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New year, new liturgical seasons

By Josh Perry

As we began Advent, the Church throughout the world ushered in a new liturgical year. We began again the annual observances with which we are very familiar. Advent, a time of hopeful waiting, gives way to the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Soon enough we find ourselves in the Lenten Season, with its disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In the midst of spring, we celebrate the Resurrection of
Jesus at Easter, extending our feasting 50 days until Pentecost where we especially celebrate the Holy Spirit in our Church and in our lives. The long span of Ordinary Time follows; it is this time that points us to the life of Jesus Christ in all its aspects — not just His birth, not just His Passion, not just His Resurrection — but all of His life. And the cycle of the year comes — once again — to winter, and we find ourselves entering another Advent. Another Christmas. Another Lent. Another Easter. The cycle continues.
 
The occasion of the new year encourages us to look back on the year just passed and ahead on the year to come. We recall the past year — the joys and sorrows that we faced, the rights and wrongs that we may have done. Many of us then resolve to do something different in the coming year. A little more exercise. A better diet. Being nicer to siblings or children or parents. Maybe we resolve to go to church more, learn more about the faith or go back to confession. One of the most important reflections we can make is on how God was present in our lives in the past year and how might we respond to God’s presence in the year to come.
 
This process of looking back and looking forward is, I believe, essential to our personal growth and our growth as a Church. Without this reflection, the cycle of the liturgical year remains simply that — a cycle. If you “draw” the liturgical year on a piece of paper, you get a circle. But this process of looking back and looking forward — of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for our future — transforms that
circle. The circle becomes a spiral.
 
You see, a spiral is cyclical, but it doesn’t end up in the same spot. We celebrate Advents and Christmases, Lents and Easters year after year, but we are not the same people. Our past has shaped us, and our future might give us reason to hope (at least for a few weeks before we break our resolutions). I am not the same person I was five years ago, 10 years ago. My experiences have shaped me. Herein lies the beauty of observing the liturgical year. Passages from Scripture are repeated every three years both at Christmas and at Easter. The themes and disciplines of Advent and Lent do not change. But you and I have changed. And perhaps we will experience those same stories and experience those same disciplines in a different way, simply because we are different.
 
The upcoming diocesan synod is an extraordinary time for our Catholic Church in Vermont to reflect on its past and look forward to its future. In order for the synod to be fruitful, however, we need to take seriously the call to reflect on past, present and future. We can’t leave all this work simply for other people to do, just as we can’t delegate our own personal reflections over our lives in the new year (and
God forbid we have someone else make New Years resolutions for us!). As a Church, we reflect together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That reflection may lead to difficult conclusions and challenging resolutions ahead — just as our personal reflections might lead to challenging resolutions in our lives. Without these reflections as a Church, however, we can only hope to remain stuck in the same circle.
 
In this new liturgical year — and beyond — my prayer is that all of us are resolved to be involved in the life of our Church. It’s the time to reflect. As Church, where have we been? Where should we be going? And how shall we get there?
 
--Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

A New Year

Responding to editors' requests for a regular sampling of current commentary from around the Catholic press, Catholic News Service provided an unsigned editorial titled "A new year" from Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Ind.
 
By the grace of God, Catholics can obtain a "fresh start" in the Christian life every time we freely participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. As we flip the calendar to a new year, we have a different kind of opportunity before us -- one that challenges us to look at how we will spend the empty days, weeks and months facing us in 2017. Will we live the Christian life to our fullest potential?
 
Here are five ways to begin:
 
+ Be a Christian witness. The United States just completed one its most contentious elections in history. The country is divided by race, class and even within individual families, and, at times, it seems everyone has forgotten what it means to participate in civil dialogue. As Christians, we have the ability -- indeed the obligation -- to offer a different path. Instead of contributing to the fighting, we can demonstrate what Pope Francis means when he asks us to encounter one another with respect and love. When we look at our fellow human beings as those who have dignity rather than treat them with rancor, we give witness to what Jesus meant when he said, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34).
 
+ Carry on the message of mercy. The Year of Mercy may have ended in November, but the message of mercy carries on. If you developed a habit of living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in 2016, don't abandon them because the "year" has reached its end. If you never got into the habit, it's never too late to begin. Living and acting mercifully in our daily lives means witnessing perpetually to the Father's love on earth.
 
+ Give of yourself. What better way to start the new year and continue the Christmas season than by thinking of others? Men, women and children in Syria, in particular, are in need of both great financial assistance as well as many prayers. So, too, are Christians in the Middle East. Both of these populations can be assisted through organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Many opportunities for involvement and assistance exist closer to home, too, and it's never too early to teach young children or grandchildren the importance of generosity and selflessness.
 
+ Participate in formation. Our Catholic faith is a treasure, and one of its great gifts is that there is always more to learn. The start of a new year can be an opportune time to recommit to learning more about the faith.
 
+ Rediscover the rosary. This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Mary had much to say to us, but one of her primary messages was for us to pray the rosary every day for peace. If we are not heeding her direction perhaps as often as we should, this anniversary year affords us the perfect opportunity to once again take her words to heart. If praying once a day is too much at first, work up to it by beginning once a week and then extending the practice as it becomes more habitual.
 
  • Published in Nation

A Catholic Christmas and new year

This will be my second celebration of Christmas as the bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. I feel very much at home here. Over the past two years, I have met a lot of very wonderful and good people, some who share our Catholic faith, others who do not. There is a large network of men and women in our state who are dedicated to doing good works, whether it is helping the neediest and most vulnerable in our midst, striving for affordable housing, feeding the hungry and the homeless, providing resources for people and families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet or working tirelessly to protect our water and our environment. Much of this is reported in the 2016 winter issue of Vermont Catholic in which we acknowledge the good deeds and works that are being carried out by faithful Catholics here in Vermont.
 
This is what we Catholics do. We feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowing, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and clothe the needy. We do it because we know the meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...” (Jn 3:16). The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb and His later birth in the manger which we celebrate at Christmas remind us that God was born among us to bring reconciliation between God and man and reconciliation between all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ later preaching of the Kingdom of God was a call to communion with Him and with one another. That communion calls us to be merciful, doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves.
 
So, I wish you all a merry Christmas as we contemplate the merciful love of God for each of us, and I wish you all a new year of faith in which we renew our call to serve God through loving acts of mercy for others.
 
On another note, I invite you to join with me in celebrating 2017 as a “Year of Creation” in our diocese. On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical on the environment entitled “Laudato Si’” subtitled, “On care for our common home.” In this encyclical, he states that concern for the natural world is no longer “optional” but is an integral part of Church teaching on social justice. While it has been nearly two years since its publication, I think it is time for the Church here in Vermont to study, ponder and begin to implement much of what the pope calls for in “Laudato Si’.” As such, a number of resources, events and programs have been created for both parish and diocesan venues to help us do so. More will follow over the next few months, but I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
 
Yours in Christ,
 
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne
 
Bishop of Burlington
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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