First Mass celebrated in America. Said by a priest who traveled with Christopher Columbus, the second time Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Five hundred twenty-five years ago, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Celebrated in what is now the Dominican Republic. [Spanish]
Pope St. John Paul II traveled there for the 500th anniversary, twenty-five years ago. He preached on a verse from the first reading for Epiphany, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come.”
The light has shone from Jerusalem, and its brightness extends to all the nations of the earth. We give thanks to God that the light of life and hope has illuminated the paths of the peoples of America, who were born into the Christian faith five centuries ago.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming work of Christ has been present here, through the missionaries who obeyed Christ’s command to preach the Gospel to every creature and crossed the ocean to announce the message of salvation.
Actually, Epiphany 1494 was the first Mass in America for which we have a written record.. During the thousand years before that, a seafaring Irish priest, or a Christian Norseman, may very well have said Mass in Greenland or Newfoundland, Canada. In fact, in 1925, archaeologists found the ancient ruins of a cathedral near the southern tip of Greenland.
Anyway: New year. AD 2019. We always start a new year by coming to the manger to adore the baby Jesus, like the wise men did. And what do we find? The newness of God.
We may have been celebrating Mass in this hemisphere for 525 years, or more, but it doesn’t get old. 2018 may have been a tough year, a terrible year. But 2019 starts fresh anyway. Because God gives the grace of the newborn Christ to us. God shines the light, clarifies everything, and inspires us with this:
‘Here is my Son, given to you! An innocent Lamb, Who speaks divine wisdom. A humble child, Who will lead you forward as your invincible champion. He is pure God and a son of Adam, like you.
‘The human race is old, tired, and confused. But He is not. You are older, more tired, and more confused than you were a year ago. But He is not!’
We can start fresh here, at the crib, with the magi. We can lay everything down. We can take a little rest in the bottomless quiet and peace of Jesus in the manger. Then we can stand up and march fearlessly forward into 2019.
He’s got the plan. He’s got the necessary holiness. He’s got the right goal for us, and the right means to the goal. This world belongs to Him. We belong to Him. He is the heaven, the beauty, the goodness of life. He is God giving us that heaven, that beauty, that goodness. He is God giving us His own godliness, as a pure gift. A gift to us old, tired sinners.
‘Here, old, tired sinners. Here you go; all yours: My gift to you! My only-begotten, born of the Virgin. He is mine; He is Me, the image of the invisible God. And He is yours now, too! All yours.’
We do not begin this new year alone. God help us if we did. We have every reason to imagine that 2019 will bring even more pain and confusion than 2018 did. This isn’t some Fantasy Land speech I’m giving.
But, whatever 2019 brings, we face it as members of Jesus’ body. We face it with Him. With the new, ever-young Adam. The passing of the years takes no toll on Him. Which means it takes no toll on us, either; no toll on the redeemed Christians we truly are. We can safely fall in love with 2019 right here and now, fearing nothing. Because this year belongs to Christ, and so do we.