One of the most heroic figures in the founding of the United States was a patriot by the name of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll was a thorough, practical Catholic, the last of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He died on November 14, 1832. One hundred years after his death another American, Joseph Gum, wrote the life of this Catholic patriot and published the biography as a commemoration of the centennial. Every American, especially every Catholic American, ought to read that life story.
Incidentally, some of our so-called Catholic Americans of today who call in question the Teachings of the Church ought to read and re-read this inspiring story of a man who was true to his country and true to his faith, who was loyal to his country because he was loyal to his Catholic faith.
Many a precious lesson and thrilling inspiration has Carroll left us, but none more valuable than the words he wrote near the end of his long and useful life: "I have lived to my ninety-sixth year: I have enjoyed continued health: I have been blessed with great wealth, prosperity, and most of the good things which the world can bestow - public apprreciation, esteem, applause. But what I now look back on with greatest satisfaction to myself is that I have practiced the duties of my religion."
Would that everyone of us could write the same words at the end of our lives. Would that everyone of us could say as the shadows lengthen that we have tried to live up to the duties of our religion. Would that everyone here this morning might have that satisfaction.
But especially today, New Year's day, would that all of us could look back upon that part of our lives which ended at midnight last night and say in the words of Carroll that we look back over 1948 with satisfaction, because during that last year we lived up to the duties of our glorious Catholic faith. If each one of us could say that, then this would be a happy year that has ended and there would be promise of a happy year beginning today.
1. What are those duties of our religion? During this year we should reconsider the Commandments of God. They tell what God expects of us. We should realize how the First Commandment requires that we know our religion. Today we would like to consider briefly how the First Commandment demands that we live our religion, our faith.
Faith means taking God at His word. Faith means accepting everything that God has told us, everything that God now tells us through His divinely guided Church. Like every other power we have, unless it is used, faith wastes away. Unless it is put into practice it weakens and dies. Unless it is carried out in everyday life, it rusts and breaks down.
2. Our first duty is to strengthen our faith by deeds and prayers of faith. 2007 will be a happy year if every day each one of us offers some prayer of faith. That prayer may be brief, but it must be to the point and sincere. Let me repeat for you the act of faith many learned as children, a prayer you should repeat every day:
"O, my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that Thy Divine Son became Man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived."3. Put that faith into daily practice. When you learn, as we have recently, that God demands worship, then give that worship. When you learn that you must know the teachings of your religion, then begin, begin at once to learn those truths.
4. Our faith is put into practice by acts of religion. Attending Holy Mass, receiving Holy Communion, making visits to the Blessed Sacrament, attending Lenten devotions and making a mission, taking part in a holy hour and joining in the Rosary - these are all part of the practice of your religion. May the New Year find you happy in that practice!
5. Our religion demands charity toward everyone. It demands justice in everything we do. It demands a purity of heart and respect for the good name and reputation of our neighbor. It calls upon us to honor the Holy Name of Jesus, the name which, according to today's gospel, was brought by an angel from heaven,the name in which we begin this New Year and every task in it.
6. Our faith demands that we make open profession of it. How can a weak-kneed, jelly-fish, unfaithful Catholic be happy? How can anyone be happy if he is ashamed of his religion, if he backs up and denies it at the slightest criticism or the least difficulty? Be proud of your faith. Keep the commandments. Follow the Church's rules. Tell others about it. Explain your faith to those who ask.
Suppose that life ended today for you, as it ended at the age of ninety-six for the great Catholic patriot, Charles Carroll. Could you look back and say that your happiest memory is that you lived up to the duties of your religion? Can you look back over 2006 and say that? Next New Year will you be able to look back over 2007 and say that?
You will if you look forward today to 2007 with a determination to live up to the obligations of the religion God has planted in your heart. If you are determined to do your religious duty as you see it, then the coming year will be happy.
That is my prayer this day, that is my hope, that is my wish for everyone of you - a truly happy New Year. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)