On the cusp of a new year, it is human nature to spend time looking to the past and anticipating what is to come. January, of course, is named for Janus, the Roman god of two faces, one looking back and one looking to the future.
We wish the best for the coming year. We hope and pray for goodness and peace, but we know that humans often choose otherwise. I suspect it is part of the melancholy that settles in for some people this time of year.
God willing, Pope Francis will visit the City of Brotherly Love in the U.S. in 2015. Philadelphia is a fit setting for a pope who so embodies an openness to all people. In my mind's eye, I see Pope Francis embracing the handicapped, the disfigured, the young, and the old: all who gather in St. Peter's Square, hoping just to catch a glimpse of him.
For Catholics, Pope Francis has declared 2015 the Year of Consecrated Life. This is meant to encourage prayer, support, and education about those who choose the religious life: priests and religious brothers and sisters. It is interesting that in proclaiming this, Pope Francis calls upon those in the religious life to "radiate joy." I propose this is an excellent ideal for all of us.
It would be helpful here to consider the word "joy." Our culture tends to equate joy with happiness, but for the Christian, this is not so. C. S. Lewis is likely the best modern writer to explore the idea of joy. He wrote Surprised by Joy, an autobiography of his early life; truly, about his search for God. Lewis came to faith in a methodical and scholarly manner, befitting the English schoolboy he was. His search for faith, he writes, was a search for joy, a longing for something, a something he could not quite name for a long time. He eventually learns that joy and faith in God are inexorably intertwined.
Lewis says this, "All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.'" It seems to me that this is another way to view faith. Our faith in God is not a possession, not something we cling to. It is not meant to be kept to ourselves. Faith should instill in us a longing for something beyond this world. Our faith keeps us rooted in the past, in historical events and those people who have guarded and guided the Church through the centuries, but our faith must also propel us forward. The faith is always ancient, ever new.
Two thousand years ago, on a night where men kept watch over their sheep and weary travelers hastened to the call of the Roman Empire, a baby was born. A baby's birth is always a good thing, but this … well, this required more than just a mere birth announcement. It required an angelic proclamation: "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."
That something that Lewis searched for, that we all search for, is a Someone. Let us greet the New Year with the joy we have in Christ our Savior.
Rev. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.