Have you ever watched a child fall down near his or her mother? As her face crumples, in that split second of decision, ‘Should I cry or carry on?’ the child looks to the mother’s face. If she sees worry, that crumpling will wring out tears, knowing that an enfolding hug is at hand; but if she sees a wise and encouraging smile, she might unfold into a confident smile, determined to grow in wisdom herself. By getting up after her fall, setting aside pain and embarrassment, she knows she will be growing up – becoming the person her mother sees in her. And our Mother Mary sees each and every one of us blossoming into the likeness of her dearly beloved Son. How can I learn to look to her in the rough and tumble of my life, to trust that she has her eye on me?
I have heard that growing in childlike devotion to Mary is particularly hard for those of us who came into the Church as adults. Even though I choose to employ my mind to study the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and to employ my will to regularly pray the Rosary and Angelus, my heart needs time and grace to bear the fruit of that natural affection that looks to my Mother whenever I fall.
Time and grace catch our attention at this time of year as we prepare for December 25th, hopefully with delight that has grown and deepened since we were small. And now that I am learning to thank the Lord Jesus for the gift of his Immaculate Mother on December 8th, I mark November 30th on my calendar as well. Some communities choose to begin on November 29 and finish on the eve of the Feast. Choosing to pray a novena to prepare for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is like training myself to look to my mother when I stumble or fall. By taking a little time to consider God’s painstaking preparation of Mary’s Immaculate Heart on each day of the novena, my own affection for Mary is nurtured. Just as the Rosary teaches me to ponder the New Testament, preparing for the Immaculate Conception teaches my heart to savour all the Old Testament stories and images that prefigure her. Seeing how patiently God tended the garden of Israel in order to bear the Rose of Sharon (Cant 2:1) encourages me to welcome Mary’s care in my own unfolding. She brings the patience learned from her Heavenly Father to the task her Son has given her to mother me. Choosing to pray a novena is like choosing to tend a garden hoping for the blossom of affection, to become a daughter who looks to her Mother in order to grow into the likeness of my Brother and Lord.
I particularly appreciate Novenas that harvest passages from the Old Testament for the signs of God’s faithfulness. The ‘Novena to the Immaculate Conception’ found in Fr James Socias’ Handbook of Prayers begins with the proto-Evangelium in Genesis 3 and unfolds it with quotes from Pope St John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater. The ‘Immaculate Conception Novena’ in Fr Francis Fernandez’ In Conversation with God meditates on several Old Testament metaphors: the Morning Star, the House of Gold, the Mystical Rose and the Gate of Heaven. The beautiful German carol, ‘Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming’, presents Mary as the rose sprung from the stem of King David’s father Jesse, the sign that God is with us, even in the midst of political turmoil, foretold by the prophet Isaiah. I’m sure there are as many Novenas as there are varieties of roses!
Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome
Both Christ and Mary share the throne. The scroll in His hand reads “Come, my chosen one, I will give you my throne”, in her hand “His left hand is under my head, and his right arm embraces me”
November 30th is a date to mark on your calendar: begin looking for Roses in Winter.
 Handbook of Prayers, ed. Rev. James Socias, (Woodridge, Illinois: Midwest Theological Forum, 6th Edition, 2005), 500.
 Fr Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God (London: Scepter Publishers Inc, 2010) Volume 7, 268