“And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus.”—Luke ii.21.
To-Day is a day of the greatest importance. To-day we close the octave of the festival of the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; to-day we are reminded of the painful circumcision of Jesus Christ, by which He shed His blood for us for the first time; to-day we honor the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which the child received at His circumcision; and we begin, also, to-day, a New Year. To-day we call out to one another: “A happy New Year!” and many persons accompany this wish with a present or little gift. I, too, my dear Christians, wish you all, from my heart, a happy New Year, and I will make you a present for the New Year. Listen and I will tell you what it is!
As far as my New Year’s wish is concerned, I wish you first of all a new year; that is to say, I wish that, as to-day we begin a New Year according to time, each and every one of you will, from to-day, begin a new year for your moral life; that he may lay aside the old, sinful man and put on a new man, who is made in justice and holiness; I wish that each and every one of you will, from this day, uproot his old, sinful habits more and more, and strive to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. This was Saint Paul’s (the Apostle’s) wish to the Ephesians, when he wrote to them: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who, according to God, is created in justice and holiness of truth.” (Eph. iv. 23) I wish you, further, a peaceful year. By that I mean the peace which the angels announced to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem, and to all mankind on the night when Jesus was born, saying: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” I mean the peace which Christ mad between God and man, by His Passion and death, of which we partake when we receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, and which we preserve within us by avoiding grievous sin. If to-day your conscience reproaches you with a grievous sin, then you have not this peace, for there is no peace for the wicked. What greater happiness can I wish you than the peace which testifies to a good conscience? My wish, however, cannot bring you this peace; you must make the effort to obtain it for yourselves. Very well, then, seek for peace by receiving the Sacraments worthily, and presrev it by a good and God-fearing life! If, on the evening of every day, your conscience bears witness that you have served God, and have not committed any grievous sins, then you will have peace and happiness, a peace which the world cannot give, and cannot take away; a happiness which surpasses all other joys, which the children of this world seek for in vain in the possession of money and goods, honors and reputation, and in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures.
But I will not let to-day pass with a simple wish only; I will give you a present—indeed, it is an exceedingly costly present I give you; namely, Him who was presented to the world by His Heavenly Father, that He might begin a new time of bliss. I give you Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Precious Blood which He has shed for the first time at His circumcision to-day, for your sins and mine, and those of the whole world. We can and ought to learn of Him to-day to circumcise ourselves in a spiritual way; for He says: “I have given you an example, so that you may do what I have done… He who will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me… And if they right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; and if thy right hand scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish than thy whole body be cast into hell” (Matt. v. 29-30). To circumcise one’s self spiritually means, also, to deny one’s self and to mortify one’s self, and to prevent a sense, or a member of our body, sinning against God and His Commandments. Very well, then, dear Christian, if you are in the habit of cursing and swearing, of wishing evil or backbiting, put aside this habit in the New Year, swear and curse no longer, nor tell lies, nor slander, nor calumniate. Whosoever has been given to drunkenness, let him now keep sober. Whosoever has found his happiness in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures will, from now on, make an agreement with his eyes that they will not look again at improper objects; he will close his ears, that they may not listen to an ungodly tongue; he will close his mouth, that he may not utter any more scandal words. The miser, who, until now, kept a closed hand. And never gave anything to the needy, will now be merciful, and give alms generously. He whose heart has been the abode of impure thoughts and desires will purify it and make it a dwelling place for God. In this way we shall circumcise our eyes and ears, mouth and lips, heart and hands, and bring an agreeable sacrifice to Our Lord and Saviour. To encourage us to do this, the Apostle calls to us: “For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body!” (I. Cor. vi. 20)
Yes, dear Christians, we were bought with a great price, with the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and we should be the most ungrateful of men, and deserving of the greatest punishment, if we used our body with its members continually in the service of sin and of the devil. “Glorify and bear God in your body” in such a way that in all your thoughts and senses, in your actions, you will strive to imitate the Saviour. And if, until now, you have failed to do this, do not put off your repentance and improvement any longer. God has allowed us another year in which to do penance and work for our salvation. We know not whether this will be the last year of our lives. Let us live as if it were our last; let us do penance for our sins; let us strive after virtue; let us practice good works, and so live as we shall wish to have lived at the hour of our death! In this manner, this year will be for each one of us a year of peace and salvation, which I wish you and myself! Amen.
Rev. F. Heffner, Short Sermons for Low Masses, For All the Sundays and Some Feast Days of the Year (Three Volumes) (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1901), I, 26-29.