Anniversaries, it has certainly been a year of them! Some people go to great lengths to celebrate an anniversary, while others let them slip by without fanfare. Why are they important?
The primary reason is 'to remember the marvels the Lord has done'; a refrain that occurs multiple times in the bible. Once we do that, thanksgiving often follows naturally. Anniversaries also help younger generations connect to events that they did not personally witness, and give them context that is helpful in interpreting the present. As a source of unity, anniversaries are formidable. To take part in an anniversary people will travel long distances joyfully, and look forward to re-connecting with people they haven't seen in ages. Many times an anniversary celebration also brings healing and restoration to fragile and damaged relationships. For an anniversary people will often dig back into the past and find photographs and letters and souvenirs and share them, adding new layers of nuance and understanding to the original event.
Real examples will help.
Recently we've been going through a series of centenary celebrations of World War 1 events. Old battlefields have been rediscovered, new monuments have been erected, photographs long hidden in attic suitcases have come to light and are now touring the globe. Long accepted narratives are being corrected as new information comes to light from journals, and archaeological research. Deeper levels of reconciliation and mutual respect are emerging between sides who faced each other on the battlefield. But all these good things wouldn't be happening without those in the community who keep the stories alive and who prevail upon governments to help with the planning and funding of the celebrations.
Anniversaries of high school graduation are unique. Curiosity is often the main draw card – wanting to know what happened to so and so. But as an opportunity to make peace with the past, and to forgive and be forgiven for hurtful school yard episodes, and to have a good laugh over anecdotes from that era, they are brilliant.
Wedding anniversaries are a major time for thanksgiving and celebration for spouses and their children and grandchildren. They are an opportunity to reconnect with extended family and to re-tell stories that wouldn't get re-told without that catalyst.
Parish anniversaries of start date or church building date are opportunities to remember and honour the parish pioneers and all of those whose holy lives have had a part to play in handing on the faith to the youngest generations. From remembering heroes like these we are inspired to live worthily in their footsteps – and to not take their sacrifices of time, talent and finances for granted. With the increased number of social events to make the anniversary, parish values are shared and strengthened, as are the relationships between members past and present.
Pope Francis said, 'Come and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal with me in Rome this Pentecost' and tens of thousands responded from over 120 countries and many faith traditions. There was celebration; there were stories of God's action in our world passed onto the younger generations; there was; there was a major impetus to greater unity and mutual co-operation, there was time to ponder where grace had been stewarded well and where it had been stewarded poorly. This gathering together to give thanks also transformed many of the weary back into warriors again, and the exchanges of ideas and stories lit new vision and hope in the hearts of many.
The centenary of the apparitions of the Mother of Jesus at Fatima have been a reminder that God really does know what is going on in our world, and that He has plans to fix things if only we would co-operate and do as He asks (prayer, rosary, penance in reparation for sin, sacrifices in intercession for conversions, Eucharistic adoration). Many of the post Vatican II generations got to hear these stories of grace for the first time, and to go on pilgrimage to see where it all happened. Only God knows just how worse our world would have been today but for that simple prayer recommended by Mary, 'O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, bring all souls to heaven especially those most in need of Your mercy. Amen.'
We've also commemorated the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation in various ways. For some it has been an impetus to dig deeper into the history of what happened, and why it happened. For others it has been a time to commit (or recommit) to working towards full Christian unity. Reflecting upon the positives and negatives to come out of the Reformation has been good for us. The times it has inspired of mutual forgiveness and healing of memories have been much needed.
Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
Vive le anniversaire!!
Thank You God for all you have done through these anniversaries, for all You are doing through them, and for all You are going to do through them. Amen.