The Last Word - January 2021

Welcome the new year by embracing our Catholic traditions

As a new year begins, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” watch fireworks, and make resolutions. Most of these New Year’s rituals are about reviewing the past year and the desire for changes in the coming 12 months. While these efforts can be good, they tend to be self-improvement projects. Our faith has something to offer as both a complement and an alternative. Catholic traditions around feast days provide us with the opportunity to invite God into our lives so that we might be transformed by His grace. These practices help us to participate in God’s divine life, both in the sacraments and in our homes.

I distinctly remember the first time I received the St. Blaise blessing of the throat (February 3). As a 12-year-old, I was both fascinated and apprehensive. The priest placed the two unlit candles around my neck and said the short prayer. In that moment, I had tangible experience of God’s healing and protective presence.

We, as Catholics, sometimes shy away from our unique traditions in an effort to fit in with how others live. Yet, I believe these special ways of living our faith can have a profound impact on us, as the St. Blaise blessing had on me. These devotions and celebrations provide times for our families to invite God into our daily lives. Outside of pandemic times, these special traditions are beautiful opportunities to invite friends and neighbors to special meals and celebrations of our faith.

I invite you to incorporate some Catholic traditions in the coming year. Here are two suggestions for the upcoming days:

January 6 - Epiphany is a chance to celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah with the coming of the Magi. One special tradition is the use of blessed chalk to bless our homes for the year. We are asking God to encounter us in our daily lives by placing the year and the initials of the three Magi with crosses in between above the doors of your home. This year, the blessing looks like this 20+C+M+B+21. Epiphany is also a great day to celebrate with a King cake

February 2 - The Presentation of the Lord recalls Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated to God. The feast celebrates the light of Jesus entering more deeply into the world. In the Church, it is a day that candles are blessed. What a perfect chance to light some candles at home and recall the light of Christ in your life. Crepes are a traditional food for celebrating the Feast of the Presentation in France.

For many ideas on how to celebrate the faith in everyday life, especially with children, visit To go more in depth, The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney is a great resource.

Most importantly, start simple and find ways to live regularly the richness of the faith both at church and in your home.

Fr. John D. Dickinson is pastor of St. John Paul II Parish, with churches in Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, and Scarborough, and he is judicial vicar for the Diocese of Portland.