Many of us have experienced the special treat of visits to the Mark Twain House here in Hartford. Each visit rewards us with new insights to our history and ourselves. Mark Twain once wrote, in 1909, to his friend J. Pierpont Morgan, the famed banker, concerning the original manuscript of Pudd’nhead Wilson, "One of my high ambitions is gratified – which was to have something of mine placed elbow to elbow with that august company which you have gathered together to remain indestructible in a perishable world."
And so the manuscript was placed in the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City.
The Morgan Library is a national landmark and a treasure house. The West Room, the Morgan study, bespeaks a giant of banking and finance, the quintessence of material power and rugged individualism. With its imposing ceiling of carved wood, its immense fireplace, and oversized desk of massive wood, it provided hospitality for presidents, kings, cabinet members, scholars, poets, and international bankers. It was in that room that the meeting took place to work out the mutual assistance pact to stem the financial panic of 1907.
McKim, Mead and White, the noted architectural firm, drew up the designs for the Library. In the process they wrote to H. Siddons Mowbray of the American Academy of Rome, asking him to provide art works for the Library. In doing so they issued the instruction, "The decorations of a library should whisper and not shout." The results were, and I counted them on one occasion, seven paintings and sculptures on the walls of the West Room, all dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mary is the subject of more art and music than any other woman in the history of civilization. She opens the year with New Year’s Day, the Octave of Christmas, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. She is the model for all of us as she reflects on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, pondering them and treasuring them in her heart, whispering perhaps, but not shouting. I wonder what Mary thought of developments in the Morgan Library.
After all the noise of New Year’s Eve, for some, the start of a new year provides an opportunity to reflect on the past, to treasure the present and to ponder the future.
The ancient Persian poet wrote, "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on; nor all your piety nor wit can lure it back, to cancel half a line." Those sentiments are rather bleak. While there is much to lament about the past, there is also much to celebrate. The British poet laureate, John Masefield, titled his autobiography, So Long to Learn. But we do learn, from both the positive and the negative. In the whispers of our hearts we reflect not just on successes and failures, but also on how we have begun again. In pondering our need for forgiveness, we understand how fitting it is for us to forgive others. In extending that forgiveness we discover new depths in ourselves, new possibilities for relating in the future.
As one year moves into the next, some people might say that existence is a strong bargain. Life owes us little, we owe it everything. Our outlook is much more positive, much more personal. We owe God everything, Who created us out of love and calls us to love Him in return and consequently our sisters and brothers as ourselves.
We are either moving forward or moving backward in the spiritual life. The beginning of a new year is an opportune time to review our blind spots, shadows, failings, mistakes, faults, sins. God’s grace and the sacraments, and our work, sacrifice, prayer, and fasting make possible fresh starts and new chances.
I take this opportunity to thank you for all your kindness, generosity, and graciousness at Christmas and throughout the past year. Your works of goodness are effective signs of God’s love, the value that truly remains indestructible in a perishable world.
Happy New Year!