01 January 2022, Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow
I am delighted to welcome you to our Mass on this New Year’s Day here in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow. I am conscious of the many who join us virtually through the webcam and parish radio, you are especially welcome. We gather as a parish community, a diocesan community but most of all as family, to welcome this New Year and pray for the blessings it may bring.
On behalf of Fr. Thomas, Fr. Yanbo and myself every blessing for good health and happiness as we literally step into this New Year 2022. Fr. Gaspar joins us from Slovakia where he is spending New Year with his mother and family. To Gaspar and his family I say: “Shtastlivy Novy Rok” (Happy New Year)!
The intention of today’s Mass is always World Peace. This is the 55th World Day of Peace. It also celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In normal years I would be welcoming public representatives, civic and municipal authorities, the Garda Síochána, the Civil Defence, the Ambulance Service, the Fire Service, the Order of Malta and the O.N.E., but as we all appreciate these are not normal times.
We always start a New Year by imploring blessings on one another. Our first reading from the Book of Numbers so well encapsulates this blessing, and I believe puts words on our wishes for one another: “may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace”. This message has all the essentials of our baptismal call, to allow the Lord to uncover his face, remove his mask as we wear ours, to hold us as we self-isolate and to show us His mercy and love as we look back on missed opportunities and lost moments …
There are many traditions around the concept of a threshold, crossing from one place to another, from one time into another. The ancient custom of carrying a bride across the threshold. The legend that suggests our own St. Brigid was born on a doorway, on a threshold. For a pagan people she represented that midpoint between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. “With Brigid comes the Spring”, our young children sing in full gusto!
We adults have left 2021 behind us and for many understandably there are few regrets. It has been a year dominated by a virus. It has been twelve months when nearly every News Bulletin gave us figures, numbers, variants and strains. It has been fifty-two weeks when epidemiologists and scientists designed different modular configurations that predicted with a worrying accuracy where we should most likely be in a week’s time, a month’s time, six month’s-time. The 20,000+ cases reported over the past two days are 20,000 families, 20,000 relations, 20,000 homes, a multiple of 20,000 close contacts, maybe even ourselves whose lives and lifestyle have been severely impacted by this pandemic.
The American poet Maggie Smith in a poem aptly titled ‘Threshold’ wrote:
“You want a door you can be
on both sides of at once.
You want to be
on both sides of here
and there, now and then,
together and – (what
did we call the life
we would wish back?
The old life? The before?)”
I’m not sure if many people long for the old year, for the old life, for the old ways? I know my dad who was a dairy farmer always spoke about old time when the clocks changed? He seemed to hanker after old time. But today, New Year’s Day is more than moving a clock dial an hour forward or back. A New Year is about a new calendar, a new diary, a new start, a new beginning.
We lost two great poets one day after the other last October, Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Brendan Kennelly. I quoted from Máire Mhac an tSaoi’s poem ‘Oíche Nollag’ on Christmas Eve. Brendan Kennelly in his poem ‘Begin Again’ reminds us:
“every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark determination
and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.”
The Book of Numbers which we read every New Year’s Day offers us the same hope, the same promise, the same reassurance: “may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace”.
Let’s get back to the threshold. Pope Francis in all his writings and in all his actions shows what it means to cross the threshold to the utter extremity. This past year saw him return to the island on the Mediterranean, Lampedusa; locally its known as ‘the refugee island’ because of its proximity to North Africa. Last month he revisited the island of Lesbos. How often during an audience he will linger with the one who is most broken, who is most wounded, who is most on the outside. That’s our challenge.
And in today’s message for this 55th World Day of Peace, entitled ‘Dialogue between generations, education and work: tools for building lasting peace’ he passionately speaks about “the deafening noise of war and conflict” which is intensifying but has become a casualty of Covid when it comes to news coverage. He tells us “the current health crisis has increased our sense of isolation and a tendency to self-absorption”. He recognises while the pandemic has been painful it has also brought out the best in people.
Pope Francis urges government leaders to invert the exorbitant proportion of public funds spent on the ammunition of war and spend it on educating our young people. By properly educating them we promote a culture of care. It is this culture of care that has very much being to the fore throughout the pandemic. A culture that allows us to put one foot across the threshold.
The shepherds came in from the peripheries to worship the baby Jesus at Bethlehem. They crossed the threshold of the stable and that crossing changed their lives. And as they leave, there are changed by that encounter telling everyone “all that they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told”. As we cross the threshold and step into this New Year may we look forward with hope where we can indeed in the words of the late Brendan Kennelly ‘begin again’.
 Num. 6:24-27
 Smith, Maggie: ‘Poetry’, February 2020
 Máire Mhac an tSaoi died 16 October 2021
 Brendan Kennelly died 17 October 2021
 Kennelly, Brendan: ‘The Essential Brendan Kennelly Selected Poems’, edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley – ‘Begin Again’
 Num. 6:24-27
 Pope Francis, ‘Dialogue Between Generations, Education and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace’ – 55th World Day of Peace Message, 01 January 2022
 ibid, 1
 ibid, 2