A cartoon by Erika Sjule in the New Yorker magazine of May 8, 2023, shows a man and woman sitting at a table and the man declaiming, “If only every summer were autumn, and every autumn spring, and every late spring summer, and every winter only the holiday season, then I think I might finally be happy.” Alas, no chance of that!
But everybody should be happy in “the merry month of May, so frolic, so gay, so green, so green, so green” (lines from the 1559 play, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Decker). May is the time of new growth, new signs of life. May is in the Easter season, and for Catholic Christians it is Mary’s month.
Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates Mary’s month in his poem “The May Magnificat,” [The May Magnificat by Gerard Manley Hopkins (poetry.com)] recalling Mary’s song of praise, “My soul magnifies the Lord”—the Lord, her creator, whom she carries in her womb:
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising,
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Mary “sees, sympathising, . . . nature’s motherhood,” new life “rising” in the month of May, “so green, so green, so green,” and with “nature’s motherhood” she contemplates her own motherhood of Jesus, nature’s Lord. Christians see in her our mother too, Jesus from his cross having given her to us in the person of John: “Behold your mother.” And “with delight” she sees in us, her children, what we need to learn to see ourselves, a “world of good.”
New York City, where I live, aside from its parks, shows “nature’s motherhood” only in tiny, fenced-in spaces: a flowering tree along the street, or the greening of a rooftop garden. But its dense concentration of people harbors a hidden “world of good,” which manifests itself at times of special need.
Such a time was August 14, 2003, when there were 30 hours of electrical blackout. “New Yorkers turned the blackout into a moment of urban solidarity: Citizens started to direct traffic . . . they helped each other out of trapped subway cars; welcomed in stranded colleagues who couldn’t get home; restaurants held impromptu cookouts, sharing their food and beer with neighbors.” (Jen Chung, The Gothamist, August 14, 2018) An elderly lady whom I know was carried up 11 floors to her apartment by her doormen. And perhaps it was the recent memory of 9/11 that prevented any overnight looting of stores.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, representing all of humankind, harbored within herself the source of all that “world of good,” which is our potential. She brought her Son into the world (to quote the Christmas carol) as “a rose e’er blooming [which]/ From tender stem hath sprung.” The blooming of a rose in December foretells the diffusion of its scent in May, when the resurrection of her Son “With sweetness fills the air [and]/Dispels with glorious splendor/The darkness everywhere.”
So May, the month of new life that diffuses sweetness everywhere, is Mary’s month because eternal, glorious life for humankind began in her and comes to us through her. Jesus, risen from the dead, calls forth from us that “world of good” that is the potential of our human nature, created in his image and fully realized in his mother who is also ours.