Grace upon Grace Year upon Year, December 31, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Mass for December 31
Memorial of St. Silvester, Pope
December 31, 2013
1 Jn 2:18-21, Ps 96, Jn 1:1-18

To listen to an audio version of this homily please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • “Children, it is the last hour.” Those words of St. John in the first reading today are a fitting starting point for our reflections as the civil year 2013 draws to its close. St. John goes on to describe the “many antichrists” who have appeared. The antichrist is not the devil, but, as St. John says later in his first epistle, anyone who denies the mystery of Christmas that we continue to celebrate, anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. During St. John’s time, there were many docetists and gnostics who because they believed that all matter was evil denied that God could have ever taken on human flesh. But today there are other types of antichrists, who even though theoretically they may have no problem with the incarnation live as if God hadn’t taken on our humanity to make us sharers in his divinity. Many times practicing Catholics can behave as practicing antichrists through most of their life, denying that Jesus wants to come to them in the flesh of their work and study, their sufferings and joys, their Mondays through Saturdays, their TV rooms and bedrooms, indeed that he wants to come to be God-with-them in all aspects of their life. That’s the essence of the spiritual cancer of secularism, which — despite the fact that we believe in God — gets us to live as if God doesn’t exist, as if he hasn’t become one of us, as if he doesn’t want to accompany us, love us, and help us each moment.
  • How should we spiritually approach the end of 2013 and the cusp of 2014? I think the phrase from St. John’s Prologue today is very helpful: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” The past year has been a year of many graces, graces upon which God wants to build in the upcoming year. For us to cooperate in what God wants to do in us in the new “year of the Lord” that is about to begin, it’s important for us to look back and see the graces he’s given us in 2013, in 2012, in 2011 and beyond as the foundation for what he hopes to do this year.
  • One of the most important spiritual practices of the saints and serious Christians is a nightly general examination of conscience. This is a different practice than the examination we make before going to sacramental confession, when we focus mainly on our sins. In the daily general examination, we examine God’s presence over the course of the day in our lives, our awareness of his presence, and our cooperation with him, leading to three expressions: first, thank you for all the graces of the day; second, sorry for the times I was oblivious to your presence or did exactly the opposite of what you wanted; and help me more tomorrow to live in union with you. The same practice can be used to our spiritual profit at the end of a year.
  • First, we need to thank God for all the graces of the past year. The grace of his presence with us. The grace of all the times he fed us with himself in the Holy Eucharist. The grace of so many prayers heard. The grace of his holy word to guide us. The grace of so many times he has washed us in his mercy. I’ve gone to confession I believe 50 times during this last year, practically speaking every week. The grace of the people he has put into our lives who have walked with us throughout the year, who were there when we needed someone, who were born during into our family during the last year. We thank him for the graces he gave to our parish. We thank him for the grace of courage he gave to Pope Benedict to resign the papacy in order to dedicate himself to prayer and for the election of Pope Francis who has brought so many energy to the Church for reform. We thank him even and especially for the Crosses of the last year, with our health, with our family members, with our work or school, which have been occasions for us to grow in dependence on God. Our receptivity to the graces that God has planned to give us in 2014 is somewhat dependent on our recognizing how lavishly he has blessed us in 2013. It’s somewhat dependent on our coming to him, like the grateful leper, to say thanks, so that he might give us the even greater “graces upon graces” he has in store.
  • Second, we need to express deep contrition for the graces wasted, resisted or rejected over the course of the last year. We’ve all squandered the precious gift of time, filling some of our days with vanities and inanities rather than with God. Beyond our sins of commission by word, thought, and deed, we have so many more sins of omission, the opportunities for us to grow in love for God and others that we left as unopened presents. For these we need to beg God’s forgiveness, so that upon that grace of contrition God can give us the grace of a firm resolution. I was listening to sports radio yesterday in the car as some of the commentators were talking about Tom Brady’s words at the end of the regular season. They noted that at the beginning of his career, they thought that he was a robot automatically saying clichés in press conferences when he would say, “My goal is to become a better quarterback every day,” but over the course of the last 13 years, they have seen that for him it’s not a cliché but a motto. Even though he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football, he’s constantly trying to work on the little things to get better every practice, every game, every session in the weight room, every time watching film. He looks at his mistakes and rather than getting depressed over them, he learns from them the areas of needed improvement and comes up with a game-plan to seek to eliminate those mistakes. We should have the same approach to the spiritual life so that, as Matthew Kelly says, we can, with God’s help, really become the “best version of ourselves.” We’ve got to have the courage, however, to watch the game film of our life, to confront our mistakes, to learn from them, to ask for forgiveness from God and to resolve to become better, each day, in small, concrete ways.
  • Third we need to grasp that we can’t fix ourselves all by ourselves. We need God’s help. And God always wants to give his help. The more we take the honest assessment of our life, the more we can make “spiritual new year’s resolutions” and ask God for the graces to persevere in keeping them. In many areas of our life, our resolutions to get better will span many years. Just like Tom Brady continues to build on the hard work he put in during high school, and college, and his time as a back up and the lessons of all his previous seasons, so many of our most important resolutions will involve not entirely new things but improving in the essentials of the most important things of every day and year: how to grow in the capacity to pray, receiving God’s gift of himself to me and offering myself in response; increasing my knowledge of the Word of God and my living by it; entering more deeply into the prayer of the Mass; growing in docility to the Holy Spirit in my day-to-day choices; preparing myself to receive God’s mercy more frequently and with greater contrition; sacrificing myself more for my family members, neighbors and fellow parishioners; counting my blessings more and more rather than obsessing about what others might have that I don’t; and so on. God wants to give us his help to build on the graces he’s given us in the past and we thank him in advance for his lavish generosity that he has been prepared to shower upon us in 2014 since before the foundation of the world.
  • One of my favorite passages in Sacred Scripture is from the Letter to the Hebrews where it says Iesus Christus Heri et Hodie et in Saecula, “Jesus Christ, Yesterday, Today and Forever” (Heb 13:8). Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we received in 2013, he will be the greatest gift we receive in 2014 and he wants to help us convert our time into eternity with him. We have only so many laps around the track of life and 2014 may be our last go round. This thought shouldn’t be something that fills us with dread if we are trying to orient our entire life to God. It will mean that 2014 we’re one step closer to an eternity of life with the deep treasure of our heart. 2014 is a year in which, surrounded and assisted by the saints, we’re called to run together with the Lord, building on all the gifts that he’s given us until now. “Children, it is the last hour!” Let’s live the end of 2013 looking not only toward 2014 but to eternity!

The readings for the Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 JN 2:18-21

Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many antichrists have appeared.
Thus we know this is the last hour.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us.
Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.
But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
I write to you not because you do not know the truth
but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 96:1-2, 11-12, 13

R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the LORD.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD comes,
he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Gospel
JN 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.