We traditionally begin the new calendar year on January first. However, the new Church year began on the first Sunday of Advent, some six weeks ago. Yet, at this time of the year, it is good for us to reflect on the beginnings that have happened in 2011/2012.
Of course there is the new Church year in which we focus on the Gospel of St. Mark, which is the shortest and most tersely written of the four Gospel accounts. Mark is one of the three Synoptic Gospels (the others being Matthew and Luke). These three accounts of the life of our Lord share many common elements, yet each has a unique perspective on the ministry of Jesus.
The second new beginning is the new translation of the Roman Missal. Other bloggers have written extensively on the subject and there are numerous books and articles either praising or attacking the received text. From my perspective as a parish priest, a theologian and a liturgist, I find that polemics do little to enhance our relationship with God.
The text is what it is: some will like the translation; others will not. That is the bottom line. However, I have noticed that many so called “enlightened scholars” have used the translation as a way of attacking a generation of parish ministers, theologians and lay faithful as somehow being misguided or inept because they used a translation which was not entirely accurate. Yet when we examine the past forty years or so, we notice that during this time of “inaccuracy,” a great number of persons ordained, consecrated and lay, promoted Catholic teaching and did ministry with many people who were marginalized and on the fringes. If we look at the scriptures (and the Gospels in particular), it becomes apparent that our relationship with God needs to become personal. Jesus engaged his followers and that is why they continued to follow him. Of course, some didn’t like the fact that he challenged their lifestyle (cf., the rich young man, or the Pharisees and scribes), but it was because of his charisma and personal rapprochement that people were changed.
It seems to me that this is the task of those who use the new translation: the text, the phrases, and the words (many of which sound foreign to our ears), need to be interpreted through the actions of the ministers. In other words, the liturgical texts like the scriptural texts need to come alive for those who hear, read, and use them. The texts are not museum pieces to be viewed and analyzed from afar. Rather, they are living encounters with the living Christ.
Whether the text is from the Gospel of Mark or from the tenth Sunday in ordinary time, the words and phrases must be interpreted for people in the twenty-first century. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that word” or “This is confusing to the people,” our task as Catholic Christians is to ask, “What is God saying to me through this particular text?” If the text is confusing, research it. If the text is challenging, discuss it. If the text is difficult to read, pray it.
In this new year of grace, the temptation is to want everything to be easy. Unfortunately, we know that is not going to be the case. Instead of complaining about the way things are, take the opportunity to become more engaged with the issue. Be open to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the texts. Really try to ascertain what God is saying to me on a personal level through my prayer at the liturgy.
Finally, the third beginning is what happened a few days ago. The ball dropped in Times Square; a new calendar year has begun. In the midst of resolution making, what spiritual goals have we made for 2012? We tend to focus on health or financial goals, but what about our ultimate goal of eternal life with God? What plans do we have in place for becoming spiritually fit in the new year?
I would suggest that we take some time and do a spiritual inventory or a spiritual closet-cleaning and really examine what we need to do in order to become the person God wants us to be. In our reflection on who we are as God’s children, ask the question, “What is preventing me from being the person God has designed?” Perhaps I have a number of bad habits that need to be addressed. Maybe I’m not as patient with my family or co-workers. Perhaps I have fallen into addictive behaviors or tendencies. Maybe my priorities are skewed. Examine your life in the context of prayer and do an analysis with these two questions in mind: “Am I the person I want to be?” and “Is the person I want to be the same person that God wants me to be?”
May this New Year be an opportunity for all of us to gain a fresh perspective on our relationship with God. Hopefully, as we become closer to God through our prayer, our liturgy and our actions, we will begin to see changes in the world around us. Let us ask the intercession of St. Mark to help us to get back to basics and become the person God is calling us to be.