January 1st took on a new meaning for us two years ago. I remember taking my children to Mass. It took a Herculean effort, because my husband, his brother, sister-in-law and I had been up all night with my father-in-law. He was dying.

Mass was beautiful and for some reason, the priest told us that those of us who had made the effort to come to Mass to honor Mary that day, would be blessed in a special way. I remember thinking that he was speaking to me. How did he know how hard that morning was?

He shared his own conversion story with us that morning. Recalling how he heard the words in a hymn, “Constant was the love He gave her.” Those words had changed the priest’s life. He realized that he had not been constant in giving love to Mary, the mother of our God. It was a personal and beautiful conversion story. Loving Mary brought him closer to her Son.

I returned home and a few short hours later, my darling father-in-law died in our home. We were with him as he took those last breaths. We prayed, we cried and we consoled each other. The words of that hymn came into my head, “Constant was the love He gave her.” I realized that we had been given that same opportunity Christ had. To give this dear man, “the Chief,” as we called him, constant love as he lay dying. Honoring our father (in-law) the way Christ honored His own mother.

I also saw another connection that had once escaped me. The feast was the Solemnity of Mary. The root word is solemn. We tend to think of this as serious and sad. Yet, love can be serious and sad while at the same time joyful. I witnessed this in the love my entire family showed to the Chief as he was dying. Our hearts were breaking and overflowing simultaneously.

Sorrow and joy. These two things are linked permanently in our faith. Joy at the Annunciation and birth of Our Lord, sorrow at the presentation when Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart. Sorrow at the foot of the cross and then joy on Easter Sunday at the discovery of the risen Lord! There is no real joy without sorrow or sorrow without joy. So, as we start this New Year we think back on those we have lost with sorrow and remember them with joy. We try to love and honor our parents with a constant love. We recommit ourselves to helping our students as they struggle with the realities of loss, sorrow and joy in their own lives. We ask the Blessed Mother to help us on our way and to lead us closer to her Son. God bless.