Today’s feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus celebrated on January 3rd. Mary’s exalted role glorifies the Father; therefore, her name is to be honored and reverenced as we call upon her with devotion and trust. The name of Mary occurs in both parts of the Hail Mary giving us ample opportunities to say this beautiful name with love and sincere affection.
The origin and meaning of the name of Mary is debated. In the Old Testament the sister of Moses was named Miryam. But this was not a common name used in the Old Testament. What does the Hebrew name Miryam mean? It may have an Egyptian origin. In Egyptian mer or mar means “love”. The Egyptian meaning of Miryam is “cherished or beloved”. Given this meaning it is an appropriate name for a daughter. Combine this interpretation with the Hebrew name for the Divine name of God yam or Yahweh. Then the meaning could be “one beloved by Yahweh”.
Many believe the name is of Hebrew origin. They see the word as the combination of two words. Mar which means “bitter” (myrrh) and yam meaning “sea”. Seeing the name Miryam as one word could give “hope” as the meaning.
Another popular interpretation dates back to St. Jerome. St. Jerome adopted the meaning of the name to be Stella Maris, or “star of the sea”. Mary has been invoked under the title of Stella Maris or “Star of the Sea” by seafarers to calm storms or the ocean waters. Under this title she could even be invoked to calm the storms in our lives.
St. Bernard of Clairvoux wrote of her: “If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.”
St. Louis de Montfort uses this prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in his consecration to Jesus through Mary:
Hail, bright star of ocean
God’s own Mother blest
Ever sinless Virgin
Gate of heavenly rest
Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came
Peace confirm within us
Changing Eva’s name
Break the captives’ fetters
Light on blindness pour
All our ills expelling
Every bliss implore
Show thyself a Mother
May the Word Divine
Born for us thy Infant
Hear our prayers through thine
Virgin all excelling
Mildest of the mild
Freed from guilt, preserve us
Pure and undefiled
Keep our life all spotless
Make our way secure
Till we find in Jesus
Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit
One same glory be. Amen.
Polaris, the North Star, is also given the name Stella Maris because it was this star that was used to guide travelers, just like Mary. We can use this feast day dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary as a way to reflect on how she is a hope for all Christians and a guide for us, leading us on our way to her son, Jesus. May Mary help us to open our hearts to God and His ways.
We should honor and praise the name of Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is truly God; therefore, we can call her the Mother of God. Her name reminds us, as we say in the Hail Mary, that she is full of grace, blessed among all women and a woman who has found favor with God. We should also honor the name of Mary because she is our Mother, since the Lord gave her to us when he was dying on the cross.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
St. Therese had to wait to make her profession. As she waited for this day, she told God she would wait as long as he desired. Until that day she resolved to carefully “make a beautiful dress enriched with priceless stones”. Therese began applying herself to practicing little virtues, by doing little penances that especially mortified her self-love. She was not practicing these virtues alone. St. Therese stated that the Blessed Virgin, “was helping me prepare the dress of my soul; as soon as this dress was completed all the obstacles went away.”
The Bishop finally gave his permission and the community voted in favor of receiving St. Therese. The date set was September 8, 1890, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. St. Therese writes of this occasion, “What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except for the graces and peace I received.” (Story of a Soul, Ch 7)
St. Therese was set on mortifying her self-love and practicing little virtues and said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was helping her do this. The Blessed Mother teaches us to live these virtues hidden and under God’s shadow. Her birth was unnoticed, yet without her the greatest mystery of our faith could not have taken place. It is because of Mary that the Incarnation of the Son of God and Redemption of man was made possible. Her birth is like the dawn projecting new light over the new day. Yet her birth is unknown, unnoticed and not even mentioned in the scriptures. She remains hidden to the world except for the eyes of God, who see her in the silence and obscurity of her life.
Today’s feast invites us to imitate this hidden life of Mary and even that of St. Therese, who was enclosed in the cloister and unknown to all expect for God. A hidden life that focuses on the interior by quietly practicing virtue and doing little penances keeping in check the selfish ego. Putting to death the need to be noticed or seeking praise or making excuses for failures, these can be done under the shadow of God, just like Mary. St. Therese knew this and put this ideal into practice in the convent. We too can do this in the ordinary circumstance of our days under the watchful patronage of the Blessed Mother, whose birth we celebrate today.
Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, heralded joy to all the world.
What should one do when blamed for something that is not your fault? St. Teresa of Jesus counsels us to avoid giving self-defense, since it is not good for one to make excuses a habit. She says that “not making excuses for oneself is a habit characteristic of high perfection, and very meritorious.” (Way, Ch 15:1)
Ever so in tuned with human nature, she notes that even she at times reasons that it is a greater virtue to make an excuse for oneself and at other times it is lawful to do so. However, humility and discretion are both necessary to determine when it calls for one to be silent and when one should speak up. This is especially so when one is being accused without fault. There is no reason to excuse oneself when being accused of something that is not your fault, that is, unless the case is “where not telling the truth would cause anger or scandal”. (Way, Ch 15:1)
When to excuse oneself or not needs discretion. Discretion requires thought about the situation.
Will I cause offense if I speak? Is what I am about to reveal private information? Does this person really need to know?
Discretion requires one to think about the situation and decide what should be done. Humility is also needed in order to refrain from making excuses. The truly humble do not have any desires to be held in high esteem by anyone. Neither do they care if they are “condemned without fault even in serious matters”. (Way, Ch 15:2)
For St. Teresa this is the way for one who desires to imitate the Lord and to receive strength from no one but God. She sees this action as a a great interior virtue and as a penance that doesn’t do any harm to the body. Though the practice of this type of mortification can be difficult at first, especially if one has a sensitive nature, but with practice, and grace, this self-denial and detachment from oneself can be attained.
St. Teresa said that she was “always happier that they speak about what is not true” of her than of what was true. (Way, Ch 15:3) She goes on to say the if we really think about things, we are never totally without fault. Only Jesus can make that claim. Therefore she states, “even though we are blamed for faults we haven’t committed, we are never entirely without fault.” (Way, Ch 15:4)
St. Teresa also reminds us that we should “never think that the good or evil you do will remain a secret.” (Way, Ch 15:7) She says that if it is needed, there will be someone to come and defend you. She tells us to “observe how the Lord answered for the Magdalene both in the house of the Pharisee and when her sister accused her.” (Way, Ch 15:7) So, too, will he do so for us. Someone will come to our defense, if it is necessary. And if no one comes to do so, we shouldn’t think about being defended because it wasn’t necessary. Instead we should rejoice in the freedom we are obtaining when we don’t care what others are saying about us.
“It calls for great humility to be silent at seeing one condemned without fault.”
St. Teresa of Avila