By Bishop James Conley
This past Friday, May 3, I was blessed to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, in which we celebrated May Crowning—the annual crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
These beautiful acts of devotion are taking place throughout the Diocese of Lincoln and throughout the universal Church honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking for her intercession, and trying to imitate her holy life.
This month of May has traditionally been set aside as the month to honor Mary, the Mother of God. In the Northern Hemisphere, the month of May is the pinnacle of springtime. It is usually a time of beautiful, blooming flowers, budding trees, and farmers planting in the fields—praying for an abundant harvest in future months.
Because this month is a time of great growth, many cultures and civilizations have commemorated the month of May as a celebration of life and motherhood. It is, therefore, fitting that the Church has celebrated Mary, the Mother of God during this month of May. It is also fitting that we in the United States honor our own human mothers in a special way each year on the second Sunday of May with the celebration of Mother’s Day.
St. Pope John Paul II is one of the great witnesses to Marian devotion in our time. He had as his Papal motto Totus Tuus, “totally yours.” He handed over his gifts, his will, his whole life to Our Lady.
Speaking at the beginning of May, St. Pope John Paul II said, “Today we begin the month dedicated to Our Lady, a favorite of popular devotion. In accord with a long-standing tradition of devotion, parishes and families continue to make the month of May a ‘Marian’ month, celebrating it with many devout liturgical, catechetical and pastoral initiatives!”
The Blessed Virgin Mary gave a human nature to Jesus. Mary, of course, did not create God; she is but a mere creature. However, she did give birth to Jesus, the son of God, and human mothers give birth to persons, and so the title Mother of God is appropriate. God the Father chose Mary as the fitting womb for the Incarnate Word, the first tabernacle, giving shelter to God made man.
In Saint Luke’s Gospel, we hear that shepherds received a message from an angel, that the messiah has been born, and that they will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. They reported this message to the Blessed Virgin Mary and “she pondered these things in her heart.”
We can imagine Mary looking at her child after hearing what the shepherds said, and with joy putting all of this together, and deeply pondering what this might mean. This is the beginning of what we could call theology: “faith seeking understanding,” as St. Anselm described it. Mary had the faith from the very beginning, but as she learns more and more, she meditates and contemplates these profound truths.
Given that the Blessed Virgin Mary was untouched by Original Sin, she not only had an undivided heart, that is, a will that was ordered toward the good, but also an unclouded mind. Due to her Immaculate Conception she ponders things in her heart in a more profound way than any other creature ever has and ever will.
The rosary is a great devotional practice where we can contemplate the mysteries of Christ—the heart of our faith—with Our Blessed Mother. In meditating upon the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, we ponder the life of Christ and grow closer to him.
By praying the Rosary, we enter into the life of Jesus from the time of the announcement of his birth, throughout his public ministry, to the contemplation of his painful passion and death. We then rejoice with him in his resurrection from the dead, hoping and longing to share in that same resurrection.
We could certainly contemplate all of these mysteries on our own. We could read the life of Christ in the Sacred Scriptures, and be profoundly moved by it. However, there is something powerful that takes place when we invite Our Blessed Mother into this contemplation. She was a part of these mysteries. She experienced them like no other creature. She knew and knows Jesus better than any other creature, and she wants nothing more than for us to be close to him and to know him as she does.
The Rosary deepens our relationship with Jesus. Mary brought Jesus into this world by giving him a human nature. She continues to bring Jesus close to us when we are close to her. That is why, as we pray the Rosary, we meditate on the mysteries of Christ with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that “The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.”
Those who pray the Rosary with great frequency know its power: the power to bring about peace, love and conversion of heart. St. Padre Pio described the rosary as a “weapon,” and he is right. It is truly powerful against the forces of evil.
When I was received into the Catholic Church during my college years, a friend gave me my first rosary. I was fascinated by both the beauty and the simplicity of this prayer. It was an entirely new way to pray for me. I discovered that the rosary is both a vocal prayer and a contemplative prayer. The beads are made for human hands. They aid us by ordering and guiding our words and meditation. I immediately fell in love with praying the rosary.
I am deeply grateful to Father James Kelleher, SOLT, his executive committee, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist and the army of volunteers who carried out our 18-month Eucharistic Rosary Family Crusade. While the sudden storms last Sunday severely hampered the turnout for our culminating stadium event at Haymarket Park, we were still able to gather with a faithful remnant and pray the rosary and consecrate our diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I learned that many faithful pilgrims from all over the diocese were already on the road when the storms hit. Many had to eventually turn back, while some made it in time to join us in prayer.
No prayer or effort will go unanswered, and although the event was not what we hoped it would be, I am confident that our Lord and our Lady were pleased with our willing hearts and our humble efforts. The weather symbolized for me the effort of the evil one to thwart our prayer and devotion. But in the end, the rosary was prayed and he was not able to stop our prayer in honor of Jesus our King and Mary our Queen.
During this month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I pray that we may all make the Rosary a greater part of our lives. And as we see a new springtime blossoming amidst a harsh winter, may we bear greater spiritual fruit in our own hearts through the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Related: slideshow of photos