2009 and the decade it concluded did not seem to make anyone’s superlative list, however. Pundits at both poles of the political and cultural spectrum waxed melancholy on the end of a “low, dishonest,” “grubby” or “worst” decade. One popular blogger, not putting too fine a point on it, entitled his year-end retrospective, “God D--- the Naughts.”
The contrast between the gloomy “good riddance” of secular commentators and the traditional “Te Deum” of thanksgiving for the passing year prayed by the Church could not have been more marked this past December.
How do we account for this difference in attitude? Christians no less –and in many instances more—than other people experience suffering. The Vatican reports 37 missionaries were killed in the line of duty in 2009, and our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to experience active persecution in countries throughout Africa and Asia for the mere fact of being Christian, to say nothing of the ordinary trials and tragedies of life from which no one is exempt.
In part we say “thank you” out of good manners. My kids must write thank-you notes not only for the Christmas presents which delighted them, but for those which were too useful (socks) or too wide of the mark (what were you thinking?) to be pleasing. If Aunt Bertha must be kissed and thanked on principle, how much more do we owe the Creator and Redeemer our gratitude for another year of life and its attendant blessings?
There is something more than cosmic courtesy which accounts for the way the Church views time, though, and we are still celebrating the reason this week. Until about the 18th century, it was common to refer to a year not only as “Anno Domini” (year of the Lord) but often also as “Anno Nostrae Salutis” (year of our salvation). In his homily for the First Vespers of this year, Pope Benedict reflected on the significance of Christmas:
With the Incarnation of the Son of God, eternity enters time and human history becomes opened to the absolute fulfillment of God. Time is "touched" as it were by Christ, the Son of God and Mary, and from Him has received a new and surprising significance: it has become the time of grace and salvation.
That is the perspective with which we must evaluate the past year and embrace the new one, the Pope continued. Every event of our lives from the simplest to the most complex, the joyful, the perplexing and the sad alike, is touched by God and a means He uses to call us beyond time into eternity.
Everyone’s favorite verse from the book of Romans (8:28) makes us the assurance that all things work together for good for those who love God. Hard times may tax our capacity to believe that, but the difficulties themselves, properly understood, help us to free our hearts from attachments they shouldn’t have and grow in our love for and reliance on God alone.
In that sense, as the late Archbishop Luis Martinez observed, there is no such thing as a bad day. Every day is good because it is the one the Father who loves us has sent us to help us on the way to heaven.
So: ten good years lie behind us and a beautiful year of salvation lies before us. Happy New Year!