On Jan. 1 the secular calendar and the religious calendar meet. The secular world rightly regards Jan. 1 to be a good day to look back over the past year to learn whatever lessons it can teach us and then to turn our attention forward to the year that is now just beginning. We make resolutions to do better in our own personal lives, and we watch football.
But for us Catholics, Jan. 1 is also a religious holiday. When I was a child, it was the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, as it had been since the 1200s AD. The reason is obvious: Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, and Jan. 1 is the eighth day after Christmas. Over the centuries, especially in times afflicted with anti-Semitism, this feast was a powerful reminder that Jesus lived and died as a Jew, as did Mary and Joseph.
But there is an even older tradition of honoring Mary the Mother of God on Jan. 1. Originally celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, by the 600s, the maternity of Mary was transferred to Jan. 1. Then 600 years later, it was transferred to Oct. 11 and replaced by the Feast of the Circumcision.
And then, just to keep us on our toes, shortly after restoring the feast of Mary the Mother of God after a 700-year absence, in 1967, Pope Paul VI declared Jan. 1 to be also the World Day of Prayer for Peace; after all, the Blessed Mother is the Queen of Peace. And this year is the 56th year of observing that day of praying for peace.
Some may ask what good this has done, to which I would reply: how much worse off would we be if we weren't praying for peace? Despite the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, we've had no nuclear World War III — at least not yet, and despite serious ongoing problems, race relations have improved. Amid all our fears and scary headlines in the news, we should not forget that we have made progress. The Iron Curtain has fallen, Communism is dead, and the western world is more united than ever.
Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has been an outstanding advocate for peace. Every year he announces a theme for that year's World Day of Prayer for Peace and issues a formal message. A few years ago, that year's theme was: "Non-violence: A style of politics for peace." He said that we "should act within what is possible and negotiate ways of peace even where they seem tortuous and impractical..." and then he goes into details. What I would point out here is that what applies to the relations between nations and between groups within nations also applies to our families and our parishes, and our local communities — and some of you know what this can cost personally more than I do. Acting within what is possible, even when the path seems tortuous, requires a great deal of patience, but to do otherwise is to act blindly.
We've all had the experience of driving at night and coming face to face with a car coming from the other direction with its high beams on. We flash our lights to persuade them to dim their lights, and usually, they respond. But what do we do when they don't cooperate? We're tempted to give them a dose of their own medicine, putting our high beams on too, blinding them like they're blinding us — that will teach them. How smart is that? Better for one driver to be able to see than neither!
Persuasion is harder than coercion, and patience doesn't feel as good as lashing out does, but only persuasion can change hearts. And that conversion of hearts has to begin with us. Otherwise, we will be blinding others rather than enlightening them.
So Jan. 1 is many things. A time for resolutions and to watch football. But more than this, it is a day to honor the Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, a day to recall the circumcision of the Prince of Peace, and a day to pray for peace in our world, in our families and in our own hearts. As we prayed in today's Responsorial Psalm: "May God bless us in his mercy!"
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 1.
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