May is the month traditionally devoted to Mary. In the current edition of the Knights of Columbus magazine, Columbia, mention is made of the close association of Mary with the Order’s founder, Fr Michael McGivney. His family parish was the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn. He studied at Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Niagara Falls, N.Y., St Mary’s College in Montreal, and St Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained at Baltimore’s Cathedral of the Assumption and became assistant pastor of St Mary’s Church in New Haven. Eight years after founding the Knights, he died of pneumonia on the eve of the Assumption at age 38. In short, the Blessed Mother was a constant presence in Father McGivney’s life from beginning to end.
I had something of a similar experience. When I first arrived in Ottawa on a year’s sabbatical from England, I was assigned by the Companions of the Cross to the parish of St Mary’s, Bayswater, and was also asked to help out at the parish of the Queen of the Holy Rosary on Wellington. When I returned to England, I was assigned to the parish of St Mary and St Michael, and then to St Mary of the Angels. When I decided to emigrate to Ottawa following that, I was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Chinatown. The community of Lift Jesus Higher moved from there to a closed down Catholic Church called Notre Dame et Saint Esprit!!! There comes a point when you stop talking about coincidence and realize that God is sending you a message. Somebody, probably my mother, was giving me into the care and protection of Mary during my travels. If my mother could not be with me physically during this time, she wanted to make sure that Mary would be keeping an eye on her “boy”!!
The cult of Mary has developed in the Roman Catholic Church, in part as a counter to a too-cerebral approach to spirituality. While doctrine and catechism are all very well, if we neglect the attitude to the heart to matters of faith, we diminish its appeal. The mother image is one with strong resonance in most of our lives. Even the hardiest and toughest of men have a soft place for their mothers. A devotion to Mary prevents our faith becoming merely an intellectual assent to certain propositions and introduces the note of caring, intuition and nurturing into our spiritual lives. Through Mary, the qualities of the “feminine” find a place in our religion.
Lest we think this is all too “mushy” for our tastes, be aware that being a mother is not all about being gentle and compassionate. Anyone who tries to take a baby, be it animal or human, away from its mother, knows that the mother will fight tooth and nail to stop them!! When Mary is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth with the words “Blessed are you among women,” we need to be aware that those words are used only twice previously in Scripture, in reference to a woman, the first to Jael in the book of Judges and the second to Judith, in the book named after her. Both Jael and Judith are honored as “blessed among women” because they save the nation of Israel from powerful enemies, in Jael’s case by her despatching the commander of the opposing army, by hammering a tent peg into his temple while he is sleeping, in Judith’s case by her cutting off a general’s head while he is drunk on wine!!
St Louis Marie de Montfort described Mary as head of a powerful army of end-time Christians who would be used by God to crush the head of the devil a second time in the final battle. To cultivate a devotion to Mary is to sign up to be part of this end-time army. Are you ready to be called up??