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CHAPTER 3 : SPES NOSTRA, SALVE! MARY OUR HOPE!
SECTION 2 : MARY IS THE HOPE OF SINNERS
In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night (Gen. 1, 16). Cardinal Hugo says that "Christ is the greater light to rule the just, and Mary the lesser to rule the sinners"; meaning that the sun is a figure of Jesus Christ, whose light is enjoyed by the just who live in the clear day of divine grace; and that the moon is a figure of Mary, by whose means those who are in the night of sin are enlightened. Since Mary is this auspicious luminary, and is so for the benefit of poor sinners, should any one have been so unfortunate as to fall into the night of sin, what is he to do? Innocent III replies, "Whoever is in the night of sin, let him cast his eyes on the moon, let him implore Mary" (In Assumpt. s. 2). Since he has lost the light of the sun of justice by losing the grace of God, let him turn to the moon, and beseech Mary; and she will certainly give him light to see the misery of his state, and strength to leave it without delay. St. Methodius says "that by the prayers of Mary almost innumerable sinners are converted" (Paciucch. in Ps. lxxxvi. exc, 17).
One of the titles which is the most encouraging to poor sinners, and under which the Church teaches us to invoke Mary in the Litany of Loretto, is that of "Refuge of Sinners." In Judea in ancient times there were cities of refuge, in which criminals who fled there for protection were exempt from the punishments which they had deserved. Nowadays these cities are not so numerous; there is but one, and that is Mary, of whom the Psalmist says Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God(Ps. lxxxvi. 3). But this city differs from the ancient ones in this respect—that in the latter all kinds of criminals did not find refuge, nor was the protection extended to every class of crime; but under the mantle of Mary all sinners, without exception, find refuge for every sin that they may have committed, provided only that they go there to seek for this protection. "I am the city of refuge," says St. John Damascene, in the name of our Queen, "to all who fly to me" (In Dorm. B. V.or. 2). And it is sufficient to have recourse to her, for whoever has the good fortune to enter this city need not speak to be saved. Assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the fenced city, and let us be silent there (Jer. viii. 14), to speak in the words of the prophet Jeremias. This city, says Blessed Albert the Great, is the most holy Virgin fenced in with grace and glory. "And let us be silent there," that is, continues an interpreter, "because we dare not invoke the Lord, whom we have offended, she will invoke and ask" (Bib. Mar. Jer. n. 3). For if we do not presume to ask our Lord to forgive us, it will suffice to enter this city and be silent, for Mary will speak and ask all that we require. And for this reason, a devout author exhorts all sinners to take refuge under the mantle of Mary, exclaiming, "Fly, O Adam and Eve, and all you their children, who have outraged God; fly, and take refuge in the bosom of this good mother; know you not that she is our only city of refuge?" (B. Fernandes in Gen. c 3, s. 22) "the only hope of sinners" (Serm. 194, E. B. app.), as she is also called in a sermon by an ancient writer, found in the works of St. Augustine.
St. Ephrem, addressing this Blessed Virgin, says, "Thou art the only advocate of sinners, and of all who are unprotected." And then he salutes her in the following words: "Hail, refuge and hospital of sinners!" (De Laud. Dei gen.)—true refuge, in which alone they can hope for reception and liberty. And an author remarks that this was the meaning of David when he said, For He hath hidden me in his tabernacle (Ps. xxvi. 5). And truly what can this tabernacle of God be, unless it is Mary! who is called by St. Germanus, "A tabernacle made by God, in which he alone entered to accomplish the great work of the redemption of man" (In Nat. S. M. or. 2).
St. Basil of Seleucia remarks, "that if God granted to some who were only his servants such power, that not only their touch but even their shadows healed the sick, who were placed for this purpose in the public streets, how much greater power must we suppose that he has granted to her who was not only his handmaid but his Mother?" We may indeed say that our Lord has given us Mary as a public infirmary, in which all who are sick, poor, and destitute can be received. But now I ask, in hospitals erected expressly for the poor, who have the greatest claim to admission? Certainly the most infirm, and those who are in the greatest need.
And for this reason should any one find himself devoid of merit and overwhelmed with spiritual infirmities, that is to say, sin, he can thus address Mary: O Lady, thou art the refuge of the sick poor: reject me not; for as I am the poorest and the most infirm of all, I have the greatest right to be welcomed by thee.
Let us then cry out with St. Thomas of Vallanova, "O Mary, we poor sinners know no other refuge than thee, for thou art our only hope, and on thee we rely for our salvation" (De Nat. V. M. conc. 3). Thou art our only advocate with Jesus Christ; to thee we all turn ourselves.
In the revelations of St. Bridget, Mary is called the "Star preceding the sun" (Rev. Extr. c. 50), giving us thereby to understand, that when devotion towards the divine Mother begins to manifest itself in a soul that is in a state of sin, it is a certain mark that before long God will enrich it with his grace. The glorious St. Bonaventure, in order to revive the confidence of sinners in the protection of Mary, places before them the picture of a tempestuous sea, into which sinners have already fallen from the ship of divine grace; they are already dashed about on every side by remorse of conscience and by fear of the judgments of God; they are without light or guide, and are on the point of losing the last breath of hope and falling into despair; then it is that our Lord, pointing out Mary to them, who is commonly called the "Star of the Sea," raises his voice and says, "O poor lost sinners, despair not; raise up your eyes, and cast them on this beautiful star; breathe again with confidence, for it will save you from this tempest, and will guide you into the port of salvation" (Psal. B. V. ps. 18). St. Bernard says the same thing: "If thou wouldst not be lost in the tempest, cast thine eyes on the star, and invoke Mary" (De Laud. V. M. hom. 2).
The devout Blosius declares that "she is the only refuge of those who have offended God, the asylum of all who are oppressed by temptation, calamity, or persecution. This Mother is all mercy, benignity, and sweetness, not only to the just, but also to despairing sinners; so that no sooner does she perceive them coming to her, and seeking her health from their hearts, than she aids them, welcomes them, and obtains their pardon from her Son. She knows not how to despise any one, however unworthy he may be of mercy, and therefore denies her protection to none; she consoles all, and is no sooner called upon than she helps whoever it may be that invokes her. She by her sweetness often awakens and draws sinners to her devotion who are the most at enmity with God and the most deeply plunged in the lethargy of sin; and then, by the same means, she excites them effectually, and prepares them for grace, and thus renders them fit for the kingdom of heaven. God has created this his beloved daughter of so compassionate and sweet a disposition, that no one can fear to have recourse to her." The pious author concludes in these words: "It is impossible for any one to perish who attentively, and with humility, cultivates devotion towards this divine Mother" (Par. An. fid. p. 1, c. 18).
In Ecclesiasticus Mary is called a plane-tree: As a plane-tree I was exalted. And she is so called that sinners may understand that as the plane-tree gives shelter to travelers from the heat of the sun, so does Mary invite them to take shelter under her protection from the wrath of God, justly enkindled against them. St. Bonaventure remarks that the prophet Isaias complained of the times in which he lived, saying, Behold thou art angry, and we have sinned . . . there is none . . . that riseth up and taketh hold of thee (Is. lxiv. 5). And then he makes the following commentary: "It is true, O Lord, that at the time there was none to raise up sinners and without thy wrath, for Mary was not yet born;" "before Mary," to quote the saint's own words, "there was no one who could thus dare to restrain the arm of God." But now, if God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son, and saves him. "And so," continues the same saint, "no one can be found more fit for this office than Mary, who seizes the sword of divine justice with her own hands to prevent it from falling upon and punishing the sinner" (Spec. B. V. lect. 7, 14). Upon the same subject Richard of St. Laurence says that "God, before the birth of Mary, complained by the mouth of the prophet Ezechiel that there was no one to rise up and withhold him from chastising sinners, but that he could find no one, for this office was reserved for our Blessed Lady, who withholds his arm until he is pacified (De Laud. B. M. l. 2, p. 5).
Basil of Seleucia encourages sinners, saying, "O sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in all thy necessities; call her to thine assistance, for thou wilt always find her ready to help thee; for such is the divine will that she should help all in every kind of necessity" (Paciucch. in Salve R. exc. 7). This mother of mercy has so great a desire to save the most abandoned sinners, that she herself goes in search of them, in order to help them; and if they have recourse to her, she knows how to find the means to render them acceptable to God. The patriarch Isaac, desiring to eat of some wild animal, promised his blessing to his son Esau on his procuring this food for him; but Rebecca, who was anxious that her other son Jacob should receive the blessing, called him and said, Go thy way to the flock, bring me two kids of the best, that I may make of them meat for thy father, such as he gladly eateth (Gen. xxvii. 9). St. Antoninus says (P. 4, t. 15, c. 2, #2), that Rebecca was a figure of Mary, who commands the angels to bring her sinners (meant by kids), that she may adorn them in such a way (by obtaining for them sorrow and purpose of amendment) as to render them dear and acceptable to the Lord." And here we may well apply to our Blessed Lady the words of the Abbot Franco: "O truly sagacious woman, who so well knew how to dress these kids, that not only they are equal to, but often superior in flavor to rel venison" (De Grat. D. l. 3).
The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget "that there is no sinner in the world, however much he may be at enmity with God, who does not return to him and recover his grace, if he has recourse to her and asks her assistance" (Rev. l. 6, c. 10). The same St. Bridget one day heard Jesus Christ address his mother, and say that "she would be ready to obtain the grace of God for Lucifer himself, if only he humbled himself so far as to seek her aid" (Rev. extr. c. 50). That proud spirit will never humble himself so far as to implore the protection of Mary; but if such a thing were possible, Mary would be sufficiently compassionate, and her prayers would have sufficient power to obtain both forgiveness and salvation for him from God. But that which cannot be verified with regard to the devil is verified in the case of sinners who have recourse to this compassionate mother. Noah's ark was a true figure of Mary; for as in it all kinds of beasts were saved, so under the mantle of Mary all sinners, who by their vices and sensuality are already like beats, find refuge; but with this difference, as a pious author remarks, that "while the brutes that entered the ark remained brutes, the wolf remaining a wolf, and a tiger a tiger—under the mantle of Mary, on the other hand, the wolf becomes a lamb, and the tiger a dove" (Paciucch. In Sal. Ang. exc. 4). One day St. Gertrude saw Mary with her mantle open, and under it there were many wild beats of different kinds—leopards, lions, and bears; and she saw that not only our Blessed Lady did not drive them away, but that she welcomed and caressed them with her benign hand. The saint understood that these wild beasts were miserable sinners, who are welcomed by Mary with sweetness and love the moment they had recourse to her (Insin. l. 4, c. 50).
It was, then, not without reason that St. Bernard addressed the Blessed Virgin, saying, "Thou, O Lady, dost not reject any sinner who approaches thee, however loathsome and repugnant he may be. If he asks thy assistance, thou dost not disdain to extend thy compassionate hand to him, to extricate him from the gulf of despair" (Depr. Ad. B. V.). May our God be eternally blessed and thanked, O most amiable Mary, for having created thee so sweet and benign, even towards the most miserable sinners! Truly unfortunate is he who loves thee not, and who, having it in his power to obtain thy assistance, has no confidence in thee. He who has not recourse to Mary is lost; but who was ever lost that had recourse to the most Blessed Virgin?
It is related in the sacred Scriptures that Booz allowed Ruth to gather the ears of corn, after the reapers (Ruth, ii. 3). St. Bonaventure says, "that as Ruth found favor with Booz, so has Mary found favor with our Lord, and is also allowed to gather the ears of corn after the reapers. The reapers followed by Mary are all evangelical laborers, missionaries, preachers, and confessors, who are constantly reaping souls for God. But there are some hardened and rebellious souls which are abandoned even by these. To Mary alone it is granted to save them by her powerful intercession" (Spec. B. V. M. lect. 5). Truly unfortunate are they if they do not allow themselves to be gathered, even by this sweet Lady. They will indeed be most certainly lost and accursed. But, on the other hand, blessed is he who has recourse to this good Mother. "There is not in the world," says the devout Blosius, "any sinner, however revolting and wicked, who is despised or rejected by Mary; she can, she wills, and she knows how to reconcile him to her most beloved Son, if only he will seek her assistance" (Sac. An. fid. p. 3, c. 5).
With reason then, O my most sweet Queen, did St. John Damascene salute and call thee the "hope of those who are in despair". With reason did St. Laurence Justinian call thee "the hope of malefactors", and another ancient writer "the only hope of sinners". St. Epherem calls her "the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea of the world". This last-named saint also calls her "the consolation of those who are to be condemned". With reason, finally, does St. Bernard exhort even the desperate not to despair; and, full of joy and tenderness towards his most dear Mother, he lovingly exclaims: "And who, O Lady, can be without confidence in thee, since thou assistest even those who are in despair? And I doubt not, that whenever we have recourse to thee, we shall obtain all that we desire. Let him, then, who is without hope, hope in thee" (Med. in Salv. R.).
EXAMPLE St. Antonine relates (P. 4, t. 15, c. 5, #1) that there was a sinner who was at enmity with God, and who had a vision in which he found himself before the dread tribunal; the devil accused him, and Mary defended him. The enemy produced the catalogue of his sins; it was thrown into the scales of divine justice, and weighed far more than all his good works. But then his great advocate, extending her sweet hand, placed it on the balance, and so caused it to turn in favor of her client; giving him thereby to understand that she would obtain his pardon if he changed his life; and this he did after the vision, and was entirely converted.
PRAYER O most pure Virgin Mary. I venerate thy most holy heart, which was the delight and resting-place of God, thy heart overflowing with humility, purity, and divine love. I, an unhappy sinner, approach thee with a heart all loathsome and wounded. O compassionate Mother, disdain me not on this account; let such a sight rather move thee to greater tenderness, and excite thee to help me. Do not stay to seek virtues or merit in me before assisting me. I am lost, and the only thing I merit is hell. See only my confidence in thee and the purpose I have to amend. Consider all that Jesus has done and suffered for me, and then abandon me if thou canst. I offer thee all the pains of his life; the cold that he endured in the stable; his journey into Egypt; the blood which he shed; the poverty, sweats, sorrows, and death that he endured for me; and this in thy presence. For the love of Jesus, take charge of my salvation. Ah, my Mother, I will not and cannot fear that thou wilt reject me, now that I have recourse to thee and ask thy help. Did I fear this, I should be offering an outrage to thy mercy, which goes in quest of the wretched, in order to help them. O Lady, deny not thy compassion to one to whom Jesus has not denied his blood. But the merits of this blood will not be applied to me unless thou recommendest me to God. Through thee do I hope for salvation. I ask not for riches, honors, or earthly goods. I seek only the grace of God, love towards thy Son, the accomplishment of his will, and his heavenly kingdom, that I may love him eternally. Is it possible that thou wilt not hear me? No; for already thou has granted my prayer, as I hope; already thou prayest for me; already thou obtainest me the graces that I ask; already thou takest me under thy protection. My Mother, abandon me not. Never, never cease to pray for me, until thou seest me safe in heaven at thy feet, blessing and thanking thee forever. Amen.
CHAPTER 3 : SPES NOSTRA, SALVE! MARY OUR HOPE!
SECTION 1 : MARY IS THE HOPE OF ALL
Modern heretics cannot endure that we should salute and call Mary our hope: "Hail, our Hope!" They say that God alone is our hope; and that He curses those who put their trust in creatures in these words of the prophet Jeremias: "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man"(Jeremias 17:5). Mary, they exclaim, is a creature; and how can a creature be our hope? This is what the heretics say; but in spite of this, the holy Church obliges all ecclesiastics and religious each day to raise their voices, and in name of all the faithful invoke and call Mary by the sweet name of "our Hope,"—the hope of all.
The angelical Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, says (IIa-IIae, q. 25, art. 1, ad 3), that we can place our hope in a person in two ways: as a principal cause, and as a mediate one. Those who hope for a favor from a king, hope it from him as lord; they hope for it from his minister, or favorite, as an intercessor. If the favor is granted, it comes primarily from the king, but it comes through the instrumentality of the favorite; and in this case he who seeks the favor is right in calling his intercessor "his hope". The King of Heaven, being infinite goodness, desires in the highest degree to enrich us with His graces; but because confidence is requisite on our part, and in order to increase it in us, He has given us His own Mother to be our mother and advocate, and to her He has given all power to help us; and therefore He wills that we should repose our hope of salvation and of every blessing in her. Those who place their hopes in creatures alone, independently of God, as sinners do, and in order to obtain the friendship and favor of a man, fear not to outrage His divine Majesty, are most certainly cursed by God, as the prophet Jeremias says. But those who hope in Mary, as Mother of God, who is able to obtain graces and eternal life for them, are truly blessed and acceptable to the Heart of God, Who desires to see that greatest of His creatures honored; for she loved and honored Him in this world more than all men and angels put together. And, therefore, we justly and reasonably call the Blessed Virgin our hope, trusting, as Cardinal Bellarmine says, "that we shall obtain, through her intercession, that which we should not obtain by our own unaided prayers." "We pray to her," says the learned Suarez, "in order that the dignity of the intercessor may supply for our own unworthiness; so that", he continues, "to implore the Blessed Virgin in such a spirit, is not diffidence in the mercy of God, but fear of our own unworthiness" (De Inc. p. 2, d. 23, s. 3).
It is, then, not without reason that the holy Church, in the words of Ecclesiasticus, called Mary the Mother of holy Hope(Eccliasticus 24:24). She is the mother who gives birth to holy hope in our hearts; not to the hope of the vain and transitory goods of this life, but of the immense and eternal goods of heaven. "Hail, then, O hope of my soul!" exclaims St. Ephrem, addressing this divine Mother; "hail, O certain salvation of Christians; hail, O helper of sinners; hail, fortress of the faithful and salvation of the world!" Other saints remind us, that after God, our only hope is Mary; and therefore they call her, "after God, their only hope" (Cant. p. Psalt).
St. Ephrem, reflecting on the present order of Providence, by which God wills (as St. Bernard says, and as we shall prove at length) that all, who are saved, should be saved by the means of Mary, thus addresses her: "O Lady, cease not to watch over us; preserve and guard us under the wings of thy compassion and mercy, for, after God, we have no hope but in thee"( De Laud. Dei Gen.). St. Thomas of Villanova repeats the same thing, calling her "our only refuge, help, and asylum" (In Nat. B. V. Conc. 3). St. Bernard seems to give the reason for this when he says, "See, O man, the designs of God,—designs by which he is able to dispense his mercy more abundantly to us; for, desiring to redeem the whole human race, he has placed the whole price of redemption in the hands of Mary, that she may dispense it at will" (De Aquaed).
In the book of Exodus we read that God commanded Moses to make a mercy-seat of the purest gold, because it was thence that He would speak to him. Thou shalt make also a propitiatory of the purest gold . . . Thence will I give orders, and will speak to thee (Exododus 25:17). St. Andrew of Crete says that "the whole world embraces Mary as being this propitiatory." And commenting on his words a pious author exclaims, "Thou, O Mary, art the propitiatory of the whole world. From thee does our most compassionate Lord speak to our hearts; from thee He speaks words of pardon and mercy; from thee He bestows His gifts; from thee all good flows to us" (Paciucch. in Sal. Ang. Exc. 20). And therefore, before the divine Word took flesh in the womb of Mary, He sent an archangel to ask her consent: because He willed that the world should receive the Incarnate Word through her, and that she should be the source of every good. Hence St. Irenaeus remarks, that as Eve was seduced, by a fallen angel, to flee from God, so Mary was led to receive God into her womb, obeying a good angel; and thus by her obedience repaired Eve's disobedience, and became her advocate, and that of the whole human race. "If Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to obey God, that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And as the human race was bound to death through a virgin, it is saved through a Virgin" (Cont. B. M. in prol.).
The devout Blosius, then, might well exclaim, "O Mary, O though who art so loving and gracious towards all who love thee, tell me, who can be so infatuated and unfortunate as not to love thee? Thou, in the midst of their doubts and difficulties, enlightenest the minds of all who, in their afflictions, have recourse to thee. Thou encouragest those who fly to thee in time of danger; thou succorest those who call upon thee; thou, after thy divine Son, art the certain salvation of thy faithful servants. Hail, then, O hope of those who are in despair, O succor of those who are abandoned. O Mary, thou art all-powerful; for thy divine Son, to honor thee, complies instantly with all thy desires" (Par. An. p. 2, c. 4).
St. Germanus, recognizing in Mary the source of all our good, and that she delivers us from every evil, thus invokes her: "O, my sovereign Lady, thou alone art the one whom God has appointed to be my solace here below; thou art the guide of my pilgrimage, the strength of my weakness, the riches of my poverty, remedy for the healing of my wounds, the soother of my pains, the end of my captivity, the hope of my salvation! Hear my prayers, have pity on my tears, I conjure thee, O thou who art my queen, my refuge, my love, my help, my hope and my strength" (Encom. In S. Deip.).
We need not, then, be surprised that St. Antoninus applies the following verse of the Book of Wisdom to Mary: "Now all good things came to me together with her" (Wisdom 7:11). For as this Blessed Virgin is the Mother and dispenser of all good things, the whole world, and more particularly each individual who lives in it as a devout client of this great Queen, may say with truth, that with devotion to Mary, both he and the world have obtained everything good and perfect. The saint thus expresses his thought: "She is the Mother of all good things, and the world can truly say, that with her (that is, the most Blessed Virgin ) it has received all good things" (P. 4, l. 15, c. 20, #12). And hence the Blessed Abbot of Celles expressly declares, "that when we find Mary, we find all" (De Cont. de V. M. in Prol.). Whoever finds Mary finds every good thing, obtains all graces and all virtues; for by her powerful intercession she obtains all that is necessary to enrich him with divine grace. In the Book of Proverbs Mary herself tells us that she possesses all the riches of God, that is to say, his mercies, that she may dispense them in favor of her lovers. "With me are riches . . . and glorious riches . . . that I may enrich them that love me (Proverbs 8:18). And therefore St. Bonaventure says: "That we ought all to keep our eyes constantly fixed on Mary's hands, that through them we may receive the graces that we desire" (Spec. B. V. lect. 3)").
O, how many, who were once proud, have become humble by devotion to Mary! How many who were passionate have become meek! how many in the midst of darkness have found light! How many who were in despair have found confidence! How many who were lost have found salvation by the same powerful means! And this she clearly foretold in the house of Elizabeth, in her own sublime canticle: "Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." And St. Bernard, interpreting her words, says: "All generations call thee blessed, because thou has given life and glory to all nations, for in thee sinners find pardon, and the just perseverance in the grace of God" (In Pent. s. 2).
Hence the devout Lanspergius makes our Lord thus address the world: "Men, poor children of Adam, who live surrounded by so many enemies and in the midst of so many trials, endeavor to honor my Mother and yours in a special manner: for I have given Mary to the world, that she may be your model, and that from her you may learn to lead good lives; and also that she may be refuge to which you can fly in all your afflictions and trials. I have rendered this, my daughter, such that no one need fear or have the least repugnance to have recourse to her; and for this purpose I have created her of so benign and compassionate a disposition, that she knows not how to despise any one who takes refuge with her, nor can she deny her favor to any one who seeks it. The mantle of her mercy is open to all, and she allows no one to leave her feet without consoling him" ("Alloq. l 1, p. 4, can. 12). May the immense goodness of our God be ever praised and blessed for having given us this so great, so tender, so loving a mother and advocate.
O God, how tender are the sentiments of confidence expressed by the enamoured St. Bonaventure towards Jesus our most loving Redeemer, and Mary our most loving advocate! He says, "Whatever God forsees to be my lot, I know that he cannot refuse himself to any one who loves him and seeks for him with his whole heart. I will embrace him with my love; and if he does not bless me, I will still cling to him so closely that he will be unable to go without me. If I can do nothing else, at least I will hide myself in his wounds, and taking up my dwelling there, it will be in himself alone that he will find me." And the saint concludes, "If my Redeemer rejects me on account of my sins, and drives me from his sacred feet, I will cast myself at those of his beloved Mother Mary, and there I will remain prostrate until she has obtained my forgiveness; for this Mother of Mercy knows not, and has never known, how to do otherwise than compassionate the miserable, and comply with the desires of the most destitute who fly to her for succor; and therefore," he says, "if not by duty, at least by compassion, she will engage her Son to pardon me" (Stim. Div. am. p. 3, c. 13).
"Look down upon us, then," let us exclaim, in the words of Euthymius, "look down upon us, O most compassionate Mother; cast thine eyes of mercy on us, for we are thy servants, and in thee we have placed all our confidence" (Ap. Sur. 31 Aug.).
EXAMPLE St. Gregory relates that there was a young woman named Musa, who was very devout to the Mother of God; to whom, when she was in great danger of losing her innocence by the bad example of her companions, Mary appeared one day with many saints, and said: "Musa, dost thou also wish to be one of these?" On her answering "Yes," she added, "Well, withdraw from thy companions, and prepare thyself, for in a month thou shalt come." Musa did so, and related the vision. On the thirtieth day she was at the point of death, when the most Blessed Virgin again appeared, and invited her to come. She replied, "Behold, I come, O Lady," and sweetly expired (Dial. 1. 4. c. 17).
PRAYER O Mother of holy love, our life, our refuge, and our hope, thou well knowest that thy son Jesus Christ, not content with being Himself our perpetual advocate with the eternal Father, has willed that thou also shouldst interest thyself with Him, in order to obtain the divine mercies for us. He has decreed that thy prayers should aid our salvation, and has made them so efficacious that they obtain all that they ask. To thee therefore, who art the hope of the miserable, do I, a wretched sinner, turn my eyes. I trust, O Lady, that in the first place through the merits of Jesus Christ, and then through thy intercession, I shall be saved. Of this I am certain; and my confidence in thee is such, that if my eternal salvation were in my own hands, I should place it in thine, for I rely more on thy mercy and protection than on all my own works. My mother and my hope, abandone me not, though I deserve that thou shouldst do so. See my miseries, and, being moved thereby with compassion, help and save me. I own that I have too often closed my heart, by my sins, against the lights and helps that thou hast procured for me from the Lord. But thy compassion for the miserable, and thy power with God, far surpass the number and malice of my sins. It is well known to all, both in Heaven and on earth, that whosoever is protected by thee is certainly saved. All may forget me, provided only that thou dost remember me, O Mother of an omnipotent God. Tell him that I am thy servant; say only that thou defendest me, and I shall be saved. O mary, I trust in thee; in this hope I live; in it I desire and hope to die, repeating always, "Jesus is my only hope, and after Jesus the most Blessed Virgin Mary!"
CHAPTER 1 : SALVE REGINA, MATER MISERICORDIAE Hail Queen, Mother of Mercy
SECTION 1: OF THE GREAT CONFIDENCE WE SHOULD HAVE IN MARY, BECAUSE SHE IS THE QUEEN OF MERCY
The Holy Church justly honors the great Virgin Mary, and would have her honored by all men with the glorious title of Queen, because she has been elevated to the dignity of Mother of the King of kings. "If the Son is King," says St. Athanasius, "His Mother must necessarily be considered and entitled Queen." "From the moment that Mary consented," adds St. Bernardine of Sienna, "to become the Mother of the Eternal Word, she merited the title of Queen of the world and all creatures.""If the flesh of Mary," says St. Arnold, abbot, "was the flesh of Jesus, how can the Mother be separated from the Son in His kingdom?"
Hence it follows that the regal glory must not only be considered as common to the Mother and the Son, but even the same."If Jesus is the King of the whole world, Mary is also Queen of the whole world: therefore," says St. Bernardine of Sienna, "all creatures who serve God ought also to serve Mary; for all angels and men, and all things that are in Heaven and on earth being subject to the dominion of God, are also subject to the dominion of the glorious Virgin." Hence Guerric, abbot, thus addresses the divine Mother: "Continue, Mary, continue in security to reign; dispose, according to thy will, of everything belonging to thy Son, for thou, being Mother and Spouse of the King of the world, the kingdom and power over all creatures is due to thee as Queen."
Mary, then, is Queen; but let all learn for their consolation that she is a mild and merciful Queen, desiring the good of us poor sinners. Hence the Holy Church bids us salute her in this prayer, and name her the Queen of Mercy. "The very name of Queen signifies," as St. Albert the Great remarks, "compassion, and provision for the poor; differing in this from the title of empress, which signifies severity and rigor."The greatness of kings and queens consists in comforting the wretched as Seneca says. So that whereas tyrants, in reigning, have only their own advantage in view, kings should have for their object the good of their subjects.
Therefore, at the consecration of kings, their heads are anointed with oil, which is the symbol of mercy, to denote that they, in reigning, should above all things cherish thoughts of kindness and beneficence towards their subjects. Kings should, then, principally occupy themselves with works of mercy, but not to the neglect of the exercise of justice towards the guilty, when it is required. Not so Mary, who, although Queen, is not Queen of Justice, intent upon the punishment of the guilty, but Queen of Mercy, solely intent upon compassion and pardon for sinners. Accordingly, the Church requires us explicitly to call her Queen of Mercy. The High Chancellor of Paris, John Gerson, meditating on the words of David,"These two things have I heard, that power belongeth to God, and mercy to thee, O Lord," says, that the kingdom of God consisting of justice and mercy, the Lord has divided it: He has reserved the kingdom of justice for Himself, and He has granted the kingdom of mercy to Mary, ordaining that all the mercies which are dispensed to men, should pass through the hands of Mary, and should be bestowed according to her good pleasure. St. Thomas confirms this in his preface to the Canonical Epistles, saying that the Holy Virgin, when she conceived the Divine Word in her womb and brought Him forth, obtained the half of the kingdom of God by becoming Queen of Mercy, Jesus Christ remaining King of Justice,
The eternal Father constituted Jesus Christ King of Justice, and therefore made Him the universal judge of the world; hence the prophet sang: "Give to the king Thy judgment, O God; and to the king's son Thy justice." Here a learned interpreter takes up the subject, and says: "O Lord, thou hast given to Thy Son Thy justice, because Thou hast given to the Mother of the King Thy mercy." And St. Bonaventure happily varies the passage above quoted by saying: "Give to the King Thy judgment, O God, and to His Mother Thy mercy." Ernest, Archbishop of Prague, also says, that the eternal Father has given to the Son the office of judging and punishing, and to the Mother the office of compassionating and relieving the wretched.
Therefore the Prophet David predicted that God Himself, if I may thus express it, would consecrate Mary Queen of Mercy, anointing her with the oil of gladness, in order that all of us miserable children of Adam might rejoice in the thought of having in Heaven that great Queen, so full of the unction of mercy and pity for us; as St. Bonaventure says: "O Mary, so full of the unction of mercy and the oil of pity, that God has anointed thee with the oil of gladness!"
And how well does St. Albert the Great here apply the history of Queen Esther, who was indeed a type of Our Queen Mary! We read in the 4th chapter of the Book of Esther, that in the reign of King Assuerus, there went forth, throughout his kingdom, a decree commanding the death of all the Jews. Then Mardochai, who was one of the condemned, committed their cause to Esther, that she might intercede with the king to obtain the revocation of the sentence. At first Esther refused to take upon herself this office, fearing that it would excite the anger of the king more. But Mardochai rebuked her, and bade her remember that she must not think of saving herself alone, as the Lord had placed her upon the throne to obtain salvation for all the Jews: "Think not that thou mayest save thy life only, because thou art in the king's house, more than all the Jews." Thus said Mardochai to Queen Esther, and thus might we poor sinners say to our Queen Mary, if she were ever reluctant to intercede with God for our deliverance from the just punishment of our sins. "Think not that thou mayest save thy life only, because thou art in the King's house, more than all men. Think not, O Lady, that God has exalted thee to be Queen of the world, only to secure thy own welfare; but also that thou, being so greatly elevated, mayest the more compassionate and the better relieve us miserable sinners." King Assuerus, when he saw Esther before him, affectionately inquired of her what she had come to ask of him: "What is thy petition?"Then the queen answered, "If I have found favor in thy sight, O king, give me my people for which I request." Assuerus heard her, and immediately ordered the sentence to be revoked.
Now, if Assuerus granted to Esther, because he loved her, the salvation of the Jews, will not God graciously listen to Mary, in His boundless love for her, when she prays to Him for those poor sinners who recommend themselves to her and says to Him: "If I have found favor in Thy sight, O King, my King and my God, if I have ever found favor with Thee (and well does the divine Mother know herself to be the blessed, the fortunate, the only one of the children of men who found the grace lost by man; she knows herself to be the beloved of her Lord, more be loved than all the saints and angels united),give me my people for which I request: if Thou lovest me, she says to Him, give me, O my Lord, these sinners in whose behalf I entreat Thee." Is it possible that God will not graciously hear her? Is there anyone who does not know the power of Mary's prayers with God? The law of clemency is on her tongue.
Every prayer of hers is as a law established by Our Lord, that mercy shall be exercised towards those for whom Mary intercedes. St. Bernard asks, "Why does the Church name Mary Queen of Mercy?" and answers, "Because we believe that she opens the depths of the mercy of God, to whom she will, when she will, and as she will; so that not even the vilest sinner is lost, if Mary protects him." But it may, perhaps, be feared that Mary disdains interposing in behalf of some sinners, because she finds them so laden with sins? Perhaps the majesty and sanctity of this great Queen should alarm us? "No," says St. Gregory,"in proportion to her greatness and holiness are her clemency and mercy towards sinners who desire to amend, and who have recourse to her."
"Kings and queens inspire terror by the display of their majesty, and their subjects fear to enter their presence; but what fear,"says St. Bernard, "can the wretched have of going to this Queen of Mercy since she never shows herself terrible or austere to those who seek her, but all sweetness and kindness? Mary not only gives, but she herself presents to us milk and wool: the milk of mercy to inspire us with confidence, and wool to shield us from the thunderbolts of divine justice!"
Suetonius narrates of the Emperor Titus, that he never could refuse a favor to anyone who asked it, and that he even sometimes promised more than he could perform; and he answered to one who admonished him of this, that a prince should not dismiss anyone from his presence dissatisfied. Titus said this, but, in reality, was perhaps often either guilty of falsehood, or failed in his promises. But our Queen cannot lie, and can obtain whatever she wishes for her devoted servants. She has a heart so kind and compassionate, says Blosius, that she cannot send away dissatisfied anyone who invokes her aid. But, as St. Bernard says, "How couldst thou, O Mary, refuse succor to the wretched, when thou art Queen of Mercy? And who are the subjects of mercy, if not the miserable? Thou art the Queen of Mercy, and I the most miserable of all sinners; if I, then, am the first of thy subjects, then thou shouldst have more care of me than of all others."
"Have pity on us, then, O Queen of Mercy, and give heed to our salvation; neither say to us, O most holy Virgin," as St. Gregory of Nicomedia would add, "that thou canst not aid us because of the multitude of our sins, when thou hast such power and pity that no number of sins can ever surpass it! Nothing resists thy power, since thy Creator and ours, while He honors thee as His Mother, considers thy glory as His own, and exulting in it, as a Son, grants thy petitions as if He were discharging an obligation." By this He means to say, that though Mary is under an infinite obligation to her Son for having elected her to be His Mother, yet it cannot be denied that the Son also is greatly indebted to His Mother for having given Him His human nature; whence Jesus, as if to recompense Mary as He ought, while He enjoys this His glory, honors her especially by always graciously listening to her prayers.
How great then should be our confidence in this Queen, knowing how powerful she is with God, and at the same time how rich and full of mercy; so much so that there is no one on earth who does not share in the mercies and favors of Mary! This the Blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget:"I am," she said to her, "the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of Mercy; I am the joy of the just, and the gate of entrance for sinners to God; neither is there living on earth a sinner who is so accursed that he is deprived of my compassion; for everyone, if he receives nothing else through my intercession, receives the grace of being less tempted by evil spirits than he otherwise would be. No one, therefore"she added,"who is not entirely accursed" (by which is meant the final and irrevocable malediction pronounced against the damned), "is so entirely cast off by God that he may not return and enjoy His mercy if he invokes my aid. I am called by all the Mother of Mercy, and truly the mercy of God towards men has made me so merciful towards them." And then she concluded by saying: "Therefore he shall be miserable, and forever miserable in another life, who in this life, being able, does not have recourse to me, who am so compassionate to all, and so earnestly desire to aid sinners."
Let us then have recourse, let us always have recourse to this most sweet Queen, if we would be sure of our salvation; and if the sight of our sins terrifies and disheartens us, Let us remember that Mary was made Queen of Mercy for this very end, that she might save by her protection the greatest and most abandoned sinners who have recourse to her. They are to be her crown in Heaven, as her Divine Spouse has said: "Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; thou shalt be crowned from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards."
And what are these dens of wild beasts and monsters, if not miserable sinners, whose souls become dens of sins, the most deformed monsters? Now, by these same sinners, as Rupert, the abbot, remarks, who are saved by thy means, O great Queen Mary, thou wilt be crowned in Heaven; for their salvation will be thy crown, a crown indeed worthy and fit for a Queen of Mercy; and let the following example illustrate this.
EXAMPLE We read in the life of Sister Catherine, an Augustinian nun, that in the place where that servant of God lived, there lived also a woman named Mary, who, in her youth, was a sinner, and obstinately persevered in her evil courses, even to extreme old age. For this she was banished by her fellow-citizens, forced to live in a cave beyond the limits of the place, and died in a state of loathsome corruption, abandoned by all, and without the sacraments; and on this account was buried in a field, like a beast. Now Sister Catherine, who was accustomed to recommend very affectionately to God the souls of those who had departed this life, after learning the miserable death of this poor old woman, did not think of praying for her, as she, and everyone else, believed her already among the damned.
Four years having passed, a soul from Purgatory one day appeared to her, and said, "Sister Catherine, how unhappy is my fate! You commend to God the souls of all those who die, and for my soul alone you have had no pity." "And who are you?" said the servant of God. "I am," answered she, "that poor Mary who died in the cave." "What! Are you saved?" exclaimed Sister Catherine. "Yes, I am saved," she said, "by the mercy of the Virgin Mary" "And how?" "When I saw death drawing near, finding myself laden with sins, and abandoned by all, I turned to the Mother of God and said to her, 'Lady, thou art the refuge of the abandoned, behold me at this hour deserted by all; thou art my only hope, thou alone canst help me; have pity on me!' The Holy Virgin obtained for me the grace of making an act of contrition; I died and am saved, and my Queen has also obtained for me the grace that my pains should be abridged, and that I should, by suffering intensely for a short time, pass through that purification which otherwise would have lasted many years. A few Masses only are needed to obtain my release from Purgatory. I pray thee cause them to be offered for me, and I promise to pray God and Mary for thee."
Sister Catherine immediately caused those Masses to be said for her, and that soul, after a few days, appeared to her again, more brilliant than the sun, and said to her, "I thank thee, Sister Catherine: behold I am now going to Paradise to sing the mercy of God and pray for thee."
PRAYER O Mother of my God and my Lady Mary, as a poor wounded and loathsome wretch presents himself to a great Queen, I present myself to thee, who art the Queen of Heaven and Earth. From the lofty throne on which thou art seated, do not disdain, I pray thee, to cast thy eye upon me, a poor sinner. God hath made thee so rich in order that thou mayest succor the needy, and hath made thee Queen of Mercy that thou mayest help the miserable, look upon me, then, and have pity on me. Look upon me, and do not leave me until thou hast changed me from a sinner into a saint. I see I merit nothing, or rather I merit, for my ingratitude, to be deprived of all the graces which, by thy means, I have received from the Lord. But thou, who art the Mother of Mercy, dost not require merits, but miseries, that thou mayest succor those who are in need; and who is more poor and more needy than I?
O glorious Virgin, I know that thou, being Queen of the universe, art also my Queen; and I, in a more especial manner, would dedicate myself to thy service; that thou mayest dispose of me as seemeth best to thee. Therefore I say to thee with St. Bonaventure,'O, Lady, I submit myself to thy control, that thou mayest rule and govern me entirely. Do not leave me to myself. Rule me, O my Queen, and do not leave me to myself. Command me, employ me as thou wilt, and punish me if I do not obey thee, for very salutary will be the punishments that come from thy hand. I would esteem it a greater thing to be thy servant than Lord of the whole Earth. Thine I am, save me! Accept me, O Mary, for thy own and attend to my salvation, as I am thine own. I no longer will be my own, I give myself to thee. And if hitherto I have so poorly served thee, having lost so many good occasions of honoring thee, for the time to come I will unite myself to thy most loving and most faithful servants. No one from this time henceforth shall surpass me in honoring and loving thee, my most lovely Queen. This I promise, and I hope to perform with thy assistance. Amen.'
CHAPTER 1, SECTION 2 : HOW MUCH GREATER SHOULD BE OUR CONFIDENCE IN MARY BECAUSE SHE IS OUR MOTHER
Not by chance, nor in vain, do the servants of Mary call her Mother, and it would seem that they cannot invoke her by any other name, and are never weary of calling her Mother; Mother, indeed, for she is truly our Mother, not according to the flesh, but the spiritual Mother of our souls and of our salvation. Sin, when it deprived our souls of divine grace, also deprived them of life. Hence, when they were dead in misery and sin, Jesus our Redeemer came with an excess of mercy and love to restore to us, by His death upon the cross, that lost life, as He has Himself declared : “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”
More, abundantly, because, as the theologians teach us, Jesus Christ by His redemption brought us blessings greater than the injury Adam inflicted upon us by his sin; He reconciled us to God, and thus became the father of our souls, under the new law of grace, as the prophet Isaiah predicted: “The Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace.” But if Jesus is the father of our souls, Mary is the Mother; for, in giving us Jesus, she gave us the true life; and offering upon Calvary the life of her Son for our salvation, she then brought us forth to the life of divine grace.
At two different times, then as the holy Fathers show us, Mary became our spiritual Mother; the first when she was found worthy of conceiving in her virginal womb the Son of God, as the St. Albert the Great says. St. Bernardine of Sienna more distinctly teaches us that when the most holy Virgin, on the annunciation of the angel, gave her consent to become Mother of the eternal Word, which He awaited before making Himself her Son, she by this consent even from that time demanded of God, with lively affection, our salvation; and she was so earnestly engaged in obtaining it, that from that time she has borne us, as it were, in her womb, as a most loving Mother.
St. Luke says, speaking of the birth of our Savior, that Mary “brought forth her first-born son.” Therefore, says a certain writer, if the evangelist affirms that Mary brought forth her first-born, is it to be supposed that she afterwards had other children? But the same author adds; if it is of faith that Mary had no other children according to the flesh except Jesus, then she must have other spiritual children, and these we are.
Our Lord revealed this to St. Gertrude, who, reading one day the passage of the Gospel just quoted, was troubled, not knowing how to understand it, that Mary being Mother of Jesus Christ alone, it could be said that He was her first-born. And God explained it to her, by telling her that Jesus was her first-born according to the flesh, but men were her second-born according to the spirit.
And this explains what is said of Mary in the holy Canticles: “Thy belly is as a heap of wheat, set about with lilies.” St. Ambrose explains this and says: Although in the pure womb of Mary there was only one grain of wheat, which was Jesus Christ, yet it is called a heap of grain, because in that one grain were contained all the elect, of whom Mary was to be the Mother. Hence, William the Abbot wrote, Mary, in bringing forth Jesus, who is our Savior and our life, brought forth all of us to life and salvation.
The second time in which Mary brought us forth to grace was, when on Calvary, she offered to the eternal Father with so much sorrow of heart the life of her beloved Son for our salvation. Wherefore, St. Augustine asserts, that, having then co-operated by her love with Christ in the birth of the faithful to the life of grace, she became also by this co-operation the spiritual Mother of us all, who are members of our head, Jesus Christ. This is also the meaning of what is said of the Blessed Virgin in the sacred Canticles: “They have made me the keeper in the vineyards; my vineyard I have not kept.” Mary, to save our souls, was willing to sacrifice the life of her Son, as William the Abbot remarks.
And who was the soul of Mary, but her Jesus, who was her life and all her love? Wherefore St. Simeon announced to her that her soul would one day be pierced by a sword of sorrow; which was the very spear that pierced the side of Jesus, who was the soul of Mary. And then she in her sorrow brought us forth to eternal life; so that we may all call ourselves children of the dolors of Mary. She, our most loving Mother, was always and wholly united to the divine will; whence St. Bonaventure remarks, that when she saw the love of the eternal Father for men, who would have His Son die for our salvation, and the love of the Son in wishing: to die for us, she too, with her whole will, offered her Son and consented that He should die that we might be saved, in order to conform herself to that exceeding love of the Father and Son for the human race.
It is true that, in dying for the redemption of the world, Jesus wished to be alone. I have trodden the wine-press alone, “Torcular calcavi solus.” But when God saw the great desire of Mary to devote herself also to the salvation of men, He ordained that by the sacrifice and offering of the life of this same Jesus, she might co-operate with Him in the work of our salvation, and thus become Mother of our souls. And this our Savior signified, when, before expiring, He saw from the cross His Mother and the disciple St. John both standing near Him, and first spoke to Mary: Behold thy son, “Ecce filius tuus;” as if He said to her: Behold the man who, by the offering thou hast made of My life for his salvation, is already born to grace. And then turning to the disciple, He said: Behold thy Mother, “Ecce mater tua.” By which words, says St. Bernardine of Sienna, Mary was then made Mother not only of St. John, but of all men, for the love she bore them.
On this account, as Silveira observes, St. John himself, when recording this fact in his Gospel, wrote, “After that He said to the disciple: ‘Behold thy Mother’.” Let it be remarked that Jesus Christ did not say this to John, but to the disciple, to signify that the Savior appointed Mary for common Mother of all those who, being Christians, bear the name of His disciples.
I am the Mother of fair love, “Ego sum mater pulchrae dilectionis,” said Mary; because her love, as an author remarks, which renders the souls of men beautiful in the eye of God, prompts her, as a loving Mother, to receive us for her children. And as a mother loves her children, and watches over their welfare, so thou, O our most sweet Queen, lovest us, and dost procure our happiness, says St. Bonaventure.
O, happy those who live under the protection of a Mother so loving and so powerful! The prophet David, although Mary was not yet born, besought of God salvation, by dedicating himself to Mary as her son, and thus prayed; “Save the son of thy handmaid.” Whose handmaid?” asks St. Augustine, “she who says: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” And who, says Cardinal Bellarmine, who would dare to snatch these children from the bosom of Mary, where they have taken refuge from their enemies? What fury of Hell or of passion can conquer them, if they place their trust in the protection of this great Mother?
It is narrated of the whale, that when she sees her young in peril, from the tempest or their pursuers, she opens her mouth and receives them into her bowels. Just so, says Novarino, does this compassionate Mother of the faithful, when the tempest of the passions is raging; she then, with maternal affection, protects them as it were in her bowels, and continues to shelter them until she has placed them in the secure haven of paradise. O, most loving Mother! O, most compassionate Mother, be ever blessed! And may that God be ever blessed, who has given us thee as a Mother, and as a secure refuge in all the dangers of this life.
The Blessed Virgin herself revealed this to St. Bridget, saying: “As a Mother who sees her son exposed to the sword of the enemy, makes every effort to save him, thus do I, and will I ever do for my children, sinful though they be, if they come to me for help.” Behold, then, how in every battle with Hell we shall always conquer, and certainly conquer, if we have recourse to the Mother of God and our Mother, always repeating: “We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God; we fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God.” O, how many victories have the faithful obtained over Hell, by having recourse to Mary with this short but powerful prayer! That great servant of God, Sister Mary of the Crucifixion, a Benedictine nun, by this means always conquered the evil spirits.
Be joyful then, all ye children of Mary; remember that she adopts as her children all those who wish her for their Mother. Joyful; for what fear have you of being lost when this Mother defends and protects you? Thus says St. Bonaventure: “Everyone who loves this good Mother and trusts in her protection, should take courage and repeat: What do you fear, O my soul? The cause of thy eternal salvation will not be lost, as the final sentence depends upon Jesus, Who is thy Brother, and upon Mary who is thy Mother.”
And St. Anselm full of joy at this thought, exclaims, in order to encourage us: “O, blessed confidence! O, secure refuge! The Mother of God is my Mother also. With what certainty may we hope, since our salvation depends upon the sentence of a good Brother and of a kind Mother!” Hear, then, our Mother who calls us, and says to us; “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me.” Little children have always on their lips the word mother, and in all the dangers to which they are exposed, and in all their fears, they cry mother, Ah, most sweet Mary! Ah, most loving Mother! This is exactly what thou dost desire; that we become little children, and always call upon thee in our dangers, and always have recourse to thee, for thou wishest to aid and save us, as thou hast saved all thy children who have had recourse to thee.
EXAMPLE In the history of the foundations of the Company of Jesus, in the kingdom of Naples, is related the following story of a noble youth of Scotland, named William Elphinstone. He was a relation of King James. Born a heretic, he followed the false sect to which he belonged; but enlightened by divine grace, which showed him his errors, he went to France, where, with the assistance of a good Jesuit father, who was like himself a Scotsman, and still more by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, he at length saw the truth, abjured heresy, and became a Catholic.
He went afterwards to Rome, where a friend of his found him one day, very much afflicted, and weeping. He asked him the cause, and he answered, that in the night his mother had appeared to him and said: “My son, it is well for thee that thou hast entered the true Church; I am already lost, because I died in heresy.”
From that time he became more fervent in his devotion to Mary, chose her for his Mother, and by her was inspired to become a religious. He made a vow to do so, but being ill, he went to Naples to restore his health by a change of air. But the Lord ordered it so that he should die in Naples, and die a religious; for, having become dangerously ill soon after his arrival there, he, by prayers and tears, obtained from the superiors admittance, and when about receiving the viaticum, he made his vows in presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and was enrolled in the society.
After this, in the tenderness of his feelings, he gave thanks to his Mother Mary for having rescued him from heresy, and brought him to die in the true Church, and in a religious house in the midst of his brethren. Therefore, he exclaimed: “O how glorious it is to die in the midst of so many angels!” Being exhorted to take a little rest, he answered: “Ah, this is not the time to rest when the end of my life is drawing near.”
Before dying, he said to the persons present: “Brethren, do you not see the angels of Heaven around me?” One of the religious, having heard him murmuring something to himself, asked him what he had said. He answered, that his angel-guardian had revealed to him that he should be in Purgatory but a short time, and would soon enter Paradise. Then he began again to talk with his sweet Mother Mary, and repeating the word, Mother, Mother, he tranquilly expired, like a child falling asleep in the arms of its mother. Soon after, it was revealed to a devout religious that he had already entered Paradise.
PRAYER O, my most holy Mother, how is it possible that, having so holy a Mother, I should be so wicked? A Mother so inflamed with love to God, and that I should so love creatures? A Mother so rich in virtue, and that I should be so poor? O, my most amiable Mother! I no longer deserve, it is true, to be thy son, because by my bad life I have rendered myself unworthy. I am content if thou wilt accept me as thy servant. I am ready to renounce all the kingdoms of the earth, to be admitted among the lowest of thy servants. Yes, I am content, but do not forbid me to call thee my Mother. This name wholly consoles me, melts me, and reminds me of my obligation to love thee. This name encourages me to confide in thee. When I am the most terrified at the thought of my sins and of the divine justice, I feel myself comforted by the remembrance that thou art my Mother, Permit me, then, to call thee my Mother, my sweetest Mother. Thus I call thee, and thus I will ever call thee. Thou, next to God, shalt always be my hope, my refuge, and my love, in this valley of tears. And thus I hope to die, commending my soul, at the last moment, into thy sacred hands, saying: “My Mother, my Mother Mary, help me, have pity on me.” Amen.
CHAPTER 1, SECTION 3 : THIS MOTHER'S GREAT LOVE FOR US
Now, since Mary is our Mother, it might be well to see how great her love for us really is. The love of parents for their children is a natural and instinctive impulse. St. Thomas says that this is why God makes it one of His commandments for children to love their parents, but gives no express command for parents to love their children. Nature itself has fixed this instinct in all creatures so strongly that, as St. Ambrose remarks, "a mother will expose herself to danger for her children—and even the most savage beasts cannot help loving their young." It is said that tigers, when their cubs are captured and they hear their cries, will plunge into the sea and swim out to the boat where they are. If the very tigers, says our loving Mother, cannot forget their young, will I forget to love you, my children? And even if it were possible for a mother to forget to love her child, I can never neglect to love a soul that has become my child. Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you (Is 49:15). Mary is our Mother—not by the flesh, as we remarked before, but by love. "I am the mother of fair love" (Sir. 24:24—Vulgate). That is, she is our Mother by love alone. So someone observes that she glories in being the mother of love. She is all love for us, her adopted children.
The first reason for Mary's great love for human beings is that she loves God so much. Love for God and love for neighbor come under the same commandment, as St. John expresses it: "The commandment we have from Him is this: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 Jn. 4:21). Hence, the one increases along with the other. Think of what the Saints have done for their neighbor because they loved God. But what Saint's love for God can match Mary's? She loved Him more in the first moment of her existence than all the Saints and angels ever loved Him or will love Him.
Our Lady herself revealed to Sister Mary Crocifissa that the fire of her love was most extreme. If Heaven and earth were placed in it, they would be instantly consumed. And the ardors of the Seraphim, compared with it, are like cool breezes. Just as there is not one among all the Blessed who loves God as Mary does, so there is no one, after God, who loves us as much as this most loving Mother does. Furthermore, if we heaped together all the love that mothers have for their children, all the love of husbands and wives, all the love of all the angels and Saints for their clients, it could never equal Mary's love for even a single soul.
Father Nieremberg says that the love all mothers have ever experienced for their children is but a shadow alongside the love Mary has for each one of us. She loves us more than all the Angels and Saints together. Our Mother's love for us is as great as it is for the simple reason that her beloved Jesus commended us to her when He said to her before He died: "Woman, there is your son" (Jn. 19:25). These were His last words to her; and we always treasure the last recommendations of loved ones at the point of death—we never forget them. But over and above that, we are exceedingly dear to Mary because we cost her such untold suffering. Normally a mother feels a very special love for a child whose life has been spared only at the price of great suffering and anguish on her part.
We are such children—because Mary , to obtain the life of grace for us, had to endure a most bitter agony. She offered her beloved Jesus to an ignominious Death, and watched Him die before her eyes in cruel and unexampled torments. Thus, as it is written of the Eternal Father, that God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son (Jn. 3:16), so also we can say of Mary, that she so loved the world as to give her only-begotten Son. And when did she give Him? When she gave Him permission to deliver Himself to death. She gave Him to us when she might have pleaded with the judges for His life.
It is perfectly conceivable that the words of so wise and loving a Mother would have had great weight, at least with Pilate, who knew Jesus to be innocent anyhow, and had declared as much. But Mary forbore to say one word in favor of her Son, lest she prevent that Death on which our salvation depended. Again, she gave Him to us over and over during the three hours of His agony. She stood at the foot of His Cross, unceasingly, and sorrowfully, and lovingly offering His life for our benefit. She did this with such constancy that, if there had been no executioners, she herself would have crucified Him, to fulfill the wish of His Eternal Father. Surely, if Abraham had enough courage to be ready to sacrifice his son with his own hand, then Mary (far holier than Abraham, and more obedient) would have sacrificed her Son with even greater resolution.
This suggests another motive for Mary's love for us. She sees in us something which was purchased by the Death of Jesus Christ. Suppose a mother knew that her son had ransomed a servant at the cost of twenty years of hard labor and imprisonment. Imagine the regard she would have for that servant on this account alone. Mary knows only too well that her Son came into the world simply to save poor sinners, as He Himself protested: "The Son of Man has come to search and to save what was lost" (Lk. 19:10). And to save us He went the length of laying down His life. If Mary loved us only a little, she would be showing small respect for the blood of her Son, which was the price of our salvation.
Mary is incredibly good to all, even to the ungrateful and indifferent who love her but little and rarely turn to her. Hence, think of the love she must have for those who love her generously and often call upon her! She "is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her" (Wis. 6:13). Though she loves all human beings as her children, she has a special love for those who love her with particular tenderness.
Blessed Raymond Jordano asserts that those who find the most Blessed Virgin Mary find all. She does more than merely love those who love her—she serves those who serve her.
Sister Domenica del Paradiso, whose life was written by the Dominican Father Ignatius del Niente, was born of poor parents in a village near Florence. From early childhood she began to serve the Mother of God. She fasted every day in her honor, and on Saturdays gave away her own food to the poor. Every Saturday she gathered all the flowers she could find in the garden and the fields round about, and brought them home to an image of our Lady with the Child in her arms. How did this most gracious Lady respond to the devotion of her little servant? One day, when Domenica was ten years old, she was standing at the window and saw in the street a noble-looking lady, accompanied by a little child. They were holding out their hands and begging. Domenica went to get some bread, but suddenly, though the door had not opened, they were standing by her side. She noticed wounds in the child's side and in his hands and feet. She asked the lady who had wounded him. The mother answered: "Love."
Domenica, thrilled by the child's beauty and modesty, asked him if the wounds pained him. His only answer was a smile. They were standing by a statue of Jesus and Mary, and the lady said to Domenica: "Tell me, little one, what makes you bring flowers to those images?" She answered: "My love for Jesus and Mary." — "How much do you love them?" — "As much as I can." --"How much is that?" -- "As much as they help me to love them." — "Keep loving them," said the lady; "they will more than repay your love in Heaven."
The little girl then perceived a wonderful fragrance coming from the wounds and asked the mother what ointment she had used for them and where she could buy it. The lady replied: "You buy it with faith and good works." Then Domenica offered them the bread. "Love is my son's food," said the mother. "Tell him you love Jesus and that will satisfy him." At the word "love" the child seemed filled with joy and asked the little girl how much she loved Jesus. She loved him so much, she answered, that she was thinking of Him night and day and wanted nothing better than to give Him as much pleasure as she could. "Love Him," said the child, "and love will teach you what to do to please Him." The fragrance of the wounds had grown sweeter , and Domenica cried out: "O God, the sweetness makes me die of love . . ."
Then came a sudden change: the Mother was standing there dressed like a Queen and the Child was shining with the beauty of the sun. He took the flowers and scattered them on the head of the little girl—who was now lying prostrate in adoration, knowing she was in the presence of Jesus and Mary. Then the apparition vanished. The little girl later became a Dominican nun and died in the odor of sanctity in the year 1553.
"O most dear Mary!" St. John Berchmans exclaimed, "blessed is the person who loves you! If I love Mary I am certain of perseverance, and will obtain from God whatever I want."
I wish that all who call themselves Children of Mary would consider St. Stanislaus Kostka. So tenderly did he love this dear Mother that all his words about her inflamed others to something like his own love. He made up new words and titles to honor her. He never did anything without first turning to her image to ask her blessing. When he said her Office, or the Rosary, or other prayers in her honor, he said them with the same affection he would have shown if he were speaking to her face to face. When the "Hail, Holy Queen" was sung his whole soul and his whole face were lit up with love. One day one of his Jesuit confreres, going with him to a certain shrine of Our Lady, asked him how much he loved Mary. "Father," he answered, "she is my Mother. What more can I say?"
We ought to love Mary as Blessed Herman did. He called her his heart's spouse—because Mary herself had called him by the same title. We should love her as St. Philip Neri did. Just to think of her filled him with joy, and so he called her his Delight.
St. Bonaventure called Mary his Lady and Mother—but added more: "My Lady, my Mother—or rather, my heart and my soul!" And St. Bernard, that giant among lovers of our Lady, hailed her with the daring words, "Ravisher of hearts!"
Or think of the love of St. Francis of Solano. His love was like a holy madness. He would sing before her picture, and accompany himself on a musical instrument, saying, that like worldly lovers, he serenaded his most sweet Queen . . .
The Blessed Alphonsus Rodriguez, of the Society of Jesus, once prostrate before an image of Mary, felt his heart inflamed with love towards this most Holy Virgin, and burst forth into the following exclamation: "My most beloved Mother, I know that thou lovest me, but thou dost not love me as much as I love thee." Mary, as it were, offended on the point of love, immediately replied from the image: "What dost thou say, Alphonsus—what dost thou say? O, how much greater is the love that I bear thee, than any love that thou canst have for me! Know that the distance between Heaven and earth is not so great as the distance between thy love and mine."
St. Bonaventure, then, was right in exclaiming: "Blessed are they who have the good fortune to be faithful servants and lovers of this most loving Mother. Blessed are the hearts of those who love Mary; blessed are they who are tenderly devoted to her."
Prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori to Our Lady Based on St. Bonaventure and St. John Berchmans O Lady, O Ravisher of Hearts! I will exclaim with St. Bonaventure: "Lady, who with the love and favor thou showest thy servants dost ravish their hearts, ravish also my miserable heart, which desires ardently to love thee. Thou, my Mother, hast enamored a God with thy beauty, and drawn Him from Heaven into thy chaste womb; and shall I live without loving thee? "No," I will say to thee with one of thy most loving sons, John Berchmans of the Society of Jesus," I will never rest until I am certain of having obtained thy love; but a constant and tender love towards thee, my Mother, who hast loved me with so much tenderness," even when I was ungrateful towards thee. And what should I now be, O Mary, if thou hadst not obtained many mercies for me?
Since then, thou didst love me so much when I loved thee not, how much more may I not now hope from thee, now that I love thee? I love thee, O my Mother, and I would that I had a heart to love thee in place of all those unfortunate creatures who love thee not. I would that I could speak with a thousand tongues, that all might know thy greatness, thy holiness, thy mercy, and the love with which thou lovest all who love thee. Had I riches, I would employ them all for thy honor. Had I subjects, I would make them all thy lovers. In fine, if the occasion presented itself I would lay down my life for thy glory. I love thee, then, O my Mother; but at the same time I fear that I do not love thee as I ought; for I that love makes lovers like the person loved. If, then, I see myself so unlike thee, it is a mark that I do not love thee. Thou art so pure, and I defiled with so many sins; thou so humble, and I so proud; thou so holy, and I so wicked. This, then, what thou hast to do, O Mary; since thou lovest me, make like thee. Thou hast all power to change hearts; take, then, mine and change it. Show the world what thou canst do for those who love thee. Make me a saint; make me thy worthy child. This is my hope.
CHAPTER 1, SECTION 4 : MARY IS THE MOTHER OF PENITENT SINNERS
Our Blessed Lady told St. Bridget that she was the mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they were willing to repent ("Ego sum Quasi Mater omnium peccatorum se volentium emendare."—Rev. 1. iv. c. 138). O how prompt does a sinner (desirous of amendment, and who flies to her feet) find this good mother to embrace and help him, far more so than any earthly mother! St. Gregory VII wrote in this sense to the princess Matilda, saying: "Resolve to sin no more, and I promise that undoubtedly thou wilt find Mary more ready to love thee than any earthly mother" ("Pone finem in-voluntate peccandi, et invenies Mariam, indubitanter promitto, promptiorem carnali matre in tui dilectione."--Lib. i. ep. 47).
But whoever aspires to be a child of this great mother, must first abandon sin, and then may hope to be accepted as such. Richard of St. Laurence, on the words of Proverbs, up rose her children ("Surrexerunt filii ejus."--Prov. xxxi. 28.), remarks that the words "up rose" come first, and then the word "children," to show that no one can be a child of Mary without first endeavoring to rise from the fault into which he has fallen; for he who is in mortal sin is not worthy to be called the son of such a mother ("Nec dignus est, qui in mortali peccato est, vocari filius tantae Matris."--De Laud. B. V. lib. ii. p. 5). And St. Peter Chrysologus says that he who acts in a different manner from Mary, declares thereby that he will not be her son. "He who does not the works of his mother, abjures his lineage" ("Qui genitoris opera non facit, negat genus."--Serm. 123). Mary humble, and he proud; Mary pure, and he wicked; Mary full of love, and he hating his neighbor. He gives thereby proof that he is not, and will not be, the son of his holy Mother. The sons of Mary, says Richard of St. Laurence, are her imitators, and this chiefly in three things; in "chastity, liberality, and humility; and also in meekness, mercy, and such like" ("Filii Mariae, imitators ejus in castitate, humilitate, mansuetudine, misericordia.--Loco cit).
Whilst disgusting her by a wicked life, who would dare even to wish to be the child of Mary? A certain sinner once said to Mary, "Show thyself a Mother;" but the Blessed Virgin replied, "Show thyself a son" ("Monstra te esse matrem . . . Monstra te esse filium."--Aur. Aff. Scamb. p. 3, c. 12). Another invoked the divine Mother, calling her the Mother of mercy, and she answered: "You sinners, when you want my help, call me Mother of mercy, and at the same time do not cease by your sins to make me a Mother of sorrows and anguish" (Pelb. Stell. 1. xii. p. ult. c. 7). He is cursed of God, says Ecclesiasticus, that angereth his mother ("Maledictus a Deo, qui exasperate matrem."--Ecclus. iii. 18). "That is Mary" ("Matrem, id est Mariam"--De Laud. B. M. l. 2, p. 1), says Richard of St. Laurence. God curses those who by their wicked life, and still more by their obstinacy in sin, afflict this tender mother.
I say, by their obstinacy; for if a sinner, though he may not as yet have given up his sin, endeavors to do so, and for this purpose seeks the help of Mary, this good mother will not fail to assist him, and make him recover the grace of God. And this is precisely what St. Bridget heard one day from the lips of Jesus Christ, who, speaking to his mother, said, "Thou assistest him who endeavors to return to God, and thy consolations are never wanting to any one" ("Conanti surgere ad Deum tribuis auxilium, et neminem reliquis vacuum a consolatione tua"--Rev. 1. 4, c. 19). So long, then, as a sinner is obstinate, Mary cannot love him; but if he (finding himself chained by some passion which keeps him a slave of hell) recommends himself to the Blessed Virgin, and implores her, with confidence and perseverance, to withdraw him from the state of sin in which he is, there can be no doubt but this good mother will extend her powerful hand to him, will deliver him from his chains, and lead him to a state of salvation.
The doctrine that all prayers and works performed in a state of sin are sins was condemned as heretical by the sacred Council of Trent (Sess. vi. can. 7). St. Bernard says (De Div. s. 81), that although prayer in the mouth of a sinner is devoid of beauty, as it is unaccompanied with charity, nevertheless it is useful, and obtains grace to abandon sin; for, as St. Thomas teaches (2. 2, q. 178, a. 2.), the prayer of a sinner, though without merit, is an act which obtains the grace of forgiveness, since the power of impetration is founded not on the merits of him who asks, but on the divine goodness, and the merits and promises of Jesus Christ, who has said, Every one that asketh, receiveth ("Omnis enim qui petit, accipit."--Luke, xi. 10). The same thing must be said of prayers offered to the divine mother. "If he who prays," says St. Anselm, "does not merit to be heard, the merits of the mother, to whom he recommends himself, will intercede effectually" ("Si merita invocantis non merentur, merita tamen Matris intercedunt, ut exaudiatur."--De Excell. Virg. c. 6).
Therefore, St. Bernard exhorts all sinners to have recourse to Mary, invoking her with great confidence; for though the sinner does not himself merit the graces which he asks, yet he receives them, because this Blessed Virgin asks and obtains them from God, on account of her own merits. These are his words, addressing a sinner: "Because thou wast unworthy to receive the grace thyself, it was given to Mary, in order that, through her, thou mightest receive all" ("Quia indignus eras, cui donaretur, datum est Mariae, ut per illam acciperes quidquid haberes."--In Virg. Nat. s. 3). "If a mother," continues the same saint, "knew that her two sons bore a mortal enmity to each other, and that each plotted against the other's life, would she not exert herself to her utmost in order to reconcile them? This would be the duty of a good mother. And thus it is," the saint goes on to say, "that Mary acts; for she is the mother of Jesus, and the mother of men. When she sees a sinner at enmity with Jesus Christ, she cannot endure it, and does all in her power to make peace between them. O happy Mary, thou art the Mother of the criminal, and the Mother of the judge; and being the Mother of both, they are thy children, and thou canst not endure discords amongst them" ("O Maria! tu Mater rei, tu Mater judicis: cum sis Mater utriusque, discordias inter tuos filios nequis sustinere."--Ap. S. Bonav. Spec. B. V. lect. 3).
This most benign Lady only requires that the sinner should recommend himself to her, and purpose amendment. When Mary sees a sinner at her feet, imploring her mercy, she does not consider the crimes with which he is loaded, but the intention with which he comes; and if this is good, even should he have committed all possible sins, the most loving mother embraces him, and does not disdain to heal the wounds of his soul; for she is not only called the Mother of Mercy, but is so truly and indeed, and shows herself such by the love and tenderness with which she assists us all. And this is precisely what the Blessed Virgin herself said to St. Bridget: "However much a man sins, I am ready immediately to receive him when he repents; nor do I pay attention to the number of his sins, but only to the intention with which he comes: I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds; for I am called, and truly am, the Mother of Mercy" ("Quantumcumque homo peccet, si ex vera emendatione ad me reverses fuerit, statim parata sum recipere revertentem; nec attendo quantum peccaverit, sed cum quail voluntate venit; nam non dedignor ungere et sanare plagas ejus, (quia) vocor (et vere sum) Mater misericortiae."--Rev. l. 2, c. 23.—l. 6, c. 117).
Mary is the mother of sinners who wish to repent, and as a mother she cannot do otherwise than compassionate them; nay more, she seems to feel the miseries of her poor children as if they were her own. When the Canaanitish woman begged our Lord to deliver her daughter from the devil who possessed her, she said, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil ("Miserere mei, Domine, Fili David! filia mea male a daemonio vexatur."--Matt. xv. 22). But since the daughter, and not the mother, was tormented, she should rather have said, "Lord, take compassion on my daughter:" and not, Have mercy on me; but no, she said, "Have mercy on me," and she was right; for the sufferings of children are felt by their mother as if they were their own. And it is precisely thus, says Richard of St. Laurence, that Mary prays to God when she recommends a sinner to him who has had recourse to her; she cries out for the sinful soul, "Have mercy on me!" "My Lord," she seems to say, "this poor soul that is in sin is my daughter, and therefore, pity not so much her as me, who am her mother" ("Maria clamat pro peccatorice anima: Miserere mei."—De Laud. B. M. l. 6).
Would that all sinners had recourse to this sweet mother! for then certainly all would be pardoned by God. "O Mary," exclaims St. Bonaventure in rapturous astonishment, "thou embracest with maternal affection a sinner despised by the whole world, nor dost thou leave him until thou has reconciled the poor creature with his judge" ("O Maria! peccatorem toti mundo despectum materno affectu complecteris; nec deseris, quousque horrendo Judici miserum reconcilies."--In Spec. B. V. lect. 5); meaning that the sinner, whilst in the state of sin, is hated and loathed by all, even by inanimate creatures; fire, air, and earth would chastise him, and avenge the honor of their outraged Lord. But if this unhappy creature flies to Mary, will Mary reject him? Oh, no: provided he goes to her for help, and in order to amend, she will embrace him with the affection of a mother, and will not let him go, until, by her powerful intercession, she has reconciled him with God, and reinstated him in grace.
In the second book of Kings (2 Kings, xiv. 5), we read that a wise woman Thecua addressed King David in the following words: "My lord, I had two sons, and for my misfortune, one killed the other; so that I have now lost one, and justice demands the other, the only one that is left, take compassion on a poor mother, and let me not be thus deprived of both." David, moved with compassion towards the mother, declared that the delinquent should be set at liberty and restored to her. Mary seems to say the same thing when God is indignant against a sinner who has recommended himself to her. "My God," she says, "I had two sons, Jesus and man; man took the life of my Jesus on the cross, and now Thy justice would condemn the guilty one. O Lord, my Jesus is already dead, have pity on me, and if I have lost the one, do not make me lose the other also."
Most certainly God will not condemn those sinners who have recourse to Mary, and for whom she prays, since he himself commended them to her as her children. The devout Lanspergius supposes our Lord speaking in the following terms: "I recommended all, but especially sinners, to Mary, as her children, and therefore is she so diligent and so careful in the exercise of her office, that she allows none of those committed to her charge, and especially those who invoke her, to perish; but as far as she can, brings all to me" ("Mariae . . . peccatores in filios commendavi; . . . propterea adeo est sedula, ut, officio suo satisfaciens, neminem eorum, quantum in se est, qui sibi commissi sunt, praecipue se invocantium, perire sinat, sed, quantum valet, omnes mihi reducat"--Alloq. l. 1, p. 4, can. 12). "And who can ever tell," says the devout Blosius, "the goodness, the mercy, the compassion, the love, the benignity, the clemency, the fidelity, the benevolence, the charity, of this Virgin Mother towards men? It is such that no words can express it" ("Hujus Matris bonitas, misericordia, fidelitas, charitas erga hominess, tanta est, ut nullis verbis explicari posit"--Sacell. An. p. 3, c. 5).
"Let us, then," says St. Bernard, "cast ourselves at the feet of this good mother, and embracing them, let us not depart until she blesses us, and thus accepts us for her children" ("Beatis illius pedibus provolvamur; teneamus eam, nec dimittamus, donec benedixerit nobis"--In Sign. magn). And who can ever doubt the compassion of this mother? St. Bonaventure used to say; "Even should she take my life, I would still hope in her; and, full of confidence, would desire to die before her image, and be certain of salvation." And thus should each sinner address her when he has recourse to this compassionate Mother; he should say:
"My Lady and Mother, on account of my sins I deserve that thou shouldst reject me, and even that thou shouldst thyself chastise me according to my deserts; but shouldst thou reject me, or even take my life, I will still trust in thee, and hope with a firm hope that thou wilt save me. In thee is all my confidence; only grant me the consolation of dying before thy picture, recommending myself to thy mercy, then I am convinced that I shall not be lost, but that I shall go and praise thee in heaven, in company with so many of thy servants who left this world calling on thee for help, and have all been saved by thy powerful intercession" ("Etiamsi occiderit me, sperabo in eam; et totus confidens, juxta ejus imaginem mori desidero, et salvus ero"--Paciucchelli, In Ps. 86, exc. 3). Read the following example, and then say if any sinner can doubt of the mercy and love this good mother.
EXAMPLE A noble youth named Eskil was sent by the prince, his father, to Hildesheim, a city of Saxony, to study; but he gave himself up to a disorderly life. He afterwards fell so dangerously ill that he received Extreme Unction. While in this state he had a vision: he found himself shut up in a fiery furnace, and believed himself already in hell; but he then seemed to escape from it by a hole, and took refuge in a great palace, in an apartment of which he saw the most Blessed Virgin Mary, who said to him: "Presumptuous man that thou art, dost thou dare to appear before me? Depart hence, and go to that fire which thou hast deserved." The young man then besought the Blessed Virgin to have mercy on him; and then addressed himself to some persons who were there present, and entreated them to recommend him to Mary. They did so, and the divine Mother replied, "But you do not know the wicked life which he leads, and that he does not even deign to salute me with a Hail Mary." His advocates replied: "But, lady, he will change his life"; and the young man added, "Yes, I promise in good earnest to amend, and I will be thy devout client." The Blessed Virgin's anger was then appeased, and she said to him, "Well, I accept thy promise; be faithful to me, and meanwhile, with my blessing, be delivered from death and hell." With these words the vision disappeared. Eskil returned to himself, and, blessing Mary, related to others the grace which he had received: and from that time he led a holy life, always preserving great devotion to our Blessed Lady. He became archbishop of Lunden in Sweden, where he converted many to the faith. Towards the end of his life, on account of his age, he renounced his archbishopric, and became a monk in Clairvaux, where he lived for four years, and died a holy death. Hence he is numbered by some authors amongst the Cistercian saints (Manriquez, Ann. Cisterc. 1151, c. 13; 1181, c 2).
PRAYER O my sovereign Queen and worthy Mother of my God, most holy Mary; I seeing myself, as I do, so despicable and loaded with so many sins, ought not to presume to call thee Mother, or even to approach thee; yet I will not allow my miseries to deprive me of the consolation and confidence that I feel in calling thee mother; I know well that I deserve that thou shouldst reject me; but I beseech thee to remember all that thy Son Jesus has endured for me, and then reject me if thou canst. I am a wretched sinner, who, more than all others, have despised the infinite majesty of God: but the evil is done. To thee have I recourse; thou canst help me; my Mother, help me. Say not that thou canst not do so; for I know that thou art all-powerful, and that thou obtainest whatever thou desirest of God; and if thou sayest that thou wilt not help me, tell me at least to whom I can apply in this my so great misfortune. "Either pity me," will I say with the devout St. Anselm, "O my Jesus, and forgive me, and do thou pity me, my Mother Mary, by interceding for me, or at least tell me to whom I can have recourse, who is more compassionate, or in whom I can have greater confidence than in thee" ("Aut miseremini miseri, tu parcendo, tu interveniendo; aut ostendite, ad quos tutius fugiam misericordiores; et monstrate, in quibus certius confidam potentiores"--Orat. 50).
CHAPTER 2 : OUR LIFE AND OUR SWEETNESS
SECTION 1: MARY IS OUR LIFE, SHE OBTAINS PARDON FOR OUR SINS
Just as the soul gives life to the body, so grace gives life to the soul. And so our Lady, obtaining grace for sinners through her intercession, brings back life to their souls. They who find me find life, and win favor from the Lord (Provebs 8:35). All you who hunger for the Kingdom of God, honor the most Blessed Virgin Mary and you will find life and eternal salvation. St. Bernardine of Siena says that the reason why God did not destroy the human race after the first sin was His singular love for this holy Virgin, who was eventually to be born of the race. Indeed, he says, all the mercies granted under the old dispensation were no doubt granted only in consideration of this most Blessed Lady. In the Song of Songs (6:10) Mary is called the dawn: Who is she that comes forth as the dawn? Dawn is the end of night and the beginning of day; the Blessed Virgin is the dawn of day, because she is the end of vice.
When devotion to Mary begins in anyone, it produces the same effect that our Lady's birth produces in the world: it ends the night of sin and leads a person along the bright path of virtue. St. Germanus once said in a sermon that to pronounce the name of Mary with affection is a sign of life in the soul, or at least a sign that life will soon return there. Do not be afraid (Bernardine de Bustis encourages every sinner), even if you are guilty of every crime possible. Go with trust to this most glorious Lady. You will find her hands filled with mercy and bounty. She longs to do you good much more than you could ever long to receive good from her.
No sinner who turns to this compassionate Lady should ever be afraid of being spurned --- she is the very Mother of Mercy and, because she is, it is her ambition to save the most miserable of all. Mary is the ark which saves from eternal destruction anyone who takes shelter in it. In the great Deluge even beasts were saved in Noah's ark. Under the shelter of Mary even sinners are saved. St. Gertrude once had a vision of Mary with her mantle spread out wide, and under its folds were many wild beasts. And she noticed that Mary did more than just accept the beasts; she welcomed them and caressed them with the most delicate tenderness. Then let us go to this Ark; let us take cover under Mary's mantle. Surely she will do more than merely receive us; surely she will welcome us and secure our eternal salvation.
CHAPTER 2, SECTION 2 : MARY IS OUR LIFE, SHE OBTAINS PERSEVERANCE FOR US
The grace of final perseverance is such a great and precious gift that (as the Council of Trent declares) God gives it only gratuitously. We cannot merit it. Yet St. Augustine tells us that all who seek it obtain it. And, according to Suarez, they can be absolutely sure of obtaining it if they keep on asking for it to the end of their life.
I hold it as certain, according to the common opinion today, that all the graces God gives to human beings pass through the hands of Mary. By the same token it is equally true that only through the hands of Mary can we hope for this crown of all grace --- perseverance.
We can be absolutely sure of obtaining it if we always seek it with confidence through Mary. She herself, in the words of Sirach (traditionally applied to her by the Church), promises this grace to everyone who serves her faithfully through life: "They who obey me will not be put to shame, they who serve me will never fail." (Sirach 24:21) Again in the words of Sirach (24:14), the Blessed Virgin is called a plane tree: "I am raised aloft like a plane tree growing beside the water."
Cardinal Hugo, in explaining these words, says that the plane has leaves like shields, showing how Mary defends all who take refuge in her. Surely, we ought to feel sorry for those persons who abandon this refuge, giving up their devotion to Mary, and no longer recommending themselves to her in the occasions of sin. If the sun failed to rise, what would the world be but a chaos of horrible darkness? Take away the sun, and where is the day? Take away Mary, and what is left but the darkest night? If Mary ignores and condemns someone, that person is inevitably lost. Therefore, woe to those who turn their back on this Sun! Woe to those who despise its light --- who make little of devotion to Mary!
St. Francis Borgia always doubted the perseverance of anyone in whom he did not find particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin. One time he questioned some novices about the Saints for whom they had special reverence and discovered that there were some who had no personal devotion to our Lady. The Saint immediately warned the novice master and suggested that he keep a very watchful eye on these novices. Just as he had feared, they eventually lost their vocation and gave up the religious life.
So it was perfectly natural for St. Germanus to style the Blessed Virgin the Breath of Christians. "As breathing is not only the sign but even the cause of life, so the name of Mary, continually on the lips of her clients, not only proves the presence of supernatural life, but also causes and preserves it, and gives them strength for everything."
Blessed Allan one day was assaulted by a violent temptation and had all but yielded (for he had not turned to Mary for help), when she appeared to him. To teach him to be more alert the next time, she struck him and said: "If you had prayed to me, you would not find yourself in such trouble."
In the case of those who listen to her voice and watch daily at the posts of her doors (to make use of the words of the Book of Proverbs, which the Church applies to her), Mary always does her part and obtains for them the light and strength they need to abandon sin and walk the path of virtue. "The moon at night, the dawn at break of day, the sun at noon" --- this is the way Innocent III beautifully speaks of Mary .
When exhorting his penitents, St. Philip Neri used to say: "If you want to persevere, have devotion to our Blessed Lady." And St. John Berchmans also used to say: "Whoever loves Mary will persevere."
Then consider this beautiful reflection from the pen of the Abbot Rupert on the parable of the prodigal son: "If the prodigal's mother were living, he would never have left home; or at any rate he would have returned much sooner than he did."
If only all persons loved this kind and most loving Lady — if only they had recourse to her always and instantly in their temptations — would they ever fall into sin? Would anyone ever be lost ? Those souls will fall and be lost who do not have recourse to Mary.
When we are tempted, says St. Thomas of Villanova, all we need do is what little chicks do. As soon as they see a hawk, they run under the wings of the mother hen. And this is the way we should act when tempted — not linger to reason with the danger, but immediately fly and take cover under Mary's mantle.
A certain man who had committed a grievous sin was so ashamed that he refused to go to confession. Driven by remorse of conscience, he went to drown himself in the river. On the point of doing so, he changed his mind and begged God, with tears, to forgive him the sin without his having to confess it.
One night, as he was sleeping, he felt someone shake his arm and heard a voice: "Go to confession." He went to the church -- but shame kept him from making his confession.
Another night he heard the same voice. He returned to the church; but when he got there he felt he would rather die than confess the sin. But before leaving church he went to the shrine of the most Blessed Virgin to put himself in her hands. He had no sooner knelt down than he felt himself completely changed.
He got up immediately, asked for a priest, and, through the grace he had received from Mary, made a full confession of his sins, weeping bitterly. He said afterwards that he experienced greater satisfaction than if he had been given all the wealth of the world.
To conclude with the words of St. Bernard: "Remember that in this world you are tossed about on a stormy sea; you are not walking on solid ground. Remember that if you don't want to be lost at sea, you must keep your eyes fixed on this bright star and call on Mary. In danger, in trials, in doubts, think of Mary and cry out to her. Following her, you will never lose your way. Calling out to her, you will never despair. If Mary holds you, you can never fall. If she protects you, fear nothing, for you can never be lost. If she guides you, you will never know weariness, for you will work out your salvation with ease. If she is propitious, you will infallibly reach your Heaven."
So, if Mary takes up our cause, we are certain of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven.
CHAPTER 2, SECTION 3 : MARY IS OUR LIFE, SHE MAKES DEATH SWEET
The person who is a friend is always a friend, and a brother or sister is born for the time of stress (Proverbs 17: 17) .We never really know our friends and relatives when all is going well with us. It is only when we are in trouble that we see them in their true colors.
People of the world never desert friends as long as those friends are riding high in prosperity. But if such friends run into misfortune -- above all, if they are brought to death's door — people leave them to themselves.
Mary does not deal that way with her clients. In all our misfortunes, and especially in death, which is our greatest affliction here on earth, this good Lady and Mother is our life and our sweetness — our life during our exile, our sweetness in the last hour, securing for us a calm and happy death.
For on that day when Mary had the sad privilege of witnessing the death of her Son Jesus, Who was the head of the elect, she was granted the further privilege of assisting at the death of all the elect themselves. So in the Hail Mary the Church teaches us to beg our Lady to help us now, and particularly at the hour of our death.
Consider the anguish of the dying. They suffer remorse over past sins. They are filled with fear of the coming judgment and have no absolute assurance of their eternal salvation. Then Hell arms itself and battles for the soul as it approaches the doors of eternity. The devils know that they have but a short time to gain that soul, and if they lose it, then they lose it forever. But how quickly the devils flee from the face of this Queen! If at the hour of death we have our Lady to protect us, we need fear nothing from all the rebel Angels of Hell.
When Father Manuel Padial, S.J., lay dying, Mary herself came to him to console him. "See," she said, "the hour has finally come when the angels congratulate you and exclaim: "O happy sufferings, O mortifications now at last rewarded!' " At that moment an army of demons was seen rushing away in despair and crying out: "We are powerless --- the Immaculate defends him!"
Similarly Father Jasper Haywood was assailed by devils at his death and severely tempted against faith. But he commended himself at once to the Blessed Virgin and was heard exclaiming: "I thank you, Mother, for coming to my aid!"
The Blessed Virgin assured St. Bridget of this. Speaking of her devoted clients at the point of death, she said: "Then I, their dear Lady and Mother, will come hurrying to them, to bring consolation and relief."
Like a loving Queen, she takes them under her mantle and brings them with her to the Judge. And with absolute certainty she obtains their salvation. This really happened to Charles, St. Bridget's son, who died in the army, far from his mother. She feared for his salvation because of the dangers that normally go with a military career. However, Our Lady revealed to her that because of his love for her he had been saved, and that she herself had helped him at death and suggested the acts that should be made at the critical moment. At the same time St. Bridget saw Jesus seated on His throne and the devil bringing two accusations against the most Blessed Virgin. The first accusation was that Mary had prevented the devil from tempting Charles at the moment of death. The second was that without offering any proof or reason for claiming him as her own, she herself presented Charles to be judged and thus saved him. St. Bridget then saw Jesus driving the devil away and Charles's soul being transported to Heaven.
St. Mary Oignies saw the Blessed Virgin by the pillow of the devout widow of William Brock, who was suffering from a violent fever. Mary stood by her side, comforting her, and cooling her with a fan.
Sirach says that Mary's fetters are a throne of majesty, and that [in the latter end] you will find rest in her (6:30, 29). Happy for you, my brother or sister, if death finds you bound with the sweet chains of the love of the Mother of God. These are the chains of salvation, and they will bring to you in death that blessed peace which is the beginning of your eternal peace.
Father Suarez had such devotion to Mary that he used to say he would gladly exchange all his learning for the merit of a single Hail Mary. As a consequence of that devotion, he died with such peace that in that moment he said: "I never knew death could be so sweet."
Mary will not refuse her comfort at death, even if you have led a sinful life for a time, provided that, from this day on, you take care to lead a good life and serve this most gracious and benignant Lady. In your agony, and in the temptations to despair which the devil will send you, she will come and encourage you.
Devout reader, you too will taste the same joy in death if you can then fall back on the memory of how you have loved this good Mother. She cannot help being loyal to her children when they have been loyal to her, serving and honoring her by their visits, Rosaries, and feasts, and especially by often thanking and praising her, and commending themselves to her powerful protection.
Therefore let us be of good heart, even though we be sinners. Let us feel certain that Mary will come and help us at death, if only we serve her with love for the remainder of our life.