World Day of Prayer for Peace

Dear Brothers and Sisters

Happy New Year to you all! Does the passing from the Old Year to the New Year make things feel any different to you? I have always been disappointed with New Year. There is such a build up to it – reviews of the Old Year; moments of 2011 to be remembered which are normally of a tragic and depressing nature. And then predictions of what 2012 will bring; will there be peace here or there; will this country grow or disintegrate; will there be prosperity at home and more exports aboard etc.? Then New Year’s Day dawns and not much has really changed. Dare I say it? If the Lord does not form part of our passing from the Old to the New, then things will never change for the better!

However, as Christians we know that as we move forward into 2012 we do so with the loving luminous gaze and blessing of our God: May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you; as we heard in our first reading. If you want to look back, reminiscing and recalling the events of 2011, that is fine. However, if, as I have already hinted, you find yourself getting a little depressed in the process, let’s take a hint from Our Lady herself: As for Mary she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. She brought to mind all the great things that God had done to and through her; the annunciation, the visitation, the birth of Jesus and the details that surrounded each of these mysterious happenings. Calling to mind the great things that God does to and through each of us makes us spiritually strong, gives us peace and fills us with a joy which no uncertainty of the future can destroy.

Looking towards the future, especially at New Year, there is the custom of making resolutions. I am not too sure where this comes from. Perhaps it is something to do with trying to make the future better than the present and the past? Perhaps it is to bring some discipline into our lives which might seem to have got a little out of control over the festive period? Deep down inside the human spirit there is a flame of hope. Sometimes that hope can be expressed crudely in wanton restlessness or it can be enshrined in persevering heroic trust against the odds. It is not optimism like Mr Micawber, but genuine hope based on personal experience of God’s continual and providential care for us. God has walked at my side through thick and thin, he has been with me in all the ups and downs and I trust, I hope that he will continue to do the same in the future.

If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, then I think I would phrase it in the words of our psalm at Mass today:

Let the peoples praise you, O God….
Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.

God has to be the centre of our world, the centre of our society, the centre of our lives if we are to be people of gladness, joy, equality, justice, peace and hope. It is only by following the law of God that we will find genuine justice, peace and good government. It is only in Him that we will find what true equality and fairness mean. The person, the society, the world that rejects God is doomed to chaos, lawlessness, and the rule of might.

If we seek peace, then it is only in Him we will find it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic ‘Prince of Peace.’ By the blood of his Cross, ‘in his own person he killed the hostility,’ he reconciled us with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. ‘He is our peace.'”(#2305)

In our brave new world we have tried so many ways to track down these illusive goals of gladness, joy, equality, justice, peace and hope without much success. If you want proof, just turn on your TV, listen to the radio, read your newspaper or go onto the Internet. So what is the alternative? Again, let us turn to the readings we heard at Mass. In his letter to the Galatians St Paul reminds us that Jesus came subject to all the limitations that we are so that we could be freed by being made adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are no longer slaves, we are children of God and therefore heirs to the Kingdom of God, which is described in the preface for the Feast of Christ the King as “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.”

So, once again, I wish you a Happy New Year and a Holy New Year. May it be for each of us a Year of the Lord’s favour. For each of us, may it be a year with God at the centre. If it is, then I have no doubt that only good will ultimately flow from it. It will bring us nothing but gladness, joy, equality, justice, peace and hope. I pray for all of us in the words of the offertory prayer at Mass: “O God, who in your kindness begin all good things and bring them to fulfilment, grant us….that, just as we glory in the beginnings of your grace, so one day we may rejoice in its completion”.

Yours in blessed hope

+Terence Patrick, Bishop of Middlesbrough

14.12.2011 Feast of St John of the Cross.