Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day

January 1st is an important feast of the Society of Jesus, a day which honors Mary as the Mother of God and of the Society. It is a day which celebrates the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant boy, and for the Jesuits it is the giving of the name of Jesus to the Society. Since it is a week from Christmas day, it follows Jewish custom to mark the child with circumcision and to give a name. The name Jesus, or Yahweh saves, reminds us that God is Emmanuel, God is always with us. This is a terrific message for us to receive at the beginning of a calendar year.

I like that we always find ourselves in the middle of the Christmas season when New Year’s Day comes because we always find ourselves glorifying and praising God. I also like the image of Father Time passing the torch to the young infant to ring in the New Year. The weight of the past year is lifted and we are able to look forward in hope for a brighter day. We have to retain our hope. It reminds me that the little boy who was given to us at Christmas must be formed by our caring. It is he who governs our world. We must constantly give him room to fit into our empty spaces.

In Scriptures, it is after this point that the ordinary life of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus begins. The infant burps, spits up, and needs his diaper changed like every other baby. He cries when he’s hungry, he gets angry when he doesn’t get what he wants, he takes naps when he’s tired. He is just like you and me. His mother and father must worry about how best to take care of their boy as every new parent does. Ordinary life settles in, but I imagine each time Joseph and Mary pick up and hold him, they are filled with hope and promises for him. They gaze upon him in wonder for hours upon hours to look at his beauty, not because he is God in the flesh, but because he is their son. The parents of Mary and the parents of Joseph probably volunteer to babysit because they want to see the hope of a new generation grow in love and affection before their eyes.

Like the parents of Jesus, we want to hold onto similar types of hope as each year turns anew. We feel the weightiness of human life with its senseless violence, brutal power plays, countless deaths, and an aging process that we cannot stop. Our problems seem immeasurable and we buckle in our powerlessness before them. We want better for future generations.

Let’s begin this year by imitating Joseph and Mary by paying attention to the small details of daily life that seem uninteresting and routine. We can find God in all things when we discover the hidden blessings in the ordinariness of existence. We don’t only have to look up into the stars to find the transcendent; we can also find it by letting the small satisfactions in life reveal a deeper meaning. Joseph and Mary not only looked up to bless God in heaven, but they looked down at the tiny child who gave them many contented laughs and surprises. I remember a friend quipping to me, “John, who would have ever thought that I could spend hours gazing and marveling at my newborn grandson who can’t even respond to me.” This is real contemplation.

Let’s fall in love again with the world around us and the people in it. The world is inherent good. The culture of the world is good even when we find it conflicting with our religious beliefs. Loving is a choice. We can find God in all things when we contemplate what God has put before us. It can be very simple if we let it.

When we encounter a problem that plagues us, let’s see the opportunities for reconciliation rather than continued division. When we encounter an idea or cultural expression we don’t like, let us find an area with common understanding to build upon. It will help us grow and soften our sharp edges. When we are told “no,” let’s see if a “yes” is nestled somewhere in it. When an offer is made, accept the invitation. Someone wants to be your friend and share something with you that they value. See it through their eyes. When you see something old and tarnished, restore it to a glory that is has not seen before. The world is here for our recreating. We can be agents of transformation when we learn how to see the beauty that is hidden, but beckons to come forth. Learn when it is time to let go and get off the stage with grace and dignity. You will set yourself as an example of living joyfully and healthily for others.

In all things we must promote a life-giving culture. God does this year after year as God gives us a new calendar. God is laboring in all things. Let’s not miss it. We always have beginnings and possibilities before us if we let our eyes see newness in unanticipated ways. Let’s be artists, musicians, sculptors, and creators of things possible and impossible. Our Christian choices must show forth hope and eternal life. We share with others what we have come to know through our senses. We become evangelists of a new-style joyful life and we become attractive to all sorts of people because we have figured out how to live well. It really is simple – and enjoyable. Allow God to alter your worldview this year so you can embrace the many invitations offered. All that you do will bring praise and glory to God. Happy New Year