January 1, 2014
New Year’s Day is the most universally celebrated public holiday throughout the world. Across time zones and cultural divides, notwithstanding ideological and religious differences, people join together in welcoming the New Year. At the stroke of midnight, fireworks go off; noisemakers raise their din; and, revelers raise their glasses to wish each other good fortune and happiness.
Starting a new calendar on the first of January is more than marking off the passing of another year. It is an act of hope. We leave behind the conflicts and confusion, mistakes and mishaps of the past. We have a fresh start. Each new year is an opportunity to get right what we got wrong the previous year. It is a challenge to continue to build on the good that we have already accomplished.
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, there are horns, cheers, shouts and fireworks. Sometime in the distant past, people actually believed that noise would chase away the evil spirits, who shun such a din. Today, we make those loud noises, not naively to scare off Satan and his minions, but enthusiastically to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Ps 98:4), because we can begin again.
From Times Square to Tokyo, from Bangkok to Bermuda, people greet the New Year, singing Robert Burns’ famous classic
Auld Lang Syne (loosely translated,
Times Gone By). The nostalgic words of this Scottish ballad do more than bid farewell to the past. The song’s rhetorical question “
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind” is meant to be answered with a resounding “No.” The question is a graceful reminder to cherish the good friendships and relationships of the past. It is a reminder that we live in communion with others and that communion is deepened by remembering and treasuring the people in our lives.
How appropriate that the liturgy of the Church consecrates New Year’s Day to the Mother of God. In his Infancy narrative, St. Luke twice tells us that Mary kept remembering what God was doing in her life. In his account of the presentation of the 40 day old infant Jesus in the Temple, St. Luke says, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19). Again, when he recounts the finding of the twelve year old Jesus in the Temple after a three day search, St. Luke recalls that “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). This detail of Mary’s keeping all things in her heart is of great significance.
Mary is the one who remembers. She is our perfect model for the New Year. As a woman of faith, Mary treasures God’s gifts to her. She reflects. She meditates. She tries to understand the deeper meaning of the people and events of her life. Most especially, she looks to understand Jesus, who is God’s gift of love to her in a special way. In fact, “no one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary” (Blessed John Paul II,
Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11).
Mary did not always understand. But, trusting in God’s word to her, she believed (cf. Lk 1:45). Her faith led her to ponder the mystery of
God’s Son becoming
her son. At the Annunciation as well as at Jesus’ birth, Mary was not told all about God’s plan for Jesus. She had to grow in faith. She had to mature in trust. She had to learn to hope beyond appearances.
We do not always understand God’s ways with us. At times, we are confused. We question why God allows evil to touch us, disease to sap our bodies of strength or misfortune to rob us of our security. At times, we are astonished. We see the depth of God’s love in blessing us with family and friends, with faith and grace in his only-begotten Son.
At the beginning of the New Year, Mary teaches us to live the days and months ahead by turning our gaze from ourselves to Christ. Faith means treasuring and remembering at all times the bond of friendship that God has established in Jesus between himself and us. In so doing, we deepen our communion with him; we enter into a more loving relationship with others; and, we stay on the way that leads to peace for the New Year.