Today is the birthday of Mary. Where many of us for whatever reason may have taken a step away from Mary, on her birthday, I propose we take a step closer to her.
Why do I say many of us have taken a step away from her? I guess it’s simply because times have changed, values have changed. And what was taken for granted in the past, may no longer be taken for granted in the present. In the past it was a celebrated mark of an Atenean that he or she have a rosary in his or her pocket. That was because in the past it was part of the day of the Atenean to pray the rosary. That may no longer be the case today. And if so, it is a bit sad. Because through the regular prayer of the rosary – the repeated prayer of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and the Glory Be – one developed a closeness to Mary. Through this closeness to Mary, one also developed a familiarity with her Son, and a deep gratitude for the history of salvation. That’s what happens when one regularly recalls in prayer the mysteries of the rosary: the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries. Relatively recently, Pope St. John Paul II added the luminous mysteries. For me, I consider that one of the greatest contributions of his papacy to the Church! So in coming closer to Mary through the rosary, one entered more and more deeply into the mystery of salvation by regularly contemplating such as the incarnation of the Son of God, the birth of Jesus, the baptism of the Lord, the marriage feast of Cana, Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the transfiguration, the institution of the Eucharist, the suffering and death of the Lord, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Decent of the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying action in our Church, the Assumption of Mary (that is celebrated specially in this chapel) and her Queenship in heaven. That we no longer pray the rosary daily, habitually, and no longer carry a rosary in our pockets, so that in fingering it we are reminded to pray it, is sad. This would mean, as I said, we have taken a step away from Mary.
Today is Mary’s birthday. And I am glad we are all here in this Chapel of her Assumption to celebrate with her. For she is our mother. From his Cross, Jesus gave her to us as our mother. And I would like to bet we have all had special moments of intimacy with her as our mother: when we knew she was very close, when we knew that she was listening, when we knew that she had spoken to Jesus on our behalf, and when we knew she’d worked out a little miracle for us. In my life that happened in Bicol, when Mary, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Ina, wondrously intervened there in the long-estranged and often tense relationship between my mother and father, worked out that they after many painful years of conflict meet “accidentally” on the steps of her Basilica, and there, for all to see, brought them together in a loving kiss. The great Jesuit theologian once told me, “Accidents, accidents! There are no accidents, only grace.” Mary has a lot to do with winning for us these graces that appear like accidents. Sometimes, however, because we are so educated, or so sophisticated, or because we think cynicism more fashionable than humility, we block ourselves off from perceiving miracles and remain with the accidental, and so shy away from praying to our Mother Mary. We think we are grown up. We think we can solve our own problems. We think if we cannot solve our problems, no one can. Should that be the case in our lives, it would mean we have taken step away from Mary.
In the prayer of our Mass today, we proclaimed, “The birth of Mary’s Son was the dawning of salvation…” We recalled the birth of our Savior in our Gospel. The angel proclaimed: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She is to bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew explains: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Through Mary, God is Emmanuel. Through Mary, God is with us. Through Mary, God is Love, Compassion and Peace for us.
On the birthday of Mary, where we may have stepped away from her, we ask for the grace to turn around, and once again step towards her. We ask for the grace again to pray the rosary daily in our lives, and to discover that this prayer, simple as it is, really helps. Another step back to her would be to ask for the grace to pray and mean the Memorare. Did you ever know the Memorare? As kids, we were asked to memorize this prayer. But too often, even I forget.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
Let us not be shy about bringing Mary our concerns – no matter how great they may be. If we are hungry, let us bring our hunger to our mother. If we are sick, let us ask her for healing. If we are in conflict, let us ask her for peace. In this spirit, our prayer with the entire Church in this Mass is: “May the celebration of her birthday bring us closer to lasting peace.”
Peace. Let us take a step closer to Mary by putting into her motherly hands our concerns for peace in this world. The situation is precarious. North Korea will not back off from its dangerous nuclear arms program. The United States and its allies will not back off from opposing this program. A war of words has been joined. One can say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But these words call forth action. Yet action in this case, be it the action of a rogue politician or a ponderous statesman, would be totally catastrophic. Today, we must bring this dangerous situation to our Mother Mary.
We must also bring the situation of peace in Mindanao to our Mother Mary. With our Muslim sisters and brothers we share a deep devotion and love for Sitti Maryam, Holy Mary. On her birthday, let us bring our hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao to her for her intercession. The guns in Marawi must finally be silenced. The peace that we have hoped and prayed for for more than four decades must finally be achieved. The autonomy and self determination the Bangsamoro claim and deserve must finally be granted in the passage of the enhanced Bangsamoro Basic Law. Let it be granted despite the spoilers and the spoiled among politicians; let it be granted despite the determined effort of a minority to impose their reception of Religion on all. Let it be granted in the press of diverse faiths seeking the one Divine will. Let us put this situation in the hands of our mother, recalling to her, that never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.
Take a step closer to Mary. Even on her birthday, show her, our mother, our cups gone dry. Let her whisper to her Son, that our vessels of water may be changed into the finest of wine!