One of my late father’s favourite prayers was, Thanks be to God. Being a farmer those words were often on his lips around harvest time as the last load of hay was pitched into the hay shed, as the last stack of corn was built in the haggart or as the last potato pit was sealed against the rain and the frost. I suppose they were an expression of gratitude to a bountiful God who each year repeats the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes on the farms and in the oceans of the planet.

Of course not all endings in this life are happy. The end of a friendship, the end of a marriage, the end of a life are often sad and sometimes bitter. Endings remind us of our frailty and of our mortality. Yet there are also many endings in life which are happy. We can all remember the joy of the end of the school term, the end of waiting for results. The rejoicing at the birth of a newly-born baby comes at the end of the mother’s pregnancy.

With God, with Jesus, endings are never final, for God and love last forever. He tells us that at death, life is changed, not ended, for those who believe in Him. As we approach the end of this year and this decade, I am trying to remember some of the things for which I have to thank God over the past year and indeed over the past decades. There are the obvious things, like the historical accommodation reached between unionists and nationalists in recent times. It’s rich in promise for a society more happy in itself, more reconciled to its differences and more accepting of the benefits of working together for the common good. Each one of us will have our own reasons for being grateful. Personally I am forever thankful that during my years working in the Irish College in Rome, it was my privilege to officiate at a huge number of weddings. It is always a special moment when a couple say to each other those marvellous words, I take you for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, all the days of my life. I like to say to them that none of us knows what the days of our life will bring. One thing, of which we can be absolutely sure, however, is that they will always bring us the unchanging love of God. It is this thought which gives me most strength and consolation as I face into the new millennium. Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history, came to reveal the Father’s love. All time belongs to him and all the ages. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He will lead us safely into the Third Millennium. Have no doubt about that.

He will bring light into our darkness, joy into our sorrow, hope into our hearts and his special peace into our world. A very happy and peaceful and blessed new year to you all and to all who are dear to you.