Perhaps that's what happens when you turn 40 (which I did on November 6) - you get a bit more reflective about time. You have a greater awareness of the reality of time not being guaranteed... It’s not a “given...” that life and the length of time of life is truly the most precious of gifts we possess. That’s something we seem to lose sight of in the day to day routines of life that seems to get underscored when someone we love dies. This New Years I’m a bit somber about that as I recall burying a friend at age 47 this past September after a somewhat brief (but much longer than the doctors expected) battle with cancer. A year ago, my friend Tim Groves ahead ago was surprised to have made it to see 2013. And those last 9 months - I think for his family and friends - it's going to take some more time to reflect on some of the lessons, the blessings that extra time brought amidst the pain and sorrow.
Tim’s tragic death wasn't the only dramatic reminder about the precious gift of life and of time. A week and a half ago, on December 20th, Msgr. Joseph Petrillo, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in West Orange which was my first parish assignment as a priest and who was the second pastor I served with for close to 6 years - very shockingly and unexpectedly was found dead in his rooms in the rectory. After successfully beating cancer over 8 years ago, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 66. Again, the preciousness of life and time hit home as the incredibly shock of this death hit all of us- most especially his family and friends and the people of that great parish.
As I think of the precious gift of time - I find myself revisiting this past year. What did I do with this precious gift of time -- 365 days for the purposes of this "New Years" - but in fact all time? How did I give glory to God? How did I fail Him?
A year ago, I didn’t know that I would be asked to become the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Newark as well as continue serving as Campus Minister at Montclair State University. I would never have imagined Pope Benedict XVI would resign as Pope and that I would providentially find myself in Rome, standing in the front row to history in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis first emerged after being elected the new Pope.
While the deaths of loved ones – or of people close to other loved ones; and sharing their grief – obviously brings some somber memories - the images of new little ones faces bring a joy and hope that only life and the birth of time for these little ones renews in all our hearts. This is where Facebook is an actual blessing - seeing pictures of all these little faces popping up - sons and daughters of couples I know, worked with - prepared for Marriage. Getting news of pregnancies and expected children in 2014 – all of that is a unique joy being a priest. That along with the joy of seeing my God-kids and my three nieces grow is a special blessing.
I suppose for me this “pause” of reflection just highlights the importance in remembering that God created each and everyone of us as unique, special individuals and has given us this precious gift of time - which somewhat arbitrarily we pay attention with a year concluding and a new one beginning. But as we do that - pay attention, reflect - we have to be careful how we do that.
We don’t look at the births around us to “even out” the deaths we experienced. Nor can we look to take stock of the year in an accounting fashion to see if the joys outweigh the pains (or did we at least break even?) That neglects in the times of sorrow or failure the true beauty of love between families and friends that were shared in true, meaningful, selfless and sacrificial ways that weren’t needed to be as expressed in times of joy and success. Sadly in so many retrospectives of 2013 this reality is lost. A few days ago there was an annual “rite” in Times square where people “threw away” 2013 bidding it “good riddance.”
That’s where the wisdom of the Church offers us an alternative. Very simply, at the Vatican on New Years Eve they pray “Vespers” - “Evening Prayer.” It’s an opportunity to praise God, to worship Him, to pray an ancient hymn of gratitude from the 4th Century called the Te Deum (which is ordinarily apart of the start of our daily prayer).
A year ago, when Pope Benedict XVI, unbeknownst to us was leading the Church into the New Year for the last time, he said this before the singing of the Te Deum -
The Te Deum we are raising to the Lord this evening, at the end of a solar year, is a hymn of thanksgiving that opens with praise: “We praise you, O God: We acclaim you as Lord” — and ends with a profession of trust — “in you, Lord, we put our trust; we shall not be put to shame”. However the year went, whether it was easy or difficult, barren or fruitful, let us give thanks to God. Indeed the Te Deum contains deep wisdom, that wisdom which makes us say that in spite of all good exists in the world and that this good is bound to win thanks be to God, the God of Jesus Christ, who was born, died and rose again.
At times of course it is hard to understand this profound reality, because evil is noisier than goodness; an atrocious murder, widespread violence, grave forms of injustice hit the headlines; whereas acts of love and service, the daily effort sustained with fidelity and patience are often left in the dark, they pass unnoticed. For this reason too, we cannot stop at reading the news if we wish to understand the world and life; we must be able to pause in silence, in meditation, in calm, prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think. In this way our mind can find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life, it can penetrate the events that occur in our life and in the world and can attain that wisdom which makes it possible to see things with new eyes.
My brothers and sisters, I invite you to join me in closing 2013 and entering 2014 - not with regret, not with anxiety, not with ridiculousness so often on display this holiday, not with extremes of emotions - but simply in awe, in wonder, in prayer of thanksgiving to God for the many blessings around us - most especially for the gift of Life and of Time.
With my sincere Love - and heartfelt wishes Happy New Year!
(A musical version of the TeDeum "God We Praise You")
O God, we praise Thee, and acknowledge Thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships Thee.
All the Angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the Cherubim and Seraphim, continuously cry to Thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
The wonderful company of Prophets,
The white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world acknowledges Thee:
The Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest it upon Thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Having overcome the sting of death, Thou opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all
Thou sitest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou willst come to be our Judge.
We, therefore, beg Thee to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy
Let them be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.
V. Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thy inheritance!
R. Govern them, and raise them up forever.
V. Every day we thank Thee.
R. And we praise Thy Name forever, yes, forever and ever.
V. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
R. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
V. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
R. O Lord, in Thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.