Grounding the Liturgical New Year in God’s Word
This weekend, as it happens on the first Sunday of Advent every year, we commence a new liturgical year. Our New Year brings with it a focus on Matthew’s Gospel during our Sunday celebrations and perhaps more specifically, the intimate connection between the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament – and the way God’s Word is fulfilled in the person of Jesus. As Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea (ex 14:19-31), Jesus leads us to the waters of new life in baptism (Mt 3:13-17). As the Israelites fell into temptation in the dessert (Deut 6:16), Jesus leads us away from temptation (Mt 6:9-13). Indeed, Matthew’s intention is to show us, the reader, that Jesus is the high point of God’s revelation – the high point in the entire arc of Salvation History. Matthew’s Gospel in this next liturgical year, therefore, offers us a wonderful opportunity to grow in relationship with Jesus through an Encounter with Him in and through the Bible.
While much ink has been spilt by as many theologians and learned people over the centuries in the field of biblical scholarship, God’s Word, as revealed in the Bible, is still nothing more and nothing less than an Encounter between two hearts: God’s and ours. Our half in this relationship, therefore, concerns our capacity to listen to God, who speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. I often encourage primary school students, when we gather for prayer, to listen to the readings not just with their real ears, but with the ears of their hearts. It’s an interior journey that each of us must take in order to discover the personal relationship that God desires with each and every person; this takes listening to the Holy Spirit – to the different thoughts and feeling which are given to us when we pray with Scripture. Often, it’s the “aha” moments when something of what we read touches our heart or grabs our attention in which Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reaches out to our hearts with the gift of Encounter.
Prayer, through reading Holy Scripture and listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, is that one thing that, if we all spent more time doing – and therefore investing in our relationships with God – that would transform the entire missionary capacity of our parish. A good question to ask ourselves is: am I committed to deepening my relationship with God through the sacrifice of time in prayer? Each of us is given 168 hours as God’s gift each and every week; what we do with this time is perhaps a direct reflection of our relationship with God. Without a habit of prayer in our lives – not just the kind of prayer where we ask for things for others or even ourselves – we’re often left with questions about whether our prayers are answered at all. While we certainly don’t discount the action of God’s grace or God’s Providence in our lives – that free, unmerited gift of God – throughout the entire Bible God is portrayed as one in dialogue with humanity. God doesn’t act unilaterally or against our free will, but in, through and with us – his most precious creation.
Friends, a New Year is traditionally about new beginnings; taking the opportunity to leave behind the old self and put on the new self (Eph 4:22-24). We’re probably used to thinking this way about the calendar New Year but the Liturgical New Year offers the same opportunity for our spiritual lives – especially as we enter the preparation season of Advent. What spiritual practice is God inviting you to take up? Spending ten minutes in prayer every morning is a great place to start, as is reading the Bible – maybe reading Matthew’s Gospel during the season of Advent. No matter what you do, know that God and the heavenly host rejoices in the effort we make to invest in our faith lives. May prayer and grace of relationship with Jesus be the foundation of all we think, say and do in this New Year.
May God bless you and your family as together with Mary and Joseph, we prepare to celebrate the arrival of our Saviour at Christmas.