Closeness to Mary – Jomari Manzano, SJ

Luke 1:26-38, Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A majority of art representations we have of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) is of the vulnerable and frail stereotype of a woman taking care of the child Jesus. But let us not forget that she can also be viewed as a woman of incredible strength and power. Entire armies would ask for her help before heading into battle–from Byzantium, through the crusades and up through the time of Imperial Russia. Eusebius interpreted Maryām asmar-yam (מר-ים) “drop of the sea,” based on מר mar, a rare biblical word for “drop” and ים yam “sea”, a name that had to go through a series of translations, including mistranslations. What we now have is the name Stella Maris “Star of the Sea,” that puts Mary as a powerful guide and protector of seafarers in particular. Magellan, who landed in the Philippine islands 500 years ago in March 1521, named two of his ships after Mary: Victoria (namesake of Santa Maria de la Victoria) and Conception. Out of the five ships that left Spain, only one, the Victoria, was able to return to Seville, Spain in 1522 to become the first ship to circumnavigate the earth.

 I have grown to adore and cherish Mary through my many years as a Jesuit. Ialways look forward to celebrating mass on Marian feasts. I make it a point to pray one Hail Mary after the Prayers of the Faithful in every mass. There are times when I would ask myself, “Am I loving the BVM more than I should? Shouldn’t
that be for God alone?” Then I recalled what St Maximillian Kolbe, OFM once said, “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

For my eight-day annual retreat this year, I went to Mirador Jesuit Villa in Baguio City. This is the same hill that many pilgrims frequent to climb up to ask for favors from the BVM. When I woke up the first day of my retreat, I was moved to go to the grotto first where the seven-foot statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stood. Due to the pandemic, the place has been emptied of the usual pilgrims. For the first time, I had the whole place to myself and the BVM. If the stones could speak, they would have exclaimed words of delight upon seeing
the first pilgrim after a long time. Gazing at Mary’s face, I then started to pray by conversing with her in the manner of an Ignatian colloquy. I thanked her for everything. I was constantly addressing her as Mama. I thanked her specifically for the closeness that has grown in me and for considering me too as her son. At some point, I ran out of words to say so the water flowing from the rocks around the statue served as my prayer, “Let every drop of water express how much I cherish and adore you, Mama Mary.”

I went inside the small chapel beside the grotto to greet the century-old image of her. I sat down at pew no. 15 right in front. I closed my eyes in prayer and imagined her face. Suddenly tears started to flow from my eyes, full of gratitude to her. I told her all the petitions of people I made a promise to offer. I knew with great certainty that she was hearing every prayer, even those unexpressed. I understood then how closeness to someone removes all doubts, separation and division. She told me that I should trust always in her Son to whom she feels closest. If my own closeness to Mary gives the surety of my prayers being heard, then this proves why Mary serves as the most powerful intercessor of all our prayers because of her closeness to God. Whatever prayer she hears, she cannot be stopped from running to her Son to share with Him all our joys and sorrows.

I gazed at her face now bearing a more pronounced smile. She said to me. “Look at me,” and as I looked at her face and especially her bright eyes, she showed me the face of her beloved Son. Indeed, she offered her face
to point me towards her Son. The enigma behind Mary, who may be both loved and shunned, is found in her closeness to God. This makes her not a simple,one-dimensional woman. She immersed herself, despite being immaculately conceived in the womb of St Anne, into the wide spectrum of human emotions. During the Annunciation, the angel told her, “Be not afraid,” because all the complex human emotions were seen on this strong woman’s face.

Pope Francis constantly invites all Christians to go to her especially during these difficult days. For us priests, it is very fitting to use a short prayer for the spiritual well-being of a penitent and as a form of dismissal for the Sacrament of Reconciliation: “May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace.” Let us not be afraid to be close to Mary because closeness to Mary is closeness to God. Amen.

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