1 Jan 2017
It depends on who you talk to, and how they would describe it, but it seems safe to say that 2016 was an “interesting” year at St. Clare. At the start of the year, there was a lot of talk about our church buildings and the Mass times—and they were pretty contentious talks, as I understand it. 2016 seems to have been a year when the merger—if it wasn’t already difficult enough, became even more so.
The Mass times were changed significantly at the end of May, and it took some time to get used to that; of course, it’s still a point of disagreement for some. The pastor at the time was both liked and disliked, and it was kind of a rough-n-tumble start to the year. Then, in July, St. Clare got a new Administrator, who started ringing bells at Mass, and chanting the prayers, and who didn’t have much to say about buildings or Mass times.
Over at the school, our principal left for another position the day I got here and, after a very long process we finally hired Dr. Nardi just a week before school started. And she and the teaching staff are going strong. We extended the Sacrament of Reconciliation to three times a week at all our campuses. And people are gradually beginning to take advantage of that.
On the financial end, the parish struggles. As you’ve seen in the bulletin, we’re tens of thousands of dollars behind in what was budgeted for sacrificial giving. And so, 2016 has been a bit of a scramble to pay the bills. And on the faith side of parish life, the past year has been a time of questioning, of growth, of challenge. In uncertain times, our faith in God either soars or plummets. And, for many of us, it seems that our faith has maybe done both in 2016.
But, at the end of it all, we came to rest where we are now—in the middle of the Christmas season. That’s a pretty good way to end the year: celebrating the birth of our Savior, as well as the woman and the faith which brought about his birth. We end the year—and start a new one—here at the altar of God, receiving a most precious gift that we’re meant to take with us.
It’s similar in many ways to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They had just received the Ten Commandments from God, and were getting ready to set out for the Promised Land. (That’s the setting for the Book of Numbers that we heard from today.) And as the Israelites were stepping out into a new phase in life, we hear that blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
As we leave 2016 behind, and all that St. Clare Parish experienced, we go with God’s blessing. And we go with the Spirit of the Savior inside us. That’s a pretty good way to start the new year. And not only that; it’s also a profound way to start this next year.
We hear how the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph and “made known the message that had been told them about this child.” We heard it ourselves on Christmas: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” That’s a stunning thing to hear about a little baby. It’s no wonder, then, that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
This isn’t just the baby Jesus who’s given us; this is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. This is someone for whom the angels sing the praises of God. This person we’re given as our traveling companion for the next year and the rest of our lives is . . . well, he’s the Son of God. This is God himself, Emmanuel—“God with us.” Our Advent prayer was answered—again. “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” we prayed. Well . . . he’s here.
We’re not just leaving behind 2016 and going into the New Year. Hopefully, with the realization of exactly who it is who travels with us, the New Year will also have the flavor of new life. But seeing our “traveling companion” for who he is comes only—it seems—with the attitude of our Blessed Mother. She “kept all these things”—all these strange and unearthly things she had heard about Jesus—she kept them, “reflecting on them in her heart.” And, in that, she came to know exactly who that child was that God gave her.
And God gives us that gift, too. God has given us the gift of himself. But, of course, we have to open up a gift to see what’s inside. And opening up what we’ve received here at Christmas takes time; it takes time and patience, it takes imagination and wonder, it takes a lot of reflection and faith; especially faith.
Without faith, Jesus is just an abstract historical person. Without faith, God is just a fantasy or a nice concept. Without faith, there isn’t anything beyond the everyday humdrum. Without faith, the New Year is just another New Year; not necessarily new life. And so, faith is important. Of course, that’s a major understatement . . . faith is everything!
With faith, we come to see that Jesus is very much alive today. With faith, we come to know God as the infinite engine in our life; God as the divine artist who creates his creation with us as his co-creators—with our Blessed Mother as the co-creator par excellence. With faith, our eyes are opened to see as God sees, our ears are opened to hear as God hears, and our hearts are opened to breathe deeply of this thing we call “life.” With faith, life is always new; life is always unfolding and becoming something.
We stand here looking back at 2016, and all that happened in the world, in our lives, and here at St. Clare Parish. But we also look forward to 2017, a New Year and, hopefully, a new and good life to come. And our God has given us at least three precious gifts to carry into the New Year: his Son, his Mother, and our faith.
May we keep these profound gifts close to heart, and ponder what they mean for us. And may hear God’s blessing as we set out in the New Year: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!