The Good News and the New Year

I know it may sound odd, but in recent years I’ve felt much happier on New Year’s Eve than on New Year’s Day. I’ve come to the conclusion that the oddity has to do with my Christian faith. I have little human faith: that the coming year will be happier than the past year, or any other. But I do have supernatural faith that we are now one year closer in human history to the culmination of God’s plan for our true happiness, which is eternal.

So I think it’s perfectly sound both psychologically and spiritually to rejoice that another year has passed and that we are now one year closer to the eschaton.

The beginning of a new year is arbitrary; there’s no essential reason why the year couldn’t begin in March, July, or September. January is fine with me, but it’s simply a convention. By contrast, there’s something quite important in the fact that another year has passed, that we are indeed closer today than we were a year ago to the day when Christ will return in glory. Now that is a cause for joy.

It is also a fact that we are now a “year” closer to that moment when human suffering will come to an end, at least for the innocent, and when death will be no more. Again, this has to do solely with Christ – his Second Coming, and the final establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in the heavens.

The poet James Thompson captured this beautiful truth in a hymn for the Christmas Season:

Heav’n and earth must pass away,
Songs of praise shall crown that day;
God will make new heav’n and earth,
Songs of praise, shall hail their birth.

And those will be songs that never end.

            So then what’s left for the celebration of the arbitrary New Year? Well, for one thing Christians will see the new year as a symbolic anticipation of that eternal day when all things will be made new. That certainly is a cause for great joy, and it is a cause that is not rooted in the sentimentality and false hope that is often expressed in our greetings for what has become a secular holiday rather than a Christian holy day. Ours is a firm hope rooted in reality, but understood only by faith.

Our Lord Jesus Christ by James J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]
Our Lord Jesus Christ by James J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]

It is this gift of faith that keeps us from slipping in to the worldliness that surrounds the celebration of New Year’s Day throughout the world. For, as St Paul teaches us in Colossians, “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”

And what are these gifts bestowed? Well, we have been celebrating them for the past seven days. St. Leo helps us understand the source of our limited but true happiness in this world: “In the very act in which we are reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body.”

So there is something truly new for us to celebrate on New Year’s Day. What’s truly and wonderfully “new” is found in us. For in celebrating Christ’s birth, for the eight days of the octave of Christmas, we are also celebrating our own new birth, plus the beginning of the Christian people who are the extended body of the mystical Christ.

From this Christian perspective, the first day of January truly can have a deep significance as the culmination of our Christmas joy, for it points us toward the utterly transcendent “newness” brought about by the incarnation and birth of Christ. One day, there will truly be the “first day” of the new creation in all its splendor – something worth looking forward to. Unlike the happiness we tenuously hope for in the coming year, it’s advent is certain.

There is one more tremendous gift that we are called to celebrate on the Octave of Christmas while the world around us celebrates the dawn of a new year. The Church recalls it in Leo’s homily on the Eve of this great Octave: it’s the gift of peace we pray for in a special way each January 1:

But what can we find in the treasure of the Lord’s bounty more in keeping with the glory of this feast than that peace which was first announced by the angelic choir on the day of his birth? For that peace, from which the sons of God spring, sustains love and mothers unity; it refreshes the blessed and shelters eternity; its characteristic function and special blessing is to join to God those whom it separates from this world.

There you have the gift on which we focus our faith and our prayers on January 1st each year, the Octave of Christmas: God’s peace, from which we Christians “spring” with joy, which mother’s our unity and refreshes the blessed for all eternity! But note that Leo limits the possession of this peace and the anticipation of eternal bliss to those whom this peace “separates from the world.” That’s the key to all true happiness and peace, being spiritually separated from the world and its deceptions.

So we must never allow the spiritually vacuous festivity of the world to draw us into its trap. Paul warns us: “ See to it that no one deceives you through any empty, seductive philosophy that follows mere human traditions, a philosophy based on cosmic powers rather than on Christ.” There were empty human traditions then, and there are new ones today. These worldly philosophies are no longer based on cosmic powers but on the even more shallow powers of this world, the powers of science and economy and technology – as substitutes for God.

Only if we keep Christ at the very center of our existence can we ever hope to know the joy and happiness that nothing and no one can take from us. Faith, then, is the Christmas gift that allows us to truly wish each other a Happy New Year, with all that implies in the mind and heart of the Christian.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    Thank you, Fr. Pilon, for a beautiful and uplifting essay on what each New Year truly brings. The tribulations we are presently experiencing have made me long more and more for the Second Coming. It is good to be reminded that, no matter when that glorious day arrives, we are one step closer to it with each new year. I truly needed to hear this. Happy New Year, in Christ, Fr. Pilon.

    • kathleen

      I found Psalm 72 in the Office of Readings today especially helpful …He shall endure like the sun and the moon from age to age. He shall descend like rain on the meadow, like raindrops on the earth… before him his enemies shall fall, his foes lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts shall pay him tribute…. Come, Lord Jesus,

  • Tom Williams

    Thank you Fr. for a very thoughtful reflection. This years New Year gathering we attended in a private home was not one of festivity, it was more reflective and prayerful. I sense an awakining on the part of many people that we are faced with many challenges to our faith from the world the flesh and the devil. Not just from outside the Church, but from within as well.

    The foundation of our faith is simply through surrender to the power of The Holy Spirit revealing Jesus alive in our person to bring glory to God The Father by how we love Him through how we love others.

    In the coming year I see many saints being formed through the trials we will have to overcome with faith.

  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks Fr. Pilon for your heartfelt reflection. We must all keep in mind the title of Cardinal Sarah’s book, ‘God or Nothing’. And the way to God is the way of resistance to all that is not God. Let us pray that we always ask God for the grace to resist all that is not God as well as the strength to seek all that leads to God.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    I suppose most respondents are still getting over their hangovers perhaps the reason for so few responses to an important article but I gave up pagan holidays some time ago. So then Fr Pilon points out empty euphoria and worldly allurements like smartphones the internet accruing power [power is now perceived as something like oxygen when Steve Jobs asked “What is power”] I would add technical virtual reality that has addicted so many of our youth. As a non pretext for joy parishioners this morning were delightful and joy filled. People respond to faith in Christ when we express it as Christ taught. Many of the articles offered by persons with credentials and unquestionable faith keep saying things like “eschaton’ and “A year closer when Christ will come in glory” which make me think perhaps I’m not far off the mark in my own view. Nonetheless I cannot jettison the hope that with serious spiritual effort we cannot change the apparent course of events.

  • Diane

    Thank you Fr. Pilon for this article. We need to be reminded of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and what that means to the World. I pray that His second coming is soon. I feel that the devil is in our midst more than ever before. I don’t know if we can get back to God, without the intervention of Jesus Christ very soon. As a Nation we are loosing the battle with the devil. It gets worse and worse very day. There is no more sin, therefore, this is no God!

  • kmbold

    As a young person many moons ago I wondered why I did not feel the excitement that so many in a large party scene (nothing more stimulating in those days than a highball or two for most) seemed to enjoy. Am I missing something? It was the next day at the Mass on the Holy Day of the Circumcision of Jesus that I knew where joy is to be found. The Lord is gracious and merciful.

  • If Christ gave us a command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them etc… then I would think this would be a terrible time for the second coming. Or if we are to feed the hungry, care for the sick and visit prisoners then we might find ourselves lacking in those efforts as well. If there are 1.2 billion Catholics in a world of 8-9 billion people God might have many questions for us Catholics. Like what have we been doing? Were we listening to his teachings or were we waiting for the Church or our fellow Catholics to do the work? I agree we need to be spiritually separated from the world but we need to be in the world to share the good news of Christ with them. When God comes to make a new heaven and new earth I hope he sees that we have indeed made disciples of all nations and we will be able to rejoice in eternity.

  • Vern

    I also suppose that on December 31, 1,765,432 AD your words, although perhaps long forgotten will still ring true into a New Year. But by that time, Christ will have long come for each of us reading these words.
    A blessed New Year to you, Father, and to all.

  • lwhite

    We should be saying Happy Old Year, if it was a year in which we grew in understanding our faith, loved God more abundantly, increased our ability to avoid both the temptation of sin and in committing sin, brought Christ more fully into our everyday life, committed more to a daily prayer life, and served God by listening to Him and doing His will in all things.
    On the other hand, we know not how faithful or committed to God we will be the new year and so it may not be a happy one at all. At least we know we can call the old year happy if it was a year closer to making us saints.

    And as the verse that Fr. Pilon cited from St. Paul is one so pertinent today as the leaders of the institutional church have deceived so many “through an empty seductive philosophy that follows mere human traditions, a philosophy based on cosmic powers rather than on Christ”, we faithful Catholics have a greater duty and responsibility before God in this new year to reject the false prophets and their empty and seductive philosophy and help spread the True and unchanging Gospel of Life to everyone possible.

  • Sheila

    It is staggering how many Catholics there are in the world and how little gets done. What is it going to take for us to fully wake up? it appears that we are asleep at the wheel. Come into our hearts Lord Jesus quickly and more fully and help us to fulfill Your holy will…. each one of us. Come Lord Jesus Come….every hour. Every second. We need You. We love You. We thank You precious Savior of the world.