by Veronica Szczygiel
“Isn’t it sad,” someone once told me, “that on New Year’s Eve, you’re counting down to the end of your birthday?” I was born on the last day of the year, so countdowns to the start of the new year always meant the end of my birthday. That never bothered me; the celebration always continued. The music still played. The party wasn’t over.
It seems fitting that the Mass readings for Dec. 31 center around beginnings and ends. The first reading from the Gospel of John alerts us that the end of the world is drawing near: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour.”
Here, we see that our time in this world is temporary. It is our “last hour,” though for God, that doesn’t mean 60 minutes (more on that later).
Nevertheless, we are made to understand that humanity’s time as we know it is waning.
Later, in the Gospel, also from John, we hear about beginnings: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”
This is the ultimate beginning; this passage explains the power of God in the act of creation. Nothing is possible except through God, and everything begins in Him.
Why do we hear such different readings on the same calendar day? I think that’s because the idea of beginnings and ends is a very human concept. For God, time has no meaning.
The sun does not rise and set — it only shines. Death is not the end of life — it is the doorway to everlasting life in heaven. We only transform from one mode of existence to another, like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly.
It is difficult to grasp this divine concept of time because so many earthly things are finite: we leave our workplaces; we stop our diets; friendships and relationships break; pets and loved ones pass away.
But even earthly endings lead us to new beginnings. These beginnings may be hard to see at first, and they may not come right away (again, God’s concept of time is not at all like ours). But through Christ, we can try to understand that these earthly endings do lead us to something new — be it an opportunity we must take, a new person in our lives, or even just a realization or understanding of the past. Having this mindset of beginnings can pave the way for healing.
I don’t usually set New Year’s resolutions (if you do — kudos to you!), but in the spirit of beginnings, I may just set one: to grow closer to God.
Daily life often gets in the way of prayer. This resolution might help me work towards my goal in a more intentional way. After all, every day is a good day to begin.
Szczygiel is the assistant director of online learning at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education.