Celebrating new life in our celebration of Mary

As the end of an old year fades and the beginning of a new one dawns, we often hear people complain about the terrible year they had and turn their hope to the next one. 

This year, the complaints for 2016 have been overwhelming. From political turmoil and violent attacks to celebrity deaths, 2016 has been touted by many as the “worst year in history.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, though. Have we forgotten about 1943? By the spring of that year, 1.3 million Jews were deported and killed by the Nazis, and racial violence raged across the United States.

Or, perhaps, on a different scale, I offer the year 1919, just after the end of World War I. In 1919, history witnessed the “Red Summer” as a result of racial tensions and the resumption of Ku Klux Klan activities, the introduction of Prohibition and a decade of lawlessness and massive labor strikes across the United States. We have certainly seen worse than 2016 if we only look back to our history textbooks to remind us.

Despite the doom-and-gloom-sayers trolling our social media feeds, we as Catholics see the New Year as a celebration of life, in our celebration of Mary.

In “Marialis Cultus,” Pope Paul VI explained: “This celebration, placed on Jan. 1 … is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the holy Mother … through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life.”

In celebrating the dignity of motherhood and life, our Catholic faith reminds us also to look to both values in our secular new year.

During the New Year’s celebration at Mass, our priest reminded us in his homily of Mary’s importance as a woman and as a mother. It was no coincidence, then, that as I returned to social media to see how friends across the country had celebrated their New Year, I saw quite a few posts from recent mothers. Their posts were quite similar: while 2016 may have been a bad year internationally, it was, for them, personally, a wonderful year as they celebrated the birth of a child. How apt! The celebration of life trumps death: the exact message delivered in our commemoration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

Too often we are caught up in looking only at the negative aspect of our situation – why must we concentrate on the worst?

Instead of looking at the world with a glass-half-empty outlook, perhaps what 2017 needs for every person to do is take time each day to find joy, to look for the seeds of optimism even in the bleakest of situations. Perhaps we forget that happiness is, ultimately, a choice: we choose to be happy or not in every moment. No one but ourselves can make us find joy in certain situations. If we’re truly hoping for a better 2017 than 2016, perhaps we need to start looking at ourselves and make some inner changes.

In the beginning weeks of the New Year, our church offers us the story of the Holy Family. It is a story of love, certainly, but also perseverance. Despite the obstacles placed in their path, Mary and Joseph remain faithful in their obedience and trust in God’s plan as they prepare their son, Jesus, for his ultimate sacrifice and our redemption. By providing us with the model family, we see that, even for them, the path is never easy.

At the start of this New Year, we are offered a new beginning. Will we attempt to find joy – to find life and happiness – or will we continue to see the world as half-empty?

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org

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