Mary in the month of May

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Mary in the month of May

Posted: Thu, 29 Apr 2021 10:28

Mary in the month of May

As we enter this beautiful month of May, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary of Nazareth, Mother of God and Don Bosco's constant 'help'. I was delighted to receive a beautiful statue from a beloved family member called 'Maternal Bond' and it now stands on my desk—a constant reminder to me of that love of Mary so simply expressed in the gospels and our rich Christian tradition. It was designed by the sculptor, Timothy P Schmalz, and shows Mary enveloping the child Jesus in motherly love, cradling Him in her arms with her cheek gently pressed to His face as He plays with her hair. It is a picture that families will recognise as it is so ordinary, yet so special in showing the depth of family love. Although, sadly, some children in our world do not know the simplicity of this maternal love, most of us can identify with it. It is precisely this 'ordinariness' that makes Mary of Nazareth so special in the life of the Church. God chose this ordinary teenager living in an obscure and very ordinary village as the conduit to bring God into the world. The Christian God comes directly into our lives: growing in the womb of Mary, being born in Bethlehem and packing a full and generous life into 33 short years.

Schmalz's depiction of a mother and child playing together was seen in Bethlehem, on the refugee road to Egypt, and at home in Nazareth. It is a reminder to us that the theology of incarnation fits beautifully into our theology of creation. Through the Hebrew scripture, we see a God who is involved with the world—a God who delights in that creation and is happy to walk with humanity in the cool of the evening. We believe in a God who offers salvation, support, friendship and deep love—a love that is made real in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The love that Jesus experienced at home with Mary and Joseph was love that he was completely at one with. It was the love of the Holy Trinity—the love of a God who offered a relationship with humanity.

This love was made all too real in the life of Mary: a trusting love that accepted the will of God in her young life; it was the love that impelled her to go down to Judea and take care of Elizabeth. It was a joyful love that took her and her young husband to Bethlehem and accepted the hospitality, kindness and gifts of poor, local shepherds and mysterious and exotic Magi from the East, as they worshipped the servant king. It was a love that took her family to Egypt as refugees, and then to live a simple, hidden life back in their home—a love that made her search anxiously for her beloved son when he was lost in Jerusalem. It was that same love that saw the shame and embarrassment of the newly-weds at Cana—it was a love that prompted her to tell the servants, and the world, 'do whatever he tells you!' It was a love that helped her to follow her Son—a true and faithful disciple. She was able to hear the stories of love and to see the love of God expressed through healing and inclusion.

Unlike Peter and the majority of the apostles, Mary joined that faithful band, mostly made up of women, who walked the Way of the Cross and with Jesus right to the end—or so they thought. Mary, the disciple of love, stood at the bottom of the cross and saw the expression of God's love in arms outstretched in total self-giving. Mary saw the depth of God's love throughout her life and, in the rain and mud of Calvary Hill, she saw the reality of self-sacrificial love, a love that offers the complete and unconditional love of God. The reality of her 'Maternal Bond' is seen when Jesus is taken down from the cross: the lifeless body of her bruised and battered child is placed in her arms and then, into a tomb. As he lay, lifeless, in her arms, would Mary's thoughts have gone back to Bethlehem and Jesus playing with her hair, as she held him close in love?

The glory and love of Easter is seen in the peace and joy of the Upper Room—a Church of hope founded in the insecurity and fear of lockdown. Mary of Nazareth is at the heart of that initial community of love; that same Church took the words of Jesus from the cross seriously: 'behold your mother!' Mary shared the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and offers us all a charismatic leadership. As Mother, Mary continues to offer us all a bond of care, trust and understanding that is seen today in places as diverse as Walsingham, Lourdes, Fatima and Knock.

I realise I am biased, but I love the apparitions of Mary at Knock—just like Nazareth, a tiny insignificant village in the middle of nowhere. Ireland was still enduring the horrors of the Irish famine in August 1879. People in Mayo, battered by the wild Atlantic winds and suffering from starvation, were comforted by a Mary who just wanted to be with them in their pain. In this new 'Pieta', she held the suffering, starving and hurting of Knock in her arms. For me, the beauty of this apparition is that Mary said absolutely nothing: she was simply there to offer a loving, maternal presence. Pilgrims still flock to this tiny village to share devotion, to pray the Rosary and share the Eucharist. In this beautiful month of May we are invited by Mary to 'do whatever he asks you.'

The beautiful 'Maternal Bond' now sitting on my desk is a constant and valuable reminder to me of the importance of connectedness, made so much more acute during these pandemic times. I am so grateful for my family who sent me this; I am so grateful for family and friends who support and help me through difficult times. The bond between mother and child, so creatively expressed in this little sculpture, is a necessary reminder of our need for human contact. In these months ahead we are called to rebuild that trust and sense of a living community. The poet and mystic, John O'Donohue expresses this need for touch far more creatively as he writes:

May the touch of your skin
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you.

May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home.

May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth.

And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth.

May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you.

May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.

John O'Donohue, 'For the Senses'

Fr Gerry OP'Shaughnessy SDB

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