For some a new year brings a certain dread about what it might bring. With the level of global uncertainty heightened at the moment and some preferring conflict to peace, some feel more anxious.
However, from a Christian point of view, a new year is always an anno domini, ‘in the year of the Lord’. It is a strong reminder that actually God is in charge (not us), God has a plan (life is not random), a plan not just for this world that God created and loves but also a plan for each person created in the image and likeness of God. Grace is at work. Lord, that we might see.
The first weeks of Ordinary Time have us reading St Mark’s Gospel. Recently we read, ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand.’ (Mark 3:24-25). This passage is a reminder that, as humans, the whole of creation and especially the gift of the Church only really works when it is in communion. It is a simple lesson really, and a great new year’s resolution, and yet one that takes a lifetime to enact and is our constant call. A new year is an anno domini because it invites, even demands, that we live in communion with: God, our neighbour, our best self and the whole of creation. That is the source of true happiness and contentment, and the mission of the Church and every baptised.
Imagine, if you will, that we could solve every current problem in our world: global warming; the price of living crisis; housing for all and homelessness, to name a few. After having done this, we might just have time to ask questions such as ‘What would really make us content or happy?’
Life at times is difficult. We want to get out of the swirling ocean and we want to get into the lifeboat. Somehow we know we’re not made for the lifeboat but we need to have a little rest sometimes and then we get back on the ocean – we are pilgrims after all.
The gift of our faith reminds of us that God is the God of the second chance; think of St Peter for one, dare we think of ourselves as another. The new year often noiselessly hides a desire in each of us to have a second chance, to begin afresh, to begin again.
The second chance is always being offered. The grace to see it is grace indeed. The grace of a new year might allow us to see and embrace that second chance.
Curiously most of us don’t recognise when that second chance is offered to us. When it is offered to us it is not always offered in the form that we need or want. Often we look for the burning bush, or the bolt of lightning or even a lottery win, thinking that will make everything just perfect.
It seems that God doesn’t often work that way. God often comes to us in the unexpected, most often in the ordinary. The good news is that our God is the God of the second chance. We are always offered a second chance. Pope Francis reminds us so often of that. Reflecting on the 2000-year history of the Church and the hopes of the Chosen People before that, he reminds us that Mercy is at the centre. Reminding us that Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy. As humans we are prone to forget that and sometimes even choose vengeance rather than mercy. But that is not who we are.
In this new year we are called to listen more deeply to the call to mercy; to see the revelation of God amongst us, all of us; to believe even if we could solve all of those problems, we need to have a second chance, because all of us are imperfect. All of us strive for the mercy of God and the mission of the Church, the mission of each baptised, as ‘other Christs’, is to be the face of God’s mercy, wherever we are.
For some this is difficult. Some prefer the Church to be a club for saints rather than a hospital for sinners. A deep reading of sacred scripture and the history and tradition of the Church reminds us that the Church has always been, at its best, a hospital for sinners; that is our mission, we are called to be ushers not bouncers.
Just this week Pope Francis has invited the Church, in preparation for the year of Jubilee next year (2025), to have a Year of Prayer.
In one sense every year is a ‘Year of Prayer’. The Year of Prayer is a call to attend to the quality of our prayer. Maybe on our ‘New Year resolutions’ list we could place an item that says not simply to pray more, always a good idea, but one that focuses on ‘how’ we pray. Maybe we have forgotten how to pray; maybe we have forgotten that prayer is not simply the saying of prayers or simply knowing prayers, but rather prayer is being drawn into the very heart of God through the Holy Spirit and, ultimately, living those prayers through love.
A blessed and peace-filled, prayerful new year filled with second chances.
God is good, good indeed.