DEC. 31, 2011 and JAN. 1, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
This is the first day of the New Year; January the first. The Romans named the first month of the year Januarius after Janus, the two-headed god of the crossroads who faced both forward and back. The beginning of the new year was believed to be an auspicious time by the ancients. In Rome the day was observed as a day of good-humor and good-fellowship. All grudges and hard feelings were to be forgotten. It was time of new beginnings.
We moderns continue to regard this day as the marking of a new time, a new beginning. Like the ancients we Christians continue to make the first day of the year a special observance, but we make a fresh start today by contemplating Mary the mother of God. Newspapers and television specials review the 10 most important events of the past year and make their predictions about the events to come. On New Year’s Day we Christians seek out the Mother of God who ponders the mysteries of the Word-made-Flesh.
Cardinal John Henry Newman tells us, “God’s presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us, but afterwards, when we look back upon what is gone and over.” It is a good thing, then, to sit with Mary for a while on this New Year’s Day. If we want to make sense of the year past we can be in no better company than with her who turned everything over in her heart.
A good place to begin is to look at Mary and follow her gaze. Where is she looking? She looks at Jesus. Mary is always looking at Jesus. She gazes with wonder at his infant face; she searches his eyes for an answer to his disappearance for three days in Jerusalem; she looks with petition into his eyes as she asks for the favor of wine for her young married friends at Cana; she looks toward him with mute suffering as Jesus hangs up the Cross; she smiles with joy as she sees his Spirit reflected in the faces of his joyful followers on Pentecost. Mary is always looking at Jesus. And she is always telling us to look at Jesus.
What do we see when we look at him? Do we see, as Karl Rahner says, “(The) God who has a human heart; (the God who) risked the adventure of a human heart…”? When we look at Jesus do we see with the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero “the God who is marching with us; the builder of a reign of Justice of love, and of peace, (who) is already in our midst”?
A second question we can ask is: What does Mary do with what she sees? Mary takes all that she sees and hears to her heart. Mary turns her gaze inward to conversation with God. Things don’t just happen to her. She takes nothing for granted. Mary takes all her experiences to prayer. And she tells us to do the same if we want to learn from the past year’s seasons of joy and sorrow. She tells us to look for the patterns of the past year, indeed to see the year a marvelous cloth spread out on a loom. Look, she says, see the patterns of God’s underlying strength and patience woven into your days. See the surprising bursts of colors when together you and the Spirit of Jesus cooperated to make something beautiful for God. Look how God’s mighty, loving hand strengthened when you thought that your life was unraveling. Look to these things and you will find your direction for the coming year, Mary tells us.
Sisters and brothers, we have a woman to thank for this fresh start and new beginning not just of the year but all human history. We do not offer sweet cakes and grain to the god of the crossroads. We look instead at young woman who looked with her heart and said yes to God, and a Child who would change her life and our forever. May we find a time to be still this day to contemplate the God who blesses and keeps, who is gracious, and who lets the radiance of his face shine on us all. May we come to know this year ever more and more the Child whose name is simply “God saves.” Jesus.