Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.
Welcome to the New Year and a new start! Many of us look to the beginning of a year as a source of hope and revitalization — basically a clean slate and a fresh set of resolutions. As hard as we try to stay focused on our goals, often our “resolutions” tend to waste away into a pool of “good intentions.” Most of us would like to see ourselves as strong and determined, and many put forth some extra effort to make the grade. Way to go, folks! Never give up. Keep hope alive!
Several verses from the fourth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews strike me as pertinent at the start of a New Year, and in particular this Year of Mercy! I’d like to call specific attention to Verse 12, which states;
“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
While the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews is not clear, the text can certainly stir some deep feelings within us, such as comfort, trust and caring. We live in an age of spiritual conflict and indifference. Many Christians are drifting away from their faith, and are trying to find consolation in other places, often far from traditional religion.
As we move into this New Year – a Year of Mercy – God is speaking to us through the Church so that we may rely on Jesus Christ, who has removed any barriers between us and God. This vital gift of grace is extremely important for us and moves us to the fullness of life.
The resolutions and personal goals we are planning for this year have the opportunity to bear great fruit when we discern God’s will for us as part of the mix that can deeply penetrate our hearts.
Reflecting back on the Letter to the Hebrews (c. 85 AD), we find the message is as relevant today as it was to the people of the time. They were eager to come to faith in Jesus Christ as God’s answer in an age not unlike our own. The teachings of Jesus were being taught as a plan for hope and glory for humanity as the great persecutions were about to begin in Rome. The Letter to the Hebrews introduces the reader to the person of Jesus as one who understands the human condition and each and every human person who is part of it.
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin.” (vs. 15)
This passage of the Letter to the Hebrews points a bright light on the future for all of us who are given to thoughts of hope and mercy in this year, or any other year, of our lives. Our faith is a source of courage and hope as we make our way through the daily trials and tribulations of life.
This Year of Mercy should provide us with opportunities for healing and forgiveness in situations that can cause trouble, disappointment, and sadness in our lives. The great sins that have perplexed humanity over the millennia keep repeating with a vengeance in our own day, including; anger, pride, selfishness, and hatred. As God is squeezed out of the secular society, pain and loneliness enter in.
The Father has sent Jesus, one like us in all things but sin, so that we may know for certain of His unconditional and complete love for us. A Year of Mercy is filled with days that remind us to “confidently approach the throne of Grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (vs. 16)