May is a glorious month: Spring is well under way, it is the Easter season, there are new beginnings, and it is the month of Mary. If you have wondered why May has the designation as Mary’s month, as in all things there is a bit of history.* But while May ends with two major celebrations for Mary, (Mother of the Church and the Feast of the Visitation), ironically the ‘month of Mary’ begins with a celebration of St. Joseph! While there are liturgical reasons, it is not difficult to see how fitting this is. It is true that whenever we focus on Mary, Joseph is always silently in the background; without him, it would have been impossible for Mary to bring Jesus into the world alone without being in severe violation of Mosaic Law. Joseph was also needed to give Jesus the upbringing required for a young Jewish male, and to teach Jesus a trade, in this case carpentry. Finally, in a unique way both were the first disciples of Jesus, forming the first domestic church: the family. Together they are the best model for parenting and family life that we could imagine; we would do well to model our families after them, something which requires prayer and reflection. Therefore, we can find a message within the timing of these feasts. While celebrating Mary in the month we traditionally dedicate to her, it would be good to reflect on how we can be like Joseph, called to a similar role of assistance insofar as we unite our prayer to her and the intentions of her Immaculate Heart.
In praying about the feast we celebrated on May 1, St. Joseph the Worker, we can reflect upon some aspects of this hidden man who spoke not one word in the Gospels. We know little about his life except that he protected Jesus and Mary, guiding them to and from Egypt at the instruction of an angel. Joseph was a man of prayer who recognized the voice of God and trusted in Him, hearkening us back to his ancestor Abraham who, (like St. Joseph many generations later), did not know exactly where he was going when God asked him to leave his homeland, and did not know what to expect when he got there. St. Joseph also reminds us of another of his ancestors, the great-grandson of Abraham, the Old Testament Joseph who saved God’s people from starvation, (Genesis 37; 39-45), who knew how to hear God speaking in the midst of his dreams. Like them, St. Joseph embraced difficult times, followed God’s instruction through his dreams and protected those entrusted to him. It would be good to consider and then ask the Holy Spirit to receive the same virtues of patience, perseverance, discernment, and listening, as well as how we might serve the Lord humbly.
In honoring Mary throughout May, it is important to reflect upon all that she did and exactly who she is: Mary is the humble woman who said yes to God continuously throughout her life, a life filled with single-hearted devotion, love, and service of Jesus. She was beloved by the followers of Jesus, central to their community in the time leading up to Pentecost, present with the 120 people gathered in the upper room. (Acts 1:13-2) The community had taken to heart that Jesus had entrusted her to John to be as a son to her, but that Jesus also gave her to all of us as our mother. John took her into his household; so, too, must we. Therefore, that we celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church the day following Pentecost Sunday is significant because we recognize that as Mother of the Church, she is our mother. And in celebrating the Visitation a few days later, we are called to do as she has always done, which is to serve God by serving His people: a heart filled with love for God will always express itself in this way.
Just as St. Joseph assisted and supported Mary during his life, we are called similarly; just as Mary assists the efforts of Her Son to bring His message to the ends of the earth, we can assist her through our prayer and example. Mary aided the Church by her prayer at Pentecost; we, too, should call down the Holy Spirit on the world. Mary works to combat evil and build up the Kingdom of God; like St. Joseph we are called to support the work she indicates is needed for the reparation of sin and salvation of the world. Therefore, during our celebration and honoring of Mary this month, we should ask ourselves about the quality of our response to God, and how perhaps it could be better. It is a call to come closer to Jesus and to grow in gratitude for His mother, who He shares with us as our mother, too. She is the Queen of Heaven, and still is the humble woman who always puts her Son Jesus before herself. We are also invited to be like St. Joseph in bringing the Gospel to the world, humbly working without need of recognition. Together, Joseph and Mary remind us that we are one Church, one family, in need of guidance and protection in a world that presents a multitude of distractions and temptations. They offer the strength to persevere while inviting us to peace and joy in love of the Risen Jesus! Let us rejoice that we have them to show us the way!
May we accept the loving embrace of Mary and Joseph, letting them wrap our lives in theirs, guiding us to an ever deeper relationship with Jesus, our Lord! May we, like Mary and Joseph, learn to hear God’s voice as we prayerfully reflect and discern! And may we obtain the grace to offer ourselves as they did to serve God in whatever way we are called! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo, flowers by Lake Geneva, Montreux, Switzerland.
2. Icon, St. Joseph Mirror of Patience, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you would like to obtain a copy you can purchase one in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-joseph-mirror-of-patience-334-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. Icon, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church by Fr. William Hart McNichols. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-blessed-virgin-mary-mother-of-the-church-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. My photo, family of Blue Herons, Rockport, Texas.
5. Oil painting, First Steps, after Millet (1890), by Vincent van Gogh. "In fall and winter 1889–90, while a voluntary patient at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh painted twenty-one copies after Millet, an artist he greatly admired. He considered his copies "translations" akin to a musician's interpretation of a composer's work. He let the black-and-white images—whether prints, reproductions, or, as here, a photograph that his brother, Theo, had sent—pose "as a subject," then he would "improvise color on it." For this work of January 1890, Van Gogh squared-up a photograph of Millet's First Steps and transferred it to the canvas." Description from https://customprints.metmuseum.org/detail/489071/van-gogh-first-steps-after-millet
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Heart Speaks to Heart