Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you!
With these words, the Angel Gabriel, God’s messenger, announced God’s plan to the Virgin Mary.
This is May, and has often been referred to as the month of Mary, even though Marian feasts are celebrated all throughout the year in the liturgical calendar. Perhaps it’s the spring and the sense of new birth, perhaps it’s the feeling of the warmth of the sun after a long winter. Or, perhaps it’s the shedding of the winter garb that makes us feel more free and more capable of making plans that seems to make May a good fit for the Blessed Mother. We look to Mary as the vehicle of our regeneration allowing us to embrace God’s plan.
One is hard pressed to examine the Catholic Spirituality of a nation and not discover a dedication to the patroness or protection of the Blessed Mother. Mexico has Our Lady of Guadalupe, Poland, the Black Madonna (Częstochowa), the United States, the Immaculate Conception and a multitude of other feasts dedicated to Mary as a sign of her protection of the peoples of a nation. Recently, I celebrated at the shrine of Alter Gracias in the Dominican Republic, where she is heralded as a protector of the nation. I was privileged to go right up to the image itself and touch religious articles entrusting their recipients to the Blessed Mother. In 2006, I visited the shrine of Our Lady of Good Health, Our Lady of Valankanni in Tamil Nadu, India. Millions of visitors come to the shrine; some are even Hindi and Muslims. This site has not been approved by the Holy See, but its appeal to the sense of the holy cannot be denied.
In my history as a Catholic grammar school student, we would prepare for the May crowning. Students would bring fresh flowers and a girl was chosen by the sisters to carry the flowery crown and place it on the head of the Blessed Mother statue. After signing a few Marian hymns, we would all kneel down and pray the rosary. Many of us would look forward to this event, not only for our reverence for the BVM, but also in anticipation for the summer break, which was just around the corner.
The spiritual DNA of many Catholics contains a strong identification with Mary. Many of our non-Catholic brethren misunderstand our special relationship with the Blessed Mother. Some say we treat Mary as God, because we honor the maternal relationship that Mary had to Jesus. She was His mother and of course, He is true God and true man. “God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.” This is a quote taken from Martin Luther (Luther Works, vol. 43, p. 40). It’s obvious that her role cannot be ignored. After all, it was her response to God’s invitation, her “fiat voluntas tua” (thy will be done), her acceptance that presented Jesus Christ to the world, the mystery of the incarnation (God taking flesh).
It is interesting that Mary as mother continues to guide her children in their relationship to Jesus, even after the resurrection. Throughout the ages, apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary have occurred. St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, St. Juan Diego of Our Lady of Guadalupe are well-known shrines dedicated to the apparition of Our Lady. It’s apparent that Our Lady wishes to convey a message to her children. Often times, it’s a plea to follow her Son through prayer and obedience to Church teaching. The authenticity of the appearance is verified by the scrutiny of the Church. Mary never speaks against the Church, which is the Bride of her Son and His body on earth. The spectacular aspect of the apparitions has led Hollywood to depict the occurrence in movies offered to the general public.
The Song of Bernadette is certainly one of the more popular presentations.
2017 is also the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. In 1917, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. During the apparitions, Our Lady asked the children to pray the rosary for the conversions of sinners and the salvation of souls. Our Lady warned of the spread of world communism and atheism and predicted World War II. The last apparitions contained the “miracle of the sun,” and unexplainable solar reaction that was witnessed by over 70,000 people.
I would be among other faithful that attributed the downfall of the Soviet Union to the prayers, especially the rosary, offered at the request of the Blessed Mother. When the Berlin Wall came down, believers all across the world knew that it was in answer to prayers.
St. John Paul II, when he was pope, credited the Immaculate Heart of Mary for saving him from the assassin’s bullet. The bullet was placed in the crown of the newly created Our Lady of Fatima statue for the purpose of veneration.
On May 13 in Fatima, Pope Francis will add two new saints to the list of heavenly witnesses when he will canonize two of the three children of Fatima: Jacinta and Francisco. The third child, Lucia, lived a long life and died in 2005. This champion of faith fulfilled Our Lady’s wishes to be a promoter of the devotions to her Immaculate Heart. I am confident she is in Mother’s arms.
With the world experiencing global uncertainty through nuclear threats and uncontrollable terrorism, it is obvious that “peace” is sorely needed. True peace comes through a profound confidence in our relationship with God, and this can only come about through prayer. During the month of May, let us turn to Our Lady, who instructs her children to pray the rosary for peace and trust in her Son. She offers Him as the world’s only hope.