JAMES BEHRENS: Strive to live each day in the present, grateful for the past and future

Many of the Christmas cards I received contained handwritten notes lamenting the speed with which time flies. As we age, it was noted, time seems to pick up speed. Days may seem to drag but they fuel a year that seems to run non-stop on eight cylinders using premium gas.

A new year brings joys and regrets. We experience joy because get a thrill out of the new. We welcome it with parties or small celebrations the passing of one year and the birth of another. So we pop the champagne and cheer on the new.

But there are regrets as well. A passing year may have taken with it loved ones. It may have been a year of poor health, bringing with it worries of age, illness, the ravages of time on the body and soul.

Or, we may be heavy-hearted because we wonder if we have missed finding that special someone, the one with whom the heart would like to welcome a new year.

Perhaps most of us can lay claim to all of the above. After all, we are human. Time passes and life that is precious and irreplaceable slips away. We know the promise of the new, but also know the toll of what once was.

We carry the past within us -- all the joys and sorrows of the last year will still be there on January 1st.

Is it possible to reach a point where each day we live, we embrace as new? I do not think that our hearts are broad enough, wide enough, to take in the import of old and new year's on a single Eve.

We were made to live a day at a time, to savor each moment as it is given us. Life is a gift, bestowed on us in the seconds and moments that link together to make up a day.

Looking back is a common experience as a new year approaches. Nostalgia warms the heart as it evokes the past, making it come near again in a wistful, shimmering glow.

It all once was, and it was good, but had to recede to make way for today, for this year, for the new. And the new is the only gift we really have. It is ours to marvel in, to celebrate -- a living mystery for which we can and should give thanks.

Years back, I had more than my share of rocking in the new year with all the bells, whistles, revelry and noise. It was great to be in a crowd as the music blared and the floor shook with dancing.

But I moved on, and coming here to a monastery, all that stuff, of course, did not move with me. We will have a quiet New Year's Eve, and I would bet most all the monks will be sound asleep when the big ball drops in Manhattan's Time Square.

In the morning, we will rise, and, this year, celebrate something wondrous and new. Peter Damien, one of our monks, will make his solemn profession of vows to God, the abbot and this community. We will celebrate with Peter and his family. We will rejoice in a real transformation in the heart and life's direction of one man.

It is something new, something of God, a gift to us through Peter of what God wants and does with us.

I do not understand it but I believe it. I have seen it happen to me, and it is good. It puts me in the here and now, grateful for the past, grateful for this community, grateful for men like Peter who passed this way once upon a time and wanted to make it his home.

So we won't be looking back much on new year's day. We have much to do that day, making something of God's call very present and very real to us.

We listen, and God moves us forward. He is giving us someone new and alive and good. A living promise of life to come, days to unfold, a future in the works. It is what God does with us and with everybody. It makes for a very Happy New Year.

That is our wish to you, too -- a year of blessings.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.