"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

[Second Week 2/2] Closeness To Mary Is Closeness To God

"From The Ashes": A Virgin Mary statue was burned
outside a church in Boston during the night of
July 2, 2020. The statue has stood outside
St. Peter Parish Church to welcome back
soldiers who were returning to Dorchester just when
the deadliest Second World War had ended 75 years ago.
MARY SAID, “BEHOLD, I AM THE HANDMAID OF THE LORD. MAY IT BE DONE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.” LK1:38

Point Of Departure: Closeness To Mary Is Closeness To God

A majority of artworks depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) portray a vulnerable and frail type of a woman taking care of a child. But let us not forget that Mary can also be viewed as a woman of incredible strength and power. Entire armies would ask for her help before heading into battle—from Byzantium, through the crusades and up through the time of Imperial Russia. St. Eusebius interpreted Maryām as mar-yam (מר-ים) "drop of the sea," based on מר mar, a rare biblical word for "drop" and ים yam "sea," a name that had to go through a series of translations and mistranslations. Whether it was Stella Maris "Star of the Sea" or Stilla Maris "Drop of the Sea," both these titles point to her as a star guiding from above and a gentle drop protecting from below. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, was the first European recorded to have landed in the Philippine islands five centuries ago in March 1521. Two of the five ships in his fleet were named after Mary: Victoria (namesake of Santa Maria de la Victoria) and Conceptión. Originally the Church celebrated the Feast of the Conception of Mary but excluding the discussion of sinlessness. In the course of the centuries it became the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Victoria, the last of the five-ship fleet, was able to return to Seville Spain in September 1522 to become the first vessel to circumnavigate the earth.


Why is Mary considered a woman of incredible strength?

I have grown to adore and cherish Mary through my years as a religious. I always look forward to celebrate mass on Marian feasts. I make it a point to pray one Hail Mary after the Prayers of the faithful in every mass I offer. There are times when I would ask myself, Am I loving the BVM more than I should? Shouldn't that be reserved for God alone? Then I recalled what St. Maximillian Kolbe, OFM once said, "Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did."

For my eight-day annual retreat this year I went to Mirador Jesuit Villa in Baguio City. This is the same hilltop that many pilgrims frequent to climb to ask for favors from the BVM. When I woke up on the first day of my retreat, in haste, I went to the grotto first where the 7-foot statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stood. Due to the pandemic, the place has been empty of the usual pilgrims. For the first time, I had the whole place to myself and the BVM. If the stones could speak they would be very happy to greet the first pilgrim after a long time. Gazing at Mary's face, I then started to pray by conversing with her in the manner of an Ignatian colloquy. I thanked her for everything especially for helping me accompany all my retreatants. I was constantly addressing her as "Mama"—the best title for Mary which originated from Jesus' lips. I thanked her personally for our closeness that has grown in me and for considering me too as one of her sons. When I ran out of words to say, the water running through the rocks near the statue served as my prayer, "Let every drop of water express how much I cherish and adore you Mama Mary."

I went inside the small chapel beside the grotto to greet the century-old image of her. I sat down at pew no. 15 right in front. I closed my eyes in prayer and imagined her face. Suddenly tears of gratitude started to flow from my eyes. I told her all the petitions of people I made a promise to offer. I knew with great certainty that she was hearing every prayer even those unexpressed. I understood then how closeness to someone could banish the walls of doubt, fear and anything that could get in the way. She told me that I should trust always in her Son to whom she feels the closest. If my own closeness to Mary gives the surety of my prayers being heard, then this proves Mary's powerful role as intercessor of all our prayers because of her closeness to God. Whatever prayer she hears, she cannot be stopped from telling to her Son all our joys and sorrows.

I gazed at her face now bearing a more pronounced smile. She said, "Look to me," and as I looked at her face and at those bright eyes, she showed me the holy face of her Son. Indeed, she offered herself, as she has always done, to point me towards Jesus. It doesn't matter whether she is revered or shunned because the key to her enigma is her closeness to God and God's closeness to her, par excellence. Looking back now, I would say it was not Ferdinand Magellan who brought Christianity to the Philippines—the stronghold of Catholicism in Asia—but it was the BVM. She brought no less than the adorable curly-haired statue of the Sto. Niño de Cebu (The Child Jesus of Cebu). This makes Mary not an ordinary or one-dimensional woman. She immersed herself, after being immaculately conceived in the womb of St. Anne, into the full musical scale of human emotions and struggles. During the annunciation, Gabriel told her, "Be not afraid," because he saw the complex human emotions all written on the strong woman's face.

Pope Francis constantly invites all Christians to go to her especially during these difficult days. For us priests, it is very fitting to use a short prayer for the spiritual well-being of a penitent and as a form of dismissal for the Sacrament of Reconciliation: "May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace." Let us not be afraid to be close to Mary because closeness to Mary is closeness to God. Amen.


Grace To Beg For: “[T]he first step of faith is to tell God that we need him, that we need him to be close to us” (Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, November 29, 2020). Let us ask that the seed of faith in us be planted close enough to its source to grow. "St. Thomas Aquinas... explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see" (Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI). However, more than our closeness to God, "Advent," according to Pope Francis, "is the season for remembering that closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst."

Points To Consider:

1. Mary unlocked the best of our human nature which we share in common with her. No wonder she is our tainted nature's solitary boast according to William Wordsworth. There is even an early tradition that when the apostles went to open Mary’s tomb, instead of seeing her body, they saw that it was filled with the most fragrant flowers, confirming that Jesus had taken her up to heaven. Flowers, which we do not exactly see when or how they bloom, account for 35 percent of the world's crop production. Thanks to these often unnoticed members of creation. Through contemplation of nature may we unlock once again our closeness to and dependence on nature. Closeness to nature is closeness to the Creator.

The Virgin
by William Wordsworth

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

Gratefulness: Video clip of Louie Schwartzberg's TED talk on Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.


2. Who among the biblical models of closeness to God can you resonate with? Below is a list of such persons that are represented through symbols in the centuries-old family tradition of the Jesse Tree. Take this time to brush up on your knowledge of scriptures as you locate Jesus Christ within the lineage of King David, son of Jesse.

Sister Earth (globe)
Genesis 1:24-28
Adam and Eve (snake and fruits)
Genesis 3:1-24
Noah (rainbow)
Genesis 6:11-22; 8:6-12; 9:11-17
Abraham (camel)
Genesis 12:1-7; 13:2-18; 18:1
Sarah (baby)
Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
Isaac (ram)
Genesis 22:1-14
Jacob (ladder)
Genesis 27:41-28:22
Joseph (multicolored coat)
Genesis 37:1-36
Moses (burning bush)
Exodus 3:1-10
Miriam (tambourine)
Exodus 15:19-21
Samuel (lamp)
1 Samuel 3:1-21
Jesse (branch)
Isaiah 11:1
David (harp)
1 Samuel 16:14-23
Solomon (crown)
1 Kings 3:3-28
Isaiah (throne)
Isaiah 6:1-8
Jeremiah (tablets of law)
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Angels (angel)
Hebrews 1:1-14
Malachi (trumpet)
Malachi 3:1-4
Zechariah and Elizabeth (dove)
Luke 1:39-45
Mary (angel/white lily)
Luke 1:26-35
John the Baptist (river) 
Matthew 3:1-6
Joseph of Nazareth (hammer/saw)
Matthew 1:18-25
Magi and shepherds (star)
Matthew 2:1-12
Christ (crib)
Luke 2:1-7

3. Proceed to the †Lectio Divina link at the bottom for the option to pray over the gospel reading for the day.

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Comments

  1. Everytime I feel so alone in my struggle and pain, my heart brings me to Mama Mary, who owes her compassion to her profound suffering.
    Indeed, Mama Mary brings me closer to her Son...
    Happy Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary! 😊 😊 😊

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    Replies
    1. Indeed the perfect way to Jesus is through Mary. Thanks Sr. Line!

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  2. Happy Feast Day Fr. jomari! Your sharing inspires me to savor the moment with Mary in silence during this Advent Season. To be with her in this time that she is carrying the Child Jesus in her womb... In our community, each one of us are given a day of silence to be with her... It is a time to be more closer to her... to learn from her...Thanks once again.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed so much of Mary's strength is rooted in her silent pondering within her heart! If we do not understand silence we do not understand God. God bless us!

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  3. Hello Fr. JM
    I feel glad to read from your sharing " closeness to Mary is closeness to God"
    I feel like my celebration of the feast of Mary Immaculate Conception this year did not less joy and love than ever before
    Thank you for sharing of your experiencing God through our beloved Mama Mary.

    Then I recalled what St. Maximillian Kolbe, OFM once said, "Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did."
    It reminded me about my own experience of loving Mama Mary when I was still a student. I loved Her first before I came to love Her Son, Jesus.

    By God's grace Mary became the mother of God and by God's grace she becomes our mother too
    By God's grace we become Mary's children and by God's grace we become brother/sister of Jesus

    Once again muchas gracias
    Happy feastday

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Sr. for your sharing. God's plan of salvation is unite all of us to him as God's children and Mary has been God's human instrument to fulfill this wondrous plan. God bless us!

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