Reflect on simple things in new year to find joy

By Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher, Clarion Herald

As the new year rings in, we turn our thoughts to what it will bring. Will 2019 be different from 2018 or will it bring more of the same? 

The problem with that kind of questioning is the lack of agency involved. We, as individuals, make change, not the year itself. We start off with resolutions for change, and it’s up to us to make them happen.

Is it any wonder, then, that for Catholics, our new year begins each year with the Epiphany? Epiphany means revelation. As the Christmas season comes to a close, we celebrate the three revelations of Jesus as the son of God to the world: the visit of the three magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism and the wedding at Cana. We begin each new year with a reminder of Jesus as a source of renewal, or, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “the dawning of the new light, the true sun of history.”

To truly make change in 2019, we might take a cue from the magi. Traveling from their homes to follow a prophecy, they ignored their earthly attachments – much like Jesus’ apostles – to follow and worship the mystery of God. 

As Pope Francis said in his homily on the Epiphany, the magi leave Jesus and travel by a different route to avoid passing Herod. “In order to find Jesus,” Pope Francis says, “we also need to take a different route, to follow a different path, his path, the path of humble love. And we have to persevere.”

This year, as we reflect on 2018 and the dawn of 2019, can we look beyond the ties that we have to the world? Can we be as humble as the magi in our efforts to follow Jesus?

I recently re-read “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, which narrates the everyday lives of residents in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners during 1901-13. The play emphasizes the significance of everyday pleasures, of deriving joy from the small moments in everyday life. 

Of course, it’s easy to say that life was simpler then, reflecting on stories of community and neighborhood growth told by our grandparents and great-grandparents. 

And yet, each year we are reminded of the poverty of Bethlehem, of the rudeness of the manger where Mary gave birth to the son of God. Each year we are invited to recall the simplicity and innocence that our faith requires.

This focus on simplicity, on celebrating the present and the joy of individual moments, is perhaps one way to return to our humble path. In a world that values the best and the greatest, that puts wants and desires over basic needs, perhaps the change that 2019 ushers in involves a return to the roads less traveled.

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

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