A venerable, if little noted, practice of the Church is to pray the 9th-century hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus, in honor of the Holy Spirit on this first day of the new year. (A plenary indulgence is even attached to its public recitation on this special day.) Obviously, invoking the assistance of the Holy Spirit is always appropriate at any major moment in life. But, given where we have been as a Church and a society these past problem-filled years and our increasingly poor prospects for the future, doing so seems even more than especially appropriate right now.
Of course, no one can ever foretell the future. Looking ahead to 2022, however, it looks from here like more of the same - more climate change and its accompanying catastrophes, more covid and its accompanying suffering, disruption, and death, and more political polarization, Republican party political malfeasance, and Republican party attacks against constitutional government. Sadly, when we as a society stay on the same disastrous path instead of changing, things usually don't get better or even really stay the same. They get worse.
Overshadowing everything, there is the persistence of the pandemic, which quite unexpectedly upended Christmas celebrations for so many and which keeps getting in the way of ordinary life, let alone the "return to normalcy" so many seem to crave. However long or short the current omicron surge may prove to be, "normalcy" is not the answer. This crisis has demonstrated beyond any doubt the dangerous fragility of our national public health preparedness and response - and indeed the fragility of all our political, social, cultural, and religious institutions. Even with the medical miracles of vaccines and the potential of therapeutic drugs, experience suggests that we will continue to stumble about, afraid to address the crisis adequately as we have been afraid to address climate change adequately. And when the next pandemic comes, will we have learned anything from this terrible experience? Will we be any better prepared, any less complacent, any less narrow-minded and short-sighted in our responses?
Meanwhile, the impending anniversary of the attempt to overthrow our government on January 6, 2021, reminds us of the fragility of our political system, of the undermining of our once seemingly stable, democratic political culture - and of our completely inadequate response to this continuing threat to our constitution and way of life. No one can predict what will happen in the November elections, but if current rends continue and expectations are fulfilled, President Biden and the Democrats have only a few more months in which to accomplish anything. Are they ready to focus this year on what needs to be done?
And, meanwhile, glaciers are melting and the Antarctic Ice Shelf is threatening to fall into the ocean, heralding higher sea-levels. even so, we continue to drive cars, fly jet planes, and emit carbon. That too is a "normalcy" we can no longer afford, but which still seems to be the direction in which we are headed as we move into 2022.
Hopefully, some good things will happen in this new year, if not in politics and society then at least in our personal lives, in our families, at work or at school, or wherever our emotional energies are invested.
As Isaac Hecker said in his Sermon for the New Year on this date in 1863 (in the middle of the Civil War):
“It is the common custom in meeting of friends at this season, to greet each other with a Happy New Year! This is a praiseworthy and pleasant custom, and in accordance with it, I greet you all, my dear brethren, with a Happy New Year! Happy New Year to all our friends and the inhabitants of this city, and to all our fellow countrymen, whether dwelling north or south, east or west, in this our native land. Happy New Year to all men of whatever race or clime; for God is our common Creator, and in Christ we are all sons of God, and therefore brethren.”