Monday, May 2, 2016

Mary and May Crowning, Growing up Irish Catholic by Bridget Mary Meehan and Joan Chittister

Thoughts on Mary: Bridget Mary Meehan: "May Processions and Growing up Irish Catholic"

May and May processions brings back many happy memories of growing up Catholic that I cherish to this day!

When I was a small child our family lived in a grey cottage across from the Erikna River in Coolkerry, near Rathdowney, County Laois. 

I can still picture our family gathered around the  fire in the hearth praying the rosary.  

Mary, mother of Jesus has always felt like a close family member. Like my mother, Bridie, all we had to do is call her name and she was there for us.  

After emigrating to the United States, my brothers, Patrick, Sean and I attended St. Thomas More Catholic School in Arlington, VA.  

I am sure some of you who grew up Catholic remember May as the month of Mary and in Catholic Schools that meant May procession.

I recall how the nuns would line us up according to size. Then we would practice processing in long straight lines according to grades. On hot afternoons we stood in the parking lot,  the sun beaming on our heads singing  hymns like "O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, queen of the angels, queen of the May." The really fun part for me was getting out of class and walking around in a long line, smiling, or making faces at my friends, hoping the nuns didn't catch on!  Then, when the big day arrived for the May crowning,  we sang hymns and prayed our hearts out, as an eight grade girl, usually a tall, pretty girl, placed a bouquet of lovely spring flowers on Mary's head. 

Those were the days, as my Dad, Jack, would say, "a long, long, time ago!" 

I am grateful for these cherished memories of growing up Catholic in the 1950's. I also appreciate the role that Mary played in my evolving consciousness of my call to serve God's people.

After graduating from Bishop Dennis J. OConnell High School in Arlington, VA., I entered the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the age of 18. I later left and joined the Sisters for Christian Community. 

After I was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement in the first U.S. ordination in Pittsburgh on July 31, 2006, I dedicated my house church to Mary Mother of Jesus.  After it outgrew my home,  our Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community moved to St. Andrew UCC in Sarasota, Florida, and celebrates liturgy there on Saturdays at 4PM.

So, you could say, my connection to Mary is in my Irish DNA, my traditional Catholic education, and my feminist awakening to gender justice in our church. 

As Mary was always there for Jesus and with Jesus in the big moments of his life, like my mother Bridie, she has always been there for me, my family, and communities as mother, sister, and friend in the communion of the saints. 

Her presence is a mirror of the maternal God, whom we too reflect in our nurturing compassionate and courageous solidarity with our sisters and brothers, especially the least and the last. 

In this month, I remember the happy days of childhood May processions.  I give thanks for the prophetic Mary, who accompanies us in our  work for  equality for women in our church and world. 

With Mary, our sister in our struggles for justice we pray: My soul magnifies the Holy One and my spirit rejoices in God who is doing great things through us as we work to raise up the lowly and the oppressed.  

Thoughts on Mary: Joan Chittister
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Jesuit poet, said in his poem, “The May Magnificat,” that the reason May is Mary’s month is that it is the season of growth. In Mary grew the vision that made her open to the Incarnation; in Mary grew the image of the strong and independent woman; in Mary grew the Christ who changed the lives of all of us. Mary is not a plaster statue. Mary is the woman whose commitment and courage saved the world from self-centeredness.

One of my favorite remembrances of grade school is the memory of the May altar. Everyday we said our prayers in front of it; everyday we loaded it down with fresh flowers purloined from every yard along the way to school. It was a child’s way of growing into the idea that heaven was not without a mother’s protection and a woman’s care. This culture has substituted machoism and power for feminine concern and openness. Maybe that’s why all the violence of our time is still such a shock to our systems. It is clearly time for May altars again.

“Mary, our mother,” is one of Mary’s most common titles. We cling to it all our lives. Why? Because “mothering,” the sense of being cared for and protected, supported and understood, is the human being’s primal need. “Mother’s Day” is the call to all of us to remember those—both women and men—who have “mothered” us in life and then be conscious of our call to mother those around us, as well.

The monastic prayer of Compline always ends with a Marian hymn. In the Easter season, monastics sing the Regina Coeli, or “Queen of Heaven, Rejoice.” It is amazing that the church’s attitude toward Mary has not marked the Church’s attitude toward women in general. Perhaps the reason is that we could not see beyond what culture told us that women were and so never really came to conversion. Whatever the reason, we all have a lot of growing to do if the woman, Mary, is ever to be seen as God saw women and saw her.

It is not insignificant that Mary, Queen of Peace, is also Mary of Nazareth and not Mary of Jerusalem, or Mary of Caesarea. The most significant woman of all time came from one of the area’s most insignificant of places. Mary made nothingness visible. It takes a lot of human growing to find value in the valueless—in small places and simple things and powerless people. But that is the basis for peace, both inside of us and in the world around us.

In the rosary, when we pray the mystery of the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven, we see a woman raised to the feminine counterpoint of the Divine. It is a call to see equality as the fullness of the Will of God. Are we missing our own message? May is woman’s month. Do something to make the life of women better.

  —from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister (Benetvision)

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