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Looking back

Friday, December 28, 2018 - Updated: 2:14 pm

By Father Frank D. Almade

This is the time of year to look backward and review events. Fifty years ago, 1968 was one of the most significant and tumultuous years of the 20th century.

Among the most important events were: the Prague spring, and brief opening to democracy in Czechoslovakia, until the Soviet Union invaded and regained control; the Tet offensive in Vietnam, and continuing protests of the war in our country and throughout the world; the surprise announcement by President Lyndon Johnson, bedeviled by an unpopular war, that he would not seek re-election; the tragic assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April in Memphis and of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in June in Los Angeles; riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; protests against racism by black athletes at the Mexico City Olympic Games; and the election of Richard Nixon to the presidency.

In July 1968, saintly Pope Paul VI released his last encyclical letter, “Humanae Vitae,” known for its condemnation of artificial birth control. The controversy over the reception of this teaching remains to this day.

Perhaps the brightest spot in 1968 was the voyage of Apollo 8 to break free of Earth’s gravity for the first time and circle the moon on Christmas Eve. The astronaut’s iconic photograph of the Earth, startling green-blue against the black-black of space, has been credited with giving birth to the environmental movement.

I wonder if 2018 will be of similar significance in the history of the 21st century. We have lived through never-ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria; controversy over Brexit in Europe; threats of nuclear missiles by North Korea; the rise of China’s economic influence throughout the world; millions of people fleeing war and oppression in their countries; killings of journalists and attacks on news outlets; and governmental gridlock and scandal in Washington.

Closer to home, gun violence became unspeakably real in the horrific murder of 11 worshippers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Our church endured “a years-long Lent” with the revelations of the abuses by deposed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse by priests from 1948 to 2016, and the Vigano letter with its spurious accusations against Pope Francis. Our local church has begun implementing On Mission for The Church Alive! to reduce the number of parishes and increase evangelization with religious determination, if not enthusiasm.

Have I depressed you enough?

And yet there is reason to hope. The institutions of democracy endure, if a little battered. Diplomats continue to press for justice. Our military honorably guards our security and works for peace. Unemployment is at a historic low. The Holy Spirit continues to guide our church. The word of God is proclaimed, the sacraments are celebrated, the people of God are ministered to.

In the Catholic Church’s liturgical year, Jan. 1 is the solemnity of Mary. No drunken partying, no noisemakers or revelry on this first day of the new year for the disciples of Jesus. Rather, we honor the timid, unassuming girl from Nazareth as she says yes to God’s inscrutable will, and accepts the joy and responsibility of bearing the Son of God. Her yes to the angel’s message is a most humble act. It is a sign that seemingly insignificant individuals can influence events, even history itself.

Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, is the expression of God’s desire that the haughty be brought down and the lowly be raised up. Our honoring the Virgin Mary on this holy day of obligation supports the hope that God’s reign of peace and justice will come about, even if not on our timetable.

May 2019 be a healthy and holy new year of grace for each of you and all in your households. May the Blessed Mother guide and direct you to more deeply follow her son Jesus in the ways of faith, hope and charity.

Father Almade is administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Colman in Turtle Creek, St. John Fisher in Churchill and St. Jude in Wilmerding.

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