Happy New Year!


…and happy Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God!

And so a New Year dawns and calls us all to renewal and rebirth. I have always loved that sense of freshness; of turning the page that we especially get with the New Year's celebrations. At this time of year, I often remember the feeling of getting ready to go back to school as a child, perhaps with some new writing implements or notebooks; gifts from Christmas. The overall feeling of promise; that the new year would bring with it opportunities to shrug off past failures and try harder; to be better; to achieve more.

New Year is a time when anything seems possible, anything seems achievable. The last few days of the old year seem tired and fleeting, as if the year is rushing to shed its old skin and begin anew. This year more than any other I can remember, I feel the old year dying and the new one approaching with a green sense of possibility. And it is true that we can indeed change things and start again; something I have experienced myself many times in my life. We have the ability to choose a different path and each choice and path comes with its own set of consequences. If we are able to recognise that we have made the choice and take responsibility for the consequences, we are also able to change that reality and make another choice; take another path. It is up to us, and a positive attitude is  assisted with the opportunity for renewal New Year brings.

This is an important year, I can feel it. A General Election in the UK at a time when we are devoid of clear leadership and, more than ever before in my experience, there seems very little to choose between any of the parties and no moral conscience in any political leadership. The results for our country could be disastrous, although I predict, not apocalypse, but continuation of the steady decline already in evidence.

Where do we get our sense of worth from? Politicians value us for how we vote, economists for what we earn, advertisers for how we spend, entertainers for how we enjoy our leisure time. The only unconditional source of worth in our society comes from religion. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are each made in the image of God and so have a profound dignity and immeasurable value. The new order attempting to impose itself on society presently announces itself as an enhancement to human dignity, valuing autonomy, choice and individual rights, but it is not enhancing society, it is creating a culture of individualism. We can recognise this all around us, in our relationships with neighbours and in our communities: we are becoming strangers to one another, locked in cyber-relationships that isolate us. Eventually we will recognise that in the new social order, we are in fact more vulnerable and alone. And this is how civilisations die; not with a bang, but with a whimper, so slowly that their passing is almost imperceptible to those living through the process. Today we call this process "progress".

Another huge possible paradigm shift is on the horizon for 2015 in the Synod on Marriage and the family. As Father Alexander Lucie-Smith explains in the Catholic Herald:
As October approaches, we can expect to hear much more on both these topics, especially the first, as Cardinal Kasper and his allies make their final push for what they see as reform. And it really is a final push: Cardinal Kasper is in his eighties, so it is now or never as far as he is concerned. The synod may be about the family, but the run-up will largely be about a proposal that, if it passes, will signal the definitive break up of all family life, namely the proposal (for that is what it is) to make all marriages provisional rather than, as now, absolute. So, between now and October, we need lots of prayer, so that this attempt to subvert marriage is defeated.
Personally, I can't believe this is a reality that even requires articulation, let alone that a number of Cardinals, led by Walter Kasper, are proposing this, but it nevertheless appears to be a reality. The Catholic faith, as I understand it, is founded on unchangeable principles of truth. The preposed change would require a change of the Catechism (unthinkable!) and a direct contradiction/ mitigation of Christ's own words as reported in Sacred Scripture (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9; Rom 7:10-14; Eph 5:28), in other words; Tradition, one of the three pillars (Scripture, Sacred Tradition, & The Magisterium; that is the teaching authority of Christ's Church) of Revelation as taught by Vatican II (Dei Verbum no. 8).

Of course there are a multiplicity of attitudes towards tradition. St. Paul's radical criticism of tradition stands side by side with the pious respect for tradition that marked another type of Christianity: somewhere between the two was to be found the Lucan theology, which though it was based on the freedom from the law that characterised Pauline Christianity; also expressly emphasised the historical line that led from the Old Testament to the Church, thus stressing the continuity of the history of faith. Ultimately, although Jesus fought determinedly against the dogmatisation of a casuitical tradition, He stood firmly rooted in the foundation of Old Testament faith, that is, in the foundation of the law and the prophets. Even apart from content, this seems to me to offer a most significant insight with regard to structure. Jesus did not present His message as something new and radical, as the end of everything that had preceded it. He was and remained a faithful Jew who linked His message to that tradition of believing Israel. He did not abandon tradition, He lived it; He lived the Old Testament and in doing so revealed its meaning. His message was the creative referral of tradition to its original foundation. Traditions were criticised in order that genuine tradition might be revealed to us.

Thinking about this, I would like to offer some Jewish advice for the coming year, courtesy of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Three Jewish resolutions for us all. 

First, thank God. Jews call this Barukh Hashem, “Blessed be the Lord.” In the shtetls, where Jews were poor and persecuted but deeply religious, if you asked: “How is business? the answer would come back: Barukh Hashem. How is the family? Barukh Hashem. Your health? Barukh Hashem.

You might be ill, your children rebellious, your business terrible, but you thanked God. Jews knew how to rejoice in the midst of hardship. They laughed, they celebrated, they had the gift of simchah, the Jewish word for joy. They were not fools. They knew their fate was wretched. But they felt close to God. After all, he prayed in the same synagogue that they did.

Second, love. Love your spouse and you will have a happy marriage. Love your children and you will have a happy family. Love your work and you will have a happy career. Love life and you will be blessed. “If only” is the opposite of love. If only my partner were more attractive, my children more appreciative, my colleagues more friendly, if only I earned more, achieved more. “If only” is toxic to happiness. It focuses on what we don’t have instead of what we do. The consumer culture invites us to an existence of “if only”. It’s the worst investment in life.

True faith is all about love. Love God with all your heart, your soul, your might. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love the stranger because to others you are a stranger. You don’t have to be religious to love, but you have to love to be religious. Love is the space we make for that which is not me. By opening ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, we grow.

Third, pray. Prayer is our dialogue with the infinite Other. It’s also hard, which is why we have prayer books. The finest collection of prayers is the book of Psalms. It embraces the spectrum of feeling from despair to jubilation. Prayer is to the soul what exercise is to the body, and without it we become emotionally flabby.

Some people don’t pray because they try it and it does not work. They forget that prayer is done best in the company of others, in a holy place, in song, the language of the soul as it reaches out toward the unsayable. The most life-transforming prayers are choral not solo.

Sound advice as we approach the New Year with our eyes and our arms open. God bless and keep you all and thank you for reading my thoughts here.

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