One of my jobs for about the last 30 years has been teaching seminarians how to preach (homiletics).
I will never forget a story a seminarian told one day in class during the practice homily he preached. Before entering the seminary, this young man had served in the Marine Corps. While he was deployed in Iraq, his mother mailed him a package containing, among other things, 120 brown scapulars — the scapular that honors Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The young man distributed the scapulars among his fellow Marines. But in his unit, there was one massive, kind of scary, standoffish Marine. And the young man wondered if he should chance offering a scapular to him. But then, thinking better of it, he plucked up his courage and gave him one. The scary Marine stared back at him with a steely glare … and then he ripped open his flak jacket.
The Marine was wearing seven brown scapulars.
The young man was flabbergasted. “What?” said the bruiser Marine. “Mary’s a mom. She’ll think it’s cute.”
Taking Mary into our own
The month of May traditionally in the Church is a time of special devotion to Mary, the mother of God. Why May? Maybe one reason is because it was around this time of year that the Beloved Disciple carried out what Christ commanded him from the cross: “Behold your Mother” (John 19:27). The Scripture goes on to say, “From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his own.”
The common interpretation of that phrase is simply that the Beloved Disciple took Mary home to live with him. However, a difficulty exists in that nowhere in ancient Greek literature is that particular phrase employed to denote “taking someone into their house.” Rather, much, much more is implied. John the Evangelist appropriates this expression for an express theological purpose.
To take Mary into our own, into our care, is to involve the mother of God with everything that pertains to our relationship with God. Every beloved disciple beholds our mother by receiving the mother of God into those things that are at the very heart of what it means to be a believer: into our worship; our sacrifices; our prayer and penances; our maturity in faith; our reading of the Bible; our struggles, and suffering, and sorrows; our mission as witnesses to the Gospel; our desires and longing; our trials, temptations, and desolation; our efforts at growth in holiness.
The awesome thing about the seminarian’s story is that, even though the massive Marine was a man of muscle, valor, and might, he was someone all the same convinced that he still needed Mary. For him, Our Lady had to be close — at the core of what life is all about. And that’s the conviction May Marian devotion will generate in us. Because life is challenging.
Rendering the common air sweet
There is a powerful testimony given by the author Oscar Wilde — who converted to Catholicism on his deathbed — in the memoir he composed while in prison. In his book “De Profundis,” Wilde wrote:
“I remember talking once on this subject [that the secret of life is suffering] to one of the most beautiful personalities I have ever known: a woman, whose sympathy and noble kindness to me, both before and since the tragedy of my imprisonment, have been beyond power and description; one who has really assisted me, though she does not know it, to bear the burden of my troubles more than anyone else in the whole world has, and all through the mere fact of her existence, through her being what she is — partly an ideal and partly an influence: a suggestion of what one might become as well as a real help towards becoming it; a soul that renders the common air sweet, and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and natural as sunlight or the sea: one for whom Beauty and Sorrow walk hand in hand, and have the same message.”
The month of May is the time to put before us, in a very intentional manner, one of the most beautiful personalities we have ever known — a woman whose sympathy and noble kindness are beyond description.
Who of us hasn’t at times experienced feelings of “imprisonment” — because of anxiety, or loneliness, or addiction, or sin, or oppressing problems, or a dozen other agonizing things? Who of us doesn’t yearn for someone to really assist us, to bear the burden of our troubles more than anyone else in the whole world has … and all through the mere fact of her existence, through her being who she is — the mother of God? Who would turn down the chance to be accompanied by “one for whom Beauty and Sorrow walk hand in hand?” May is the month to make this happen.
Loving communion with Mary
St. John Henry Newman gives us encouragement to get us launched: “What shall give you patience and endurance when you are wearied out with the length of the conflict with evil, with the strain upon your mind, with your forlorn and cheerless condition, but a loving communion with Mary! She will comfort you in your discouragements, solace you in your fatigues, raise you after your falls. When your spirit within you is depressed, when it loses its balance, when it is restless and wayward, when it is sick of what it has, and hankers after what it has not, when your eye is solicited with evil and your mortal frame trembles under the shadow of the Tempter, what will bring you to yourselves, to peace and to health, but the cool breath of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”