No one gathered to fling confetti, blow horns, or set off fireworks at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2019. Yet a minute later a New Year was about to begin — a new Church year.
On the First Sunday of Advent, we began another year’s liturgical journey through the promise of the Messiah, the incarnation, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of the Church.
In the temporal realm we’ve also just embarked on another New Year — 2020 — and it’s a big one for us: the 200th anniversary of the Diocese of Charleston. John England, the first bishop of our diocese, didn’t actually arrive here until late December 2020, but the diocese was created and he was named its bishop months before, while he was still in Ireland. So, on June 20, 2020, we South Carolina Catholics will celebrate another new year as we roll into our 201st.
All of us actually celebrate new years all year long. Birthdays, anniversaries, jubilees, and all sorts of remembered events — some exultant, some tragic — are memorialized. We mark 9/11 and Sandy Hook. This past summer we marveled over the memory of Neil Armstrong’s step onto the moon in 1969. This coming June we will remember the dreadful events at Mother Emanuel in 2015. In early January, we celebrate the feasts of two American saints, Elizabeth Ann Seton and John Neumann. We recall holiness and good works as we mark their entrance into everlasting life with God in heaven.
There is something about humans that is driven to remember particular points in time. Some of them change us forever. We may not turn all of them into public events, but we somehow note them each year. For me, the anniversary of my vows as a Sister of Saints Cyril and Methodius will always be memorable, but so will the day I entered the community and put on a black suit and crucifix (having just foregone bell bottoms and tie-dye). The dates of my parents’ deaths turn me to reflection and prayer every year, but I also recall the days leading up to those deaths.
This December I began my 51st year. No, it wasn’t a 50th birthday (been there, done that), but it was the 50th anniversary of my life as a Type 1 diabetic. I quietly thanked God for life, for medical advances, and for all the people who have prayed me through and for several who have, on a few near-miss occasions, saved my life. Later in December, we Smiths celebrated the new life that came to our family a few days before Christmas 44 years ago, the birth of my nephew Chris, the first of the next generation.
The point of these musings is to recall that the ups and downs of our days repeatedly give us new starts. We are impacted by global and ecclesial events and personal joys and pains. We are shaped by our histories, and, sometimes uncannily, sent on mission through them.
Every December 31, I craft a short mission statement for the coming year. It helps focus. May 2020 be a focused, historic, and gospel-driven one for all of us — and for our diocese.