Let your love of Mary blossom in May
Try a recipe: ISRAELI CHOPPED SALAD
by Jeff Young
For centuries Catholics have fostered a special devotion to Mary during the month of May. What child in his or her Catholic school or parish hasn’t been mesmerized by the solemnity and sweetness of the annual May Crowning? I know I was.
More than four decades ago, I was a towheaded, scrawny, overly energetic little boy in a Catholic grade school, squirming in the pew, totally distracted by the other little boys on my left and right. I found it impossible to comply with the teacher’s demands that I be quiet and still as she explained that we were going to pray the rosary and crown the statue of Our Lady because, as she explained, the month of May was Mary’s month.
This was my first May Crowning. I had no clue what we were doing in church. I was just thrilled that we weren’t in the classroom doing schoolwork. Besides, I really enjoyed being in the church. I always had; it was a place where I felt close to God. But that day I didn’t really understand what was going on. I’m sure as I walked into the church with my classmates, I was more concerned about who had cooties and whether or not that spitball was still on my back. Definitely not the most spiritual disposition. Yet when we started singing “Immaculate Mary,” the very atmosphere changed. It was like Mary was there. Really there.
My parish church had a beautiful white marble statue of Our Lady in the style of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was to the left of the altar, and it was elevated on a pedestal. I remember I had to look up to see it. After singing “Immaculate Mary,” the teachers passed out little stringed rosaries with black plastic beads and a white plastic crucifix. They gave us a quick instruction on how to say the rosary, and then we began the slow, rhythmic, repetition of the prayers that mimic the rhythmic beating of a heart in love with God and in love with Our Lady. It must have been the first time that I prayed the rosary as part of a large group, because I remember bumbling along trying to get it right.
It was like Mary was there. Really there.
Despite my amateurish attempt at praying the rosary, I found it mesmerizing, magical. And as I watched the older students climb a ladder to crown Our Lady with a garland of fresh flowers, I knew something important was happening — something that I wanted to understand better … something I wanted to do better.
It would be well over 10 years before I would come face-to-face with the fact that my view of Our Lady was indeed magical. Or mythical. Or perhaps a better way to describe it would be to say it was … childish.
I was in the seminary, ardently (and admirably!) desiring to grow in prayer and in holiness. Yet I stumbled daily over my own sinfulness and spiritual ineptitude. It was the practical things that got in my way, such as my propensity to procrastinate, or the fact that there were actually other people in the seminary with me, and I had to deal with them. I just knew that if I had been the lone seminarian in the seminary, I would have been a saint. But, alas, there were other people all around me. Clearly, I had issues.
I remember priests and fellow seminarians encouraging me to turn to Our Lady. Books I picked up for spiritual reading encouraged the same; they encouraged me to really get to know Our Lady. But when I turned to her, I just couldn’t relate. She was high and lifted up. On a pedestal. Otherworldly. Perfect in a way that seemed superhuman. And, at first, turning toward Our Lady made me feel worse. She highlighted how far I was from where I thought I wanted to be.
Thankfully, three women helped me to recognize and abandon my childish ways. In doing so, I was finally able to be a child of Mary. My love and devotion for Our Lady moved from the pedestal to my heart in the day-to-day activities in which I found myself. Mama Mary became as close to me as my rosary beads and as relatable to me as my own mother. Who were those three women? Mother Teresa of Kolkata, Catherine Doherty of Madonna House, and Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement. Through both their example and their writings, I encountered Our Lady in a new way, a way that brought her into my heart and into the nitty-gritty of my daily life. And my life has not been the same since. By encountering the real Our Lady, I became a better seminarian and eventually a better husband and father. Today I encourage and help my children to encounter her, too. I strive to be an example for them.
Regarding the custom of the May Crowning, Catherine Doherty wrote:
Today we need to re-establish this simple custom, but our crowning should be somewhat different. … May was the time when we crowned Our Lady with a flower crown, making her, as it were, queen of heaven, which she must be. But today we must crown her with our love. We must bring to her a crown of our needs, our loneliness, our poverty, and our seeking of her Son. It will be a crown composed of so many, many pieces, which she alone can put together; and which she will not keep but hand back to us with a gesture of love, compassion, and tenderness. (Bogoroditza: She Who Gave Birth to God, Madonna House Publications, 1998).
In handing the pieces of our lives to Our Lady, she takes them, makes them beautiful, and hands them back to us so that we can present them and our very selves to Jesus.
In my own family, a lot of life is lived in and around the kitchen. We are a family of six. Food needs to be cooked, meals need to be shared, and dishes need to be washed. When our children were little, they couldn’t participate in the cooking and cleaning parts. But as they got older, we invited them to help. They became part of the whole process. They shared in the work and in the rewards. But most importantly, the whole process of mealtime became a family activity, something we did together.
[Mary] is a like a bridge to Jesus.
I couldn’t help but see a connection between cooking together, eating together, cleaning together, and praying the rosary together as a family. Our Lady, I think, reminds us of this. She is Our Lady. God Our Father calls each of us to himself, but he doesn’t call us by ourselves. We are all part of the family of God. And Our Lady can help us to rejoice in that fact. She is like a bridge to Jesus.
I have always thought of May as a bridge month — a bridge between spring and summer when spring vegetables are plentiful and the summer tomatoes become available. It’s a time of the year when salads adorn our table not only as a prelude to an entree, but sometimes as the entree. This Israeli chopped salad is one of our favorites. Traditionally, it’s a chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. The possible variations are almost endless. I like to make the olive oil and lemon dressing separately in a jar, then toss it in with the salad. If you prefer a salad with extra dressing, then refrain from seeding the tomatoes. I personally enjoy the juice from fresh tomatoes, and I find that it makes a great addition to this salad.
ISRAELI CHOPPED SALAD
✓3 medium cucumbers, seeded and chopped
✓4 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
✓1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
✓3 cloves of garlic, minced
✓1 large sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
✓5 scallions, finely chopped
✓2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
✓¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
✓¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
✓¼ cup mint, finely chopped
✓½ cup extra virgin olive oil
✓Juice and zest of 3 lemons
✓2 teaspoons sumac
✓1 teaspoon cinnamon
✓Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Mix all the ingredients in a large glass bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.