A heart for Mary

On behalf of the hermitage and shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, a unique place of prayer and spiritual care, I am sharing the following message that the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed placed on its Facebook page today It would be fantastic if even one reader of this blog would be able and willing to contribute to the sole contemplative religious establishment in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. There is no place where the motherly care of the Mother of God does not read, not even what Brother Hugo, the hermit of the place, calls “the North Pole”.

heart warfhuizen

“We ask your attention for the following. Our Lady of Warfhuizen still lacks the heart with seven swords which is so characteristic … for a “Mother of Sorrows.”

As confraternity we think that is unacceptable, but we are a penniless organisation, so simply ordering one is something we can’t do. Now, in Naples we found one which would be ideal. It costs €430 [$595 – MV], an amount of money that we think should be possible to collect if all loyal devotees of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed would contribute a small amount.

Hence this call: help us give Mary a heart and donate a contribution on bank account NL45TRIO0198535724, in the name of “Broederschap O.L.V. vd Besloten Tuin in Glimmen, the Netherlands, quoting HART VOOR MARIA.”

If it is easier, donations may also be made via my PayPal account in the left sidebar. Do state with your donation that it is intended for the heart of Mary. I will make sure your donation is passed on to the confraternity.

For more information on Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, the shrine, pilgrimages, the confraternity and what makes it unique, go here. The website is available in Dutch, French and English, and in the near future, additional languages will be added.

Some may wonder, why spend such a large amount of money on what is a piece of decoration? An answer to that question would have to include the fact that we spend money on what and who we love, and that nothing in the shrine is simply an object (from the lights on the ceiling to the brooms in the cupboard, everything has a function). The heart pierced with seven swords reflects the essence of who Mary is as the Mother of Sorrows. In the first place it refers to the passage from the Gospel of Luke:

“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.'” (2:34-35)

Tradition later expanded this piercing of Mary’s soul into the seven sorrows:

  • The prophecy of Simeon quoted above
  • The flight into Egypt
  • The loss of the Child Jesus at the Temple
  • Mary meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary
  • Jesus’ death on the Cross
  • The piercing of Jesus’ side, and Mary receiving His body in her lap
  • The body of Jesus being placed in the tomb

These experiences, terrible for any mother, show us how Our Lady of Sorrows can be a comfort and example to people who suffer, as she does at Warfhuizen. The heart with seven swords shows us who she is for us, an identity given her because of her unique role in salvation history and Jesus’ life on earth.

The shrine at Warfhuizen continues to attract increasing numbers of pilgrims from all over the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and beyond. It is a small and intimate place, but rich in symbolism, comfort and prayer. You can help complete it further.

Morning reflection: Marylightmas

Marylightmas, the literal translation of what today’s feast used to be called in the Netherlands. The focus on the Blessed Virgin, although deemed slightly inappropriate after Vatican II, is not entirely unjustified.  In our celebration of today, which is now styled ‘the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple’, Mary, and her husband St. Joseph, are the instigators of the action. They are the ones who bring Jesus to the temple, but of course, it is His presence there that dictates what happens next:

And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: “Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”
As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”
There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

Luke 2:22-40

Christmas is forty days behind us. Jesus, like any other firstborn Jewish male, is brought to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord. He may be God, but He is also fully human and a such part of a human community with all its customs and habits. Maybe we can say that, just as the human Christ is consecrated to God, the divine Christ takes all of humanity with Him in His consecration. He has come to us, and already does He take us into Him.

The two elderly seers, for that is what we can call them, Simeon and Anna, again display that first characteristic that we saw the day before yesterday: faith. But here it is a joyful faith, a faith that praises God. He has come, “the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel”. But the certainty of their faith also contains words of warning. There will be hardships and pain in order for Him to be our Saviour.

Things really start going here: not only the young life of Jesus with His family, friends and neighbours, but also the road to our salvation: God has come to live among us,

Art credit: ‘Simeon’s Moment’ by Ron DiCianni, who describes his work here.

Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed – Homily

Below is a translation of the homily that Fr. Rolf Wagenaar, cathedral administrator of the St. Joseph cathedral in Groningen, gave at the Mass before the procession to the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, last Saturday.

The original text is in Brother Hugo’s blog here.

The clouds that Fr. Wagenaar refers to in the homily were indeed hard to miss

—————

Our Lady of the garden enclosed. THat is the chapel, the small shrine of Mary in Warfhuizen to which, after this Holy Mass, we will go in procession.

Our Lady of the garden enclosed. In Latin: hortus conclusus, a favourite topic in the late Middle Ages, in painting and on tapestries. We see Mary – because it always refers to her – in a walled garden with many flowers and near here usually stands a unicorn. Source is the Old Testament Song of Songs, where we read: “She is a garden enclosed, my sister, my promised bride; a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4: 12).

That garden enclosed has always been connected to the Immaculate Conception of Mary which, as you know, means that Mary has been free of sin since her conception in the womb of her mother Anna; a premature redemption because she would , after all, carry God Himself in her womb. Spotless she had to be, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain. Similar is an invocation in a litany of Mary from Loreto, the so-called Lauretan litany, which has been taken complete from Scripture.

Hortus conclusus – garden enclosed
Fons signatus – sealed fountain

The unicorn which is often depicted near Mary in the garden enclosed is also taken from Scripture and is mentioned in various place in the Old Testament. It seeks refuge in the lap of the Virgin and has the power to purify poisoned wells with its horn. It is connected to Christ, of course – the purity is central. Tota pulchra – o most beautiful, that is how we may understand it.

The image also has something poetic and we may emphasise that in this time: the beauty of our faith, because God is the most beautiful and that has always inspired so many artists. But poetry is not only sweet, like in the diaries of my sisters when we were children. Today too, in this lovely, blooming month of May, we may go to Mary in her enclosed garden, probably through rain and at least under dark and threatening clouds.

A sad, crying Mary she is here, for what her Son had to go through – didn’t old Simeon already foretell it to her? -, also for the many sins and the suffering in the world that is not only great elsewhere, but also when it hits us ourselves here. Who better to go to that to you Mother, our heavenly Mother, who is, unlike any other, so near to the Lord, to God Himself.

The Father also did not take away the suffering of the Son. So we must carry or cross, but with the Lord who said Himself: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”, and with His Mother Mary on our side the burden will be lighter, we can handle it and we can look up to the brightly shining crown, image of the Resurrection, of victory. That is why the crying Mary is also a happy one because the joy is ultimate!

We may gather under Mary’s protection like this, now in this Mass, in a joyful walk towards her, image of the pilgrimage that is our life.

We seek refuge under your protection, Our Holy Mother of God.

Amen.

The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s Gospel reading is among my favourites. On this day of the Presentation of the Lord, we read verses 22 to 40 from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke: 

And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. 

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel. 

As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’ 

There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. 

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him. 

Simeon the Righteous by Alexey Yegorov

 

It is a very rich text. It starts out with a firm connection to the Old Testament; the Law of Moses, which Mary and Joseph intend to fulfill by consecrating their first-born to the Lord. 

In Simeon and Anna they encounter a link to the future, the coming salvation of Israel. The expectation of Simeon and the elation of Anna are touching. After a long life they find peace in God’s fulfilled promise to His people. Simeon’s prayer is one that the Church still prays every night at compline, the last prayers of the day. 

The Church sees Simeon warning to Mary – ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’ – as a warning to the Church. Christ is indeed a sign that is opposed. We see that every day, and as such the Church will always meet opposition too. In fact, it may be one of her purposes, to lay bare the secrets thoughts of many. Christ is confrontational. 

Of course, for Mary personally, Simeon’s words are prophetic too. Her soul would indeed be pierced when she stands under the Cross. 

The Church traditionally celebrates this feast with a procession with and blessing of candles. Christ is symbolised by the candles as the light of the world, and brought into His temple, the altar in the sanctuary.