Since I was a small child, May has meant Mary. In school we always had the May altar in our classroom, and we took turns bringing in flowers and looking after it. Every day we sang hymns to Mary and at home we said the rosary most evenings or attended devotions and benediction in our parish church.
It was a sign of good will to place flowers on the front doorstep of your neighbour’s home. We often woke up on May Day to buttercups and primroses and fresh green leaves on our doorstep. This was always important to my mother and seen as a blessing. Indeed many times she would go herself the night before May Day and place flowers at our neighbour’s houses, especially if they were elderly or infirm. It is hard to believe that those days are long gone!
May too is a time when people make special visits to places of pilgrimage associated with Mary. Many take an annual pilgrimage to a holy well or shrine. We are blessed that in Ireland we have many holy wells dotted around the country and of course Knock Shrine where thousands flock every year.
Now when I think of Mary I associate her more with a quite meditative, reflective prayer time. I have been blessed throughout my life with pilgrimages to Rue De Bac, Lourdes, Medjugorje, Lisieux and Fatima. It seems strange but I do not feel any great pull to return to these places even though each was a very blessed experience.
Now, when I sit and think of Mary I am more inclined to look at the Scriptures and try to imagine what these experiences must have been for Mary. I am more interested in how Mary responded to the Holy Spirit dwelling in her and guiding her, and how she found the strength to live in such troubled times taking on the responsibility of Jesus and all that that journey meant for her.
Mary features very little in the Scriptures but each time we meet her it is always an important event that has a lot to tell us. We have very few words of Mary recorded, and yet again those that we have are extraordinarily profound and insightful and tell us undoubtedly all we need to know about her. From Mary’s first words at the Annunciation (Lk 1:26–56) to her last recorded words at the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1–12) we have a richness to explore and meditate on. Through her great prayer: ‘The Canticle of Mary’ (Lk 1:46–55) we discover that Mary was a woman of prayer from an early age immersed in the scriptures and at one with the Holy Spirit dwelling in her.
If we take this ‘Canticle of Mary’ and meditate on it line by line we discover the great faith with which Mary prays. In the first line: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour’ we are invited to look for and pray about the greatness of God in our own lives. We are invited to allow the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us to cry out in praise and thanksgiving at the wonders God has worked in our lives, and believe me there are great wonders and miracles in our lives to be grateful for if we just take the time to recognise them. Mary discovered peace and harmony, beauty and creativity at the heart of prayer. But perhaps, most importantly, Mary discovered the profound wisdom of silence. We are told in Luke 2:19 ‘And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart’. I imagine that Mary in the silence of her heart meditated on the peace of God and through this meditation she believed that she had the gifts and talents and faith necessary to do God’s will.
Throughout this month of May I invite you to pray as Mary did in the silence of your heart. Take the time to find a place in your home where you can spend ten or twenty minutes in silence and in this silent atmosphere try to discover the silence within yourself. This will need time, effort and discipline but the rewards of peace and harmony leading to true understanding and faith make all the work worthwhile.
Begin by lighting a candle, then sit in a comfortable chair with your feet firmly on the ground. Use a very short prayer or mantra to quieten you thoughts and worries, and don’t feel afraid or worried if you fall into a relaxed, sleepy but conscious state. Prayer is peaceful not anxious or fretful. Allow your prayer or mantra to sooth you just like a lullaby. Do this for as long as it takes you to enter into this state of peacefulness without effort. Next month we will explore the next step in deepening the prayer experience.