Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Mary’s month

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The month of May, in Catholic devotional life, is dedicated to honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. The forms of popular devotion are both traditional and contemporary. They include the Rosary, in which the mysteries of Jesus’ life with her are contemplated, and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which her titles are recited. These two prayers are the core of May devotions in parishes and schools and, still, in many homes.

When I made my First Communion on May 5, 1945, all of us were enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The “brown scapular” was to be worn as a sign of devotion to the Mother of God and a pledge of her protection, especially at the hour of death. It was replaced in daily wear by a medal, for convenience’s sake. While the custom of wearing religious medals died away after the Second Vatican Council, they can still be seen around the neck of a few courageous souls.

The custom of crowning the statue of Our Lady with fresh flowers has become more common again in the month of May. We had better hymns to Mary a few decades ago, with lyrics and melodies I can still sing. Many hymns now seem pretty lean in theological content.

The theological basis of devotion to Mary is rooted first of all in her motherhood. She was preserved from sin to prepare her to be the mother of God’s only Son. Full of grace, she consented to God’s plan for her without always understanding its full implications. She had to ponder and pray.

As she lost her son to death, she heard him give her his beloved disciple as her son. We join St. John as her children, because we are one with her son in our baptism. This is the second basis of devotion to Mary: discipleship. She is present at every key moment of Jesus’ life and death and is present at the birth of his church on Pentecost Sunday. Her desire to do God’s will and only God’s will purged her of the self-righteousness that stands in the way of so many becoming genuine disciples of the Lord. A selfrighteous person has no need of God’s righteousness, which alone brings life and salvation.

Because she wants her son’s sacrifice for our salvation to succeed, we can count on her help in trials and temptations. For young people especially, devotion to Mary helps preserve habits of chastity and prevents their being trapped in ways that destroy their lives before they have a chance to discover the beauty of genuine love. These days pornography has become epic and its destructive consequences can be seen in married life and in the “hook-up” culture that we hear about on college campuses.

There is help for freeing oneself from addiction to pornography. The archdiocese has a program called “Critical Conversations” that is part of the training given priests and deacons and, soon, lay ministers as well. It combines videos and discussion with prayer, and has been helpful not only pastorally but also personally for those who have participated in it. The archdiocese also has a chastity education program for high school students that has proven itself helpful in giving young people the courage to be chaste and therefore free. Parents are, as always, key to helping their children set out on the way to authentic happiness.

Mary accompanies us on that way, if we ask her. She respects our freedom, as God respected hers. But she is there to protect us if we ask. May is the month to ask. God bless you.


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