Now and in the year to come

At the final Mass of the year, the Scripture readings take us back to the beginning, and open our hearts to eternity. As we look forward to a new year, we pray for a spirit of gladness.

The month of January is named after the two-faced Roman god of Janus. He was, for them, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, and time. In a building in Rome, the doors of a building were opened at time of war and closed when peace arrived. In the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Salarino refers to Janus while failing to find the reason of Antonio’s melancholy:

“Now, by two headed Janus,
Nature hath framed strange fellows in
her time:
Some that will evermore peep through their eyes
And laugh like parrots at a
bagpiper,
And others of such vinegar aspect
That they’ll not show their teeth in way of a smile
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.”

During the last day of this year, many people will be hoping for a new and better year ahead. They will look back to the past, perhaps hoping to forget, and forge on with their minds filled with resolutions, hopes and dreams. Many will be disappointed.

And yet we continue to value these turning points in our lives, as a time to change and make a new start. The Gospel reading at Mass today takes us back to the beginning, speaking of the Eternal Word of God who has been revealed in time, and through whom and for whom everything was made. He has taken his place in the fabric of the world, immersed himself in the human condition, and raised our eyes to heaven.

‘These are the last days,’ announces the first letter of St John, but goes on to remind us that, ‘You have been anointed by the Holy One.’

The Oil of Chrism with which we are anointed at our baptism is is often described as ‘The Oil of Gladness.’ So whatever we hope to leave behind and embrace at the turning of the year, we can know the deep gladness and joy that comes from Christ Jesus our Lord – whether, at times, we are able to “laugh like parrots at a bagpiper” or have “such vinegar aspect that (we’ll) not show (our) teeth in way of a smile.”

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and so “Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,’ to quote the psalmist, “let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy.’

May this be our prayer for the coming year. May the doors be shut on war, and may peace begin. May the land and trees and woods have cause for rejoicing as we recommit ourselves to caring for Creation and treading softly upon the earth. May our hearts be filled with the gladness that only God can give, trusting in the presence of Christ, so that we may bear all things, now and in the year to come.

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