Despite popular opinion, it might surprise some people to learn that the busiest time in a parish is not Christmas or Holy Week. Certainly these are hectic periods, but the crown for the busiest time actually goes to the month of May.
In May, parishes see school years come to an end, along with many other parish pastoral and formation programs. There are graduation ceremonies, First Holy Communion Masses, May Processions, Mother’s Day observances, sometimes Confirmations, and all the pastoral challenges that people and families face in the twists and turns of these events.
The busyness of May reminds us of the changing face of life. Sometimes, such a reality check can confuse and upset us: Parents are surprised (and a little saddened) by how quickly their children are growing up, adult children are grieved by the aging of their mothers (and fathers), and the inescapable mortality of life peaks its head up – in one fashion or another – and reminds us that time is moving along.
May reminds us that things are changing, whether we like change or not.
What is a believer to do in such a situation? How are we to find peace in the midst of a changing world?
In her liturgical year, the Church provides us with two power-punch answers, namely, the witness and intercession of Mary and Joseph.
The month of May is traditionally dedicated to Mary, hence, the May Processions and other devotions throughout the month. In this month of numerous changes in the lives of people and families, the Church points us to Mary. In her, we find a person dedicated to God’s divine Providence. Mary accepted all things. She was in speech and action a true “handmaid of the Lord.” She welcomed anything that God brought into her life.
Mary’s acceptance of divine Providence was not some misplaced idealism, naivete, or disdain for her life. It was a robust faith in the goodness of God. It was a vibrant confidence that the changing face and hardships of life were all a part of a marvelous plan that was being played out in the midst of a fallen world. Mary had an utterly personal surety that all things moved and ended for good for those who love God.
This way of life gave Mary peace, hope, and joy. Even as she witnessed the darkness of the world, its cruelty, and its unsettling fallenness, she knew that God held his children in his hands and that nothing could take them from him.
With her faith and knowledge in God, Mary was able to find grace in the sufferings and sorrows of life, as well as in the mundane and day-to-day tasks of life. This understanding helped Mary to live every action as a means of grace. As such, she was attentive to her duties in life and performed them with virtue and excellence.
This awareness leads us to Saint Joseph. The month of May begins with the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. The Church is again assisting us to address the changing face of reality, as she points us – not merely to Joseph – but to his status as a worker.
While much can be said of Joseph (although he never said anything of himself), we should not neglect the fact that he was a worker. Joseph worked. He saw his work as a part of the vocation given to him. He saw a grace and power in his work.
Rather than getting caught in any useless navel gazing, Joseph focused on the task at hand. When things darkened and life changed, he adapted and worked. He stayed the course, knowing that as he played his part, God would play his.
So, we have the example of Mary and Joseph. As life changes, and we are reminded of the passing dimension of our lives and of the world, we can learn from them and imitate their examples.
We can follow Mary’s life and accept the twists and turns of life. We can declare ourselves God’s servant and labor to see his fatherly care in all the aspects of our life, even the unsettling and disturbing ones.
We can then follow Saint Joseph’s life and get to work. Self-reflection is good and has its place, but prayer and the performance of our duties in life are even better. Our work is sacramental, it helps us to encounter God, know of his presence, and cooperate with him in the care of humanity and creation.
In the month of May, therefore, the Church gives us Mary and Joseph as our answers to the spinning and sorrows of the world.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby