When I was a little boy I remember vividly the Ist of May. With the other children of the barrio, we woke up enthusiastically early in the morning, scouted around and looked for flowers (the weather was not as dry then and plants were beginning to bloom). It was then an interesting month for us children. We considered it then as our month. It was the month when the church took us, little children, seriously; focusing its attention on us for the rest of the month and providing us with catechesis and teaching us to pray. Personally, it was in one of these months of May of my childhood years, when I realized that the church is not just an adults’ world, talking only their language, doing things only adults could comprehend. It was also our church. The church that taught us the truths of the faith in a medium we can easily understand -- stories. The Church that taught us to pray to God in a language that was clearer and nearer to our hearts -- the offering of flowers.
The merry month of May then was really merry for us. The weather was not as hot then as rains began to fall. There were also those daredevil adventures of stealing from a neighbor’s flower beds and being chased by those big, vicious dogs. It was also a time for climbing trees and shaking their branches for fruits and the laboglabog (the only “beetle” I knew then). The snacks and the fireworks display in the barangay chapel after the catechesis and the rosary provided us with the major thrill of the day. How it came to be such a merry month started not just with my childhood. It has a long history, done by the children before me -- a history full of symbolism and rich with significance. By tracing its story and how it came to be, I believe would help us once more appreciate this merry month, participate in its celebrations more actively and grow in the faith our May devotions propagate.
Month of Mary
The month of May is dedicated to Mary and Fr. Bernard Raas, SVD, in his book “Popular Devotions” traced why it is so.
This devotion has for its background the seasons of the year in Europe. May is in the middle of spring when everything comes to life; trees' show-off their new leaves, the hills carpeted with blooming wild flowers and the season for planting begins.
This season is a contrast to what happened earlier in the dead of winter when everything seemed lifeless. The trees seemed dead and the meadows covered with snow. There were no fruits, no leaves on trees, no flowers, no pleasant songs from chirping birds. Even wild animals hibernated during those days. Everything was white with snow and it was very cold. All this bareness, coldness and dampness seemed to effect even the emotions of man whose activities were limited by the sub-zero temperature around the warmth of the hearth (this was before snow skiing was ever conceived). However, when spring comes, everything comes to life again and to celebrate this season the May festivities came to be. Spring is life, the renewal of life, the promise of new life, a resurrection, an Easter and everywhere one could sense hope and eagerness. It is in this context that Mary comes into the picture.
Since May is still within the bounds of our yearly celebration of Easter, when Christ made us into a new creation, we look on Mary during this month as the embodiment, the manifestation of this Easter reality. She embodies the flower and fruit of Easter. All her beauty, perfection and privilege come from the salvific action of Jesus culminating in his resurrection. She manifests the new life because of the triumph of Christ from sin and its fruit that is death. She manifests where our life in the risen Lord could lead us all. She therefore is the first flower of the new life in God, the spring after the lifelessness in the winter of sin. She is the Flores de Mayo, the Flower of Easter.
In this beautiful season one can see the connection between Mary and Easter, between the simple woman Mary who became the Mother of Jesus and the redemptive work of her Son. During this month as we celebrate these privileges of Mary, we too celebrate ours for we will become like her in her immaculateness, in her assumption to heaven and in her crowning in glory. She is the eschatological icon, the manifestation of our goal, the reality of what we can become individually and as a church. She is the fulfillment of the promise of a new creation. These privileges too are and will be ours for like her we are and invited to become the flowers and fruits of Jesus’ resurrection.
Also Fr. Rass explains that May comes from the name of the Greek goddess of spring, Maia. In Greek mythology she is the Mother of the messenger God, Hermes. In time Maia and her legend became associated with Mary who is also the mother of the Messenger-God, Jesus Christ. As the month of May was dedicated to Maia by the pagans, the Christians too, when they came, dedicated it to Mary by offering her flowers, as the pagans before them offered sacrifices to their goddess, Maia.
The Flower Brings forth the Fruit
Mary, as the most beautiful creation of God, the most beautiful flower in the springtime of our Easter life in Jesus, puts in a proper perspective again our devotion to her. By analogy she is called the flower of God, His most beautiful creation. However, we must remember that though flowers have their own value, their real purpose is to bring forth the fruit. Applied to Mary this would mean that her beauty and grace must be seen in relationship to the fruit which is Christ. Sometimes we tend to forget this reality. In our love for Mary and in our devotions to her we tend to forget Jesus. Our whole attention is only focused on the flower while we only give secondary importance to the fruit. Calling our Blessed Mother then as the Flores de Mayo we assert once more her role in the life of Jesus as Mother who gave flesh to the incarnate Son of God and we also assert her role in the Church as model of all Christians whose sensitivity to the Word of God lead her to such singular privilege.
With a background so closely associated with the weather in Europe we may not really feel the emotions which our May celebrations wish to convey. We had not experienced the contrast between the dampness of winter and the joy of springtime. Even the flowers which we offer to Mary does not look as lively as it should be because of the heat. This is bound to happen especially to devotions which we import from other countries, devotions which are heavily influenced by the western calendar and the change of seasons in that part of the globe. Nevertheless, though we could not appreciate the celebration in its totality especially in its externals, we could at least interiorize the message and intent of the celebrations. With these I would like to give two proposals.
First, instead of emphasizing a spirituality enhanced by and hinged in the emotions and dispositions brought in part by a change of weather, we could very well emphasize a spirituality brought about by the creative power of the resurrection of Jesus. In this area therefore we should emphasize not so much the honor that is due to Mary, though it is implied in the celebration, but rather the modeling of Mary as the person we could look up to, who fulfilled in herself the reality of the Easter promise - when her life became the clear manifestation of the new life in God brought about by Jesus.
In the Flores de Mayo we are invited to offer flowers to Mary as our way of honoring her divine privilege, but we must also remember that these flowers which we offer are symbols of the good deeds which we do in imitation of her. If this symbolism is clear to us then it would not matter much if we bring to her our wilted flowers, the best we could have in the middle of summer. Symbols point to reality but when the reality of the good deeds become so explicit in our lives, the symbols are only redundant. What we should rather be concerned of is the fact that our symbols might become empty of meaning. Good deeds are the fruits of the Easter mysteries, flowers of the new life in God which Mary our model epitomizes, and this should be emphasized as the true flowers worthy of God. With our emphasis on these symbolism regardless of the weather around us, our May celebrations will become meaningful and spiritually uplifting.
Another area which we could emphasize in these celebrations is our apostolate to the children though it should not be taken to mean that Flores de Mayo is exclusively for them. The word is emphasis. This is one of our unique contribution as Filipinos to the formation of May celebrations - catechesis for children. Forming people in the church does not have to start when the children reach the age when they could already understand the mechanics of being church. Like in all formation it is always best to start young and provide them with a wonderful experience of the faith in early childhood.
Formation however, should not be exclusively thought of as formation of our intellectual facilities in our understanding of the faith -- knowing pila ang Dios, pila ang persona sang Dios, memorization of prayers etc. Formation which is all in the head. Most parents have this mistaken notion of catechesis so that when their children are trained in exclusive Catholic schools they feel no longer the need of sending their children to the Flores de Mayo Catechism classes. Observe for example the children going to Flores de Mayo nowadays. Most of them come from poor families sent by their parents to supplement their religious intellectual formation which public education terribly lack.
Personally, however, I believe (since I am a product of this catechism classes myself) it is not just intellectual formation that is offered there but more importantly the formation in being church, a community of disciples. And it is in this area of formation that we should start young before society could form and feed them concepts that they are different and distinct from the rest of humanity and create class divisions. And it is precisely this type formation which the Flores de Mayo offers. They are put together in one class, rich or poor, where they learn the basics of the faith together, rub elbows with each other, befriend one another. For most of our children here in the city where our concrete fences grow higher and higher each year, these are the only times when the children of the rich interact with those who have less in life. And I believe this interaction is very important in the formation of the so called “PCP II babies” - interactions which destroys the barriers which separate the poor and the rich before they could be built and provide for a solid basis for future interactions - to live in a community where income, training, intellectual prowess and other discriminating faculties are considered unimportant. All these should be done against the background that because of the resurrection of Jesus we have become indeed a new creation like Mary, the Flores de Mayo, the first flower and fruit of Spring - Easter.