Catholic Outlook

The Bishop’s Letter: Happy New Year – for Jesus’ sake!


From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, February 2012

A belated Happy New Year to you! Liturgically speaking, of course, we began our new year back in November at the beginning of Advent. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters began in the middle of last month. The Chinese and Vietnamese celebrated it later in January. The financial world still has five months to wait ...

But for those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar, the year starts on 1 January, the traditional Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord – the day Jesus was given His name.

1 January was only adopted as New Year in much of the West around the time that Australia was colonised. Until then it had been on 25 March in most places – the Feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation. That day was the turning point of all history, the dawn of salvation, the first year of grace.

However, the world only got to see this dawn when the Boy was brought to the temple for circumcision and naming. It was the day Jesus first went public, the day His name was told beyond the extended family and a few rustic visitors.

What’s in a name?

The name ‘Jesus’ means God saves. Recently I was asked whether swearing was still a sin. I was interested that a young Catholic might think it OK to use bad language, including the names of God, to express strong emotions or simply as seafood filler for conversations.

A generation ago swearing was probably the most commonly confessed sin, not necessarily because it was the most commonly committed, but because people knew you shouldn’t ‘take God’s name in vain’.

Since hardly anyone desecrated the Blessed Sacrament or attempted to kill their parish priest, this was the most worrying example in ordinary people’s lives of a direct breach of ‘the God commandments’, the first tablet of the Law of Moses.

So why do we care what name we give God and how it is used? Why do we cringe when movie characters or our own children say ‘Jesus’ or use another name of God or the saints inappropriately?

One reason is surely this: the name of Jesus says in a word all that our faith says. It says that the God who came at Christmas and Easter came to save. It reminds us of all the blessings we thereby received. And it invokes His presence here and now.

Jesus is God saving

Jesus promised us that: “If you ask the Father anything in my name He will give it you.” (Jn 16:23-26; cf. Mk 9:38-41; Mt 18:19-20) His very last words to us were: “In my name you will cast out demons, speak in new tongues, handle serpents, drink poison and none will hurt you; you will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17-18)

Sure enough, on Pentecost Day, a paralytic at the temple gate asked Peter for alms. He replied, “Silver and gold have I none, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” – and the man did (Acts 3:1-10). So we start our prayers and even our driving with “In the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit ...”.

A new year of grace, faith and action

This issue of Catholic Outlook includes a pastoral letter to introduce the Years of Grace, of Faith and of Action.

Starting at Pentecost, the Church in Australia will implore the Holy Spirit to pour out His grace anew, just as the whole Church did before the Second Vatican Council. In this Year of Grace we will seek ‘to contemplate the face of Jesus and to listen to His voice at a new depth’. There will be a number of associated activities throughout our country and diocese. In the meantime, we might all reflect on the graces we have received and still need.

A Year of Faith will begin not just for the Church in Australia but throughout the world on 11 October. That is the 50th anniversary of the opening of a Council that Blessed John Paul II called ‘the single greatest grace bestowed upon the Church in the 20th Century’. We should all look again at the documents of that great Council and of the Catechism that followed.

Grace and faith are not for storing in barns! As faith responds to grace, so Christian service enacts faith. Here in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta we have begun a process of ‘pastoral planning’. We will spend the next year or so thinking about how we can best serve the people of Western Sydney in the years ahead.

Faith in Our Future will be launched formally in our parishes on the weekend of 11-12 February 2012 and we have included information in this issue of Catholic Outlook to help get the conversation going.

So there are lots of New Year’s Days ahead, lots of celebrations of the dawn of grace, the name of Jesus, the faith of the Church, the service of God’s people!

To read Bishop Anthony’s Letters in previous issues of Catholic Outlook click here.

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