Monthly Archives: April 2011

Ark of the Covenant – Chapter IV

Chapter IV

 

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin – Day of Consecration

 

“Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one and come” [Cant. 2:10].

 

We have seen how Mary was pure from every stain, and how her infant years were filled with God’s grace; we are now to contemplate the fruits of her early sanctity in her immediate and entire consecration to the service of her Maker.  The Fathers tell us that the holy parents of the Blessed Virgin has made a covenant with God that the child, for whom they had so long prayed, should be dedicated to His service.  When, therefore, so unexpectedly they received an answer to their prayers, they were not backward to fulfill their promise.  Although the wonderful holiness and surpassing loveliness of their child had endeared her to their hearts, yet they could not resist the claim of God.  They had nearly finished their earthly course, and full of faith in the covenant made with their fathers, were almost ready to find their rest in the bosom of Abraham, yet they were ready to give up the solace and glory of their declining days, content to make any sacrifice to which the Divine Providence called them.  No parents had ever made such a sacrifice, and it was their consolation that they gave all they had to God, and that in so doing they made the most acceptable offering His Divine Majesty had ever received.  They knew the value of their offering in their own eyes, but they did not then know its full value in the eyes of God.  So he who walks by faith and in all things seeks only God, may often find that his feeble works have a value far beyond his imagination.  Sacrifices cheerfully made are the highest proof that we are under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

When the Blessed Virgin was only three years old, following her own wish and the Divine Inspiration, St. Joachim and St. Anne set out from Nazareth for Jerusalem.  They took the holy child in their arms, and hastened to bear her to the altar of God.  It was a long journey at their advanced age, yet He Who was their guide was their support.  They were consoled in their bereavement by the hope of the redemption of Israel, which was far nearer than their faith divined.  They entered the temple and presented their offering at the foot of the holy altar.  The priest, who, according to tradition, was Zachary, the father of St. John the Baptist, received the child and offered her to God.  The Blessed Virgin was filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost, and anticipating the act of her parents, she made a solemn consecration of herself to the service of her Creator.  All her gifts, and all her faculties of soul and body, had ever been devoted to God, but now before men and angels she makes the open profession of her love.  Here, according to the testimony of the Fathers, she made her vow of virginity, choosing rather to renounce her hope of being the Mother of the Messiah, than to give up the imperishable glory of her immaculate purity.  What was the world to her?  Nothing human had power to draw her heart from Heaven and the world of grace in which she lived.  She heard the voice of her celestial Spouse: “Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come.”  “One is my dove, my perfect one is but one; she is the only one of her mother, the chosen of her that bore her.  The daughters saw her and declared her most blessed, the queens and concubines, and they praised her.  Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array” [Cant. 6:8-9].

It is an unspeakable consolation to think of the great joy which God received on this auspicious day.  No created thing had ever paid Him such honor.  Angels in all their purity had prostrated themselves, and cherubim and seraphim had veiled their faces before His unapproachable Majesty, yet never had He received a worship as acceptable as this worship of Mary.  She was pure as the crystal water of Paradise, and as she knelt in all humility, all Heaven seemed to rest upon her, and the three Persons of the Eternal Trinity were bowed in condescension upon that little child.  Wonderful spectacle, full of joy both for Heaven and for earth.  God accepted her vow, and received her for His own, and she became the Queen of that Virgin train that “follow the Lamb withersoever He goeth.”

There are two important lessons for us to learn on this day.  God requires us to consecrate ourselves to His service, and to do it with the dispositions which made Mary’s offering so acceptable.  In whatever state we are called to work out our salvation, consecration is the essence of the religious life.  God demands our hearts, and will accept nothing less from us.  We are consecrated by baptism and emancipated from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Thrice happy are they who can retire from all things earthly, to espouse themselves, like Mary, to Him Whom the angels serve.  Yet, in every walk, the Christian life is essentially the same.  We cannot hope to save our souls except our consecration be entire.  And this embraces the devotion of our affections and the oblation of every faculty of soul and body.  We cannot serve God and the world, or hope to win Heaven when our affections are fastened on earthly things.  And how few are there in any walk of life who are equal to this consecration!  The world is ever interfering between our souls and God, and we are easy victims to its snares.  We try to persuade ourselves that we are living for Heaven, while in reality every day augments our account of pride and self-will, and human respect.  No one but God can sound the depths of deceit and self-seeking, which are found in the human heart.  Let us pray our Lord to prove and try us, and to see if “there be any way of iniquity in us, and to lead us in the way eternal.”

But we are bound not only to consecrate ourselves to God with the perfect devotion of every faculty; we are also called to imitate the dispositions of our Blessed Mother.  She gave everything to God, and she gave all immediately, reserving no will of her own.  Her heavenly Master called, and she obeyed without consulting with flesh and blood.  So when we make our offering we should place no limitations to our gift.  We should reserve nothing, no creature, no corner of our hearts.  God may take us at our word, and then we should leave all in His hands, convinced that His will can only work out our highest good.  This is the royal road of sanctification.  And when He speaks to our souls we should listen to His voice.  It is the music of Heaven.  And when we hear we should instantly obey.  O, what heights of virtue are within our reach!  What numberless graces all depending upon our consent!  The more carefully we listen, the more often God will speak, until at last He becomes our ever-present Guide, making all our repose, and peace, and happiness.  Let us come, then, today to Mary’s altar with our oblation.  Let us place ourselves in her hands.  Let us ask for the same spirit of consecration which she had, and beg of her to present us before her Son.  To Him let our future lives be dedicated.  For Him let us breathe every breath, speak every word, and do every action.  He will accept repentance for the past, if there be only a steady will for the present, and a firm resolve for the future.  Let us say with the royal psalmist: “For what have I in Heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?  For Thee my flesh and my heart have fainted away.  Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever” [Ps. 72:26].

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter III

Chapter III

 

The Birth of the Blessed Virgin – Day of Grace

 

“When I was a little child, I was pleasing to the Most High.” – Office of the Blessed Virgin

 

As the whole life of our Blessed Lady was full of wonders, so her birth was especially marked by God’s grace.  Her holy parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne, were past age, and had almost relinquished their part in the hope of being the progenitors of the Messiah.  Still there were firm believers in the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and exact observers of all the ordinances of the Jewish law.  Almighty God was preparing them for the exalted dignity which awaited them, and they were obedient to His graces.  As Sarah waited long for the child of promise, and then became a mother by a miraculous providence, so St. Anne was to wait in hope and faith, and then by an especial dispensation to become the mother of the Queen of Heaven.  He that waiteth  for God shall never be disappointed, but shall in the end receive graces far beyond even his desire.  So St. Anne had never dreamed of the honor which God gave her, but her patience and humility obtained a reward far beyond her hopes.  And hence new glory was given to God, for although the Blessed Virgin was conceived in the ordinary manner, yet is was by especial and miraculous power.

We have already spoken of the Immaculate Conception, and now in the birth of our Blessed Lady we are to see some of its glorious consequences.  The human soul is the direct subject of grace, while the body participates only in the effect of either the state of grace or the state of sin.  So the soul of the Blessed Virgin came pure and spotless from the hand of her Creator, and by her especial privilege she was freed from all the effects of the original curse.  Ignorance and darkness were not her portion, and hence from the first beginning of her existence she began to glorify God.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Saviour.”  She was the child of grace, and was filled with grace from her mother’s womb.  She was able, moreover, to correspond with grace even before her birth, and to glorify God before her eyes were opened upon this sinful world.  The fathers tell us that she had attained to great sanctity, and that at her birth she came into the world a marvel of the love and mercy of her Maker.  Just, and true, and perfect are all the divine ways, and so the eternal Son, in preparing a Mother, could deny her no grace of which she was capable.  St. Thomas says that the Blessed Virgin was full of grace in three ways.  Her holy soul, from the beginning, belonged entirely to God.  Her body was wholly sanctified in order that she might clothe the eternal Word with flesh, and she was the channel of grace for the benefit of the human race.

We see, therefore, how much she glorified the wisdom and goodness of God, and how her birth contributed to His praise.  She came into the world not only pure and spotless in her soul, but united to her Creator and filled with His love.  She did not see “through a glass in an obscure manner,” for the mist that veils sensible things, and makes them attractive, was dissolved before the vision of her understanding.  She saw God alone in all things, and she glorified every moment of His adorable will.  Her body was until then the most beautiful work of God’s hands, the fit habitation of her sanctified soul.  And when she opened her eyes upon nature and rested her infant head upon her aged mother’s arms, God received an immense honor, such as He had never received before from any of His creatures.  The brightest archangel in all his dazzling splendor was not so beautiful in His eyes as the infant grace of Mary, the child of promise, who had already wrestled victoriously with the strong adversary, who was fore-ordained the chosen Mother of His well-beloved Son.  Over that cradle of the Immaculate, angels bowed themselves, while evil spirits fled away in terror.  With her birth began a new day of grace for fallen man, and the long line of the living, regenerate race seemed in spirit to cluster around the birth place of the Mother.  The morning star arose, and the divine purposes were ripening, and the great work of man’s redemption approached its completion.  The beginning was the sure pledge and foretaste of the end.  Mary was born full of grace for our sakes, in order that she might communicate it to her fellow-creatures.  She was born holy; she was born to be the Mother of God; but she was also born to be our great intercessor with her Son, to shield us with her prayers, and to communicate to the Church the benefits of the Incarnation and the Cross.  While, then, in contemplating the glories of Mary’s birth, our first thought is of God’s honor, our second thought should be of the graces we have received in consequence of this very birth.  On this day we should review our lives past, and count up the mercies we have to answer for in the great day of account.  If we cannot answer for our thousand sins, how can we answer for our thousand graces?  We have sinned against the light, and against the monitions of our own consciences.  We have no excuse to plead for our wayward course, for God has all along been following us, and His Spirit has been continually calling us to repentance.  We can see His hands in all the dispensations of His providence.  Here He gave us joy, that by His goodness He might run our hearts.  Here He gave us affliction, that He might draw our affections from earthly vanities to an enduring good.  No father ever followed an erring child with more patient affection than our Lord has followed us.  To use His own words, He has stood at the door of our hearts knocking, like a suppliant, for entrance, and we have more than once refused to let Him in.  how unlike we are to our Blessed Mother, in whose heart every grace of God was fruitful!  Yet even now it is the day of grace with us, and Mary calls to us by the beauty of her childhood, wholly consecrated to her Creator, to turn from the sins which have made so barren our spiritual life.  Now God calls us, and gives the power to obey His call.  Whether we be in the morning of life, or in the noonday of manhood, or in the evening of declining age, we have much to do before our probation closes.  Time is short, and eternity is long.  That which our hands find to do, let us do it with all our might, for the night cometh when no man can work.  This sacred month will be to us a new responsibility, as it is a new grace from God, destined to effect the great end of our being, the salvation of our souls.  Let us accept this merciful interposition of our Lord, and open our hearts, and stir up our wills to obey His call.  The grace which filled the soul and body of the infant Virgin will overflow to us, and enable us to walk in her footsteps.

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter II

Chapter II

 

The Immaculate Conception – Day of Purity

 

“Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no spot in thee” [Cant. 4:7].

 

We begin our meditations where God began His work of grace, with the first existence of our blessed Mother.  From all eternity He had foreknown her, and from the hour of man’s sad fall had predicted her.  She was the promised seed of the woman, who should bruise the head of the serpent; the Second Eve, who should repair the losses of our first mother.  God, Whose infinite wisdom devised the way of our redemption, condescended to take our nature upon Him, and His first step in the gracious work was the preparation of a Mother.  All our race were condemned, and under the original curse were subject of the tyranny of the devil.  The tree was corrupt at its root, and the spring poisoned at its source.  The children of the fallen Eve were exiles from Heaven.  The work of redemption needed to be as complete as was the destruction wrought by sin.  It began, therefore, by the removal of the original curse.  A Virgin was conceived, free from corruption and pure as was our first Mother when she was placed in Paradise.  Without this grace of redemption, she never could have been a Second Eve, and the Mother of a new and living race.  The serpent who deceived the first Eve had no power over her, for she was the child of prophecy, who was to bruise his head.  She was to overcome the devil in every point, and this she could not have done had she been at any time his child and slave by virtue of the original curse.  Her own office, therefore, in the economy of redemption, required that she should be conceived without sin, and God was bound by the perfection of His own being to make a perfect work.  But all this grace the Blessed Virgin was to have, because the Eternal Son of God had chosen her for His Mother.  The Word was to be made flesh, to take our human nature and to unite it forever to His divine Person.  The incarnate Lord is no less the Son of Mary, that He is the Son of God.  As He was therefore to take of the veritable substance of His Mother, so He was directly concerned in her honor or in her dishonor.  Had she been the child of the fallen race, infected by the original curse, her ignominy would have passed to the dishonor of her Son.  The spring of life would have gushed up from a polluted source, the stem of Jesus would have budded from a corrupting root.  He, Who is all purity, would have touched the defilement of the impure.  The propriety of the incarnation demanded the grace of which faith teaches us, and Mary, with innocence redolent of the purity of Eden, is created for the honor of Jesus, to glorify Him by her holiness, and to be for Him an unspotted Mother.

Among all her joys, Mary had no greater joy than this of her pure conception.  It was the foundation of her exalted holiness, by which she towered above the tall cedars of Libanus, and raised her Virginal head to the skies.  She came into a world of sin and death.  She saw around her sorrow and distress, the ruins and wrecks of a fallen world.  She saw how God’s great majesty was hourly outraged, and how His amazing love was spurned every moment by His own creatures.  Yet with all this she had nothing to do.  Her soul and body were fragrant with the incense of purity.  She knew she had never offended her God, her first beginning and her last end.  She was not one of the ruins of the first Paradise.  Original sin weighs upon us with all its grievous burden.  We no sooner come into the world than we begin to be offensive to God.  Our souls suffer from the darkness of ignorance and from the stimulus of concupiscence.  Our bodies are the prey of disease and death.  And as soon as we arrive at the age of reason, when our opening faculties ought to expand I God’s grace and for His glory, we begin by our wills to turn from holiness.  Actual sin develops itself in all its bitterness, and with all its fruitful power of evil.  How different from this sad history was Mary’s life.  No darkness ever weighed upon her understanding.  No cloud ever came between the bright mirror of her soul and the light of God.  She was the “bright reflection of the Eternal Light, a mirror without stain.”  Her heart was never swayed by passion, nor was there ever a tumult to disturb the tranquil rest of her spirit.  God’s graces came, and they were all improved.  God’s blessed providence, like a shield, covered her, and from His will she never swerved.  What a cause have we to bless and praise our great Creator for the purity of Mary!  There was one heart in which the infinite majesty of God found a rest, one bosom in which the Incarnate Lord might find a home.  With us the memory of the past is ever painful, for at every step we take in the divine life, we feel more keenly the ingratitude of former sins, and can never altogether banish the shadow which they throw upon our spiritual being.  We are like sick men recovering from an exhausting fever, or like the maimed and wounded soldier returning from battle.  Hence, our present loses its cheerfulness and joy.  We are wearied by small endeavors, and go heavily, as if beneath a painful burden.  And the future, which ought to be bright with hope, as it reveals the distant towers of the celestial city to which we journey, fills us rather with dread and an unquiet apprehension.  There is no cross like the weight of sin, no joy to be compared to the blessedness of innocence.  While then we meditate today on the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, let us seek to imitate her purity and to have part in her joy.  We cannot be free from the infection of sin as she was, but we have been once washed from every defilement in the blood of her Son.  Had we died in the cleanness of our baptism, Heaven would have been an immediate portion.  Now by penance and prayer we must anew wash ourselves in the sacred blood which we have despised, until the heart of a child come back to us with the docility and purity of our new birth.  This baptism of tears is our only hope, and God, Who excites in us the desire for purification, will make that desire fruitful.  The Immaculate Virgin, who is our example, will be our solace and protection.  At her feet we must offer up every thought and word and work.  Every intention must be placed in her hands, and through the virtue of her prayers we shall have courage to persevere and be generous with God.  A healing, cleansing power shall be felt in our souls, going down to the very depths of our wants, and giving us no rest until we find union with Him Whom we adore, until we are purified even as He is pure.  For “We are now the sons of God, and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be.  We know that when He shall appear we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is” [1 Jn. 3:2].

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter I

The Ark of the Covenant

 

Rev. Thomas S. Preston

 

This book is in the public domain.

 

Chapter I

 

Preparation

 

“In me is all grace of the way and of the truth; in me is all hope of life and virtue” [Eccl. 24:25].

 

Such is the language of the Holy Spirit concerning the Blessed Mother of God.  And among all her glories there is none greater than that of leading sinners in the way of life, and guiding the pilgrim to new heights of virtue.  Indeed, as this is her especial glory, so it is her especial office.  The human heart is weak, and naturally tends to things of earth, and has no power to seek the more rugged ways of self-discipline and virtue.  The human intellect is dark, and with all its endowments it cannot see the true light which shines from God.  It requires a divine grace to touch man’s heart with a love that shall turn him from things sensible, and to enlighten his understanding with the truth for the enjoyment of which he was created.  The Blessed Virgin is the channel through which God conveys to fallen man this grace of light and truth.  Her prayers and intercessions bring down the grace of conversion, become the safeguard of the pilgrim in the perilous journey of life, and at last crown him with glory when the battle is over and Heaven is everlastingly won.  She is the Second Eve, the Mother of the living race.  Her eyes of grace are ever turned upon us poor exiles, until she has accomplished her work of bringing us home, and until she reveals unto us, in all His surpassing loveliness, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.  Many a soul receives the light of faith who never could have obtained that precious gift but through her prayers.  Many a soul, ready to fall under the pressure of temptation, beneath the dark shadow of the adversary, finds instant relief and strength through the grace which she dispenses.

All good Catholics recognize this office of the Blessed Virgin; and practical devotion to her is the peculiar characteristic of our religion.  She has taken root among God’s elect, and her power is in Jerusalem.  She has fulfilled in the Church the language of Scripture: “I was established in Zion, and in the holy city, likewise, I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.  And I took root in an honorable people, and in the portion of my God, His inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints.  I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on Mount Sion.  I was exalted like a palm-tree in Cades, and as a rose-plant in Jericho” [Eccles. 24:15-18].  By the infidel and the heretic she is not honored, for they have no real belief in the mystery of her Son’s Incarnation.  But by Catholics she is honored and served, and in proportion as they love and imitate her, do they grow in God’s grace and in a true devotion to our Blessed Lord.

To us, then, on this day, does the Mother of Grace make her appeal.  A day of life and mercy is dawning upon our souls.  Nature and grace are in harmony.  The earth is robing herself in the verdure of spring, and fruits and flowers come forth to enjoy the smile of their Creator, as faint emblems of the quickening power of God’s love in the human soul.  The resurrection of nature is the image of what the Lord, Who is the resurrection and the life, will do in our barren and wayward hearts.  There is no voice speaking to us of the divine justice now, and the sinner may come without fear to the footstool of his offended but forgiving Father.

Whatever, then, be our condition before God, let us improve the graces of the season, and open our hearts to the light and mercy of our Lord.  If we are not in a state of grace, now we have power to awake and purify our souls.  Great mortal sins may weigh heavily upon us, pressing us down to earth, and making us the easy prey of new temptation.  Our past is remorse, and our future is gloomy apprehension.  There is no physician in this world who can heal our malady or bring peace to our desolated hearts.  Yet the Mother of Mercy calls: “In me is all grace of the way, in me is all hope of life and virtue.”  Let us listen to her voice; and putting ourselves under her protection, let us arise and go unto our Lord, and say unto Him: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in Thy sight.”  The way shall be opened before us, and all obstacles shall, one by one, be removed.  This month shall be to us the beginning of a new life, and shall end in our complete recovery and salvation.  And even if through God’s mercy we are free from deadly sin, we have all much need of the especial graces which are now offered to us.  Are we not suffering in many ways from the effect of just sins?  Are we not full of imperfections, which render us unfit to appear before God’s presence?  How very few of us live up to our consciences, and can bear the light even of our own self-examination.  Yet God’s all-searching eye is to be our judge.  If we make up the record of the years that are past, we shall find a history of mercies despised and graces unimproved; and the little that has been done, seems to have been done rather against our will than by our free co-operation.  Coldness and tepidity are only preludes to mortal sin, and we have, therefore, good reason to be alarmed by the indifference we feel in the pursuit of virtue.  Many of us have received the Sacraments with great frequency, and still have made but little progress in self-discipline.  We have always the same sins to confess, and the least close inspection shows us an amazing depth of pride and self-will.  What shall we do, when God calls us, and we have to stand before Him, in Whose sight the smallest imperfection cannot abide?  This very month may be a crisis in the history of our souls.  If it be well spent, its especial graces may avert some threatening temptation and awaken us to more careful lives.  If it be neglected, the days of our spiritual life may be numbered.  Let us, then, as we seek for salvation, prostrate ourselves before the footstool of the Mother of Mercy, and commit our cause to her hands.  If our hearts be ready, she will do her work.  She will bring our needs before the throne of her Divine Son, and we shall feel a power in spiritual things which we never have experienced.  Let it be our constant prayer during this season of grace, that God would prepare our hearts to hear and obey all His inspirations.

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St. John Damascene

Deipara beatissima.

The most blessed Mother of God.

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On the Vision of St. John Concerning the Sorrows of the Virgin Mother of God

On this Holy Saturday, I thought it would be fitting to meditate on the sorrows of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother.  I have translated and copyrighted a sermon of St. Lawrence of Brindisi on Mary’s sorrows.  I believe this is the first time this has ever appeared in English.  I hope that you find it spiritually fruitful.

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori wrote: “Wherefore the graces promised by Jesus to those who are devoted to the sorrows of Mary are very great.  Pelbert relates that it was revealed to Saint Elizabeth, that after the assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, St. John the Evangelist desired to see her again.  The favor was granted him; his dear Mother appeared to him, and with her Jesus Christ also appeared; the Saint then heard Mary ask her Son to grant some special grace to all those who are devoted to her sorrows.  Jesus promised her four principal ones: First, that those who before death invoke the Divine Mother in the name of her sorrows should obtain true repentance of all their sins.  Second, that He would protect all who have this devotion in their tribulations, and that He would protect them especially at the hour of death.  Third, that He would impress upon their minds the remembrance of His Passion, and that they should have their reward for it in heaven.  Fourth, that He would commit such devout clients to the hands of Mary, with the power to dispose of them in whatever manner she might please, and to obtain for them all the graces she might desire.”

St. Lawrence of Brindisi

The Sixth Sermon on the Vision of St. John, for the Saturday after Passion Sunday,

On the Vision of St. John Concerning the Sorrows of the Virgin Mother of God

 

“And being with child, she cried travailing in birth,

 and was in pain to be delivered.” 

I.  We see a wonderful spectacle, a heavenly miracle, a godly woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet for a footstool and crowned on the head with the splendors of the everlasting stars.  Now we see her unhappily distressed and tormented with the pains of birth: “She cried travailing in birth and was in pain to be delivered.”

But how was Mary tormented with the pains of birth, if she gave birth as a virgin undefiled, if Christ was born from her by a great miracle, since her virginal womb had been shut, and the enclosed place had not been violated even in the least, just as He went in to the Apostles when the doors were shut?  For otherwise Mary would not have been a perpetual virgin, that gate of the temple of Ezechiel which had been shut, a garden enclosed and a fountain sealed up; which is an impious thought.  The perpetual virginity of Mary is an unchanging dogma of the most holy faith; for she brought forth Christ as the dawn brings forth the sun, as a star a ray, as the moon splendor.  What, therefore, was the cause of so great a pain and torment?  Clearly, that which John indicated by immediately adding: “And there was seen another sign in heaven. And behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems.  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered:  that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son.”  Who this dragon is, John himself makes clear: “And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world.  And he was cast unto the earth: and his angels were thrown down with him.”

That prophecy which was spoken by God to the ancient serpent is well known: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed”.  The Most Holy Virgin knew, therefore, the fierce hatred of Satan toward Christ, knew beforehand in spirit how many and what sorts of persecutions the infernal dragon was devising against Christ to destroy Him, and so she was crying out and being tormented.  In a way it was as though she did not wish to give birth to him at all, lest she witness so many and such great misfortunes of her Only-begotten Son prepared for Him by the devil.  Therefore Satan’s cruel persecution of Christ tormented the Virgin beyond measure, and rent her most holy heart and tore her to pieces inside, as the most holy Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, foretold: “Behold, this child is set … for a sign which shall be contradicted, and thy own soul a sword shall pierce.”  In the Passion of Christ, therefore, the Virgin suffered the pains of birth, for she had experienced no pain at all in giving birth to Him.  Therefore, the magnitude of the Virgin’s pain—nay, rather, of her pains—is indicated here when it says:  “She cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.” 

In birth the most blessed mother Mary was as Lia said, when Aser was born: “This is for my happiness; for allwomen will call me blessed.”  Thus the Virgin: “All generations shall call me blessed, because the Lordthat is mighty hath done great things to me.”  But in the Passion of her Son, in that final very bitter and inhuman persecution which He suffered from Satan, the mother was most afflicted and most sorrowful; so that she might with reason have applied to herself that passage saying: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow”; to say with Noemi, deprived of her most beloved sons: “Call me Marah (that is, bitter)… for the Almighty hath … filled me with bitterness.”  Mary’s only Son was dying, but He was worth more to her than ten sons.  Then truly, according to her name, was the Virgin a bitter sea, an enormous sea of bitterness, of most bitter sorrow.  Then truly God filled her with a nearly unlimited bitterness: “Call me Marah … for the Almighty hath quite filled me with bitterness.”  Thus from an excessive sorrow, which was piercing her most holy heart, she was made sorrowful unto death, she was crying out and being tormented, experiencing the pains of birth. 

For the Sacred Scriptures use this turn of phrase and figure of speech to express great pain.  Thus the Royal Prophet, concerning the enemies of God, the rulers of darkness, says: “So they saw, and they wondered, they were troubled, they were moved:  trembling took hold of them.  There were pains as of a woman in labour.”  Thus Isaias says:  “They shall be in pain as a woman in labour.”  Jeremiah often used this metaphor and other Prophets also13a to express the greatest force of sorrow; indeed the Lord Himself signified by this metaphor the sorrow of the Apostles on account of His impending suffering and death:  “A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.  So also you now indeed have sorrow:  but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice. And your joy no man shall take from you.”  So now the torment of one giving birth signifies the very great sorrow of the Virgin Mother of God on account of the Passion of her only and dearly beloved Son. 

For parents, at the death of their dearest children are afflicted with very great, inexpressible sorrow.  This is evident in the inconsolable sorrow of the patriarch Jacob on account of the presumed death of his most beloved son Joseph, when his tunic was seen defiled with blood. How bitterly also did David weep, when he heard about the death of Absalom, even though his son had planned to kill him: “My son Absalom, Absalom my son:  would to God that I might die for thee, Absalom my son, my son Absalom.”  The most patient Job, when the loss of his goods was reported, was moved almost not at all, but, when the death of the children was reported, then he was greatly afflicted; then he tore his garments, and gave clear indications of the greatest sorrow.  The saintly Moses passed over in silence the lamenting and tears of our parents Adam and Eve, on account of the cruel death of Abel, as if indicating that no words could express the dignity of their mourning.  Timanthes, too, the noble painter, indicated this in the death of Iphigenia.  For, after he had depicted with his painter’s brush all the bystanders weeping with very doleful expressions, he painted Agamemnon, a most loving parent, with his face veiled. 

II.  Sorrow arises from love, and love itself, by the same token, is the measure of sorrow.  From great love arises great sorrow.  He who loves the most, grieves the most, when he loses that which he loved.  If in a great household and numerous family the only son and husband dies, all indeed lament, but most of all the parents and the wife.  Those, however, to whom the deceased was related in no respect, are touched with no sorrow interiorly.  It is a great sorrow of the parents at the death of their children, because love for one’s own offspring is dear.  Hence God tried Abraham in respect to Isaac his most beloved son, as though testing whether Abraham truly worshipped God from the heart, and loved Him above all things.  For it is scarcely possible to find or imagine in nature a love more pure, more true, and greater than that of parents for their children, but especially for only sons and those desired for a long time.  For in everyday experience we see animals themselves, devoid of reason, boldly go to their death for the safety of their dearest offspring, the very nature of love inciting and urging them, so that they despise every danger in order to protect their little ones. 

Mary, however, was the true mother and natural parent of Christ our Lord, and He Himself was her true and utterly natural Son, and indeed the only, the most beautiful, the most pleasing, the best Son, who was endowed with every virtue, perfect beyond all measure, most loving and very devoted to His Mother.  What, then, must the Virgin’s love for Christ have been like?  No one can put it into words or even comprehend it with the mind.”

For she knew that He was also the true and natural Son of almighty God.  She had a child in the womb, but whom?  What child?  Scripture says:  “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all the nations with an iron rod.  And her son was taken up to God and to his throne,” to His throne certainly, that He might sit at the right hand of God the almighty Father, above all the choirs of Angels, equal to God in glory and majesty.

She had this Man in her womb, and from that cause she received all her glory, so that she was clothed with the sun, and had the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  For the Virgin Mother of God did not have this glory from herself, but from God, the Creator of heaven, Who created the sun, the moon and the stars; from Christ, her Son, through Whom all things were made, and she herself also; wherefore Christ was not only a Son to her, but also a parent, Who had created her; a Spouse Who had chosen and sanctified her, and had adorned her with every virtue and grace; a Savior, Who had provided all goods for her; He was both her Lord and true God most high.  Thus the most noble soul of Mary found infinite causes and objects of love in Christ, concerning which we read:  “He is all lovely”, or, as it is in Hebrew:  “He is all-desirable” or “He is all desires”, that is, whatever is able to be desired is found in Him most abundantly; thus He was desirable in the highest degree, supremely lovable, but to the Virgin Mother supremely loved, and most beloved.  If therefore sorrow follows love, as heat fire, who even in thought will ever be able to understand the sorrow of the Virgin Mother of God?  Giving birth she was being tormented. [Cruciabatur parturiens.]

She did not feel the pains of birth, when she brought Christ forth into the light of day.  Certainly, she gave birth to Him with joy, as the Saints teach: Cyprian, On the Nativity, Athanasius, A Description of Mary and Joseph, Gregory of Nyssa, On the Birth of Christ, Damascene, On the Dormition of the Mother of God, and Bernard, Sermon 1 on Christmas Eve.  But nevertheless she did not escape much more severe and vehement pains and torments, as Damascene says, Book IV On the Orthodox Faith, chapter 14.  “She,” he says, “who had been blessed and made worthy of gifts surpassing nature, endured those pains of birth, which she escaped in giving birth, at the time of the Passion out of the maternal compassion of her inmost heart, bringing forth again her sorely-wounded Son.”  Thus Damascene interprets the prophecy of Simeon:  “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.”  Perhaps against Origen, who had interpreted this sword —irreverently, of course, as is his custom—to mean infidelity, as though at the time of the Passion the Virgin’s soul, along with the other Apostles, had been pierced by the sword of infidelity.  But where, I say, has Origen read of the sword of infidelity?  We clearly read about the sword of faith:  “And take unto you … the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God)”; and:  “the word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword”; and: “From his mouth came out a sharp two-edged sword”.  But about a sword of infidelity we do not read.  Wherefore Origen clearly did the Virgin an injustice, and Simeon Metaphrastes, a Greek author, rightly demolishes his argument in an oration, On the Birth and Education of the Virgin, where he interprets this most sharp sword to mean the sword of sorrow, as do Damascene and Euthymius in their commentaries on Luke, and Venerable Bede on the same passage, as well as Bernard, and Anselm also, who on account of this most sharp sword of sorrow proclaim Mary to be a martyr and more than a martyr.

III.  Truly there are many, who, in praising the Virgin, suppose that she was not affected by any sorrow during the Passion of Christ, both on account of her most certain faith of His resurrection and also due to her perfect love for God, by which Mary was united in spirit and of one will with God; but it was the will of God that Christ should suffer such things, and undergo such a Passion and death.

But those persons practically relegate the Most Blessed Virgin to the stupid sect of the Stoics, who declared that perfect virtue consists of dullness and of not feeling natural emotions.  Shall we admit that Mary was so stupid and irrational?  Shall we attribute to her such an insensate breast, a heart so stony, such a wooden disposition that she did not experience the sorrow which earth together with heaven, which the rocks and the tombs and the bodies of the dead experienced?  I know that a most perfect faith was in her, a most perfect charity, whereby with Abraham she herself, if it had been necessary, would have offered her only and most beloved Son to God in sacrifice with her own hands and would have crucified Him; but nevertheless not without the greatest sorrow of soul and affliction of her maternal heart; for neither was Abraham prompted by an unfeeling stupor when he sacrificed his son.  Her faith and charity were as perfect as they could be, but virtue perfects nature and does not destroy it.  Strength of soul did not prevent her from being a woman by nature with a loving, gentle, tender, and dear heart; from being truly and naturally a very loving parent, a most sweet and most tender mother, moved by deep maternal sentiments toward her only and dearly-beloved Son.  For she did not give to Christ an imaginary body instead of a true and natural one, as the wicked Manicheans used to prattle, but she gave Him a true and a natural body from her most pure blood, formed in her very own womb by the divine aid of the Holy Spirit.  How, then, could she not feel maternal stirrings and not give rein to her motherly emotions without offending virtue and without insulting the divine judgment?  Christ our Lord was possessed of an ineffably and unimaginably perfect charity, and truly He knew the holy will of God with certainty, and nevertheless at the mere consideration of death: “He began to fear and to be heavy.”  “He began to grow sorrowful and to be sad”; and He says, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death”; because of his distress “His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. And He was in an agony”; He Who nevertheless knew very well about His future resurrection.  He knew the divine judgment upon the city of Jerusalem, and nevertheless: “Seeing the city He wept over it”; He knew that Lazarus’ resurrection was soon to take place, but nevertheless seeing the tears of his sisters and the Jews lamenting, He Himself also, suffering with them, allowed Himself to be troubled and wept with them.  Thus Paul says that we should weep with those who are weeping as well as rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  How, therefore, was the Most Blessed Virgin in so lamentable a scene, in so mournful a tragedy, able to refrain from the most bitter tears, to keep from weeping inconsolably?

The woman of Naim was weeping inconsolably, because her only son had died, and she herself was a widow; but Mary was in the same boat.  How truly therefore was she able to say with Noemi:  “Call me Mara, (that is, bitter), for the Almighty hath filled me with bitterness.”  Indeed, she says that the Lord “hath quite filled me with bitterness.  … Why then do you call me Noemi, whom the Lord hath humbled and the Almighty hath afflicted?”  If the Lord has compared the suffering of the Apostles on account of His Passion and death to the sorrow of a woman giving birth, what should we think about His Mother?

Many women, following Christ to the place of Calvary, were mourning and lamenting Him with bitter tears, as it also had been prophesied by Zacharias:  “They shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son, and they shall grieve over him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn.  In that day there shall be a great lamentation in Jerusalem.”  There will be, he says, a most bitter lamentation of the kind that one usually finds in a family, when the parents’ first-born son has died.  For Scripture customarily expresses the greatest sorrow through this lamentation, as it is said by Jeremiah: “Make thee mourning as for an only son, a bitter lamentation.”  Many women, therefore, were bewailing and lamenting Christ in this way; and was the Virgin, among so many mourners, the only one left with dry eyes?  Was she alone not feeling sorrow, whose first-born and only Son was being slain with horrible cruelty before her own eyes?  Not so, not so, but “She cried travailing in [a second] birth and was in pain to be delivered.”  Then she experienced the severest torments and the greatest pains of birth.

IV.  She had endured many sorrows for the sake of Christ, from the moment when she gave birth to Him, indeed even before she bore Him.  First, on account of the suspicion of adultery that occurred to her husband Joseph, who, “not willing publicly to expose her,” consequently intended “to put her away privately”.  Then, when she was already near to giving birth, she experienced the utmost inhumanity of men in Bethlehem, for she was shut out from the houses of all, because she had found no gracious host, nor even lodgings for rent.  Because there was no place for her in an inn, she was compelled to retire to a stable together with beasts to flee the severity of the night, there to give birth to her first-born, the Only-begotten Son of God, and to place the most tender and delicate Infant in a manger.  She experienced great sorrow in the rough and painful circumcision of her Son, seeing her dear little baby suffering pain, wailing, and weeping on account of that wound inflicted.  It was a great sorrow, on the day of her purification and of the presentation of her Son in the temple in Jerusalem, when she heard Simeon prophesy that her Son was going to suffer severe and painful persecutions.  It was great sorrow when she learned from the Angel’s revelation that the wicked Herod was seeking the Child in order to destroy Him, and it was necessary to flee into Egypt.  She felt a great sorrow when she lost the twelve-year-old Child Jesus in the temple: “Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.”

But these were the beginnings, certain preludes and foretastes of sorrows; she has not yet come to the sword piercing her soul.  When Christ, after receiving the baptism from John and after conquering and overcoming Satan in the desert, began to manifest Himself to the world by preaching the Gospel and by working divine miracles for the destruction and ruin of Satan’s kingdom, then the most severe persecution began, and this was not unknown to the Virgin.  Could she have been ignorant of the fact that her own fellow-citizens, unable to bear the harsh condemnation of their vices when they heard His preaching in the synagogue, were filled with anger and drove Him out of the city, that they might destroy Him by casting Him down headlong from the mountain?  That fleeing the deadly persecution of the Jews, He walked in Galilee “because the Jews sought to kill Him”?  That they were reviling, dishonoring, and despising Him with many insults and curses, and stigmatizing with their many calumnies the Only-begotten Son of God, truly the Messiah?  That they often tried to attack Him with stones?  That, by a most heinous crime, the leading men of the Jews issued a death sentence against the Author of life?

But then truly a sword of the sharpest sorrow passed through her most holy soul when she knew that He had been seized by the Jews, through the treachery of Judas; when, after an awful scourging, she understood that He had been condemned to the infamous and most disgraceful death of thieves, when she saw Him crowned with thorns, carrying His cross, and being led with thieves to the place called Calvary to be crucified, when finally she saw Him hanging in the air fastened to the cross with nails, and she heard His voice, for: “There stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother” when she saw Him dead.  O ineffable sorrow!  When holy David, whose heart was like that of a lion, heard about the death of Jonathan, he was not able to hold back the tears, but began to weep bitterly and to say tearfully: “I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan, exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women.”  What sort of tears, therefore, did Mary shed then?  What sorrow did she feel?  “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb?”

When the patriarch Jacob saw only the bloodied tunic of his son Joseph and thought that he was dead and had been devoured by some wild beast, even though he had many other sons, nevertheless at that sight, overwhelmed with inconsolable sorrow, he began to weep most bitterly.  What, therefore, must the Most Blessed Virgin have done, when she saw with her own eyes her only and dearly-beloved Son most cruelly killed by the Jews?  Truly then was Christ a Son of sorrow to the Virgin, as Benjamin was to his mother Rachel; which is why she named him “Benoni”, that is, “son of my pain”, before she died of the exceeding pain of his birth.  Truly it can be said about the Virgin: “Weeping she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks:  there is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her.”  And she could rightly apply to herself the verse:  [The Lord] hath made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long.”  And if it was permissible for Paul, on account of his ardent love for Christ, to say: “With Christ I am nailed to the cross.  And I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me”, how much more so for Mary?  Therefore if Christ was thus living in the Virgin, what could Christ suffer without the Virgin suffering it along with Him?  She was suffering with her the Son, but she herself was also suffering the greatest affliction; she was having compassion with her Son; but she herself felt pain most bitterly, so that it was necessary for her to be consoled by her suffering Son, when Christ, looking both at her and at John, said to her: “Woman, behold thy son.”   But what great sorrow this very word caused the Virgin!  For a wound of the heart hurts most when it is touched.  Hence at these words the Virgin felt most acutely as though her sorely afflicted heart had been bound with ropes, and she did not have the strength to respond; she made no reply at all, since she could not utter a word on account of the magnitude of her sorrow.

To make a further remark based on human considerations: devoted and tender mothers suffer pain as much as possible and are most bitterly tormented at the death of their sons, when it is the only son, when he is handsome and beloved and adorned with virtues, when he is attentive to his mother and lovingly obeys her with much honor and reverence, as a good son, so that he has never saddened his mother in the least, when she has received some benefits from him in her necessities, and her entire hope of consolation and means of sustenance, and the honor of the family depends upon him alone.  For all these things then simultaneously come to the mind of a devoted mother, and torment her in extraordinary ways, when she sees herself deprived at one stroke of so many and such great goods; and having pitied herself, she tells one by one, with great wailing and lamenting, all the causes of her sorrow.  But if the son does not die a natural death but is cruelly slain, it is something of a miracle if she herself is not deprived of life by the magnitude and severity of her overwhelming sorrow.  Who, moreover, does not see in the Virgin all these causes and objects of immense sorrow?  And yet, O what saintly greatness of soul!  What superhuman constancy! 

V.  She was standing by the cross supported by the virtue of faith, knowing that He would soon rise:  There stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother.  O wondrous stance!  Nay, rather:  O divine miracle!  She was standing in body, but more in spirit, with the virtue of her faith undiminished; she was standing in astonishment admiring the divine love with which God so loved the world, admiring not only the divine mercy but also the divine justice in punishing sin for the sake of the sinner’s salvation; admiring the divine obedience of her Son to the Father, his divine strength against the demons, his boundless patience in suffering extreme torments.  Thus she stood in admiration, astounded by the divine mystery of human redemption; she stood also as an example for the whole Church of the future and as a model of invincible patience in enduring adversities.  For truly it can be said about her, that: In all things she sinned not with her lips, no indeed, nor in her heart; nor spoke she nor did she even think any foolish thing against God; but kept saying in her mind: If we have received good things at the hand of the Lord, why should we not endure evil?  The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done. Thus, with extraordinarily great courage she drained to the dregs this most bitter chalice given to her by God to drink, saying with her Son: “The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it.”  “If it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.  Not my will, but Thine be done.”  Thus through it all she was like her suffering Son in courage and strength.

And if Christ suffered leaving for us an example, that we might follow in His footsteps, so clearly His Mother Mary also suffered; she gave us an example with her Son, that just as she has done, so also we might do; and let us always have before our eyes this saintly exemplar shown to us on the mountain; let us contemplate it, that we might imitate both Christ and His Most Holy Mother with the utmost zeal.  Let us reflect upon her who endured such opposition from sinners, so that we may not become weary and discouraged or falter on the path of virtue, which is the way of salvation.  May Mary always be for us an example of undaunted and invincible patience, of unconquerable strength, of invincible courage, in order that no tribulation, indeed, no creature whatsoever, may separate us from the love of Christ.

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“God wishes that His holy Mother should be at present more known, more loved, more honoured, than she has ever been” [True Devotion to Mary].  These words of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort have inspired this creation of this blog, which is dedicated to making Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother more known, loved, honored, and served.  It is my wish that all who visit this site will grow in their love for Mary and in their desire to serve her.

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