Each year, as we journey towards the end of December, we experience the very human realisation that another year of our life has passed, and we look back with a mixture of emotions at the 12 months just gone.
2016 has been a year of dramatic change in national and world affairs, and for many people it will have been just as dramatic at a more personal level; perhaps through life-changing events, milestones in family life, changes in employment, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one.
We should see our recollection of the year which is ending not only as a social convention or as an exercise in nostalgia, but rather as a spiritual moment – a kind of examination of conscience. For, just as it is good that we examine our conscience at the end of each day, so it is also good to examine it at this time of year.
Has the year 2016 brought us closer to one another and to God? Am I a better human being than I was at this time last year? Is there anything which disturbs my conscience which I should put right?
As we focus our attention on the nativity of Jesus Christ, we would do well to make that examination of conscience in front of the crib. For there, as we see a tiny helpless baby – who is God!- struggle for warmth and comfort amid the mire and draughts of a refugee stable, we discover what the love of God for us means.
This year we have lived in the Church a Holy Year of Mercy – a year in which the Holy Father has asked us to both show and experience mercy. And that is important – we must do both!
As Pope Francis stated, firmly and without hesitation, in his recent Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera : “I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”
What consoling, consoling words!
As we look back on the joys and sorrows of 2016, we instinctively feel called to look forward too, to the challenges which may await us in 2017. Sometimes we find it hard to make resolutions, for they are so easily broken before the first week of January has passed! Maybe we can make a resolution to carry forward the graces of the Year of Mercy into the year ahead, by committing ourselves to being people of mercy; people who make an effort to console those around us who are suffering.
The Holy Father puts it well: “All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us experience love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.”
May you experience a faith and hope and love-filled Christmas and a mercy, consolation and peace-filled New Year.