Traditionally, the Catholic Church has called May “Mary’s month.” Many parishes have May processions and May crownings in which freshly picked flowers from spring gardens are placed at statues of the Blessed Mother, and she is crowned with a wreath of flowers. Some people plant a “Mary garden” which features plants that are mentioned in the bible. The most obvious association of the month of May and Mary is, of course, the celebration of Mother’s Day. On this day as we honor all mothers, we honor also Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
This month, because of where we find ourselves in the 50 day celebration of the Easter season, we have one more way to celebrate the Marian character of our faith. As the church moves toward the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel are full of the first accounts of the Apostles telling the amazing story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The apostles are stepping up and giving shape to the small community of believers that will become the church. Here, we find Mary as well. When she could have so easily returned to Nazareth to live quietly after Jesus’ return to his Father, Mary stays with the Apostles. We see her practice a spiritual motherhood – comforting, nurturing and praying for the mission Jesus has entrusted to his followers. Just as she fulfilled the mission God entrusted to her, bearing his Son to the world, she nurtures the apostles and followers of Jesus’ mission to bear the Risen Christ to the world. The mission of the apostles becomes our mission. As Pope Francis likes to say, all the baptized are missionary disciples.
We are most like Mary in that we, too, are called to bear Christ to the world. How? In the same way we see the Apostles doing it in this month’s Gospel readings. We have opportunities to share our love for Our Lord. If faith makes all the difference in our lives, how do we share that? Could our story be a source of good news for a friend or family member or colleague? The missionary impulse that comes alive in Jesus’ followers is one of hospitality. Like Mary, who after receiving her mission from God, went immediately to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Apostles immediately began inviting others into the life of the community, to be of service, to welcome all who were searching for an experience of God, of love and of fellowship.
For us followers of Jesus, in the very noisy world of the 21st century, trying to make sense of a complicated world and complicated lives, perhaps the most inviting aspect of Jesus’ life and of the practice of Mary and the apostles is that of prayer. When we read that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart”, and that Mary and the apostles gathering in the upper room to “wait” for the coming of the Spirit, they were, in reality, praying and contemplating the meaning Jesus’ life for them and their lives.
Mary and the apostles knew the need for silence, for thinking deeply, for learning to trust in God’s plan. What we followers learn is that God’s plan unfolds in our lives and in the life of the church. God’s plan for our lives does not arrive in a text message or in 140 characters. Like the Mary garden, it grows, at first hidden, then fledgling, but with God’s gift of sun and rain and gardeners plants, grows deep roots and gorgeous bright flowers and fruits! Cultivating faith is like cultivating a garden. Faith needs prayer, sacraments, community, and wise teachers to grow deep roots and flower.
This month, cultivate the garden you’ve been given to plant seeds of faith and bear Christ to the world.
Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.