The calendar year comes to an end and we gather to celebrate two special feasts in our Church: The Holy Family and that of Mary, the Mother of God. We celebrate the end of another year of pilgrimage in faith, and the beginning of a new year of our lives.
The feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of all families: not perfect families, not constantly serene families - but families just like ours. If we picture the family of Joseph of Nazareth as we have seen them depicted in works of art or statuary, it becomes very difficult to model our family lives around theirs.
They were, in fact, ordinary working people, called to an extraordinary mission. And they were subject to the ordinary failures of miscommunication, disappointments, worries, and disagreements of every family. However, they put their entire future, their entire trust, in the Spirit of God, who not only led them through their lives, but traveled alongside with them on their journey. Theirs was a family of love, respect and honesty, and not without turmoil.
Mary, as the Mother of our God, becomes our mother. It is she in whose arms the Babe nestled at birth, and in whose arms the crucified Son lay at the foot of the Cross. "Mary, the Mother of God" is perhaps the most significant of her titles - an ordinary girl called to bring forth the Word of Salvation - to care for Him, to nurture Him, to feed Him with the fruits of this life, so that He could feed others with the gift of Eternal Life.
This is traditionally the time of year for reflection - a time to look back at another year of life-experience and how we dealt with it; a time to measure our progress; and a time of resolve. In the life of the Church it is also a time of "new beginnings." The Season of Advent ushered in the new liturgical year; Christmastide reflects our affirmation of God made flesh, and we now begin the cycle anew.
It is very fitting that, as we move from the old year into the new, we recognize how intimately our lives are bound up with family. We are born into a family and reared in its environment; we move out and usually begin our own families. So many of the significant and Sacramental events of our lives are related to family members... baptisms, First Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, anniversaries, and deaths.
It is in the family that we first come to understand and experience community. In the loving, supportive environment of parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we come to appreciate our heritage and traditions. We are schooled in fundamental values. And usually, our initiation into the Christian faith is a very basic part of that early experience. It is our faith which will shape our outlook of the coming new year.
As the new year begins, we are setting out once again on a difficult and seemingly unmapped journey. We have no way of knowing where it will lead. There may be all sorts of surprises ahead, unsuspected discoveries and unwanted setbacks. We cannot know what events of this coming year will shape our lives. We wonder about our health, our wealth, our children, our parents, our schools, our jobs - and we cannot escape concern about the global family, about poverty, famine, war, oppression and disease.
We have a choice: we can be either optimistic or pessimistic. We can be hope-filled or despairing. We can trust in the abiding presence of our God or feel helplessly lost and alone. Our choice will, of course, fashion the spirit in which we spend each day of the coming year. It will also have an impact on those around us, and, ultimately, on the quality of life in our world.
For us who believe in God's gift of His Son Jesus, there is only one choice. We walk in the Light of His love and His truth. That is what guides us day by day. We never feel abandoned, or helpless, or lost. We cannot allow those around us to walk in that kind of darkness, either.
Our journey through a new year, then, is not really unmapped. We know "The Way". So we move calmly and deliberately through each day. We are ready for whatever the turn in the road may bring. We are sure of the Lord's help to meet the unexpected failure or loss with courage. We know that there will be reasons for joy and gratefulness every day, if we just look with the eyes of faith.
As we reflect upon the past year, we all realize not only how truly precious life is, but also how very fragile it can be, and how quickly all things change. We need to remind ourselves that all changes take place in the present moment. Everything else is either prelude or postlude to change.
In the Morning Star rise of Christmas, in the love of a man and a woman and their baby, we can rediscover the incredible power of His love. And that Love gives us a new opportunity to celebrate life, to share love, to enkindle hope.
Paul's letter to the Colossians is a wonderful expression of the ideals that we all work towards and pray for to make our own families "holy" families:
"Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection."
These are also the fundamental elements of building peace in our world.
May your families know his Love and Peace, today and always.