We take for granted that the new year starts on Jan. 1. However, that is a completely arbitrary choice. The old Roman calendar actually started the year on the first of March. This was the month that the Roman armies broke camp from their winter barracks and went out on campaign. That is also why (in case you ever wondered), September, October, November, and December all use the Latin names for the numbers 7, 8, 9, and 10—they were originally counted from March instead of January. When Julius Caesar changed the calendar and added the leap day every four years, he also made Jan. 1 the start of the civil calendar. January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doorways and hence passages and new beginnings.
Most Catholics don’t seem to know that Jan. 1 is also a Holy Day of Obligation dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. This ancient title of Mary was the source of great controversy. An early Patriarch named Nestorius refused to call Mary the “mother of God” because God always has been; He was never born. He would only call Mary the “mother of Jesus.” But others pointed out that the Jesus who was born of Mary was also God. By being the mother of Jesus, Mary is also the mother of God. The church fathers gathered in A.D. 431 in the city of Ephesus (now in Turkey). They condemned Nestorius and officially approved the title of Mary as the Mother of God.
I think it is most appropriate that we entrust our new year to Mary. Motherhood is about cherishing and nurturing tiny, fragile things and helping them to grow big and strong. A mother receives from her husband one tiny sperm (technically millions, but only one makes it) and nine months later gives him back an eight or nine-pound baby. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is!
God trusted Mary with the gift of His own Son, and she nurtured Him and helped Him grow to be our Lord and Savior. God was so pleased with Mary’s work that He then made her the mother of the Church and the mother of every Christian. Just before Advent, I prayed with a new book by Fr. Boniface Hicks, The Fruit of Her Womb. This book invites us all to see ourselves as babies in the womb of Mary. As an unborn baby can count on being fed, cared for, and protected, so we too can count on Mary to provide for our spiritual needs. As a child is born into this world when it is ready, we are being formed by Mary to be “born” into Eternal Life. And we are not alone. Jesus is like our twin in the womb, accompanying us. Let us not be afraid to entrust ourselves, and the beginnings of 2024, to she who is the Mother of God and our mother, too.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Joel Sember