At the end of every year, we take account of where we have been and where we are going.
For me, this year was marked by two big events. In June, I got married, and in July, I began my new job as editor in chief of the Register.
Both events involve wonderful people (my husband on the one hand and my dedicated team of editors, reporters, bloggers and writers on the other), but change is never easy — it presents challenges and opportunities — requiring reflection, prayer, collaboration and a lot of effort.
For the Church, also, this hasn’t been an easy year. Catholics have been grappling with some daunting challenges. The most obvious are the threats to the free exercise of religion in Catholic institutions, the redefinition of marriage and the continued devaluing of human life at every stage.
But perhaps the great underlying challenge is a more personal one: How do we find peace of mind and nurture the faith of parishioners, families, students and our loved ones amid fast-moving cultural currents that often pull us away from God?
In this Year of Faith that began in October, Pope Benedict invites us all to reinvigorate our efforts to seek answers to this question.
Recently, I participated in a meeting in which Church leaders from North, Central and South America took up the question in the context of a New Evangelization of the Americas.
Gathered at the Ecclesia in America congress held at the Vatican Dec. 9-12, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople reflected on the 15th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the Church in America, which called for "an encounter with the living Jesus Christ as a way to conversion, communion and solidarity" throughout the continent.
The Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus and the Mexico City-based Institute of Guadalupan Studies organized the meeting.
The complex interplay of public policy and Catholic teaching during a hard-fought presidential campaign led many of the faithful in the U.S. to pin their hopes on the outcome of the 2012 election.
But in an address at the opening Mass for the congress, Pope Benedict XVI reminded Catholics in the Americas that politics, however important, is not ultimate and cannot bring about the transformation of a wounded world.
The Church "is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from the encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth," he said in the address, which embraced the New Evangelization as "the decisive force which will transform the American continent."
Despite broad resistance, and even hostility, to that message, the "love of Christ impels us to devote ourselves without reserve to proclaiming his name throughout America, bringing it freely and enthusiastically to the hearts of all its inhabitants."
To fulfill this mission, faithful Catholics "purify and strengthen their interior lives ever more fully through a sincere relationship with the Lord and a worthy and frequent reception of the sacraments," he said.
This transformation begins in the family, where faith in Jesus Christ takes root, the Pope told us, elaborating on Pope John Paul II’s hope in Ecclesia in America that Catholic homes would be "true centers of evangelization," where "Christian faith is lived and passed on to the young as a treasure and where all pray together."
As a newly married woman, I anticipate the joys and challenges that lie ahead for my husband and me as we begin our own family. My time in Rome, while reflecting on the New Evangelization, offered a reminder that we all have a powerful ally in Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. Through her powerful intersession in Mexico in 1531, an entire continent was transformed. Surely she can transform our culture today.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver affirmed the Virgin’s powerful role in salvation history and, more explicitly, in the Church’s missionary work in the Americas. He movingly recalled his own encounter with the tilma — the cloth on which the image of Our Lady was given to Juan Diego more than 500 years ago. The tilma offers a palpable reminder that the Mother of God will ceaselessly bring her Son to those thirsting for his saving power.
"I will never forget the first time that I stood in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1996," Archbishop Aquila told us. "As I stood there and gazed at the image, I was struck with awe and wonder, but I was struck more with the love of Mary, with the fact that the tilma should have been totally destroyed by now — with the fact that she left her image for us, and it was still there 500 years later."
"She is with child," he said, describing the tilma. "The heart of her maternal message is Jesus, and yet she reveals her tender love in her words to Juan Diego as she says — hear and let it penetrate into your heart — ‘My dear little son.’ And that is the love that Mary has for us."
The tilma reminds us that God himself desires to be in relationship with every person made in his image.
Let us carry that truth, confirmed through the mystery of the Incarnation, in our hearts as we reflect on this past year — full of both hopes and sorrows of various kinds — and embark with enthusiasm and confidence into the new one.
The entire staff of the Register wishes you a happy and holy Christmas.