Friday, May 16, 2014

Mary, May, and the Miraculous Medal

May is kind of a fun time for devotion to Mary with May shrines, Rosary processions, May crownings, honoring Mary on Mother's Day.  But we can take for granted how much influence Mary has had in our everyday lives.  There is the Hail Mary Pass known to football fans; gardeners know about marigolds and lady slippers; but the general respect given to women is based on Christian principles, on the way Christ treated women and His mother in particular.  

Holy Mother Church gives us an icon of marian devotion in the Miraculous Medal.  Although formally known as the medal of the Immaculate Conception, it is commonly called the Miraculous Medal due to the numerous miracles attributed to its use. This little medal is an icon of devotion to Mary, just as Mary is the personification of May.  We know that an icon is an important and enduring symbol of something.  When you click on one of those little icons on your computer or smart phone, you are led to something bigger and better which that icon, that little picture, signified.   

Mary is the personification of May and the Miraculous Medal is the icon of Marian devotion.  How do we picture Mary?  As Americans, we have several different aspects under which we honor Mary.

On the front of the Miraculous Medal are the words: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. The Immaculate Conception is the patroness of our country. The Immaculate Conception was the proximate sign to the world that redemption is at hand, the morning star which precedes the dawning of the Sun. Interesting that the Immaculate Conception was chosen by the American bishops as the patroness of our country. As Americans, we pride ourselves on our independence, our rugged individualism, our ability to accomplish great things by our hard work. And yet our national patroness is the Immaculate Conception, who teaches us complete dependence on God the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. She shows us that one who abandons herself totally in God's hands does not lose her freedom. Rather, it is only the person who entrusts herself totally to God who finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good. Mary proclaims, not her greatness, but the greatness of the Lord. Her spirit rejoices, not in herself, but in her Savior. She finds favor with the Mighty One because of her lowliness. She glories, not in the things she has done, but in the great things the Almighty accomplishes in her.

On the front of the Miraculous Medal, we see Our Lady of Grace with rays coming from her hands, which we interpret to symbolize graces coming to us from her.  Our Lady of Grace is popularly depicted in our churches and homes.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, he greeted her as “full of grace” as if that were her name, and asked her consent to become the Mother of God, on behalf of the Most High. If homes could speak, what would the walls say of this Virgin full of grace who dwelt there? Of the Child who was the author of grace? The day that Mary of Nazareth received the announcement of the angel Gabriel and consented to her divine maternity, the history of the world turned to the ocean of divine grace, while it continued to unfold as a daily series of great and small events.

The back of the Miraculous Medal is circled by 12 stars. Our Lady of Guadalupe, our own Lady of the Americas, appeared as “the woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet,” with stars on her mantle, a young woman, wearing the traditional clothing both of virgin and mother on our own continent bringing a message of loving concern for all her children. She is the Mother of the Americas: Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only the mother of the people of Mexico, but also the mother of all people of the Americas and mother of all the living. She is Patroness of the New Evangelization: She came because in her maternal heart she wanted to give her Son to the people of the new World.  She came to spread the faith in her divine Son to every man and every woman - not only to Mexico, but throughout the world. Witness the miracle of Guadalupe: within a few years of her appearance, 8 million Mexicans were baptized. She is the Patroness of the Pro Life movement:  She appeared wearing the garb of a pregnant woman and her message was one of hope – she carries within her womb God become man, a God who clearly reveals Himself as the only God, who is Life and Love and shares both with us.

Within the twelve stars on the back of the Miraculous Medal is the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  For both Ave Maria Parish and Holy Family Parish, as well as mothers in general, the Annunciation is of special significance.  The Scriptures refer several times to Mary as "pondering these things in her heart" and the mystery of the incarnation was one of those things she must have pondered long and hard.    You know what happens in the Gospel story of the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and greets her. While she is pondering the greeting, Gabriel asks her consent to be the Mother of God. All creation awaited her response. At her yes, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and as all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of its course, the Eternal Word leapt down from heaven to rest below the heart of the Virgin Mother.  The Church proposes this mystery to us as a lesson for us on how we should be living our every day life. God the Father had prepared her from the first moment of her life to be a worthy mother of his Son. Like a faithful daughter of Israel, she had prayed throughout her youth for the coming of the Messiah. When she was a young girl, she discovered that she was part of God’s answer to that prayer, but in a way that would far have exceeded any Hebrew maiden’s prayers: not only would the Messiah be her son, but her son would also be God. Her “yes!” to the Archangel Gabriel launched the proximate preparation for the birth of Jesus the Messiah.  When we honor the Annunciation, we’re entering into Mary’s response of faith that is a guide for us along our own pilgrimage of faith. And I don't need to speak to you mothers, of the communion that exists between a mother and the child she is carrying within her.

Still another image on the back of the Miraculous Medal is an M surmounted with a cross.  Those who are familiar with the total consecration of St. Louis de Montfort, popularlized by Saint John Paul II, can readily identify the image as meaning "To Jesus through Mary:" the secret to sanctity, the secret of Mary. This Total Consecration to Mary, described in the book, True Devotion to Mary is  really focused on Christ and living as a follower of Christ.  

In fact, the basis of the entire devotion is the Incarnation - the act of God becoming Man for us.    St. Louis de Montfort tells us that Mary was necessary to God in the Incarnation of the Word.  Jesus chose to be born a helpless child.   Could Jesus have come to earth without a mother - certainly yes, but He chose to come to us through Mary.  St. Louis de Montfort takes it a step further to tell us that Mary is necessary to God in the sanctification of souls.  We realize that sanctity is that close encounter with the divine which brings forth a response of love.  How did Elizabeth and John the Baptist encounter Christ but through the medium of Mary.  Where the shepherds and wise men found the Child that first Christmas, we also will find Him - in the company of Mary his mother, because God has so ordained it this way. 

Devotion to Mary is all about Jesus living in Mary as we recognize the instrumental role she plays in our redemption.  And that mystery is an essential element of St. Louis de Montfort's spirituality.  St. Louis says, " I adore you profoundly the virginal womb of Mary your most worthy Mother at the time of your incarnation."  From that moment on, the Consecration recognizes our belonging to Christ who already unites all his mystical members in Mary.   "The incomprehensible, the inaccessible, He who is, has willed to come to us"  to live among us "to pitch His tent among us," to become one of us, to suffer and die for us because He loves us.  And He accomplishes this by coming to us  through Mary, by living in Mary.  

What is Christ's early life about but Jesus living in Mary, completely dependent on her.  If being a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian, is imitating Jesus because we love Him, Jesus Living in Mary gives us the example of how we need to live, what our relationship to Mary should be - and that is living entirely dependent on Mary, turning to her with our every need, sharing with her our joys and sorrows, our trials and triumphs, our hopes and dreams.  Montfort's whole spirituality is centered on this maternal function of Mary towards the incarnate Christ wholly dependent on his mother: for us, this state  lasts all our earthly life and our true birth comes about in glory after death.

Just as we hope that in May the sun will transform our gray days into warm sunshine, so we know that Mary brings us her Son, will transform our lives with the light of hope and warmth of joy.