Fr. Roger J. Landry
Southmont Conference Center, South Orange, NJ
Mass for December 31
Memorial of St. Silvester, Pope
December 31, 2015
1 Jn 2:18-21, Ps 96, Jn 1:1-18
Today’s homily was not recorded.
The following points were pondered 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 2015 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. For us to have lived 2015 as a year of the Lord and for us to prepare to live 2016 in this way we must live it together with Christ who has entered our world, promised to remain with us always until the end of time, and desires to be our full-time Savior, Lord, King, Shepherd and Friend. Especially as we progress in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we’re called to accept that when Christ came in the flesh he came as the “face of the Father’s mercy,” the Misericordiae Vultus, as Pope Francis entitled the Bull of Indiction for this special year. 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, forgive us, and help us each moment.
- That’s the proper context for us to consider how to live this “last hour” of the last day of the year leading to the “last hour” of the year that’s about to begin. It’s meant to be a year of the Lord, a year lived together with him, a year of receiving and sharing his mercy. How can we best mark this day? 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 2015, and beyond as the foundation for what he hopes to do this year. And insofar as his grace, his presence, is that of merciful love, we can review the year and look ahead as “mercy upon mercy!”
- One of the most important spiritual practices of the saints and serious Christians is a nightly general examination of conscience. And how to do it well was taught us by Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the successor of St. Josemaria Escriva in Opus Dei, one of my favorite intercessors and about whom I’ve written some columns. He taught that the nightly general examination 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, so that the graces of the past year may be built upon or even recuperated. At the time of his beatification in 2014, Pope Francis wrote a letter that pondered these three spiritual attitudes and with his help we can use them to help us to live this “last hour” as a grace building upon what’s come before and serving as a building block for what God still intends.
- 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. During this last year, I’ve had a chance to celebrate and receive the Eucharist 433 times. I’ve gone to confession and had the chance to receive his mercy I believe about 40 times, practically speaking every week. I’d had a chance to meet him in prayer every day. We’ve all had these graces and more: 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 into our family and spiritual families during the last year. We thank him for the graces he gave to our communities. We thank him even and especially for the Crosses of the last year, with our health, with our family members, with those with whom we live and work, 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 2016 is somewhat dependent on our recognizing how lavishly he has blessed us in 2015. 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. Pope Francis said commenting on Blessed Alvaro’s practice that “gracias” is the “soul’s immediate, spontaneous reaction on experiencing God’s goodness. It cannot be otherwise. He always goes ahead of us. However hard we try, his love always gets there first, touches and caresses us first,” and so we must always respond with gratitude!
- 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. As the ancient Roman sage Seneca once said, “It is not that we have so little time, but that we have wasted so much of it.” How true that is. Rather than seizing the day, we have often let days and weeks just drift by. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus about time, giving them advice that has not lost any relevance in 2000 years: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men (and women) but as wise making the most of the time” (Eph 5:15). But beyond asking God for mercy for the times that we have not made the most of the time he has given us, we can also turn to the other sins of commission and omission of the past year and say “perdon!” God wants these sins through his mercy to become “happy faults” for us, he wants to transform them from disgraces into graces, so that he can build upon them grace upon grace in the upcoming year. Pope Francis said that Blessed Alvaro “often confessed that he saw himself empty-handed before God, incapable of responding to so much generosity. But to admit our poverty as human beings is not the result of despair but confident abandonment in God who is our Father. It means opening ourselves to his mercy, his love, which is able to regenerate our life. His love does not humiliate us, nor cast us into the depths of guilt, but embraces us, lifts us up from our prostration and enables us to go forward with more determination and joy. The Servant of God Álvaro knew the need we have of God’s mercy, and devoted a lot of his own energy to encouraging the people he met to go to the sacrament of Confession, the sacrament of joy. How important it is to feel the tenderness of God’s love, and discover that there is still time to love!” So our second attitude is “mercy!,” something key for us always, but especially during this Jubilee of Mercy.
- 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. Pope Francis says, “Help me more. Yes, the Lord never abandons us, he is always at our side, he journeys with us, and every day he expects new love from us. His grace will not fail us, and with his help we can take his name to the whole world.” As we make new year’s resolutions in many areas of our life, knowing that some of our resolutions to get better will span many years, it’s key for us to focus on this divine assistance 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 Christians; 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 2016 since before the foundation of the world.
- Pope Francis summarizes all of this say, “Thank you, forgive me, help me! These words express the thrust of a life that is centered on God. It is the life of someone who has been touched by the greatest Love and who lives totally on that love; someone who, while experiencing their own human weakness and limitations, trusts in God’s mercy and wants all mankind, their brothers and sisters, to experience it too.” This is the means by which we are to live with Christ in the world, to structure our existence not as a practical anti-Christ but as a Christian! 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), which is today’s communion antiphon. Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we received in 2014, he will be the greatest gift we receive in 2016 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 2016 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 2016 we’re one step closer to an eternity of life with the deep treasure of our heart. 2016 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 2015 looking not only toward 2016 but to eternity where God will continue to bless us grace upon grace!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 jn 2:18-21
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
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!
Alleluia Jn 1:14a, 12a
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted him
he gave power to become the children of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel jn 1:1-18
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.