26 May

The Lily of the Valley

"The Lily of the Valley" is an epithet for the Blessed Virgin.  In simply describing this May flower we can see a few attributes of Mary. 

The lily, with its white petals, symbolizes purity.  The Easter Lily's flower, atop the straight stem (honesty), is in the shape of a trumpet, pointing up to heaven, as if it is announcing the good news of the Resurrection.  But it is also in an open position, able to receive the gifts and love of God.  Inside the flower are seven gold (in some cases, red) seeds.  The seven sacraments and gifts of the Holy Spirit come from God.  And in connection to purity, the red seeds symbolize the fire of love for God that burns within the virgin's heart.  The Blessed Virgin is no shrinking violet.  She is a burning bush.

The posture of lily of the valley species is slightly different.  The bell-shaped flower on the wilted stem points to the ground, symbolizing a teardrop and the virtue of humility.  Mary, in saying "I am the handmaid of the Lord," has no ounce of pride.

The lily is the first of the spring flowers to bloom, sprouting from the cold earth around March 25th (the Annunciation).  These hardy and fragrant perennials grow abundantly, rapidly and in any environment, be it a valley, plain, manicured garden or a wild field.  Wherever they be, they beautify the landscape.  Hosea, prophesying the growth of Israel, said, "he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon" (Hosea 14:5).

"Consider the lily of the fields," Jesus himself told us. "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:28-29).  We should consider Mary, the Lily of the Valley and greatest flower of all.

19 May

Notre Dame and the Pieta

From the homily on Good Friday

Michelangelo's pietà—the image of Mary holding her dead son at the foot of the cross—was perhaps the most famous depiction of the subject until this past week.  Now, I argue, it is the pietà underneath the high altar of Notre Dame in Paris.  Two images of the sculpture just after the monumental fire stand out.  One is of three French firefighters looking into the smoke-filled nave of the church.  The statue can barely be seen, other than the brilliant gold cross above Mary.  The other image is of the statue with a pile of charred rubble before it.

Yes, the pietà at Notre-Dame de Paris is a symbol of resilience, just like the cathedral itself.  The 800-year-old church survived the Black Plague, the 100 Years War, the French Revolution, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler, who wanted to burn it.  But Notre Dame is something more, which is why this fire made the front page of every town's newspaper in the world.  A church is, fundamentally, our gift of worship and praise to God.  Sure, we celebrate community and even the sacraments in a church, and we are inspired by the art, the preaching and the music.  But a church building is not about us.  It is about God.  The cross is God's gift to us.  Our gift in reciprocation is a church.  And Notre Dame—the most beautiful church in the world—is the best we as a human race can give. 

And it burned.  It is up for us now, individually, to give as a gift to God our hearts.  Lay your burned heart before Christ when you venerate the cross, and your gift will be greater than Notre Dame.

12 May

Mothers Not Only Can Be Saints, They Can Make Saints.

On this Mother's Day it is worth examining several saintly women. 

Joan of Aza was the wife of Felix de Guzman, a Spanish official.  She had already borne two sons and was praying for a third. She had a vision, while praying in church, of St. Dominic of Silos.  He told Joan not only would she have a son, but that her son would be a source of enlightenment for the world.  Joan then had a dream of a black and white dog carrying a torch in its mouth.  Joan gave birth to a son, whom she named Dominic. Her son, the St. Dominic we all know, would go on to establish the Dominicans, or the domini canes, the watchdogs of God.  And Joan's other children? Two became priests, one of whom was also beatified (Blessed Mannes). And Joan's daughter sent two of her sons into the Dominic Order as priests to follow their uncle.

Elisabeth Leseur was an incredibly spiritual woman.  The great suffering in her life was her husband, Felix, whom she loved but who was also an atheist.  Elisabeth died in her atheistic husband's arms on May 3, 1914.  Less than a decade later Felix Leseur was ordained a Catholic priest. 

And who could forget the greatest mother saint of all (besides Mary)? St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine!  Monica was a devout Catholic married to a pagan.  Her son Augustine had fallen astray.  But Monica did not lose hope. She prayed and wept abundant tears.  Monica died in Augustine's arms and her son went on to be baptized, ordained a priest and then bishop, a doctor of the Church, and a saint. 

Mothers not only can be saints, they can make saints. 

05 May

Let's Go Fly A Kite

The movie Mary Poppins ends with the song, "Let's Go Fly a Kite."  As the title character looks on through the window, George Banks, the father, sings the beautiful medley, leading his family out to the park for the activity.  It is a sign of Banks' conversion, his redemption.  He has come to realize what is most important in life—not being successful and maintaining a proper lifestyle (see his earlier song, "The Life I Lead"), but being a present, loving father to his children. He was able to do this because of Mary Poppins' influence.

The lyrics of the song speak to a deeper reality, however. The kite transports the individual to another realm.  The person holding the string feels as if he is flying.  He is a 'bird in flight.' He is 'lighter than air,' dancing 'on the breeze over houses and trees.' 

When we pray and are united to God, like the kite flyer, we are taken off this earth and into Heaven.  Our attachments and constructs are burned away.  We dethrone ourselves and experience agape, where we love with God's love.

When we are in this contemplative prayer, we may appear to be sitting in a pew in a chapel in our parish, but we are actually at the right hand of the Father.  The prayer has fused us to God, the way the kite fuses the child to the sky.

As Mary Poppins helped Banks, the Virgin Mary will lead us to plunge into the Light.  She will purify us and exhilarate our lives.  We will hold to the string alongside Jesus with the Father behind us, the Holy Spirit the wind in the kite, all whilst Mary looks lovingly on.