Merry Christmas! I hope that you and your families had a wonderful Christmas.

 We all know that in our secular society, Christmas ends on the day after Christmas. But for us, Christmas is a season of light and joy that continues on through the Epiphany and ends with our celebration of the Baptism of our Lord on Jan. 11.

 So I am praying that we can maintain the spirit of joy and peace we feel at Christmas and that we will continue to grow in our realization of the personal love that God shows to each one of us in the gift of Jesus Christ. 

 At this time of year, we naturally look back and look ahead — back to the year that is almost ended and ahead to the year to come.

 In the year to come, of course, we have two important themes to focus on — consecrated life and the family.

 Pope Francis has declared this the Year of Consecrated Life. In his message for the start of this year, Pope Francis urged our consecrated sisters and brothers — “wake up the world, illuminate it with your prophetic and countercultural witness!”

 Here in the archdiocese, we have already begun praying and reflecting on the beautiful witness of men and women religious and how to encourage more men and women to follow this special path of discipleship.

Earlier this month, the Vatican issued a report on the women religious in the United States and expressed “profound gratitude … for the dedicated and selfless service of women religious in all the essential areas of the life of the Church and society.”

I know we all share that gratitude for the service and witness of both men and women religious. The whole Church draws inspiration from their compassion and care for the poor and the sick, their work for social justice, and their dedication to the vocations of teaching and spiritual formation. 

The other theme for this year is the family.

This past year, the pope hosted an “Extraordinary” Synod of Bishops on the Family in order to prepare for the “Ordinary” Synod on the Family that will be held next October.

As some of you may know, my brother bishops have appointed me to be a delegate to next year’s synod and also to the World Meeting of Families that will precede the synod in September in Philadelphia.  

The future of the family is crucial to our Holy Father. In fact, it’s so important to him that he is making a special trip to the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families.

The pope recently started a new series of weekly teachings on the family that will extend throughout the coming year.

In his first talk, he reminded us that Jesus chose to come into the world as part of a family.  “The Incarnation of the Son of God opens a new beginning in the universal history of man and woman,” he said. “And this new beginning happens within a family, in Nazareth.  Jesus was born in a family. He could have come in a spectacular way, or as a warrior, an emperor. … No, no: he is born in a family. … God chose to come into the world in a human family.”

This is the beautiful truth that we want to reflect on in the year ahead, beginning this Sunday, when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

One of my personal resolutions for the coming year is to reflect with you more about the joys and challenges of our Christian life.

Many of you have asked me to offer some practical guidance on how you can deepen your friendship with God. So I am going to try to respond to that by talking more in these columns about how we can live our Christian lives with joy and confidence.

So let’s pray for each other this week. And let’s pray that for all of us 2015 will be a year of new discovery and new dedication.

With the help of our Blessed Mother Mary, may we discover once more how beautiful it is to be loved by God. And may she help us to deepen our friendship with God and our dedication to following Jesus Christ.

I wish all of you and your families a blessed New Year!