Sunday Within Octave of Christmas - New Year Eve
Surely, my brethren, not the most thoughtless amongst us can fail to be awakened into some degree of thoughtfulness by the presence of a day that marks the close of another of the world’s years. Even those who are so young that they are prone to look forward to the years that are to come, rather than look back to the years that have fleeted past, even they must feel, on such a day as this, an instinctive prompting to ponder a little upon the dropping of one other bead in the rosary of life, upon the closing of a year whose history is finished by to-day. It is a time of all others, to have some solemn thoughts about the life in the midst of which we find ourselves.
The lives of most men are commonly said to be uneventful lives, made up of very ordinary joys and very ordinary sorrows. The common offices of life, the calls of friendship and affection, the homely duties that each day brings, these constitute the history of most lives. It is, indeed, true that most lives, looked at from outside, are uneventful lives. But remember, no man’s life is uneventful to himself. There are in the lives of every one of us, things that lie far deeper than the surface which our neighbor’s eye can scan, things that have their theatre in the lonely solitudes of our hearts, on which not the feet of even our nearest and our dearest friends have ever intruded – things and thoughts that no eye could see, but that have left their mark upon the soul, for evil or for good, and that have their separate histories minutely written in the judgment books of God. And these are things that well might form the subjects of that self-examination that ought naturally be prompted by the closing of the year. Seeing that we are Christians and Catholics, men with immortal souls and eternal destinies, seeing that we live and move and are in God, Whose eye is searching our every thought, seeing that the years God gives us are fleeting years, and that each as it fleets by, is bringing us nearer and ever nearer to death’s inevitable shadow; seeing all this, surely the most important concern that any of us can have on such a day as this, is to examine how we stand, not with regard to the frail and fleeting things of this transitory life, but with regard to the things of that future life, which, whether it be a life of unending misery or unfading bliss, shall be, in any event, a life that shall never know an end.
And I feel it to be a matter on which I well may congratulate you, that the last day of this old year has happened upon a day which brings you from your worldly work, and your ordinary pursuits to kneel before the altar of your God.
Let us see what aid the Church gives us in forming reflections suitable to this particular occasion.
Remember, too, that in the case of an individual human soul, once Jesus has been spiritually born in it by sanctifying grace, the soul for ever more has set the history of its future on an entirely new basis.
A few days ago the Church was celebrating the birthday of her Divine Founder; her voice had never a tone that was not glad, her music never a note that was not a note of jubilee and triumph. The burden of the only song she could afford on such a day to sing, was this – “Glory to God, and peace to men.” But to-day she turns, and for our instruction, to another side of that momentous birth, which could not be overlooked without injury to our full appreciation of it. She brings forward to our notice the figure of the old man, Simeon, rich in years, and in the gathered harvests of many a year of sanctity. No sooner had our Lord been born than God inspired that old man’s heart, to feel the meaning of His coming; and Simeon opened his aged lips to utter that sentence that sounds at once like a blessing and like a ban – that has a ring in it of hope, and a sound in it, too, like the trumpet of doom. For, taking the Child in his arms, he utters the future history – not alone of His personal and visible presence upon earth, but also of His abiding presence in the Church to the end of time – in these memorable words: “Behold this Child is set up for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and as a sign that shall be contradicted.”
So it is with God’s greatest gift to men – His only begotten Son. His coming must inevitably be the occasion of the eternal ruin of those who will not receive Him.
So, also, is it with all God’s gifts; in exact proportion to the advantages they are calculated to confer is the danger of refusing to avail ourselves of them.
So it is with the great blessing that God is giving now to every human being that is alive to-day upon the broad surface of the world – that blessing that carries with it every other blessing that God giving, or shall give – the blessing of Time. Behold, that also is given for the ruin and for the resurrection of many. Twelve months ago the new year’s sun shone out, and shone on many a smiling face on which death’s shadow since has fallen deep and dark, never to be lifted off till the hand of God shall draw the mouldering dust from out the sepulchre. Many a name that was then on men’s lips is written nowhere now, save in the memory of a friend or on the slab of a tombstone. Ah! My brethren, each day that passes leaves its list of dead, and its line of graves.
But there is a more awful thing than that. Men must die, but men need not be damned; and yet it is certain as anything can be, that in the short space of the year that is closing to-day, many a one has begun, and carried on, and completed the work of his damnation. It well may be, alas! That some who began the year with high hopes and generous hearts and kindly feelings – aye, and began it, too, with a prayer on their lips and in their hearts; it may well be that, having sinned and died, and having been judged and lost, they have since begun the long tale of those years that can see no ending, while the wrath of God keeps burning the eternal fires of the damned.