December 29. 2013 – Happy New Year!

My apologies for getting the blog up a little late this go around.  It is still the Christmas season, after all, so schedules kind of get thrown out the window, right?  I hope you had a great Christmas with your family and friends, and I hope you continue to observe the Christmas season for the next week or two.  My family is getting together on New Years Day for our Christmas celebration, so we will continue to observe the joy of the season.

As you know, we will be hanging new calendars this week as 2013 becomes history and 2014 begins.  I have never been interested in going out to celebrate the beginning of a New Year.  I have always found it to be a good night to find something good on TV, and to just do a little reflection on the year past and what may lie ahead in the coming year.  For me it was a fairly uneventful year in 2013, which as I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate more and more.  I am content to be able to settle into a routine and stay there.  However, for the Catholic Church, 2013 was anything but uneventful.

The big story, of course, was the somewhat surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis.  And what a 9 month whirlwind it has been.  Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that our Pope wold be named Person of the Year by Time magazine, one of the Men of the Year by GQ magazine, Best Dressed Man of the Year by Esquire, and even Person of the Year by Advocate.com, a leading news and information site for the gay community.  You would think that with all of these accolades from so many different viewpoints, that he would have turned church doctrine upside-down in a way that has never been seen in 2000 years.  Here is a list of the doctrinal items Pope Francis has changed:

____________

That’s right, absolutely nothing.  What the church has taught for so many years remains in tact – that life begins at the point of conception, that marriage is a Sacrament that can only be shared by a man and woman, etc.  And Pope Francis has emphasized these things in his homilies and speeches, etc.  So what has been the difference between he and his predecessors?  As is the case most times, it is probably more than one thing.  But I think the main thing is that he comes across first and foremost as a pastor.  Before everything else, he puts concern for his flock first and foremost, especially those that are less fortunate.  He also spoke out against extravagance on behalf of church officials.  Here are some of the other headlines the Pope made throughout the year:

“During a general audience, Pope Francis invited Alberto di Tullio, a 17-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome, to ride in his Popemobile while thousands watched. The boy and his father were said to be “choked up” when he was embraced by the Pope.”

“In March, the Pope held a major Holy Week service at Casal del Marmo jail for minors, rather than the Vatican. During the service, the pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 young offenders to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died. During the service, he broke tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims.”

“A 44-year old Argentinian woman, raped by a local policeman, was one of thousands to write a letter to Pope Francis in 2013. The woman was surprised when she later received a phone call from Francis himself–who consoled the woman and told her, “You are not alone.””

“In May, Francis denounced the global financial system for tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods. He believes that, “Money has to serve, not to rule!””

“On December 17, Pope Francis invited a group of homeless men and their dog into the Vatican to share his birthday meal along with his staff. The Pope had decided that he wanted a small birthday event, which would do some good, rather than a large and expensive event.”

I think Francis has shown the ability to communicate the fact that the Catholic Church is a welcoming and compassionate place, not a place that condemns and rejects.  It will be interesting to see what 2014 will bring as the Council of 8 Cardinals continues to meet and the Synod of Bishops is held in October.

OK, the New Year is of course time to make resolutions, though I admit I don’t have much luck in that area.  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island has given us Catholics a list of resolutions to work on this coming year:

1) Be more aware of God’s presence in my life by spending a few moments in quiet prayer every day.

2) Do my very best to attend Holy Mass every Sunday and Holy Day.

3) Receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) on a regular basis.

4) (Re)Introduce at least one individual to the Catholic Faith and invite that person to attend Mass with me.

5) Increase the financial support I give to the Church – to my parish, the Diocese or in special collections.

6) Read Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Evangelium Gaudium.

7) Pray and work for an increase of vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, and pray also for our current seminarians.

8) Be reconciled with at least one person from whom I’ve been separated, granting forgiveness and seeking forgiveness wherever it’s needed.

9) Promote and defend the Catholic Faith in the secular media or with elected officials whenever important public issues arise.

10) Get involved in at least one community program or Church ministry that promotes charity and justice.

If we are successful in at least some of these, it will be a successful 2014!

I wish you all of the best in the coming year.  Thank you for all of your support of the blog, our web ministry, and our parish this past year.  Here’s to a wonderful 2014!  Have a great week, and year!  Peace.

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