Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Month of May

Father John J. Lombardi

One of my favorite statues of Jesus and Mary is right where I work, at Mary's Mountain Grotto, in the little chapel on the hill by the cave. It is called Our Lady Help of Christians, which depicts Mary in regal fashion, standing tall, slender and poised, holding the Child Jesus ever so suave and handsome. Both Mary and Jesus have crowns on their heads, signaling the royalty they have by nature and that we are all called to as disciples. The statue is pure gleaming-white marble-- and subtle beauty. (See Rev. 12: 1 describing a woman clothed with the Sun and crown on her head).

One of my favorite writings on Mary is Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the air We Breathe," which includes the lines, speaking of Mary: "Be thou then, O thou dear, Mother my atmosphere" Even Hopkins' title evokes a love and devotion to a great Creature of God, Mary the Mother of Jesus (see Jn. 19:28 where she is described as a "mother").

One of my favorite quotes of Mary is by St Irenaeus, early Church father who said: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was undone by Mary's obedience." And another favorite quote is often called the best spiritual advice ever given-by Mary to Christ's attendants: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn. 2:5) which, incidentally-or not!-calls for the miracle of wine at Cana.

One of my favorite paintings of Mary is called Our Lady of Vladimir, a famous thousand-year-old icon, which I saw in Russia one time. Mary is depicted in a dark veil holding a tender small child Jesus, both staring at us the viewers (or disciples), with gold background, holding hands and cheek-to-cheek in an entrancing yet simple-one-dimensional beauty. Thing is: when I saw it in the museum, unlike any other museum experience ever, anywhere, there was a bouquet of flowers at the base of the icon! This was not, then, really, a museum piece but a living icon evoking devotion. The Russian Soul's desire for Jesus and His Great Mother would not be dismayed or downplayed.

May is Mary's Month and we think of her like the beautiful Maryland Spring all around us. She herself was all around Jesus: He was formed in her womb by the Holy Spirit and took flesh of her (Lk. 1:34ff). Therefore she is called The Mother of God. However, contrary to popular belief, Catholics (and others-including more and more Protestants) do not worship Mary (that would be against the First Commandment--idolatry). Rather we venerate her. Kinda' like honoring heroic and inspired others-whether baseball players or Hollywood starlets or (hopefully) our own mom and dad, we thank God for the person He has given us. So we give them our special affection and, sometimes, adulation if appropriate (think of adoring fans of rock stars lighting and holding up lighters and kids seeking professional athletes. So; the flowers in Russia to Mary). We may perhaps have a picture of a favorite person in our home or wallet; or recall at special times of the year their affect on us or honor them at graduations or weddings. We thereby "venerate" them -which means to "respect deeply"--with loving praise and birthday cakes, honors and parties or sending flowers-- all because we are grateful. Why not, then, the same and more to the Mother of God?

So, in this month of Spring and Mary, following are some themes and meditations' on Mary… Mary as "spiritual adventurer": Mary was a Jew, beautiful and youthful (Lk. 1:26-7). Those attributes may have been "three strikes against her" in that culture and time, so, let's remember: she was not a plastic statue saint but, rather, a really gritty-girl-lady who allowed God to lead her in life. And despite "troubles"-she "did not know man" in becoming pregnant; read her human reaction to being called to be the Mother of God; imagine her sorrow at the foot of the Cross at seeing her Son die: all this shows us a rugged-beautiful-saintly-lady who trusted in God and despite all trials and tribulations; abandoned and surrendered to God's mysterious Will; and she was ever-faithful Aren't those attributes we need to both adulate and imitate today?

Family Spirituality: Mary was a Jew, and as a Jewish girl she was part of a family, a tribe. God wants to save us and He wants us to be in a family-like Mary was in a Jewish family and brought Jesus up. Although we each must choose God and be saved individually, community and family are all important. Mary shows us that she was part of a family, which we call The Holy Family--, Jesus Mary and Joseph -and The Virgin Mary can help our families in our struggles since she knew many struggles herself. Apparently this Family was together thirty years until Jesus' public ministry. Mary was married and thereby knew martial love, joys and sorrows. She was a Mother: and knows child-raising and ultimately experienced great sorrow at the Death of her only Son. So: try to pray to the Holy Family and Mary-knowing they are not plastic saints or "above it all" but experienced helpers for our plights on earth.

Mary is Real: she was only a teenager, and single, and was frankly troubled by the angel telling her she would be the Mother of God (Lk. 1:29). The Virgin Mary is not an ethereally-enlivened statue of otherworldliness or pre-programmed puppet whom is mechanical and in-human, and even though we may be enamored and inspired by her-she actually had to choose God's Will and did-thank God, precisely to show us we all will be in difficult situations and, with God's Grace, we can choose what is good and right and just..

Mary and Sexuality: In today's overly sensualized world-especially of young girls (think of sex trafficking not only in Thailand but also the internet of America and elsewhere) -this gritty-godly gal can help us all to respect feminine life and beauty, to honor it without manipulating it Mary shows the balancing of two difficult attributes: beauty and blessedness. Part of the tradition of Mary implies that the inner beauty radiates into the outer body. Obviously not everyone is "beautiful" in a classic-model-statuesque sense. While much of our culture emphasizes external beauty the Virgin Mary is an example that, virtuous internal beauty is more important, and other types of beauty secondary.

Queen of Contemplatives: Twice in Luke's Gospel we read "She kept all these things in heart" (Lk. 2:19, 51) symbolizing a great prayerfulness of this Lady. She is often depicted (esp. in the Annunciation scene) with hands folded over her chest, leaning over a Bible, and with eyes closed-all these queues signaling interiority, meditative love, soul-power- which are challenged by a busy-body materialistic world today. So, like Mary get: off the treadmill and internalize God's Word and Love within!

First Disciple-She was the first to hear the Word of God-in Jesus her Son. Just imagine: being in the home of Nazareth with Mary, along with St Joseph, in their home at Nazareth, and the Baby Jesus preaching to them! So, Mary is traditionally seen as first to hear Christ's Word and she was the last to Hear Jesus: "Woman behold thy son" (Jn. 19:26). symbolizing that we are all children of: Mary, as she was at the foot of the Cross Mary leads us to Jesus-- she does detract from Him. She is a disciple of the Divine and our friend!

WWJD-What Would Jesus Do? Just think: If Jesus honored His Mother, then shouldn't we? That is, honor her the right way-venerate her, not worship her. Obviously Jesus respected the Commandment "Honor thy father and mother" and thereby honored His mom, so, why not us? You may honor the Virgin Mary by thanking God for His creation, for her example of discipleship and for her faithfulness oil the Very End-following Jesus to the Cross

The Rosary: This is a prayer-form, almost a thousand years old, which enables the prayer-er to learn about and enter into the twenty mysteries of depict Jesus' life-from His Birth to Preaching the Good News, Miracle of Wine at Cana to His Death. The Rosary helps people to pray together; mystically chant in religious rhythm ; and has been a useful weapon against Culture of Death especially abortion. Whenever I go to minister at a local drug treatment center I end each session by inviting any client to a "deliverance prayer" and welcome them to receive a rosary. Virtually everyone -wants one. They know it is special, a sacred item, even though they may not understand all its prayers or history. The Rosary has a cross on it and reminds us of Jesus' Divine sacrificial love and also Mary's closeness to Him.

Highest title of Mary: Of all the descriptions and titles of Mary-such as Star of the Sea, Vessel of Purity, New Ark of the Covenant, Our Lady most Beautiful, the most eminent and important is that of Theotokos-Mother of God. At the Council of Ephesus, 431, this title was given by St Cyril of Alexandria and emphasizes Jesus as Divine as much as it denotes that Mary is the Mother of Him according to the flesh. We have a heavenly mother who helps us and she is most beautiful and spiritual: she leads us to Jesus!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi