Sunday, January 1, 2012


On New Year’s I often like to recall what the late comedian George Burns once wrote in The New York Times: “Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I always looked forward to New Year’s mainly because it was the only thing we could afford that was really new. And we always believed that things were going to get better during the New Year.”
New Year’s – especially the run-up to the end of the old year – lends itself to both nostalgic and serious reflections both about the state of the world and about one’s life, about where one has been so far and where one may be going in whatever time may yet be allotted. But New Year’s, as George Burns’ comical comment reminds us, is, by definition, something new, a gift freely given us that offers an opportunity for hope. Someone said to me recently that he looks forward to 2012 full of hope because, at the very least, at the end of this new year, the election will be over. The only problem with that, I reminded him, is that by the end of the new year the next election campaign will have already begun!
Elections aside, however we approach the beginning of a new year, hope has to be a part of it. To be sure, for all our holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of another very difficult and challenging year of economic and personal struggles by looking ahead to 2012 with more than a little anxiety. Speaking for myself, I must confess that I find myself at the beginning of this new year feeling lots of additional anxiety! As you know, in just a couple of days, I’ll be leaving you all for almost 3 months on an assignment I did not seek. Fortunately, it’s only temporary. Even so, all transitions are stressful. Being bounced around from place to place gets harder and harder the older one gets, and having to listen to (and try to understand) two hours of class everyday in a foreign language – at my age - is a challenge, about which I am more than a little apprehensive. It’s not for nothing, after all, that we pray every day at Mass that we may be safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
But, if my distress and anxiety as I begin this new year are real enough, so too – if I am to practice myself what I preach to others – so too must be my hope, the hope we all share as Church, the hope we have been proclaiming this Christmas season, and on which we must all rely in all things and at all times, all the year round: the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our hope is founded and focused on Jesus Christ, the one whose birth 2000+ years ago is the very basis for the calendar we mark today. When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman – Mary the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. He was born under the law – that is, he was a member of the Jewish People, circumcised on the 8th day of his earthly life, in fulfillment of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. God’s showing up in the world in Jesus – born to a particular mother, of a particular nation, in a particular place, at a particular time in human history – has realigned all of time and given all of history a new and more hope-filled meaning, giving us a hope for the future we would never otherwise have had.
Time has always been very precious – precisely, I suppose, because we have only such a limited supply of it. By becoming part of our time, however, God has turned our limited time on earth into a time of unlimited opportunity. So today he invites us to receive this new year – this year of our Lord 2012 – with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not in fear or anxiety, but with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.
Happy New Year!
Homily for New Year’s Day, Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, January 1, 2012

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