On September 8 we celebrate Mary’s birthday. No one knows for sure what day Mary was born, of course. (I did read, however, that at Medjugorje in 1984 Mary supposedly said her birthday was really August 5.) But the Church celebrates September 8 because it is exactly nine months after December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The planners of the liturgical calendar reasoned, if we celebrate Mary’s conception on December 8, then we should celebrate her birthday on September 8.
The truth is, the actual date of Mary’s birth is not really important. The way she lived her life is! And how did Mary live her life? Here are a few ways:
+ by believing in a God who was active and alive in the history of her people—and in her own
personal history. Mary’s God was not far off. Her God was very near. Her God was involved in human history and in her own life. Is our God far off or near?
+ by experiencing this God as a God of love. Would she ever had said “yes” to God unless she had previously experienced this God as kind, compassionate, and desiring good for her people and for her? Is our God a God of love?
+ by communing with this God in her daily prayer. Many pictures of the Annunciation show Mary at prayer. We don’t know what Mary was actually doing when Gabriel showed up that day. She could have been carrying water from the well or washing clothes or cooking a meal. These were normal tasks for a young girl in her times. But artists tend to show Mary at prayer because they intuitively know: Mary was, indeed, a prayerful woman who talked with God every day. Do we talk with God every day?
+ by trusting this God to do surprising and seemingly impossible things. Being a good Jew, Mary
was familiar with the amazing stories in scripture—the story of creation, of the call of Abraham and the birth of Isaac, of the Exodus, of the selection of David, a mere boy, to be king of Israel. Her God was a God of surprises, a God of the seemingly impossible. Have we ever experienced this God of surprises in our own lives?
+ by being willing to risk her reputation—and even her life. Her engagement to Joseph was as serious and binding as marriage. By becoming pregnant outside of that relationship, Mary risked her reputation and her very life. What are we risking for God? What is more important: our reputation or our faith?
+ by entrusting her uncertain future completely into God’s hands. The angel Gabriel didn’t tell Mary what her future would be—or that of her son. He didn’t give her specific directions on how to raise a Messiah. For Mary the future was uncertain and unclear—just as the future is uncertain and unclear for us. Mary trusted that no matter what the future held, God would be with her through it all. Is our trust in God that strong?
+by doing well and with love all the ordinary tasks involved in everyday life. For her that meant the ordinary tasks involved primarily in marriage and motherhood. What ordinary tasks make up our lives? Do we do these tasks well and with love?
This is what we celebrate on September 8—not simply Mary’s birthday, but the way she lived her life.
PS: I have been deeply moved by the refugee crisis in Europe. An estimated 12 million men, women, and children are fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Thousands of them are pouring into Europe. If you are thinking about making a donation (or perhaps you already have) here are three worthwhile organizations: Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org), Unicef (www.unicefusa.org), or World Vision (www.worldvision.org). This is the worst humanitarian crisis of our age, effecting more people than hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and the Indian Ocean tsunami combined! Let us also turn to Mary in prayer that all hearts will be moved to help these refugees find a new life for themselves and their families. And let us pray for all who are working untiringly for peace everywhere.
This song is an 18th Century Latin Hymn entitled “O Sanctissima.” It is sung against a background of several ancient paintings of Mary. I’ve put an English translation of the song below the video.
O most holy one, O most lowly one,
Loving Virgin Mary.
Mother of tender love, undefiled, Pray, pray for us.
You are solace, you are our refuge, O, Mary.
In you we hope. To you we cry. Pray, pray for us.
What touches you the most about Mary and the way she lived her life?
Do you like any of the pictures of Mary that accompany this reflection? If so, which one and why?
PS: I will be making my annual retreat Sunday September 13th to the 20th. I ask for your prayers and I promise to pray very specially for all the dear readers of my blog! (I worked ahead, so there will be a post on Monday, September 14, as usual.)