Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday, it is a wonderful opportunity for me to wish my dear brother priests and deacons, and you, my dear brothers and sisters, in our parishes, schools and religious communities, a very happy New Year!
It is the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God, a title given to Our Blessed Lady at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. This was to affirm that “the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, and who truly became her Son according to the flesh, is none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity” (Catechism 495). Jesus is true God and true man.
One week after the birthday of Jesus, what does his mother, Mary, highlight for us at the beginning of a new year? In the Gospel, after the visit of the shepherds, Mary treasured all they told her about her new-born Son, and pondered it in her heart.
Accepting the will of God in her life and focussing on the mystery of her Son in prayer are two lessons we can take into the New Year. Like Mary, we can be people of prayer, and our lives can be directed in response to the will of God. We can pray for the grace to be faithful to the commandments, the commandments of love.
Openness to God in prayer and faithfulness to his will brought huge changes in Mary’s life. It might have been easier and safer to say “no”. But Mary’s “yes” has brought hope into a fallen world. She has given us the promise of eternal life through her Son. The change in Mary’s life has been infinitely positive.
Of course, change in our lives is challenging. We like things to stay the same. There is a kind of security in not changing anything. But our real security is in God, and God is calling us constantly to change, to become more like his Son. So, we can ask the prayers of Mary for the grace to accept change positively.
I say that with some feeling. Before Christmas, I went to look at some flats for my retirement. While retirement, please God, is a few years away, I thought that I ought to start thinking about where I should go and what I should do. I came away from the flats really depressed. I am very happy as I am, and I do not want anything to change! Now I realise with prayer and the support of friends that, when the time comes, I must put my trust in God and look forward positively to new opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly, there will be new opportunities for our Diocese!
Thinking of the Diocese, I just want to thank you for all your prayer and good work. As I visited a Dementia Café in one of our parishes, I was conscious of how you are meeting the needs of so many around the Diocese. I am also keen that we rally round to bring about the building of a Cathedral Centre, a project very close to my heart.
Next Sunday is another Christmas feast, the Solemnity of the Epiphany. What changes we shall see in the wise men from the east. They will kneel in homage before the new-born Jesus. They will give to him all their wealth, the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh. And they will return home a different way. Following the star and coming in contact with the Christ child will have a deep impact on their lives
As with the wise men, Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, invites us to treasure our faith in Jesus and to ponder with her on what Jesus is asking of us in 2017. Certainly, Jesus is asking us to be people of peace, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God.
As we heard in the first reading of the Mass, may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace in 2017.
With New Year blessings,
Bishop of Northampton
To be read and/or made available at all Masses on the Solemnity of the Mother of God, 31st Dec 2016 / 1st Jan 2017