Blessing a Mary Garden
Homily, Sunday, September 23, 2018
Immaculate Conception Church, Jamaica, New York.
When my community, the Passionists, came to Jamaica, New York, in 1924, we asked Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to guide this new foundation. That’s why signs of Mary are so prominent here. Her statue stands outside the front door of our church. She’s there at the front door of our monastery too– a mother inviting all to know her Son.
The great window in the back of our church of Mary, flanked by St. Catherine Laboure and St. Bernadette, honors the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, which is the title of our parish and monastery.
God kept Mary free from original sin.That gift of God not only helped her avoid sin, but enabled Mary to gain a wisdom and knowledge beyond any other follower of Jesus.
Unlike Peter and the other disciples whom Jesus in St. Mark’s gospel says think too much like human beings, Mary, keeping “all these things in her heart,” grew in the wisdom that comes from thinking as God does.
“All generations will call me blessed,” Mary said, and she brings blessings to all generations, down to our generation today.
Mary brought blessings of wisdom and knowledge when she appeared to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1850 and St. Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858. Her appearances strengthened that generation, battered by the skepticism of the Enlightenment and weakened by an Industrial Revolution the left so many people dehumanized.
Mary’s message then was that there’s another wisdom, a greater world besides this one. God “scatters the proud and lifts up the lowly,” God makes us great. That’s what Mary said to Catherine Laboure and Bernadette and millions more.
In the 1950s a beautiful grotto was built in our garden honoring Mary’s appearance at Lourdes. The generation of the 50s and 60s was struggling with a world war and the threat of further nuclear war. We’re still struggling with threats of war and nuclear destruction. Thousands have come here to pray for peace and to be strengthened by Mary’s promise that God’s still with us.
Today next to our Lourdes grotto, we’re blessing a sign of Mary’s presence to our generation. After Mass we’re blessing our Mary Garden.
Let me tell you what a Mary Garden is. Mary Gardens originated in Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions to die in Europe in the 14th century. Mary gardens, begun in monasteries and churches, reminded people that God brings life, not death, from the earth.
Recalling the Garden of Eden, the Mary Garden with its flowers, medicinal herbs and edible plants recalled the beauty, life and healing we have through God’s gift of the earth. Mary stands in the midst of the garden, promising life and hope. “Make us worthy of the promises of Christ,” we ask her.
I don’t have to tell you we’re living in a world threatened by climate change. Our earth is changing. Go down to the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, Haiti, that have been devastated by floods and hurricanes. Go to our west coast that’s been scorched by wild fires. We only have to open our window to see something is happening to our earth.
Pope Francis has been pleading with the world to hear in catastrophes like these cries of our sister, the earth, calling out to us “ because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” (LS 1)
We’re hoping our Mary Garden will help us grow in our care and love for the earth. We’re hoping that Mary will teach our generation not to be afraid, but to grow in God’s way of thinking about the gift we have in the earth.
Come and see our garden. We’re blessing it and asking Mary to take her place among us and teach us the wisdom of God.
Victor Hoagland, CP
September 23, 2018