My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
The end of the year is a time for joy, thanks and hope.
The spirit of joy emanates from the Nativity of our Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we continue to celebrate during this Christmas season. Although the commercial world of retail sales has put away its Christmas promotions until next fall, we in the church are actually now in the midst of our Christmas celebrations. While the secular world was giving us holiday music and seasonal hype to promote shopping, we were preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus during the liturgical season of Advent.
Now our ongoing Christmas celebrations will include the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on Dec. 29; the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on Jan. 1; the Epiphany of Our Lord manifesting himself to the Three Kings and to the whole world (traditionally Jan. 6, but observed liturgically this year on Sunday, Jan. 5); and the Baptism of the Lord. Although the Christmas season officially ends this year on the liturgical calendar on Jan. 12 with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, many people (including me) follow the traditional custom of keeping our Christmas decorations up until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
The completion of another calendar year is a time to give thanks for all the blessings of the past year. Our human tendency is often to be preoccupied with problems, so a good antidote to counter our anxieties is to nurture a grateful heart that gives daily thanks to God for blessings received. This can be further enhanced with an end-of-the-year review of the previous 12 months, focusing on gratitude for the gifts that God has given to us.
Here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, we have much for which to give thanks. As I travel around the diocese to administer the sacrament of confirmation, conduct parish pastoral visits and celebrate parish jubilees and other special occasions, I am impressed by the devout faith of so many people and the dedicated service of our priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay ecclesial ministers. It was my privilege as diocesan bishop this year to confer the sacrament of holy orders ordaining Father Hyland Smith to the ministerial priesthood and Deacons Steve Arisman and Seth Brown to the transitional diaconate. Two more young men have recently been accepted as seminarians for our diocese, bringing our number of candidates studying for the priesthood up to 22.
At the Red Mass for Catholic lawyers, judges and civic officials here in Springfield in October, I announced an exciting new initiative to provide legal services for the poor through our Catholic Charities. Thanks to a generous gift, we have just hired an attorney, Amy Maher, to serve as program coordinator for our new Catholic Charities Legal Services of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Her task will be to help recruit volunteer attorneys to represent indigent clients whom she will have interviewed in the 28 counties and seven deaneries that comprise our diocese here in central Illinois. I am pleased that the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will now have a way to help the poor in need of legal services.
On Nov. 30 it was exciting to watch our Sacred Heart-Griffin High School Cyclones Football Team win the State Class 5A title in the championship game in DeKalb. More important than this victory was the way the SHG coaches, players and fans put their values and their faith into practice, helping the families of the Washington High School football team, SHG's opponent in the semifinal game, many of whose homes had been destroyed by a tornado just a week prior to that game.
Earlier this year Ave Maria Press at Notre Dame published the book that I wrote with my brother Joe, called, Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith. I did book signings during a Blackhawks game at the United Center in Chicago, a University of Notre Dame hockey game at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind., at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, and here at the Marian Center in Springfield. I am grateful that this book is helping to inspire many people of all ages.
The beginning of a new year is a time to have hope for the future, despite whatever setbacks we may have experienced during the past year. We can draw hope from the inspiring words spoken by President Abraham Lincoln as he departed Springfield for Washington, D.C., in February 1861: "Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended man, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail."
May God give us this grace. Amen.