There is little doubt of the unique place that our Blessed Mother occupies in the hearts and minds of Catholics. I have often said that one would find it extremely difficult to enter a church, chapel, Catholic school or a Catholic institution and not be confronted with a statue, painting, mural or icon of Mary.
Her total response to the invitation by God to be the mother of his Son gave to us the Incarnation, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” From the youngest moments of our spiritual lives, Mary was present. After the Sign of the Cross, the very first prayer that many of us uttered was the Hail Mary. Although Catholics are often accused of worshipping Mary, we know the difference between worshipping God and the veneration of Mary and the saints. It is a common human dimensional experience just as our mothers occupy a special place in our lives and hearts. It makes sense that Jesus’ mother would occupy a special place in his life and the life of his Church.
Although others have tried to claim the month of May for celebrations, May Day, Law Day, Cinco de Mayo, Decoration Day, etc., May belongs to Mary because it is also the celebration of Mother’s Day. Mary is the Mother of Mothers. Mother’s Day gives us an opportunity to express our gratitude for those who carried us in their wombs and nurtured us in life. Mary the Mother of Jesus bore him in her womb, and nurtured and protected him in his early formative years. If Jesus is our brother because God is our Father, then Mary, his mother, is our mother and we are her children. She deserves our gratitude.
As a boy growing up in a parish — St. Michael the Archangel, Chicago — that highlighted Mary’s presence in the church, I often meditated on the stained-glass window depicting Pentecost. The window was 64 feet high and 22 feet wide. Mary was seated on a throne in the middle with the Apostles flanking her on each side. The Holy Spirit was above her head dispensing the tongues of flame over each of their heads. Even before the Second Vatican Council, the presentation of Mary in this stain glass was announcing her as Mary Mother of the Church with the mission to enflame the world with her Son’s life.
Our Catholic grammar school was like many neighborhood schools and had May crowning. A young girl after the procession and the singing of, “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother,” would place a crown on the Blessed Mary’s head. We were encouraged to bring tributes to Mary all throughout May. My sister and I would visit our Aunt Lizzie’s (Elizabeth Jachim) floral shop on the way to school. Aunt Lizzie was not really a blood relative but all the friends of my mother and father were referred to as aunts and uncles. It was a matter of respect and demonstrated the sense of family that extended beyond the natural bounds. She was always accommodating, working on an anniversary or a funeral order, and she would give us the leftover fresh flowers, which we took to school and presented to the sisters (our teachers) for the enthroned statue of Mary. Being a Polish community, we had an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa (the Black Madonna). I look forward to leading a pilgrimage in October to Poland and visiting the shrine, asking Our Lady’s protection over the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In almost every assignment as a student, priest and bishop, I have had the privilege of the influence of Mary’s presence. I studied at St. Mary of the Lake and was later a teaching professor there. I was assigned to the Casa Santa Maria in Rome (the House of Holy Mary). I was pastor of St. Ignatius, Chicago, which had the Chapel of Mary of the Angels, which I restored. As bishop of La Crosse, I assisted in the dedication of the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine. Now in Milwaukee, I have the privilege of having the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians (Holy Hill). In summer 2021, we dedicated a beautiful bronze statue of Mary Mother of the Church, patroness of the pastoral center. This summer, we will enshrine the luminous mysteries created by Fr. Anthony Brankin at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, located on 68th Street. There will be the five bas-reliefs of the mysteries with an additional depiction of St. John Paul presenting the luminous mysteries to our Blessed Mother and St. Dominic.
There is something beautiful about spring. It is not too hot or too cold — usually just the perfect weather to visit Mother. A ride up to Champion (in the Diocese of Green Bay) situates you in the only place of a recognized apparition of the Blessed Mother in the continental United States, or you can take a short trip to Holy Hill, which is one of the most beautiful natural sites in Wisconsin, or perhaps a longer jaunt to La Crosse — the religious depictions there are incredible (the chapel has six side-altar artistic presentations of saints which are inspiring).
Do not forget your mother on Mother’s Day. If she is alive, visit or call her; if she is deceased, remember her in your prayers. In May, do not forget the Blessed Mother prayers — especially the Rosary — would be appropriate. Imagine how pleased Jesus will be with your prayerful tributes to his and our Blessed Mother. May belongs to Mary.