The month of May reminds all of us of Mothers’ Day, but in the Philippines it is viewed by many Filipino Catholics as Mary’s month. Numerous festivals and rituals are held in her honor; these clearly show that Filipinos are not only deeply religious but also ardently Marian. The description pueblo amante de Maria (“a people devoted to Mary”) was once ascribed to Filipinos at a Eucharistic Congress in the early 1930s.
Under her many titles, Mary is invoked for protection, guidance, and intercession. Every church and chapel in the country, it seems, is furnished with an image of Mary, and religious art is never complete without some representation of Our Lady. Likewise, no Catholic home is blessed without a Marian image, a statue, a grotto, or a picture.
“Maria” as a Baptismal Name
There was a time when “Mary” or “Maria” was usually chosen by parents as a baptismal name (or appended as a second name) for their daughters. Typically, “Maria” would precede the second name. Countless churches, chapels, stores, hospitals, schools and organizations are named after Mary. Many streets, towns and districts bear her name.
So fervent is the Filipinos’ devotion to Mary that it particularly impressed then-Cardinal Wojtyła (now St. John Paul II) on his first visit to the Philippines in the 1970s. Reports have it that when he was staying somewhere near Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Paranaque City (south of Manila), he asked if he could say Mass there. Much to his surprise, he found the church packed with Marian devotees not on a Sunday but on a Wednesday, the day most Filipino Catholics, especially women, set aside to hear Mass and pray the novena to our Mother of Perpetual Help.
To Be of Humble Service
We, therefore, turn our attention to all women (especially mothers) who are devotees of the Blessed Mother. Behind all these external manifestations of Marian devotion, what should every authentic Christian woman look for in Mary? What qualities of hers should every devotee emulate? What qualities reflect her greatness and perfection? The answer to these questions is certainly not rocket science or anything earth-shattering or something that should make the headlines. Here is the core of her greatness: simply that she did the ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
In his book Word Alive, Fr. Bel San Luis of the Society of the Divine Word, noted author and columnist, says Mary’s fame was not due to her being some outstanding beauty or a prominent matron of the Nazareth Women’s Club. Rather,
For thirty years, she did what every mother did – she cooked, cleaned the house, washed the clothes. She worked in the garden and carried water and firewood. From all aspects she was an ordinary woman and yet, today she is honored as the Queen of Heaven, Mary conceived without sin, the perfect woman…Why? Because in the eyes of God, the type of work or position we occupy has no special value. One kind of job is just as good as another. What really counts in God’s eyes is why we do the work. And Mary did it for only one thing – to be of service to her Son Jesus. Though her work was very ordinary she did it in an extraordinary way.
Sensitivity to the Needs of Others
Fr. San Luis cites Mary’s sensitivity to the needs of others as a “non-negotiable” trait of the authentic Christian. “When Mary heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnant state, unmindful of her own delicate condition, she traveled a long journey if only to assist her,” he writes, recalling his own sojourn to Ain Karim on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
It was more than a hill…it was a steep, craggy mountain…I figured how difficult it must have been for Mary in her condition to climb that rugged, steep hill when paved roads and cars were unheard of! But despite all the inconvenience, Mary took the trouble of making that journey. This is Christianity at its best – caring, committed to the welfare of others.
Let’s face it – many who feel they are privileged are given to self-centeredness making them insensitive to the plight of the unfortunate and victims of life’s circumstances. Mary’s main characteristic is a challenge to all women of privilege: women who are gifted; women who have been given authority and power; women who have the time, talent and treasure to serve others.
The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
Mary of course wasn’t any of these – she was not a woman trying to be a supermom or superwoman. She wasn’t a woman who tried to seek the approval or affirmation of other people. She was a woman content with what her spouse could provide. She made the burdens of everyday life easier by doing everything she could, quietly but cheerfully.
If we’re looking for a woman of greatness (in the perfect sense of the word), let’s look to Mary. For, as one writer has said: “The greatness of a person depends not on what he or she has done but on what others have become because of him or her.”