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On Monday the 31st, New Year’s Eve, I was shopping at the grocery store when I ran into a friend. He greeted me with, “Happy New Year!” to which I replied, “Happy New Year to you, too!” A little later I met another friend and we exchanged the same greeting. Before I left the store I had wished the checker and the grocery bagger fellow the happiest of New Years as well.

On my way home I reflected on this experience and a strange thought came to mind. What exactly did those folks mean when they said “Happy New Year!” to me? And, what did I intend when I said the same to them?

You see, I believe that words should mean things. And, it seemed that these three words spoken together at this time of year have become so familiar and expected that their meaning is no longer clear. At best, it’s a sincere but vague wish for some sort of good upon another, and, at least it’s simply an automatic response in recognition of the calendar year sequence increasing by one. I realized that I utter the greeting in both instances but, unfortunately, not often in heart-felt best wishes for another’s true happiness.

What is meant by “New Year”? Does it mean have a happy New Year’s eve celebration, a happy New Year’s day, or a happy entire new year?

And, then, define “Happy”. For whichever time period one chooses for a new year, does happiness mean joy? Does it mean cheerfulness, or exuberance, or simply peace and comfort?

Does happiness mean a year free from pain, frustration, sickness, financial struggle, or disharmony within one’s family? Surely, we know that we will always experience some of those downsides throughout our lives. So, does it mean that you wish one less of those than of the good times? If so, how much less?

Does “Happy New Year” mean one with few or no regrets? Or one in which you accomplish all or most of your resolutions?

As the clock struck midnight I was still plagued with these questions.

Go ahead, call me crazy.

Then, the next morning, New Year’s Day, my wife and I went to nine o’clock mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. As we entered church we were greeted, and we greeted others, with, you guessed it, “Happy New Year”. Of course, the previous day’s questions returned to the forefront of my mind.

As I listened to the first reading from Scripture, Numbers 6:22-27 (NAB), I discovered the answer to my questions in the words which the Lord asked Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons:

“The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

What better wish can one wish upon another for an evening, a day, or an entire year than to be blessed by our Lord; to feel His love and mercy; to be overcome with His grace; and to be filled with His peace! Are these not the fundamental components of personal happiness?

The world will always throw obstacles in our way which, if our happiness depends on material things, will prevent us from reaching the desired level of comfort, wealth or position, or acquiring certain possessions that we believe will bring us pleasure. We will be afflicted with health issues that will inevitably bring pain and which will create unhappiness within us if our happiness doesn’t depend on God. Even God Himself will throw obstacles in our way to test our resolve, patience and willingness to trust in Him. These things are given in life. Measuring our happiness in terms of worldly desires is a recipe for failure. Even if we accomplished all of these things but failed to have a relationship with Christ, we would not be truly happy.

We are reminded of this in the first two lines of Chapter One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC27):

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

Ultimately, greeting someone with “Happy New Year” should be considered a blessing, a heart-felt desire for the other to encounter the goodness and generosity of God.

You and I will now look at this greeting in a new light. When we look someone in the eye and say, “Happy New Year!”, our intention will actually be a prayer for God to bless them abundantly. But, I know most people won’t understand it this way. For them, it will continue to simply be a formality, the expected familiar greeting. That’s okay. We know in our hearts that it’s the thought that counts.

So, I’ll wrap this up with, “HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOURS!”

“Heavenly Father, as I look back over the last year, I give You immeasurable thanks for all the many blessings You bestowed on me and my family. And, I take this opportunity to examine my conscience, to replay my faults and failings in virtue over the last twelve months. I resolve, Lord, to grow in piety, to learn more about my faith, and to act in ways that will help me become a better disciple, husband, father, grandfather, son, brother and friend. Amen.”

(Happy New Year! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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