Today on September 8, many of us celebrate the Nativity of Mary – or more simply put, Mary’s birthday.
Now there are those who scoff at Mary, or who at least scoff at the devotion that many of us show to her as Mother of God. Once a long time ago, the woman who did my dry cleaning, and with whom I had exchanged many a God bless you, freaked out upon hearing that I was Catholic. She predicted hell and damnation for me because in her mind, I worshiped Mary, and not God – which is not true. Mary is many things, but she is not God.
While many Christians have a devotion to Mary, there are Catholics who also have their own Mary issues, even if they may be more quiet about them. As you can tell, I am not one of them!
I always hold up the thought that we should not always give into what the common perceptions are on any one or anything. We’ve got to go deeper sometimes, and understand things in our own hearts and minds. And for those with Mary issues, I say this – sometimes what irks us is what invites us.
Today I thank God for Mary in my prayers, and I thank Mary for helping to gather me in a long time ago. Even when I was far from the Catholic Church, I was never far from Mary, whom I had loved from my youth. There were days when I was far from the Church and when I struggled with the insipid images of Mary that I grew up on, but I stuck with her, and that Mary, she stuck with me!
Pope Francis recently wrote a letter to the Church in Cuba, celebrating Our Lady of Cobre, a Cuban Marian devotion. He focused on three things, Mary’s joy, Mary’s service, and Mary’s perseverance. The words he used were rejoice, arise, and persevere. These are words to guide our days in general, not just on Mary’s birthday. Each day we need a bit of all of those things, although some days they come more easily than others. These are he qualities of Mary that I have come to love so much. (The full text of the letter can be found here. The Hispanic Apostalate in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has a great website of Latin American Marian devotions; that can be found here, at the website of Blessed Sacrament in Albany.)
Today is Monday, so I need a little extra push to rejoice, arise, and persevere. The three persons of the Trinity help me with that in numerous ways, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Right there with them is Mary, not equal to God, but essential to my faith. Without Mary, there is no Jesus, and this is not simply the story of a surrogate mother. This story is much greater and deeper, much more powerful and enlivening.
Whether it has been decades, years, hours, weeks, or more moments, please say a Hail Mary with me as you read this today. If you’ve never said a Hail Mary, please feel free to join in. Like the prayer says, Mary is full of grace. She is also, in imitation of God, full of strength, hope, and no shortage of surprises. Please consider celebrating her with me today, even if it feels a little weird. Then get out there in the world, rejoicing, arising, and persevering!
Speaking of the world, please remember the Christians of Iraq, and other places in the Middle East with your prayers. Many parishes either took up a special collection for the Middle East, or will take it up next weekend. Regardless of your feelings about Mary, please consider helping those in dire need. My friend and colleague, Bro. Mickey McGrath OSFS sent out a special message via email today, reminding us to give generously to Catholic Relief Services. This organization is at the forefront of disaster around the world, helping all who are in need, regardless of religious persuasion. This link will tell you a bit more about their current work with the Iraqi people and offers a link to make your own donation.