By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 29, 2008
The roses are alive, I am thinking as I head out into our garden, trailed by a cloud of mosquitoes. Invariably, after pruning my roses each winter, I fear that I have killed them and will never see another bloom.
And then in May, the month devoted to Mary, comes my big glorious surprise: Out of apparent death emerges the most luxuriant beauty.
The rose was the flower of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Early Christians shunned roses because they linked them with paganism, but in the Middle Ages, roses—which were seen as the queen of flowers—came to symbolize the Virgin Mary, often called “the mystical rose.”
As a child, I loved the day in May when my classmates and I brought flowers from home and placed each blossom, no matter how humble, at the feet of a statue of Mary. We wove some flowers into a simple crown, which Sister placed gently upon the statue’s head.
Collecting the flowers from the yard, while reflecting that they were intended for the Blessed Mother, was a thrilling moment indeed! It was a child’s simple way of telling Mary “I love you.”
Tradition holds that saying a rosary is like giving the Blessed Mother a crown of roses to wear. And ever since I was old enough to hold the strands in my hands, I have been praying the Rosary, or, as some would say, “telling the beads.”
I took my beads very seriously. I knew that praying the rosary would help the souls of the faithful departed gain entry into heaven, and so I dutifully prayed for the deceased grandparents I had never met, plus my favorite uncle, who had died so young, leaving behind a wife and two babies.
In high school, I learned that the unexplained aroma of roses traditionally was connected with the Blessed Mother’s appearances on earth. Years later, on the day my mother died, my sister reported that her home had been mysteriously filled with the scent of roses, although no flowers were present.
By that time, however, I had given up on my faith, so I disregarded my sister’s story and thought little more about it until I returned to the church in my 40s. It was then that I looked back on that day and wondered if Mother Mary might have been telling us that our mother was with her and Jesus in heaven.
Roses show us beauty in surrender. They must submit to a harsh pruning each winter, and then, come spring, without any fanfare, they simply do what roses do: Put forth tentative tendrils of green and then create bursts of color and glorious perfume.
No wonder Mary is connected with the rose: Her humble acquiescence to become the mother of God changed the world forever.
And on May 31, the feast of the Visitation, we celebrate the moment when a newly pregnant girl named Mary went to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant, and whose baby would one day be called John the Baptist.
On this feast day, we read the Gospel account of Elizabeth seeing Mary and crying out in delight, while the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps with joy. It seems that even unborn children can recognize God!
In many ways, the Visitation is a day of great spiritual power for all the people praying for an end to the terrible prevalence of abortion in our world today. In this thrilling scene, an unborn baby can sense God in another woman’s womb because that baby already has the spark of God’s presence in his soul.
Each May, when my roses turn their lovely faces to drink in the light of the sun, I think about Mother Mary. I think about the moment when she first beheld the “fruit” of her womb: the little face of the One called the light of the world.
Devotion to Mother Mary helps us keep our faces toward the light, no matter how bleak life may get. And by continuing to pray the Rosary and ask for her prayers “now and at the hour of our death,” we surely are moving toward a day when every baby that leaps in the womb will have a chance to be born. And every baby will have a chance to collect flowers in a garden.
Each May the roses tell us their secret. It is the same wisdom that comes from the one called the Mystical Rose: Even after the harshest pruning, there comes new life.
Lorraine’s latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press). Artwork featured in the print edition of this column is by Jef Murray. You may contact the Murrays by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.