The brightness of my holiday celebrations was overshadowed by the sad news of the attacks at a Hanukkah celebration near New York City and at a church service in Texas, along with the ongoing unease in U.S. and Iran relations. These situations are beyond our immediate control, but are still ones in which we ask ourselves, What can I do about it? I continued this train of thought as I prepared my homily for the first day of the new year and decided I would share with you the fruit of my reflection:
At the start of a new year, Mary, a key player in the infancy narratives of Luke’s Gospel, stands at the center of our liturgy. This morning’s Gospel presents her as a reflective person as she takes to heart the plan of God that is unfolding before her eyes.
I can’t speak for you, but I know in my own case that prayerful reflection should be more a part of my life than it is. Unfortunately, in our fast-paced lifestyle, prayer time is often not a high priority. So many things seem to restrict us, whether at home or at work. Distractions seem ever-present — the task at hand, concern for children or a sick or elderly family member, the routine shopping or errands that cannot be put off.
Truthfully, sisters and brothers, it is not easy to find quality time to reflect on our life and simply to pray. But it is indispensable if we do not want to find ourselves running on empty. In such instances, we can often feel that we are just spinning our wheels and getting nowhere.
A story is told of a doctor who was constantly distraught by the daily traffic snarls in his commute until he decided to pray the rosary. He recited it daily on his way to work for years after that and found it a great help. I can vouch for this practice and the help it brings because I often pray the rosary in my travels across the diocese.
It seems also that a woman decided to forgo one of her daily TV programs in the interest of spiritual reading and ended up discovering real guidance for her life when she lifted her heart and life up to the Lord. Again, I am reminded of my own personal experience of the fruitfulness of days that are hemmed in prayer and those where I seem to sink into the mire of life because I have let go of God’s hand.
The blessing of Aaron in our first reading on this New Year’s Day speaks of God turning his face to his people. The same metaphor applies to life here and now. When people are upset with us, they are said to have turned their back on us. Engagement means to turn our face toward someone in kindly spirit. The kindness of our God has come alive and come face to face with us through the face of the one named Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, a major concern in the present age is with the human face of Church. Does it really show forth the face of Christ to a world struggling to know God? Scandal has tarnished badly the image of the Church itself in today’s world. So many in the current moment want to disassociate themselves from the Church because of its seeming failure to be the Body of Christ!
There is added disappointment with leaders, both religious and political, in a country strongly divided along ideological lines. In the face of the continual “spin,” people find it increasingly difficult to know what to believe. Consequently, it is prayer and reflection, like that exemplified in Mary, which serves us so well. Through it people still come to cherish the gift of faith.
In it also they come to discover the true heart and head of the Church, Jesus Christ, who touches us in word and sacrament. It is in him that we are nourished and encouraged. Ultimately it is in Christ we stand. And when we cross the valley of the shadow of death to the land beyond, whether in the year to come or sometime down the road, it is Christ who will bring us home!
And so we pray at the start of this New Year: “Jesus, I want to start this year by seeing your hand at work in my life. Open my eyes, Lord, just as you did for Mary!” Amen.
As a follow-up to this reflection, I ask your prayers for me and the bishops of New York State who will be on retreat next week. May it be a time of true reflection for us and know that I will be praying for the Diocese of Syracuse and for your intentions.
God’s blessings a