Mary’s enduring love outlasts May flowers

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Mary
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I write these words from the deck of my house, overlooking my wife’s recently planted vegetable garden. The garden itself is overseen by a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ground still shows fresh dirt from its recent tilling (complements of my son-in-law). In one section, young plants are supported by wire cages. In another, sprouts have begun to surface from the seeds buried in the soil. Eventually, the garden will yield an abundance of beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and a variety of fresh herbs. After the harvest, the earth will be turned over again, mulch will be spread on the ground, and the garden will lie fallow until next May, when it will be planted again.

What will not change over that long period of dormancy, however, is the gaze of St. Mary. She will be ever vigilant through the falling autumn leaves, the whirling winter snow, and the soaking spring rain. May will end. Mary’s vigilance will endure, season after season.

Among the risks of setting aside a day, month, or other period of time to honor some event or person is that it tends to foster our inattention of that honor out of season. Commemoration one month becomes implicit permission for neglect all the rest. This is not always deliberate, of course; it’s often a function of the busyness of our lives and the myriad demands on our attention. Even so, this propensity to remember one day and forget the next is a persistent aspect of time and memory. Of course, this is as much a tendency in our association of May with the Blessed Virgin Mary as with any other commemorative occasion.

More than nostalgia

The solution to this hazard is to see commemoration not merely as an interval of tribute, but also as a time of sustained discipline in the act of remembering. Understood this way, recollection is not merely an indulgence in nostalgia. Rather, it is an exercise in the moral practice of training our minds and hearts to incorporate the object of our memories into the subjective experiences of our spiritual and moral lives. If we succeed in this task, the conclusion of the day, week, month or year is not the cessation of our celebration, but rather its beginning. We don’t simply recall events or persons. Rather, we re-form our lives around them. The person we recall is ever present to us.

In her song, “Mary,” singer/songwriter, Patty Griffin, captures this idea as it pertains to the Blessed Virgin.

“Oh, Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts
Every way the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts
She’s always there”

And Griffin explains that the Blessed Virgin is not simply “there,” but rather that her solicitude and comfort are always present to sustain us.

“Jesus says Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
He flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singing his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place”

The ‘Memorare’

Authentic devotion to the Blessed Mother is not limited to a single month of commemoration. Rather, it is a celebration of her continuous presence in the lives of believers. Jesus ascended to heaven. Mary’s prayers sustain the Church, “cleaning up” our messes as we come to her for the solace of her intercession. The month of May is a concerted exercise in welcoming that solicitude through the seasons that follow.

It is no accident that one of the Church’s principal prayers of supplication for St. Mary’s intervention begins with the Latin word, “Memorare.” “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.” While framed as an imperative to the Blessed Mother, the real purpose of the prayer is to remind us that she will never abandon or forsake those who seek her mediation. “Inspired by this confidence,” we must never cease to seek the comfort of her presence in our lives. This is not a temporary commemoration, but rather a continuous spiritual and moral exercise.

The gardens of May are temporary and fleeting. The prayers of Mary are constant and everlasting. As we leave May behind, may we keep Mary always beside us. 

Kenneth Craycraft

Kenneth Craycraft, an OSV columnist, is a professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati and author of “Citizens Yet Strangers: Living Authentically Catholic in a Divided America" (OSV Books).