A Reason to Celebrate

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Happy New Year! When I was growing up, I remember every New Year’s Eve participating in an old family tradition called “First Foot.” It was the custom that one of us men would go outdoors before midnight, and we would take with us everyone’s empty wallets. At midnight we would walk across the threshold and bring in the new year along with the empty wallets — a sign that we were ready to receive God’s blessings.

With every new year comes a host of resolutions, expectations and possibilities. Each new year is different. From time to time, there are some years that seem larger than others. For example, the year of one’s anticipated ordination holds a greater pull. The same could be said about a jubilee of one’s ordination to the priesthood.

Five years ago I remember embracing the new year, anticipating the 25th anniversary of my priesthood. Amid all of the planning, there existed many questions: Where did the time go? Am I really that old? I found myself saying, again and again, “tempus fugit.”

While I realize some of us would just as soon skip over our anniversaries, even our jubilees, I have found that there is value in commemorating them. Family, friends and parishioners alike need us to celebrate these marks. These moments are to be celebrated in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, not for what we have done, but for what God and his amazing grace have done through us. In his infinite wisdom and according to his divine plan, God chose us even in our brokenness to be his presence to others.

As I planned for that jubilee, there were really three groups of people with whom I wanted to celebrate. First, I wanted to reconnect with my priestly classmates. Although I was ordained by myself, there were some other brothers from my diocese who were ordained months earlier. I always have looked to them as brothers and classmates. To that end, I invited us all to gather and celebrate our annual retreat together.

Second, I wanted to celebrate with my family and friends. No one ever makes it to the altar alone. There are so many handprints on our heart. So many people guided me along the way. I was blessed to have my siblings and their spouses and children with me. We even arranged a family portrait. Although my parents had both been deceased for some time, I could feel their presence at the jubilee Mass. I still remember the look on their faces the day I was ordained. Every morning as I pray the Office of Readings I look at a photo of my parents along with the bishop and me on the day of my ordination. My parents were the first teachers to me in the ways of the Faith. I could never forget all that they have done for me.

Finally, I wanted to celebrate with the faithful of the parish. Their faith, day in and day out, feeds me. The annual parish picnic became the perfect venue for this celebration with an outdoor Mass. It was an honor to have the bishop as the celebrant. Moments before the start of holy Mass, the parish staff presented me with a beautiful white vestment. Every time I wear it I am brought back to that jubilee celebration and the newfound joy of being a priest of Jesus Christ.

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Indeed, every new year is different. If this is a jubilee year for you, please make sure you celebrate with your classmates, family, friends and the people whom you serve. And if this may seem like just another year, know that the older we become makes every new year larger. Behold the gift! Embrace the opportunity! Cross the threshold knowing that God has great plans for you!

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 14 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.