IT was in 46 B.C. that Emperor Julius Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year to honor the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman god of beginnings whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future.
Similarly thus, for most people, January 1 or New Year’s Day is the most decisive time to reckon about the past and at the same time weigh in what lies ahead.
But, undeniably so, unravelling the future may cause one to have an awkward combination of disturbing fear and pulsating hope.
On one hand, as traditional beliefs dictate that the turning of the year is a vulnerable moment – a changeover that should be cautiously watched lest ghosts and demons slip through the gap between 2021 and 2022 and wreak havoc – people are wont to make as much noise as possible to dispel their flustered fear.
On the other hand, for Catholics, January 1 or New Year’s Day is celebrated as the “Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.”
This Catholic dogma finds its biblical origin from the passage in the gospel of Luke. After the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Upon her arrival, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, expressed her joy at the arrival of the “mother of God”.
In 431 A.D., the Council of Ephesus affirmed that Mary was truly the Mother of God because “according to the flesh” she gave birth to Jesus, who was truly God from the first moment of his conception. Twenty years later, the Council of Chalcedon re-affirmed that the Motherhood of Mary was a truthful dogma and an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.
But, what’s the relevance of Mary to the celebration of New Year?
The answer may be found in the gospel passage for January 1, Luke 2:9 – “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Hence, like Mary who “kept and pondered” both all sorrows and joys with God in her heart, it rightly behooves to understand that, contrary to the noisy fear, the dramatic changeover of the year is a profound opportunity for us to embrace a calm and quiet HOPE, one that is grounded on God and is impervious to all anxieties and fears.
Pope Francis beautifully explains Mary’s “keeping and pondering”.
“She kept them. Mary joins her Son and keeps these things in silence. We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib, and we discover anew that we are loved: we savour the real meaning of life. To be with God is to ‘keep’ our soul; it is to ‘keep’ our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercialism, the stream of empty words and the overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting.
“She pondered them, that is to say she dwelt on them, with God, in her heart. She gave everything over to God. That is how she ‘kept’ those things. We ‘keep’ things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God. God, who keeps us in his heart, then comes to dwell in our lives,” Pope Francis exhorted.
Imbued with quiet hope and optimism, let me thus close this piece with the following Levitical blessing which is contained in the January 1 or New Year’s Day liturgical first reading:
“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!