The just-concluded May 13, 2019, electoral exercise reminds me of the phrase, “the merry month of May.” Indeed, our legal system fixes the triennial national and local elections on the “second Monday of May.” For many Filipinos, this is the real Mayfest.
“The merry month of May,” I discover from Google, also happens to be the title of a 1971 novel by James Jones (more famous for his other, more epical “From Here to Eternity”); and, more remote in antiquity, the title of a poem by Thomas Dekker (c. 1572–1632), a compatriot and contemporary of Shakespeare. The phrase evokes the obvious, universally-acclaimed pleasures of springtime which, in the northern hemisphere, is at its height in the month of May. Thus, May is the month of festivals—not the least of which is May Day (May 1), politicized into International Workers’ Day (Labor Day) in many (if not all) countries, and Christianized as the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker.
Not surprisingly, “the merry month of May” has become so commonplace, homely and prosaic; and one could not blame those who would tweak it, even to the point of naughtiness, as in the Lerner & Loewe musical, Camelot, where Queen Guenevere (Julie Andrews in the movie) sings of “May, the lusty month of May/That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.”
But for many of us who are Catholic Christians, May is, more than anything else, a Marian month—a month of special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary— observed by offering flowers to our Lady (Flores de Mayo) and by making pilgrimages to shrines dedicated to the Mother of God or places of her apparitions (Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, etc.). Of course, the physical offerings are supposed to reflect interior (spiritual) dispositions of prayer and mortification (self-denial, which is the “indubitable touchstone” of love), and the desire to grow in union with God (holiness). Indeed, one cannot imagine a better go-between with the Blessed Trinity than Mary, “daughter of God the Father, mother of God the Son, and spouse of God the Holy Spirit” (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, No. 496). Our Lord performed His first miracle—changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana—at the behest of our Lady. (Jn 2:1-12)
The custom of doing pilgrimages, even if only to visit the nearest parish church— praying the Rosary along the way (each Hail Mary being a spiritual flower, the whole making a garland of roses or “spiritual bouquet” for our Lady)—also serves as a reminder of the transitoriness of our earthly existence.
Indeed, one of the most-used metaphors for the life of man on earth is, precisely, pilgrimage. We are here only as passing-through—like Moses and the Israelites in the desert—on our journey to the definitive Promised Land of Heaven.
Man has an eternal destiny. Whether it shall be an eternity of misery or happiness is an outcome that actually depends on each one of us—not because it is in our natural power to effect the outcome, but only because we can reject God’s “grace”, which can be understood as the operational dimension of His love for man, of His desire to bring each and everyone of us humans into union with Him. Omnipotent as God is, He chose to create man intelligent and free—for man to be able to know and love Him (which requires freedom), Who is the Fullness of Truth and Good, and so to share in His eternal happiness.
The latest figure I have seen for the average life span of the Filipino is sixty-nine years. And then we die. But even if one were tough enough to live to a hundred, that would still be a drop of water in the ocean of eternity. Death is our crossover to eternity. I like to recall every now and then that eternity is longer than a trillion or any number of years; it is forever. Indeed, eternity is the antonym of time. And it is in our time on earth—where change is allowed (time is a measure of change)—that we are supposed to begin (and fail, and begin again and again) to train and to grow in that union with God.
It is a function of our freedom whether or not we shall be happy or miserable in eternity; hence the idea of human freedom as “man’s capacity to direct himself toward his end” –man’s capacity to fulfill himself, to accomplish the ultimate purpose of human existence, union with God, which can also be understood as a demand to fulfill the New Law of Charity: Love of God above all things for His own sake, and love of others as oneself for the love of God (cf. Mt 22:37-40).
One last note. Human freedom is not absolute but must bow to objective reality and to the natural consequences of our choices, because the exercise of freedom also binds us. On the other hand, freedom is meaningless until exercised; hence, it is inseparable from “commitment” and “responsibility”: we could cause happiness or misery by our choices. True “liberation” (the increase or restoration of freedom) happens when we commit ourselves to pursuing holiness.
May we seek to live “in the freedom of the glory of children of God,” in libertatem gloriae filiorum Dei (Rom 8:21), by making our own Mary’s Fiat, “Let it be done!” to the will of God in all the circumstances and events of our lives.
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