Friday, 1 May 2009

May Day

As we give thanks to God for all the blessings he bestowed on us during the month of April, especially the gift of Holy Week, and for us here at Sevenoaks, the gift of a Parish Pilgrimage; we pray that he will guide and direct our steps during this new month of May.
The month of May is the month of Mary. Why?
May is considered the season of the beginning of new life. Already in Greek culture, May was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fecundity. In Roman culture, May was dedicated to Flora, the goddess of bloom, of blossoms. The Romans celebrated ludi florales (literally: floral games) at the end of April, asking the intercession of Flora for all that blooms. The first day of May was considered the beginning of growth. Christians saw in Mary the real Artemis and Flora, she is the one who made life blossom as she gave Jesus to the world, who made possible new life for us through her obedience to God.
At one time, the custom of having a Mary-month was independent from the month of May as such: an old tradition known as Trigesimum (or: Thirty-Day Devotion to Mary; also called Lady Month) was originally held from August 15 - September 15. The exact dates or origin of this devotion are unknown, but the custom is still practiced. Mary Month, as yet unrelated to a specific period, has been known since ancient times. It was a devotion of about thirty spiritual exercises in honour of Mary.
Since medieval times, the combination between Mary and the month of May from the early Christians, prevailed. Among the earliest witnesses is Alphonse X, "el sabio", King of Castille, Spain (1221-1284) with his "Cantigas de Santa Maria". Here and elsewhere, both Mary and the month of May are greeted, welcomed and celebrated on specific days in May. Later, the whole month of May became the month of Mary. On each day of this month, special devotions to Mary were organized.
And so we consecrate this day and month to the Blessed Virgin Mary and we go to her school to learn how to be disciples of Jesus.
Today is also the feast day of St Joseph the Worker. Like the Christianisation of the pagan festivals of the birth of the sun and those of Artemis and Flora, this is the Christianisation of May Day. In the 1950’s Communism was a significant and real threat. The Communist regimes filtered large sums of money to encourage the celebrations of May Day outside Russia and its satellite states. If you see the images used by socialist and communist parties of the time, you will find depictions of an idealised worker, the human lifted on a pedestal inspired by the philosophy of Nietzsche and the likes. It was an atheist and secularist move to replace God by an idealised form of a (super) human that does not exist.
Pius XII saw that this was not simply about the worker; it was about replacing God with the self-sufficient modern human being – the story of Genesis 1-3 all over again. By a strike of genius, Pius XII counteracted this by establishing the feast of St Joseph the worker on this day. Placing Joseph as model of all workers puts in front of workers the reality that one does not need to be like the super non-existent form of worker promoted by communists, one needs to use his talents in unity with the will of God so that with him we may become co-creators. So today, we pray for all workers and ask the silent St Joseph to intercede for them. And finally today is also the First Friday of the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We pray that we may imitate his love and be once more refreshed by it.And so today brings together Jesus, Mary and Joseph – the Holy Family. I must say that one of most moving moments I find in the Holy Land is when I visit the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth. There you can hear the silence and witness the simplicity of those who trust in God, and maybe today with this wonderful collision of joys we may ponder on the Holy Family and imitate them as we contemplate them.
Today is a gift, this month of May is a gift, indeed: “The happy birds “Te Deum” sing, its Mary’s month of May” – Deo Gratias!

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