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Let's not sleep through the millennium.

Should the church make a big deal out of the millennium? I'm of two minds about that. Perhaps the following two stories can capture the split frame of mind I have as to whether we should go all out in celebration or if the millennium is much ado about nothing.

The first story stars Saint Francis of Assisi. A traveling pilgrim saw Saint Francis working in his garden, hoeing a row of beans. The traveler, a spiritual seeker, asked the saint, "What would you be doing right now if you knew this was the last day of your earthly life?"

Saint Francis replied, "I would continue hoeing this row of beans." And he proceeded to do just that.

This story aptly exemplifies a basic spiritual principle: that you should always be where you are and do what you're doing. Don't live in the future, don't dwell in the past. The kingdom of God is at hand--in the row of beans, the pile of office work, the baby in need of changing, the neighbor in need of a ride to a doctor's appointment. Don't go looking for some magic moment or special event to signal that real life or holiness has begun.

The second story happened when I was about 9 years old, riding in the back seat of a '54 Ford. My parents, my older brother, and I were on the highway to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Though we were on a much-anticipated family vacation, the thrill of the open road had worn off way back near the Illinois/Indiana border.

But something captured our attention. Someone pointed out that the odometer was within a dozen miles of hitting the 99,999.9 mark. So I leaned over the front seat to watch the car's odometer grind its way toward that magic number 100,000. Though it would be just another ordinary moment on our long trip, this flipping of the odometer seemed special. Somehow it seemed to symbolize all the miles we'd driven prior to that moment and pointed to the other miles we'd drive, together and separately, in years to come.

While we watched the odometer inch forward, we talked about the places we'd been in this car: Sunday trips to Cedar Lake, trips to Comiskey Park for White Sox games, over to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, trips to cousins' houses, to Sears for Christmas shopping, to accordion lessons (hey, it was the '50s!), to Dad's office, to visit relatives in the hospital, and on and on. Even the memory of running mundane errands took on a special glow as the odometer neared this benchmark.

God knows, the odometer on that old beater of a car was most likely miscalibrated. So the "big flip" probably wouldn't coincide with the actual 100,000th mile this car had traveled. That didn't matter. What mattered was the gathering of memories, the reflection on our life together, the taking stock of the course we'd been on, and the hopes engendered for the journeys to come.

And so I'm stuck vacillating between two thoughts about how and whether to celebrate the arrival of the new millennium. From one point of view, the changing of the calendar from 1999 to 2000 is a nonevent, an arbitrary moment, a thin slice of time no different from the day before or the day after. And yet, what makes the millennium worth observing is the meaning we human beings find in this moment and the opportunity it affords us: to discover God's handiwork in our past, find a solid hope for the future, and see reasons to rejoice in the present.

Upon further reflection I can see that both stories have a single point: stay awake! Be alert and aware of where you are and what's truly happening. And so the question becomes not whether we should celebrate this flipping of the calendar, but how best to do that.

I guess what I worry about is that too often there's a lack of attunement between what church leaders proclaim and people's real experience. I've heard too many sermons that begin, "Today we come to worship filled with anticipation as the church moves out of ordinary time and into a new church year." Meanwhile, people sit in their pews worrying about tuition bills, insecurities on the job, childcare woes, or the argument they just had with their daughter who's off in California.

How should we proceed? Maybe there are some clues in these two stories to guide us. The first is that we should begin by paying attention to what's true for us now, here, this minute. Like Saint Francis, let's pay attention to the row we're hoeing. Stop and ask, "How is God's love at work in my life today?" As individuals, as families, as local communities we can begin by being still long enough to recognize the hand of God in the events of our lives today. Rather than sleepwalking through life, let's be awake and aware of the presence of God.

Some of us may need practice at becoming attuned to the Spirit at work in our lives. Shared reflection is a good way to foster such an awareness, and so I recommend that people form faith-sharing groups. Listening to others describe how God is active in their life always helps me see God's handiwork in my own life.

Another block to awareness is the busyness that so many people experience in their lives. For those who feel constantly overworked, I recommend significantly cutting back on the amount of activities in your life--no matter how worthwhile they may be--in order to make time to listen and attend to God's presence. Look at a typical week and pick one activity or habit to discard and don't fill that time up with other distractions. Use it to just be. As a quiet time of reflection and awareness. Sit and look at God, and be aware that God is looking at you.

Another important step in preparing for the millennium is remembering. Just as my family spent our waiting time thinking back on all the places we'd been in our old car, call to mind the ways we all have been on the journey with Christ. As individuals, as parishes, as a universal church, we need to call to mind all that we've done--and all that we've failed to do--in carrying out the mission of Jesus to the world. Surely there will be many times we've fallen short. Pope John Paul II has realized this and has publicly apologized for sins of the past: for bias against women, for oppressing rather than choosing the path of love, for failure to act with courage when others were oppressed.

And yet how much good has been done by fellow Catholics over the past two millennia. Think of all the meals fed to the hungry, the wounds bandaged, the care given to the desperate, the beds provided for children who were abandoned. Think of Catholic Charities and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Think of heroes down the ages such as Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Martin de Porres, Dorothy Day. We need to look at our history squarely--warts and all--and embrace it.

Finally, we need to enlist the talents of the artists among us to help us craft celebrations that are grounded in our awareness of the grace of today, the treasure of yesterday, and the promise of tomorrow. We need to let these artists loose to fashion for us celebrations worthy of the truth we've come to know. We need to do this at the local parish level, but even more so I hope we can do this at the universal level. In this time of great international strife, ethnic warfare, and the splintering of peace, wouldn't it be great to have a symbolic action that would unite people from every nation, race, and continent to celebrate the truth that God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God?

Should it be a Mass? Could we all--all 1 billion Catholics or, better yet, all 2 billion Christians around the world--choose a time to say the Our Father together? How about a song, like the Gloria? Or a moment of silence while bells peel around the globe?

We should put some talent and energy into this. Wouldn't it be sad if we were outdone by Disney, the NFL, and Yanni? As we prepare we need an artist, not a teacher. We need a Michelangelo of the moment who will be in tune with the times and also help us all to transcend the bounds of space and time to glimpse the true meaning of why we're here.

Catholics are a sacramental people. We believe that we meet God in natural things and events: a sunrise, a gesture of kindness, a shared meal, a celebration. Yet we must pay attention in today's moment in order to be aware of God's presence all around us. And that, I suppose, is why the pope has called us to prepare for the flipping of the calendar a year from now. What we are being called to do is to look at our own lives and recognize God's presence yesterday, today, and always. That seems worth celebrating.

Each month, advance copies of Sounding Board are mailed to a sample of U.S. CATHOLIC subscribers. Their answers to questions about Sounding Board and a representative selection of their comments about the article as a whole appear in Feedback.


As thousands of people worry about being stranded at airports or discovering their bank accounts have been deleted on January 1, 2000 because of the Y2K computer problem, Catholics see the millennium as an opportunity to celebrate the Incarnation and Jesus' saving presence in the world.

Preparation for, and celebration of, the Jubilee Year has already begun. And U.S. CATHOLIC readers are in the middle of the action. More than half of those who responded, 60 percent, said that they're planning on doing something to celebrate the dawn of the 21st century. Whether it be working with a Renew 2000 program in their parish or making positive changes in their lives, many such as Sister Mary Paul Larson of Pryor, Montana said they'd like to do something that would bring "moral and social" advantage to their communities.

Older baby boomers--those aged 46 to 55--overwhelmingly reported (78 percent) that they're planning on celebrating. But only 47 percent of those a decade or two older, aged 66 to 75, made the same commitment.

Sixty-one percent of readers also said that the turn of the century was a "golden opportunity" for the church and the world. As Mary Roberts of New York wrote, the millennium "affords fresh opportunities for many to begin their lives or careers anew."

Readers also seemed pleased with what their local parishes and dioceses were doing to mark the millennium. Forty-two percent were aware of "special materials and opportunities" being offered--and they found the information meaningful. In fact, Tom Ahem of Florida wrote that millennium materials "remind me of the need to live as a baptized person who seeks to proclaim the goodness of the world."

Q: The best approach I've heard of a church or diocese taking to help Christians prepare for the new millennium is:

Following the Jewish tradition Jubilee: Letting the land rest, giving back property to its original owner, and setting captives flee.

C. Gardner

Flint, Mich.

Participating in Renew 2000--gathering in groups to pray, reflect, and act on our Christian beliefs more consistently.

Name withheld

Gaithersburg, Md.

Implementing adult-education programs that train lay ministers how to respond to challenges posed by the millennium.

Peggy Saunders

San Carlos, Calif.

Dedicating one's life during the final years of this century to the Trinity--the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Michelle A. Smith

San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

A greater awareness to help the poor. Just recently our parish formed a housing project for the poor of Tijuana, Mexico and an outreach program for our local homeless population.

Michelle Laughlin

Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Mark Link's booklet "Vision 2000" to use alone or in a support group to guide one's prayers to the Holy Spirit for blessings on the entire human race.

Deacon Stephen J. Kelly

Naugatuck, Conn.

Forming small groups to share one's daily life experiences and faith.

Sue Ellen Simms

St. Louis, Mo.

Q: The least meaningful approach I've heard of a church or diocese taking to help Christians prepare for the new millennium is:

Traveling to Rome instead of preparing at one's own parish.

Shirley Sanzone

Portland, Oreg.

Lectures on the fulfillment or signs of the apocalypse.

Michele Laughlin

Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Having a cardinal or archbishop preside at a liturgy at RFK stadium as has been done for Pope John Paul II a couple of times--very staid and not very creative.

Sister Marcella Missar, S.N.D.deN.

Derwood, Md.

Encouraging consumerism by designing useless promotional items.

Sister Peg Maloney, R.S.M.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Putting "2000" notice posters up, but saying nothing about it.

Sister Margaret Sibbel

Creighton, Neb.

Obsessing over the Y2K snafu.

Father David Pleier

Green Bay, Wis.

Q: As the millennium approaches, what's one thing you would wish for the future of the church?

Focusing on the pope's objectives.

Anthony Sinsky

Milwaukee, Wis.

That we continue to pass on our beliefs and our faith to our children.

Mark Otteson

Saint Peter, Minn.

More acceptance of differences within the universal church in liturgy.

Judy Dimock

Chandler, Ariz.

New approaches to the significance of the priesthood, i.e. celibacy, married priests.

Name withheld

Gaithersburg, Md.

The return of those who left the church.

Shirley Sanzone

Portland, Oreg.

To recognize that God calls women to ordained priesthood.

Theresa Byrne, O.P.

Midland, Mich.

More assistance to young families. Working mothers are overtaxed and could use understanding and assistance from the church community.

Name withheld

Bound Brook, N.J.

To allow all church members to be full members, such as allowing homosexuals to marry.

Julie and Cheryl Ruha-Totsch

Racine, Wis.

That our son will go back to church.

Mary Kliauga

New Milford, N.J.

Q: As the millennium approaches, what's one thing you would wish for the future of the world?

That the slate could be wiped clean for the debtor nations, that all could have a fresh start.

J.T. Peters

Sacramento, Calif.

That people would act upon the spirit of Luke 16:19-31 and radically reduce the scandalous gap between the rich and poor.

Richard K. Taylor

Philadelphia, Pa.

I would love to see First World countries live more simply so resources are available for all the world.

Sister Peg Maloney, R.S.M.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

That we concentrate on what we have in common, namely our humanity, rather than that which makes us different.

Patrick H. Murphy

Springfield, Mo.

I wish we'd start to respect wildlife and the land and work to give back to Mother Earth just a fraction of what we've taken from her.

Jason McCarthy

Newport Beach, Calif.

Q: What, from our church's history, do you think should be most celebrated?

Those who haven't been afraid to stand up against injustice.

Charlone Collora

Seattle, Wash.

The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

Name withheld

Chicago, Ill.

Our continuance of Christ's teachings--especially the consecration of the Body and Blood.

Gerald Huber

Palisade, Colo.

That we're a far less elitist group than we have been in the past.

Joan T. Cahill

Chicago, Ill.

Our changes to meet the needs of the times in the person of Pope John Paul II and Vatican II.

Sister Mary Paul Larson

Pryor, Mont.

The flexible changes that have taken place since Vatican II.

Anthony Sinsky

Milwaukee, Wis.

Q: What, from our church's history, do you think should be most apologized for?

The response to the reformers which deepened separation and spawned innumerable sects.

Rev. J. Thomas Shelley

Loganville, Pa.

The individual behavior of errant religious--priests and nuns--that have resulted in Catholics turning from the church and faith.

Michelle A. Smith

San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Nothing. We are, after all, a church of and for sinners.

Rita M. Jezl

Saint Charles, Ill.

Selling indulgences.

Roberta DeMell

Wickliffe, Ohio

Our treatment of minorities, including gays, women, Native Americans, and African Americans.

Brother Gerald Muller

Austin, Texas

Forcing Catholicism on others; intolerance of certain people and their gifts; an opulent hierarchy.

Name withheld

Florence, Mont.

We should apologize for the sins of hypocrisy during the Crusades, Inquisition, and other acts of terror.

Nathan Standifer

San Antino, Texas

Q: What kind of universal, symbolic action or celebration would you suggest as a worldwide Catholic celebration of this event?

A celebration similar to the opening of the 1998 Olympics in Japan. Bringing together via satellite choruses from all over the world.

Mary G. Schaus

Graftion, Wis.

An ecumenical Mass or service involving the Holy Father and leaders from all religious faiths from all countries, if possible--like a spiritual Olympics.

Lydia Annunziata

Longwood, Fla.

Pile up guns from individuals and households in a field and burn them as a sign of peace.

Marcella M. Missar, S.N.D.deN. Derwood, Md.

A moment of silence with the bells ringing out at a certain time worldwide.

Eugene Weber

Coldwater, Ohio

Canonization of Mother Teresa.

Deacon Stephen J. Kelly

Naugatuck, Conn.

I love the idea of doing one thing together as Catholics throughout the world at the same moment--such as Mass, an Our Father, the Gloria, bells ringing all over, the globe.

Joan K. Butler

Fort Wayne, Ind.

I suggest a reconciliation service of forgiveness, as described in Maria Harris' book Proclaim Jubilee, chapter 3.

Sister Joetta Huelsmann

Donaldson, Md.

Communion, either at the same time or continuously for 24 hours on New Year's Day.

Patricia Gray

Fairfax Station, Va.

1. What best describes your current attitude about the turning of the new millennium?

5% I am so sick of hearing about the whole thing I could die of boredom

18% I don't have much of an opinion about it; it could happen tomorrow and I wouldn't care much.

61% I think it's a golden opportunity for the church and world to take stock and think about the future.

5% I'm looking forward to having a great time.

11% Other. (Joan Cahill of Chicago wrote to say Tom McGrath's article was the most time she's given to the subject.)

2. Do you, personally, intend to do anything in particular to prepare for the new millennium?

13% No, not really.

27% I don't think so, but maybe I'll change my mind as the time draws nearer.

60% Yes. (Martha Jinbo plans to focus on her parish's 1999 theme of building awareness toward "God the Father.")

3. How is your local parish or diocese preparing Catholics for the dawn of the new millennium?

24% It hasn't done much of anything.

14% It's offering some special materials and opportunities, but nothing I find very meaningful.

42% It's offering special materials and opportunities, much of which is quite meaningful.

20% Other. (The millennium and the challenges it poses will be the focus of our upcoming parish retreat, wrote Lydia Annunziata.)


U.S. Catholic readers were asked: How do you plan to spend New Year's Eve 1999?

With my family in front of the TV watching the ball drop from Times Square.

Mary Kay Jones

Cleveland, Ohio.

I would love to attend Midnight Mass, if there will be one.

Mary Kliauga

New Milford, N.J.

I usually go to bed on New Year's Eve, but 1 will stay up so I can watch the digits on my watch roll over to 2000.

Margaret Hamilton

North Hollywood, Calif.

Discussing the meaning of "A.D." to my grandchildren and the providence of God that brought us to this moment in time.

Name withheld

Longmeadow, Mass.

At my parents' house attending my mom's annual New Year's Eve party. I couldn't miss her almond creme carmel at midnight!

Bob Schultz

Lawrence, Kan.

"Fun" is not the word for my celebration. I expect to feel very solemn and introspective. Maybe I'll go outside and sing all the verses of "How Great Thou Art."

Name withheld

Sacramento, Calif.

I plan on hosting my own New Year's bash to ring in the 21 st century.

Sarah Cassidy

Columbus, Ohio

Getting together with my extended family and going on a Caribbean cruise.

Jim Kelly

Chicago, Ill.


U.S. Catholic readers were asked: If you could celebrate the dawning of the new millennium anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

On an airplane starting in Fiji heading west for two days, crossing each time zone as the dawning of the millennium occurs each midnight.

Lydia Annunziata

Longwood, Fla.

Saint Peter's in Rome.

R.J. Lovelace, Akron, N.Y.

In the Garden of Eden--if only I could find it.

M. Dorothy Neuhofer, O.S.B.

Saint Leo, Fla.

At the seaside, at dawn, with my family and close friends.

Cindy Brauer

Irvine, Calif.

A small isolated community with my family and friends.

Name withheld

Staten Island, N.Y.

On a high mountain where I could watch the sunrise and contemplate the beauty of God's creation of the world.

Mary Kliauga, New Milford, N.J.

The Holy Land.

Mark Otteson, Saint Peter, Minn.

Wherever. I just want to experience the moment.

Joan K. Butler,

Fort Wayne, Ind.

All comments used in Feedback must be signed, but we withhold names on request. We regret that space limitations force us to condense letters and that many cannot be used at all. Our thanks to all who wrote. --The Editors

By Tom McGrath, executive editor of U.S. Catholic magazine and editor of its family life beat. He and Catherine O'Connell-Cahill are authors of the family-life newsletter At Home with Our Faith.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Claretian Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:possible ways for Catholics to celebrate the year 2000
Author:McGrath, Tom
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Abstract
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Dr. Frankenstein meets Mr. Potato Head.
Next Article:Two faiths are better than one.

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