On Endings & Beginnings

by Fr. Charles Irvin

January, 1997

Both in the Church year, as well as in the secular world, this time of the year is a time of endings and beginnings. Or beginnings and endings if you prefer. They are often interchangeable, for many beginnings are endings, and many endings are just the beginnings.

We have just celebrated the Nativity, the long awaited birth of the Jewish Messiah. So also the Epiphany, celebrating the arrival and manifestation of the Savior of the gentiles; the people of the whole world. To His manger journey the Magi/Kings, the principalities and powers of this world, who place their gold, frankincense and myrrh at His feet.

One January 1st the Church honors Mary as the Mother of God. Mary’s “yes” went all the way back to Genesis to stand in contradistinction of Eve’s “no”. Mary’s “yes” thereby ends to reign of death by ushering in the beginning of the reign of Christ our Redeemer into whose Kingdom we are baptized in order that we might gain power over sin. One is a Jew because one’s mother is a Jew. We, too, must never forget that we are Christians because our mother is Mary. Her son gave her to us.

Nor should we overlook the fact that Mary is mentioned with great reverence 34 times in the Koran, and that more and more Protestants are seeing her as the Mother Of Us All.

St. Stephen, the First Martyr, is remembered at this time of the year, in fact on the day after Christmas. To be a follower of Christ one must take up the Cross with Him and follow in His footsteps. Holy Mother the Church sets us out on that journey the very next day following Christmas.

The marvelous beginning, or Prologue, of St. John’s Gospel is repeatedly proclaimed at this time of the year, beginning as it does “In the beginning…” Christ’s baptism by John the Baptizer is celebrated, the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, as is Christ’s opening miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Finally, at the end of all these “beginnings”, we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas) to bring to our minds that the Messiah has entered the Temple as the Light of the World. All who are baptized into Him will one day be “presented” in the Temple found at the end of the world in the new and heavenly Jerusalem.

Many, many beginnings, and an ending of an entire Old Order… all at this time of the year.

From those beginnings of the Church, however, there have always been those who claim special and personal knowledge of God and God’s will. They believe themselves to be “special seers”, latter day Magi perhaps, mystical persons given special visions. They have no need of a tangible, social and real-world Church, claiming as they do that human corruption always corrupts the Church. But they miss, completely miss, the message of the Magi who followed God’s heavenly lights, not their own, in order to find God’s Word made flesh cradled amongst human beings, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.

Epiphany tells us that, from the beginning, God’s revelation of Himself has always been tangible, social and in our truly human world. His flesh is real flesh… our flesh… human flesh. His Spirit comes to us in things quite tangible and is found in our humanity, no matter how much we may demean it. And from Christ’s pierced side as He hung upon the Cross flowed real blood, and real water, the Baptism and Holy Communion of our Mother the Church.

Let us journey, then, with the Kings of this world to the manger, there to place, as did they, our temporal powers and goods at His feet. Let us journey to Cana and celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, imbibing in a superabundant Communion that is both holy and at the same time contained in earthen vessels in volume beyond measure.

And let us here resolve at the beginning of this new year to live in a communion of the Common Good, generously caring for others, working for justice, fairness and a complete sharing in the tender mercies of our God, the God who is our Father, and who asks us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

Increasingly, ours is a culture of secularized individualism wherein the “rights” of individuals are more and more asserted over the duties and claims demanded of us from others, those others who live around us in the greater community out there and beyond our own exalted, individualized egos. The genius of Catholicism is that it is a sinners Church – as well as a community Church, a Church into which we submit our egotistical selves in order to humbly belong to others, and to the God who comes to us in them in loving service, unconditional love, and unbounded forgiveness.

May such be our will and purpose in the unfolding of this year of our Lord 1997.


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”