The Most Holy Name of Mary
Feast ~ September 12
|The name itself is a prayer.|
In the ancient biblical world newborns died so frequently that they were not named for over a week...a little test of time. And so, as Jesus was given his name on the 8th day following his birth, so was Mary. When we are born, we enter a dangerous and risky world. But Mary survived and was named. Welcome Mary!
It was the Christians of Spain who first started celebrating Mary's Name in the early 1500's. And in 1688 the global Church joined in an act of thanksgiving to her for the victory of John Sobieski, King of Poland, over the Turkish invaders who were besieging Poland and threatening the West. But of course the real warfare of Christians is interior - the real enemies being: fear, self-pity, self-deception, self-preoccupation, self-destruction, ingratitude, arrogance. When I"m feeling besieged, afflicted, assaulted, oppressed - from a deep inner place, call our their holy names: Jesus! Mary!
But while Mary is given her Hebrew name, Miryam, it's deeper than just a name. We're named, called or chosen for something more. This is so for everything that God has made. An old monk says that in praying about this, we need to pray not so much for clarity but for courage - for the courage to step out, to make myself available for what's challenging and new. The stars understand. The Prophet Baruch writes: "The stars at their posts shine and rejoice and when God calls them, they answer, 'Here we are!' shining with joy for their Maker." (Baruch3:34-35) And Mary will grow and say to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant, let it be done to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38)
If you follow her, you will never go astray.
If you pray to her, you will never need to despair.
If you keep her in mind you will never fall.
If she leads you, you will never be weary.
If she help you, you will reach heaven's home safe at the last.
And so you will show in yourself how right it is to say:
"And the Virgin's name was Mary!"
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
When parents name a child they're making the baby their own. And when Christians take Mary as their own, she is called Magistra Nostra - Our Teacher. But how is this, that an infant girl would teach us? She teaches us that our cries are not lost to God. That as the baby's cries are inarticulate and we must guess their meaning, God knows. I cry in joy that I have been granted some undeserved forgiveness or that some lovely gift has been given to me. Or my cries can say, yet again, I have made a mess of things, or that I am suffering a terrible loneliness or discomfort of spirit. Attend to me, Lord! I am your child, no less than Mary!
The little girl is given the Hebrew name Miryam: a strange name to give a girl as it means rebellion. Why then? In Mary and her Son, God is drawing near to us, not rejecting or rebelling against us. Mary is God's associate, as I might be as well - rebelling against the forces that want me living in an inner collapse: cynical, perpetually disappointed, without conscience, the wounds of the past festering. Mary lived in the tough, bullying world of empire. Saint Paul writes: "We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil." (Ephesians 6:10ff)
After walking from slavery in Egypt through the parted Red Sea, the Hebrew people grew hungry and complained loudly to Moses. And God took care of the problem at once. "In the morning dew lay all about the camp and when the dew evaporated there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground." (Exodus 16:13,14) Saint Germanus calls Mary the cloud that sprinkles over us Jesus, the divine spiritual dew. Surely we can feel the dryness of souls today: the suffering and sadness which weighs down on people, the paralyzing fear and feeling of hopelessness. Praise Mary, the moisture-laden cloud!
Maggie Doyne is a young woman from New Jersey who went backpacking in Asia after her high school graduation. While in Nepal she met dozens of abandoned and orphaned children wandering in cities and remote areas. She bought an acre of land and built an orphanage for the little girls who were no longer useful to the sex trade and for the damaged boys too weak to fight any longer as child-soldiers. It's a dirty world. But what's this? That Mary is called Spouse of God? That in Mary, God, bridegroom-like, loves this muddied world and enters into our condition so deeply at Bethlehem, to forgive the world's sins and to teach us how to love people.
Known and loved, Joachim and Anne named their little girl. But I might consider that there are so many children who begin their lives un-named, like the newborn who is left under a bridge, or in a heap of garbage. There are some religious sisters who have a kind of night drop box where an infant can be left, trusting the nuns will provide and take care. And at the other end of life, there are those who are un-identified: those un-named in wars or by disasters, or who become unknowns in brutal institutions. God knows the number of the stars and calls each one by name, Psalm 147 tells us. How much more then, each of us!
We have the expression, "Making a name for yourself." Sometimes that sounds a little negative, as if the name has been gotten by some illegal or unworthy behavior. In Genesis the people set out to build a city with a tower that would touch the heavens and they say, "Let us make a name for ourselves." But Mary has a name that is revered all over the earth. There are more references to Mary in the Quran of Islam than in the New Testament. When naming the best woman who ever lived, Mohammad named Mary. And when the mother of Mary gave birth to her infant daughter she prayed: "O my Lord! I have delivered a female child...and I have named her Maryam and I seek refuge with You for her and for her offspring from Satan, the outcast." (Quran 3:35-36) We might draw upon this common love as a way to peace: humbly asking for, and granting forgiveness for the offenses of the past and celebrating the Name of Maryam.
Glory be to the Father...