Mary’s Birthday

by Melannie Svoboda SND on September 7, 2015

On September 8 we celebrate Mary’s birthday. No one knows for sure what day Mary was born, of course. (I did read, however, that at Medjugorje in 1984 Mary supposedly said her birthday was really August 5.) But the Church celebrates September 8 because it is exactly nine months after December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The planners of the liturgical calendar reasoned, if we celebrate Mary’s conception on December 8, then we should celebrate her birthday on September 8.

The truth is, the actual date of Mary’s birth is not really important. The way she lived her life is! And how did Mary live her life? Here are a few ways:

+ by believing in a God who was active and alive in the history of her people—and in her own

Mary with Joseph and Jesus.

Mary with Joseph and Jesus.

personal history. Mary’s God was not far off. Her God was very near. Her God was involved in human history and in her own life. Is our God far off or near?

+ by experiencing this God as a God of love. Would she ever had said “yes” to God unless she had previously experienced this God as kind, compassionate, and desiring good for her people and for her? Is our God a God of love?

+ by communing with this God in her daily prayer. Many pictures of the Annunciation show Mary at prayer. We don’t know what Mary was actually doing when Gabriel showed up that day. She could have been carrying water from the well or washing clothes or cooking a meal. These were normal tasks for a young girl in her times. But artists tend to show Mary at prayer because they intuitively know: Mary was, indeed, a prayerful woman who talked with God every day. Do we talk with God every day?

+ by trusting this God to do surprising and seemingly impossible things. Being a good Jew, Mary

Mary and the crown of thorns.

Mary and the crown of thorns.

was familiar with the amazing stories in scripture—the story of creation, of the call of Abraham and the birth of Isaac, of the Exodus, of the selection of David, a mere boy, to be king of Israel. Her God was a God of surprises, a God of the seemingly impossible. Have we ever experienced this God of surprises in our own lives?

+ by being willing to risk her reputation—and even her life. Her engagement to Joseph was as serious and binding as marriage. By becoming pregnant outside of that relationship, Mary risked her reputation and her very life. What are we risking for God? What is more important: our reputation or our faith?

+ by entrusting her uncertain future completely into God’s hands. The angel Gabriel didn’t tell Mary what her future would be—or that of her son. He didn’t give her specific directions on how to raise a Messiah. For Mary the future was uncertain and unclear—just as the future is uncertain and unclear for us. Mary trusted that no matter what the future held, God would be with her through it all. Is our trust in God that strong?

The Annunciation by John Collier. I've used this picture quite a while ago, but it's worth using again.

The Annunciation by John Collier. I used this picture quite a while ago, but it’s worth  contemplating again.

+by doing well and with love all the ordinary tasks involved in everyday life. For her that meant the ordinary tasks involved primarily in marriage and motherhood. What ordinary tasks make up our lives? Do we do these tasks well and with love?

This is what we celebrate on September 8—not simply Mary’s birthday, but the way she lived her life.

PS: I have been deeply moved by the refugee crisis in Europe. An estimated 12 million men, women, and children are fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Thousands of them are pouring into Europe. If you are thinking about making a donation (or perhaps you already have) here are three worthwhile organizations: Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org), Unicef (www.unicefusa.org), or World Vision (www.worldvision.org). This is the worst humanitarian crisis of our age, effecting more people than hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and the Indian Ocean tsunami combined! Let us also turn to Mary in prayer that all hearts will be moved to help these refugees find a new life for themselves and their families. And let us pray for all who are working untiringly for peace everywhere.

This song is an 18th Century Latin Hymn entitled “O Sanctissima.” It is sung against a background of several ancient paintings of Mary. I’ve put an English translation of the song below the video.

O most holy one, O most lowly one,

Loving Virgin Mary.

Mother of tender love, undefiled, Pray, pray for us.

You are solace, you are our refuge, O, Mary.

In you we hope. To you we cry. Pray, pray for us.

 

 

What touches you the most about Mary and the way she lived her life?

Do you like any of the pictures of Mary that accompany this reflection? If so, which one and why?

PS: I will be making my annual retreat Sunday September 13th to the 20th. I ask for your prayers and I promise to pray very specially for all the dear readers of my blog! (I worked ahead, so there will be a post on Monday, September 14, as usual.)

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen September 7, 2015 at 9:31 am

Sr. Melannie,

I like the picture of Mary in saddle shoes. Very touching. It makes Mary so human and the angel makes her divine.

Have a wonderful retreat. Thanks for the prayers.

Kathleen

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Sr. Celeste Albers September 7, 2015 at 11:43 am

Sr. Melannie, on August 13th I received a stroke on a small part of my brain. I am 68 years old. This past week I found my music so that I can start playing music. I pray that next Sunday I hope that I will be able to play morning praise for our sisters. I ask you to please hold me in love and prayer that I will gradually be able to play all of my music again and be able to get all of my brain back. I love your love for what you teach us. Know that I will pray for your retreat beginning next Sunday. I love you so much!

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Melannie Svoboda SND September 8, 2015 at 9:59 am

Dear Sr. Celeste, I am so sorry to hear about the stroke. I will certainly hold you in my prayer, and I’m sure my readers will too. May your beautiful music be part of your healing process…Sr. Melannie

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Patty September 7, 2015 at 10:20 am

Thank you for your prayers, Sister. Praying for you, too.

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Dae Probst September 7, 2015 at 10:26 am

Thank you for the beautiful sharing of Our Mother Mary. I will be praying for you that you will have a fruitful retreat.

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Rita September 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

I loved the picture of Mary at prayer but looking over her shoulder at the Angel, almost a double take perhaps thinking “are you talking to ME?” Our God of surprises….
Blessings, Sister Melannie…
Did you smile when you saw the 20/20 ABC show and the Pope speaking with the nun?

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Steve Henry September 7, 2015 at 10:42 am

While on retreat please include our Henry family in your prayers. Something, probably the devil, keeps tugging us apart. There is much in physical healing needed; more so, spiritual healing that we come together as a family and that those who have strayed from the Church, will return and keep Jesus in their hearts.
Steve Henry

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Dorothy September 7, 2015 at 11:12 am

Sister Melannie,
I’ve played this hymn many times at Mass. So beautiful & given me light to the Blessed Virgin Mary & learning more each day & year.

God Bless Your Ministry & upcoming Retreat. I enjoyed your Retreat in Cullman last year in June.
The 20/20 showing of Pope Francis was very beneficial to all.

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Jean September 7, 2015 at 11:57 am

I very much enjoyed the Latin hymn – it took me back to grade-school years and our music teacher, Sr Euphrates, working to teach us the correct pronunciations. There is still something mysterious and holy about hymns sung in Latin. I read a book years ago, “Two From Nazareth” was the title, I think. It put the reader in the time of Mary and the “problem” of her pregnancy. It was a good read.

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Melannie Svoboda SND September 8, 2015 at 10:01 am

Dear Jean, I think the book you refer to might be “Two from Galilee.” I remember reading that many years ago and enjoyed it. It made Mary and Joseph so human. Thanks for the reminder. Sr. Melannie

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Kathy OFS September 7, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I love the first picture of the beautiful Blessed Mother. She is so serene and focused on Jesus. The world is not her priority Jesus is her priority. Makes you wish for the same serenity. Our world is too busy and it’s hard to be calm. So we must ask Mary to whisper into Jesus’s ear that we pray for calmness.

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Michelle September 7, 2015 at 6:03 pm

I recently did a consecration to Mary (ended on August 15th) in order to feel closer to her as I never really felt all that close to her most of my life. After the consecration I feel not necessarily “closer” to her but “more like” her. I feel like I want to live a life in a similar way that she did. And, I just discovered thru your blog that her birthday is one day away from mine! (Mine is 9/9).
So everyday I discover things about Mary that I didn’t before and I really really enjoy it.
PS. I love that sculpture of her with the crown of thorns. Powerful imagery there…

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Sr Maureen Spillane September 7, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Melannie what a beautiful writing. Your pictures touched my heart and the hymn also.
God’s peace be with you on retreat. You will be in my prayers especially.
Love,
Mo

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Mary Ann Burke September 8, 2015 at 6:03 am

Thanks Melannie,
What a beautiful meditation on Mary.You do such good work in leading us closer to the God who loves us as Mary did. I’m sure your. Retreat will be truly blessed. Love & prayers, Mary Ann

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Carol McH September 8, 2015 at 8:15 am

Melannie,
Thanks for such a lovely meditation on Mary! I loved the first picture you posted, the joy on Mary & Joseph’s faces and Joseph so young.
Prayer for blessings on you for your retreat,
Carol

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Jean H September 8, 2015 at 8:56 am

Melannie,
This too reminds me of my grade school years with fond recollections of the songs sung in the choir loft of our beautiful church.
Bless you during your retreat.
Thank you, once again.
Jean

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Melannie Svoboda SND September 8, 2015 at 10:03 am

Thank you to everyone who responded! I always appreciate your insights and observations. You enrich my blog! And thank you for your prayers too. Gratefully, Melannie

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Diane Butler September 8, 2015 at 11:02 am

Mary has been an inspiration for me. During my pregnancies especially, my youngest is named Mary is was born on Sept 9th.
I admire the way she trusted completely. I try to as well especially as we move next week, without a home to go to.
She believed God even when she watched the cruel death of her Son. She encouraged His Apostles even when they lost faith.

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mary james September 8, 2015 at 11:15 am

Once again, Melanie, you have given us many good reflections on Mary.
I love the “Nativity” picture, but the one with the girl reading reminded me of myseslf –in uniform-saddle shoes–reading– and following God’s call 56 (!) years ago today.

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Leonard Viggiano September 8, 2015 at 2:56 pm

I liked the image of Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus. It made them very human to me. We almost always picture Joseph as an old man which to me is not what he was.
I always thought that he was pictured that way to protect her virginity.
I certainly believe Mary was a virgin when she conceived, I am not so sure that was true after marrying Joseph.
As Catholics we seem to have an idea that intimacy between a man and a women makes married couples less than perfect.

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