Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

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.”

Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years – our fascination with time is itself apparently timeless. It may be one of our most distinctly human traits since probably one of the earliest things human beings became aware of was our own mortality – the fact that we live and die in a set period of time. Of course, most of that time is what we might call “Ordinary Time” – the day-to-day routine of work and family life, punctuated by those special moments, the highs and lows of life, most of which just happen when they happen, not particularly according to any calendar. Yet the calendar is always there, and never more obviously than on this day, when the simple act of changing the calendar makes us stop and wonder what it’s all about.

Sometime in the mid-1970s when I was a graduate student in New Jersey, talking with a friend a day or two before New Year’s, I recall saying something to the effect that, even if I had to be alone on New Year’s Eve, I would still look forward to it because New Year’s is always about hope.

A New Year is always an invitation to hope. Hope is everyone’s response to the desire for happiness, which is in everyone’s heart. Hope keeps us from giving in to discouragement and sustains us in times of difficulty. It takes us out of ourselves and unites us with others, who also live in hope, despite life’s daily difficulties and tragedies.

Our hope is founded on Jesus Christ, whose birth some 20 centuries ago is the very basis for our calendar. When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law [Galatians 4:4]. Jesus was born of a woman – Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. He was born under the law – a member of the Jewish People, circumcised on the eighth day of his life, in fulfillment of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. God’s entry into the world in Jesus – born to a particular mother, of a particular nation, in a particular place, and at a particular time in human history – has (as the Christmas liturgy says) given our immortal nature immortal value. It has realigned all of time and given all of history a new, more hope-filled meaning, giving us a hope for the future which we would never otherwise have had.

Time is always precious – precisely because we have such a limited supply of it. By making himself a part of our time, however, God has turned our limited time on earth into a time of unlimited opportunity. So as we begin a new year, we do so not in fear and desperation, but with the hope that is truly one of God’s great Christmas gifts to us. As he himself has lived a fully human life among us in our time, he now enables us to live and love as he himself does – and so share both now and for all eternity in the divine life he has so freely shared with us.

Homily for New Year’s Day (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) at Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, January 1, 2011

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