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home : from the bishop : from the bishop March 21, 2018

'For Auld Lang Syne': A New Year's Message

Happy New Year!

I am at the age now when “New Year’s Eve” finds me at home on the couch, snacking on Hickory Farms cheese and summer sausage with a Coke Zero chaser waiting for the “ball to drop” in Times Square on TV at midnight so that I can go to bed!  This year was no exception although an added feature was my iPhone in hand furiously sending and receiving New Year’s greetings through the miracle of text messaging. 

As with many others, I listened to a dozen variations of the familiar “auld lang syne” all night long, just wondering what in the world those lyrics mean? Again, my trusty iPhone was put to work “googling” the song and discovering that this poem was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and put to the music of a folk song the actual origin of which remains the subject of debate.  “Auld lang syne” is idiomatically and loosely translated “for the sake of days gone by.”

The curious academic soul within me continued my internet research, only to find this beautifully translated second verse:

My heart is ravished with delight,
when thee I think upon;
all grief and sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
the bright resemblance of thy face,
so fills this heart of mine;
that force nor fate can me displease,
for the sake of days gone by.

Oddly, the song began to make sense as the chorus sings:

For the sake of days gone by, my dear;

for the sake of days gone by;

we’ll drink a cup of kindness yet,

for the sake of days gone by!

The song really does fit the occasion!  New Year’s Eve is a rite of passage, a time when “what has been” gives way to “what is yet to be.”  The song and the occasion gratefully celebrate — perhaps with some emotion, sentiment and melancholy — all that has happened to us and those who made it so in the past year as well as the promise and hope that lie ahead in the new year.

Liturgically and theologically, we have celebrated Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and the prophecies leading up to it.  Now, we begin to celebrate again Christ’s whole life and its influence on our lives and the possibilities yet to be revealed.  Resolutions are appropriate and in order! 

Instead of simply “losing a few pounds” — necessary and good as that may be for us — perhaps we might also consider shedding the weight of some burdens that separate us from God and our neighbor.  In addition to just giving up smoking — necessary and good as that may be for us — perhaps we might also resolve not to let our lives go up in smoke, ignoring or neglecting the demands that a deep faith and true Christian love place upon us. 

Rather than merely drinking less alcohol or eating more healthy food — necessary and good as that may be for us — perhaps we might also seek to receive more often and with greater devotion the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood that is the food and drink for life eternal. 

Instead of only saving more money and income — necessary and good as that may be for us — perhaps we might also consider sharing more of what we have or investing in something that yields a different, more enduring kind of personal wealth.

Rather than being “just another New Year’s Eve” or “just another auld lang syne,” the words of the second verse of Robert Burns’ poem quoted above could become our prayer to Christ, the Word made Flesh: “My heart is ravished with delight, when thee I think upon . . . the bright resemblance of thy face so fills this heart of mine.” 

May Christ’s “days gone by” always be for all of us in the Diocese of Trenton our present moments and all the days that lie ahead.  Happy New Year!

Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Bishop of Trenton

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