A New Year’s Day reflection by Fr. Jack Lynch, S.F.M., on Galatians 4.4-7 and Luke 2.16-21

The scripture texts during the Christmas season call our attention to the place of Mary in salvation history and to the testimony that she gives as a woman of great faith, the very first believer in the Incarnation. Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutiérrez reminds us “that the entry of the Son of God into the historical course of humanity is because of the Yes of a young Jewish girl called Mary.”

Today we remember Mary the mother of Jesus. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds us that “God sent his son born of a woman” and with that our God enters human history. From the very heart of human history, Jesus proclaims the love of God for all of us. The greatest blessing of our Earth came in the Incarnation, the privileged moment when the messianic hopes of Israel take flesh in Jesus and his belonging to the human family.

That message is universal. Dominican Sister Barbara Reid, New Testament professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, observes that in Galatians Paul is writing to a community of Gentile Christians. She says that Paul uses the metaphor of adopted children to assure them of their equal stance as children of God and heirs to all the divine promises. This should remind all of us of the invitation to regard all people as children of God, as sisters and brothers embraced by God’s boundless love. The Spirit not only helps us to cry out to God as our own parent but to hear the cry on the lips of our siblings throughout the world.

Yes, like Mary we are blessed and beloved of God, which should enable us like Mary to extend a blessing to all peoples. Like Mary we are to be aware of how God blesses us and, like Mary, we must treasure this blessing and ponder it in our hearts.

Believing implies a journey and an in-depth searching. Like all of us, Mary had to make her own journey and that is why she ponders in her heart what is happening and what is being said in the milieu in which she and her family and friends are living. There is also a deepening communion with the mission that Jesus is to accomplish. For each of us, faith is a process in which we also will have our ups and downs as well as periods of light and darkness. The testimony of Mary shows us how to move forward on the path to the God of our hope with patience, perseverance, and trust. Mary’s faith is a free act prompted by the power of the Spirit. It is really the collaboration of someone who believes she is in God’s hands.

As we begin a new year we must recall that faith is a process and the searching and pondering should be constant. Pope Francis in his New Year’s Message for the World Day of Peace reminds us that “mercy is the heart of our God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats all the more strongly wherever human dignity—as a reflection of the face of God in his creatures—is in play, Jesus tells us that love for others—foreigners, refugees, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies, is the yardstick by which God will judge our faith on the journey.”

We need to be sensitive and listen. A friend of mine sent me a short note the other day and told me that he and his wife are taking their kids to a cabin in the Laurentians where there is no TV or Internet so that the kids will be forced to talk to the parents. As a family they have a wonderful relationship.

My friend’s card and comment reminded me of a New Year’s experience that I encountered many years ago in a barrio (neighbourhood) in the north end of Lima, Peru. Most of the population of the barrios were young families and many had come to the capital in search of work and a better life. Many had left their places of origin, but they brought with them their customs and traditions. I was introduced to one tradition that I very much appreciate to this day. We were planning for New Year’s and my suggestion to celebrate mass at midnight went over like a lead balloon. I learned that Christmas Eve mass was held early in the evening as the custom was for the family to be home together around their nativity scene at midnight to wish each other a Merry Christmas.

I also discovered that some families had a traditional gathering for New Year’s when it was the custom to collect pieces of old clothing and make an effigy of the Old Year in preparation for the coming of the New Year. This symbolized the desire to change and live as new men and women. Before the traditional effigy burning at midnight, many families gathered at home to say goodbye to the old year. The parents would ask forgiveness of their children for the times and ways that they may have failed them in the past year, and with a promise to do their best in the coming year. The children in turn asked forgiveness for their failings as sons and daughters and as brothers and sisters.

The rite was concluded with a ritual of peace and the traditional embrace of forgiveness and love. The whole family would then go outside to join with their neighbours in the burning of the old person and the sincere desire to be better people renewed in their love for each other. Abrazos (hugs) were then exchanged among all the neighbours.

May we all overcome indifference and open our hearts to the needs of others so that we too may be agents of peace in the New Year.