May is my favorite month of the year. The blooming of spring flowers make it the most beautiful, while the happy occasions of first Holy Communions, May Crownings, and ordinations make it the most joyful. It is fitting, then, that the most beautiful and joyful month of the year be dedicated to she who is God’s most beautiful creation and who is the “Cause of our Joy”—the Blessed Virgin Mary.
With the coronavirus pandemic still gripping the world and keeping so many away from their parish churches, there will be the temptation to submit to the disappointment of all this and think we’ve lost out on all the beauty and joy May usually brings. All is not lost, however! Let’s not overlook the opportunity the government-mandated quarantine provides to deepen our Catholic faith by simply having more time to pray. We can still make this the most beautiful and joyful May yet, if we use this situation to build a foundation for a lasting good in our spiritual lives.
A meme has been circulating around the internet ribbing those who have been using their time stuck in self-isolation to binge watch Netflix, with the reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined during an outbreak of the plague in London he made use of his time to write King Lear. Whether this is true or not, the spirit behind the meme is most helpful. We ought to use the time we still have before we return to the ordinary circumstances of our busy daily lives to bring some measure of good out of the terrible situation we find ourselves in. In a letter issued to all the faithful on April 25th, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to make use of the “restrictions of the pandemic…to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May.”
The Holy Father’s letter reminds me of a chapter in Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop titled “The Month of Mary”. It details the joy of a missionary priest in the midst of a sickness that confines him to bed. What could possibly be the “cause of his joy” in the midst of such a trial? It was the time his sickness afforded him to be able to honor Mary throughout the month of May in a manner he had not been able to for so many years on account of his busy life as a missionary. It’s a touching chapter worth quoting at length:
At last, in 1858, Father Vaillant was sent to arrange the debated boundaries with the Mexican Bishops. He started in the autumn and spent the whole winter on the road, going from El Paso del Norte west to Tucson, on to Santa Magdalena and Guaymas, a seaport town on the gulf of California, and did some seafaring on the Pacific before he turned homeward.
On his return trip he was stricken with malarial fever, resulting from exposure and bad water, and lay seriously ill in a cactus desert in Arizona. Word of his illness came to Santa Fé by an Indian runner, and Father Latour and Jacinto rode across New Mexico and half of Arizona, found Father Vaillant, and brought him back by easy stages.
He was ill in the Bishop’s house for two months…
It was the month of Mary and the month of May. Father Vaillant was lying on an army cot, covered with blankets…
This was a very happy season for Father Vaillant. For years he had not been able properly to observe this month which in his boyhood he had selected to be the holy month of the year for him, dedicated to the contemplation of his Gracious Patroness. In his former missionary life, on the Great Lakes, he used always to go into retreat at this season. But here there was no time for such things. Last year, in May, he had been on his way to the Hopi Indians, riding thirty miles a day; marrying, baptizing, confessing as he went, making camp in the sand-hills at night. His devotions had been constantly interrupted by practical considerations.
But this year, because of his illness, the month of Mary he had been able to give to Mary; to Her he had consecrated his waking hours. At night he sank to sleep with the sense of Her protection. In the morning when he awoke, before he had opened his eyes, he was conscious of a special sweetness in the air,—Mary, and the month of May. Alma Mater redemptoris! Once more he had been able to worship with the ardor of a young religious, for whom religion is pure personal devotion, unalloyed by expediency and the benumbing cares of a missionary’s work. Once again this had been his month; his Patroness had given it to him, the season that had always meant so much in his religious life.
Like Shakespeare, we can be productive in the free time we still have on account of this pandemic. Like Father Vaillant from Cather’s novel, we can be productive in the best sense, that is, spiritually, by deepening our devotion to the Mother of God. And like Pope Francis wishes, we can do this by praying the Rosary every day, especially as a family.
Even without the joyful moments that usually come this time of the year in the life of our parishes, one day we may be able to look back on as the best of our lives if it is when we took up the practice of praying the Rosary everyday. As Our Lady promises, “Devotion to my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.”
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