Year after year, Fr. Francis Nelligan, the longtime pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Houlton, Maine, would give the same homily on New Year’s Day. For over 20 years, Fr. Nelligan would tell his parishioners to cherish the upcoming year, because it could be their last year on earth. He told them to treasure each and every day, because it could be their last.
“Each day is a gift from God,” Fr. Nelligan would say, “so it needs to be cherished and savored. The heartaches of the past year may weigh us down, but the joys of the next help us to persevere with the grace of God.” Fr. Nelligan would tell his parishioners that they should ready themselves through the sacrament of confession and prepare to meet the Lord, should their day to meet the Lord face-to-face come in the upcoming year.
“Each day is a gift from God.” His parishioners could almost repeat this homily verbatim. After preaching his customary homily at his usual schedule of Masses on New Year’s Day in 1971, Fr. Nelligan passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack. Without a doubt, Fr. Nelligan was prepared for death.
The words Fr. Nelligan spoke for decades to his community of faith certainly apply to us as well. With 2014 now upon us, the world celebrates the past year and the new beginnings that a new year has to offer us. Years are marked by the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a fun-filled family vacation, the loss of a job. These “hallmarks” of the year help to define the span of time between January and December.
With the ebb and flow of daily living, it can be quite easy to not also reflect on progress in relationships with friends and loved ones or in the spiritual life. Where were we a year ago? Six months ago? Last month? Yesterday? May the year ahead be filled with deepened relationships with those we love, and may the peace and joy of the Christmas season energize us in our resolve to grow closer to Christ.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.