time came, God sent his Son…”
            One of the things which figure big on New Years is the or are the “countdowns”: ten… nine… eight… and so on down to midnight or whatever. Fun! If we’re a second off or twenty seconds off, early or late, it doesn’t really matter; it is the fun of the thing – counting down.
“When the appointed time came, God sent his Son…”
Jesus’ Birth of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, is different. There’s no countdown involved, but there was as St. Paul tells us in our Second Reading an “appointed time”; it was the fullness of time. The Saviour could not have been born sooner or later; He could not have been early or late. We find ourselves before the mystery of our God made visible in time. We see before us Jesus, true God and true Man, the Victor over sin and death. As the celebrant prays at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, blessing the Easter Candle: “Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age for ever. Amen.” Hold that thought right through midnight and for the year to come!
            Today is our Octave Day since Christmas on December 25th; it is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and it is one with the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord. Today on the eighth day, as St. Luke’s Gospel puts it: “they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”
Mary’s Feast coincides with January 1st and the beginning of another calendar year. By rights, I suppose, as far as these great mysteries go we should just ignore the countdown to midnight as nothing more than simple fun, an arbitrary cutoff or starting point. As we know, our liturgical year in the Church begins with the first Sunday of Advent; any number of ancient calendars, whether solar, lunar or stellar start on other days of the year. For us, January 1st however is January 1st and whether we pop corks, shoot fireworks or bow our heads in prayer, we acknowledge this moment in time. It is no less important because it happens approximately every 365 days, leap years duly taken into consideration. The challenge is to understand how New Years connects with these great and high holy days of the Christmas Season or how to use our sentiment at calendar flipping to draw closer to Christ our Light and Life.
Lots of people make resolutions today or tomorrow on January 1st. They mark the New Year with, yes, good intentions but which rarely go beyond the classic “New Years Resolutions” like once again for the umpteenth time to give up smoking, or trying again to cut calories, or this time hopefully to take three inches off somebody’s waist in time for Carnival. That is and it is not what the first of the year should be about. Instead of wishful thinking, January 1st ought rather to be for us the day, marking the beginning of another year, another decade, or as some of us experienced ten years ago a new millennium, the day to renew our own resolve to live a good and holy life, for our own sake and for the sake of the world in which we live.
I have heard tell that more Trinis come to church on Old Years Night than on any other day of the year; it would seem that on this Island there is a commonly felt need to thank the Lord for the blessings of the year ending and to beg the Lord for His favor and protection for the year ahead. These are good sentiments; they are something which should be. With such sentiments in our hearts we can easily understand the Church’s choice from the book of Numbers of the First Reading we just heard: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”
New Years is indeed a time to wish well and to bless, to seek God’s favor for ourselves and for those whom we love. It’s a great time to ask God’s guidance for all those men and women who, although they do not control our destiny, do certainly contribute to our welfare or woe. Our prayer at the beginning of another calendar year is not meant to coax God to be good or to do His thing for our sake, no, the sense of our prayer: “O God, be gracious and bless us” is that we and those with power over us might be well-disposed to cooperating with God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
            Since the time of Pope Paul VI today has also been for the Catholic Church the World Day of Peace. For this 43rd World Day of Peace our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen the theme: If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation. Among other things the Holy Father writes: “The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation.”
            In a word, I guess you could say that the first of the year is a great day for us to get our act together. We can take stock; we can establish priorities; we can begin again. For us Catholics, all of this purposeful action is tied to the Mother of God and Jesus’ Birth and it should be carried out with an eye trained on how Mary lived her life. No doubt in the home of her parents, Sts. Joachim and Ann, she never experienced a New Years Eve party or even a countdown to midnight. Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that Mary in her whole life never made a New Years Resolution.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from such purposeful action or deprive you of the fun of ringing out the old and bringing in the new, but I think I’d like to suggest another and better way, not so much to begin another calendar year as to unite ourselves with the Saviour in His “appointed time” which was then and is now.
Take hold of the hand offered to you by Mary most holy, the Mother of this Child. For as much as we’d like a January 1st and preferably this January 1st to be the one where we free ourselves (read between the lines: by determined effort) from something, anything, everything, little or big, which may be holding us back or dragging us down, we have a better option. Hand in hand with the Mother of God, we can walk on together with the Wonder Counsellor, Father forever, God Hero, with the Prince of Peace.
 In the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a lot goes on and it would be a real pity if we limited ourselves to just one aspect of this great mystery. The same is true of life, of your life and mine. The power of positive thinking, bettering oneself through conscious effort, hard work: it is all right and good. In a sense, the fun aspects of celebrating a New Year pale by comparison with what we’d like to be progress, a personal effort moving ahead year by year. One of the best definitions of the Mass is that of the unbloody renewal of Jesus’ sacrifice once and for all upon the Cross. An important thing to remember is that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass always takes place with the presence and participation of the heavenly court, with the presence of the angels and the saints. Starting each New Year at Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is terribly right because it brings home what is ultimately more important than resolutions, bubbly, firecrackers and countdowns. Not only do we start out right by offering Jesus’ Sacrifice for the life of the world, but we do it in good company; we do it in the best of company; we experience once again the flip of the calendar hand in hand with the Mother of God and all of the angels and saints. May Mary carry you through this night and may you walk hand in hand with her, close to her Son, Jesus, throughout 2010!
“Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age for ever. Amen.”

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