Fr. Manuel M. Flores, SJ
Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
September 8, 2017
To celebrate the birthday of our mother more meaningfully, let us reflect on three symbols that may help us understand her peerless beauty. I first used these symbols in a sermon for grade school children. But the more I stayed with these simple symbols the more I realized how fitting and helpful they are for understanding Mary.
The BLOOM – the purity and simplicity of Mary
Many other flowers are used to symbolize Mary such as the rose and the iris. But they are too elaborate, complicated and sophisticated. For me the lily is most appropriate because it amazingly reflects Mary’s purity and simplicity. In the Oxford Dictionary “lily white” means to be totally pure and innocent.
The purest, whitest lily I have ever seen (even beating those in the internet) is a local species of wild Calla lily. It is found after climbing for 2 hours up Mt. Tomas, the highest peak in Baguio. This lily is so simple that it has only one single petal curling inward like a seashell, as if trying to hide her inner mystery. Simple though it may be, its pure whiteness and beauty can make the rose blush with envy.
We need to reflect on Mary’s purity today. This is needed by our people who have been so violated and brutalized, body and soul, by the more than 13,000 deaths from the drug wars. Mary is one of us, human like us. Her purity reminds us what we really are inside, how God created us beautiful, good and pure (Gen 1:27-31). Looking at Mary refreshes the eyes of our soul and gives us hope. We can dream again and strive again to be what can be, what God wants us to be. We are God’s beloved children, whom He desires to be fully alive and happy.
She reminds us that there is beauty in simplicity. Beauty is not skin deep as the derma-surgical clinics want us to believe. It does not depend on expensive Versace dresses, Hermes bags and other external accessories.
Real beauty comes from within, when the soul is simple as one finds in a child.
The BOOT – the courage and strength of Mary
In ancient times sandals were the common footwear, boots were used in battle. Is 9:5 – “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” Mary is presented in scripture with her foot crushing the head of the serpent.
We are often mistaken about simple and good people, thinking of them as weak, and powerless. Mary in particular is someone who has helped us in our greatest battles. We remember the battle of Lepanto in 1571 when the superior, bigger Ottoman navy tried to invade Europe. How did the inferior, smaller, ragtag Christian navy of 208 ships and 62,000 men defeat the Ottoman navy with 251 ships and 82,000 men? The miracle was achieved when the pope asked people to constantly pray the rosary as the battle raged. The rout of the Ottoman forces was so complete that they called Mary then “Our Lady of Victory.”
She appeared in Lourdes at the height of Rationalism when the elite of Europe saw religion as reserved only for the ignorant masses. She appeared in Fatima in 1917 at a time of intense persecution of the Church in Portugal, when 1,700 priests, nuns and monks were killed and church property confiscated.
Her courage and strength are clearly from God. Mary does not even look at the serpent under her feet
(unlike St Michael who looks down at the demon). Mary is at peace looking heavenward, taking all her strength and courage from God.
She is our very own, real “Wonder Woman” who can help us fight and win the drug wars and our own personal battles. She is with us as we try “to conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21)”, “by the power of the Spirit.” She is with us not only to console and comfort. She can ask God to give us the same courage and strength that God had given her. Our triumph is guaranteed when Mary fights with us by our side. She is truly “Our Lady of Victory.”
The BROOM – the humble service of Mary
Bernadette Soubirous the poor girl to whom Mary appeared at Lourdes entered a convent. She never went back to Lourdes after it had become famous in France and throughout the world. She was asked why she never went back to Lourdes where she would have been welcomed like a star. Bernadette answered, “I am the poorest, lowest possible person God could find, if He could find anyone lower, God would have used her. I am like a broom. After it has been used, it must be hidden behind the door.”
We find the same extreme personal humility in Mary: “I am the maid servant (meaning chimay!) of the Lord.” After the infancy and childhood of Jesus Mary disappears in the Gospels. Except for the miracle at Cana, during Jesus’ ministry, Mary would be the woman in the shadows. She would only appear again at the foot of the cross when she was most needed by her Son.
What can we learn from the humility of Mary, we in this age of the selfie, who obsess over our appearance and image in FB? We can learn from Mary that true humility is service. The essence of the humility of Mary is not in her thinking of herself as lesser or greater than others. Her humility is that she did not think of herself at all! She thought of the needs of her cousin Elizabeth, of that couple in Cana, and of her dying Son on the cross.
What gift then can we give our Mother Mary for her birthday?
What is better than a cake with candles, better than 2000 Hail Mary’s, better than a mass complete with incense? A better gift to Mary perhaps is to imitate her purity and simplicity, courage and strength, and her humble service.
May we ever remember Mary’s lesson of the BLOOM, the BOOT and the BROOM.