At the very beginning of the beautiful month of May I received an invitation I couldn’t refuse. A friend invited personal reflections on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, during this traditional month of celebration, reflection and special devotion to her.
Being raised in another faith tradition didn’t stop me from celebrating the month of May in a special way. Growing up in an ethnic neighborhood in Chicago was an entre for me to do so. Ours was one of two Protestant families on the block and all but one of my grade school friends were Catholics. Each year the month of May would come and the preparations for May altars began. I’m sure little girls all over the world make sure their bedrooms are extra neat and their dressers cleared off for the special little altar that will be a temporary home for Mary.
“Several times during the month my Catholic friends (and the other Presbyterian girl) and I would stand in front of my dresser and sing Immaculate Mary and during those years I learned the Hail Mary by heart. What was missing, of course, was a statue or depiction of Mary. But that didn’t seem to matter to my friends. Mary was somehow present in our gathering as little women.”
My bedroom was no exception. My mother had the best flowers of all the mom’s in the neighborhood so, of course, we would have the May altar in my bedroom. Great- Grandma’s hand-crocheted doilies were carefully arranged on top of the dresser and the special vases that I had purchased with my allowance came out of the bottom drawer for the occasion. I helped Mom choose some particularly gorgeous blossoms and arranged the little nosegays just so….
Several times during the month my Catholic friends (and the other Presbyterian girl) and I would stand in front of my dresser and sing Immaculate Mary and during those years I learned the Hail Mary by heart. What was missing, of course, was a statue or depiction of Mary. But that didn’t seem to matter to my friends. Mary was somehow present in our gathering as little women.
Years later, while taking instructions to become Catholic, I had the opportunity to ask my priest-catechist ‘any question’ I might have about the faith. A somewhat lengthy discussion on praying ‘to’ (my word) Mary and the Saints followed. This wise man asked me if I ever asked my deceased Grandmother or other relatives for help with a particular situation in my life. Of course I did! (not only asked; but I counted on them!)
I still have my May altar. There will be a flower or two. They will never be as lovely as my mother’s and I might hum a few lines of Immaculate Mary. And I still have the sense of being united with my friends and others, honoring, not a statue or picture but the Mary who is so alive in all of our hearts and the memories of my now deceased Mom, Grandma and Great-Grandmother who are always present in my spirit.