Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXI

 

The Prayer of the Blessed Virgin

 

“Thy lips, my spouse, are as a dropping honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments as the smell of frankincense” [Cant. 4:11].

 

Prayer is the simple act by which the creature realizes his dependence upon the Creator, and supplicates His favor.  It is the appointed way of obtaining graces, since God, however disposed to shower His benefits upon us, requires some disposition on the part of the receiver.  There is, then, no spiritual life without prayer, and he who neglects this means of salvation can have no hope of divine mercy.  The very first impulse of the Holy Ghost is to turn the heart to Him from Whom all life proceeds, and every breath of the good Christian ought to be a supplication for that assistance, without which there is no good word or work.

We are in the daily need of temporal blessings, and can accomplish absolutely nothing in the supernatural order without spiritual aid.  The sense of our own weakness naturally turns the soul to the infinite fountain of all life and strength, and hence the more we understand our won necessity the better we are able to pray.  For prayer no art is required.  Any expression of our wants to God is acceptable prayer, whether the tongue reverently speaks to Him, or the eyes look to Him, or any of our senses signify the desire of the heart.  Vocal prayer is the lowest degree, and from this we ascend to meditation, to contemplation, and even to union with the Maker of our spirits.  In meditation the soul separates itself from all sensible things to apply itself to eternal truths, and to discover the divine will.  God’s revelation is thus brought home to the individual, and the unchanging verities of faith are made real and practical to our minds.  Contemplation carries us a step higher, lifting the understanding to a certain fruition of the object and author of truth, and fastening all the powers of the soul in a firm gaze upon Him, Who always reveals Himself in every light He gives.  And they who really aim after perfection may attain to that prayer of union of which the saints have written, and which no human language can describe.  It is the mutual embrace of God and the soul that seeks Him, where the creature who receives everything, finds himself in the arms of Him Whose bounty gives everything, and even gives Himself.  There is no limit to the desire of the sanctified soul, even as there is no end to the prodigality with which God lavishes His favors.  In the blessed Mother of our Lord we find an example of the highest degrees of prayer, and an instructor in this most important lesson of the spiritual life.  Her communion with her Maker began before her birth, when the strong hand of her Redeemer drove the adversary away, and chased every shadow of the fall from her understanding.  Then ascended to Heaven the acceptable incense of her pure spirit, passing beyond the golden censors of the angels to the immediate presence of her Beloved.  The stages of perfection were passed, and when she opened her eyes upon this world of sin, she was bound to God by a union which no power could disturb.  The all-merciful Creator took the soul of Mary into His own hands, and filled her with light, and folded her to His own bosom.  Her early years were devoted to His service in the temple, where an uninterrupted contemplation of the divine perfections was the food and solace of her whole being.  And when the auspicious hour arrived, and the Word was made flesh in her womb, it was only a fitting reward for that incessant desire with which she had sought Him.  As in all things she renounced herself, and looked alone to His power, so every action of her life was a prayer going directly to His heart.  The faith and all-consuming love with which she looked upon her Child were ever the most sublime acts of contemplation.  And day by day she drew nearer to perfect conformity with the divine model visibly before her.  As the prayer of His creatures goes up to His throne, and is heard amid the music of cherubim and seraphim, so did He on earth ever accept Mary’s sweet worship.  It was dearer to Him than the hosannas of Heaven.  When He went upon the duties of His ministry she was left to the consolation of prayer, and was able to keep up her uninterrupted communion with Him in all His wanderings and sufferings.

The great hour of man’s redemption found her upon Mount Calvary, there to learn a new lesson in her wonderful power of prayer, and to be sprinkled with the blood of her Son, that she might begin her great work of intercession.  Mary was the only light on earth in that dark hour when the whole human race seemed to seek the death of its God.  That death opened anew the fountains of the divine charity, and the afflicted Mother, feeling the efficacy of those dying agonies, lifted up to Heaven her supplication for guilty man.  Her pleading words ascended, mingled with the pitying cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  The whole life of the Blessed Virgin was solitary.  When Jesus was with her nothing else could be present, and when He was taken from her she could think of nothing but Him.  After the ascension the holy places of Jerusalem were her favorite resort.  She sought the steps of the way of sorrows that she might retrace all the stages of the Passion.  Calvary and the sepulcher were quiet retreats where the remembrances of her Child renewed in her soul both the sorrows and the consolations of her martyrdom.  She passed in ecstasy to Him to Whom she was wholly united, and the day of her assumption but lifted her body to the Sacred Heart on which she had rested.  Her prayer is now the crown of all the intercessions of Heaven, and angels and archangels wait in silence when she opens the lips which “are as a dropping honeycomb.” For “honey and milk are under her tongue, and the smell of her garments as the smell of frankincense.”  To her the poor sinner looks with hope, for if her lips do but plead his cause, the graces of Heaven fall like dew upon his soul.  It is her office, now that she is inseparable from her Son, to pray for the souls for whom He died, and for the kingdom which He has established on earth; that kingdom over which He reigns, and which His human heart ever draws nearer and nearer to His sacred Person.  So in truth Mary is one of the greatest consolations of our religion, not only as she guides us by her example in every way of holiness, but also as her prayers encircle the soul that seeks for God, and never fail in the hour of battle and danger.  And let man offend the divine majesty as he will, her heart always sends up its sweet sacrifice to make reparation for our countless ingratitudes.

The beautiful spirit of prayer which the Blessed Virgin thus exhibited may through God’s mercy incite us to seek a union with her heart, and through her with the heart of Jesus.  To see Him Whom we love always before our eyes, and in each action to seek His favor, is to pray without ceasing.  This habit of recollection will drive away distractions from our devotions, and make the state of prayer habitual, while it will open to us new treasures in the mercy which has redeemed us.  Let us call upon God at all times, and especially in the hour of temptation.  And why should not His goodness allure us to follow on in the path of prayer, till the vision of faith is enlarged, and the spiritual world becomes our familiar abode?  This path leads to joys no stranger can know, to perfect union with Him Whose embrace is bliss inconceivable, Who desires to espouse our souls, that we may have no lover but Him.  This is the path of every Christian, and the mountain heights to which it guides are open to every heart that really longs and seeks after God.

 

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXX

Chapter XXX

 

The Patience of the Blessed Virgin

 

“The keepers that go about the city found me; they struck me and wounded me.  The keepers of the walls took away my veil from me” [Cant. 5:7].

 

As humility is the foundation of virtue, so patience is the beautiful crown of a just soul, giving gracefulness and honor to all its works for God.  There are two kinds of patience, one which consists in waiting upon the divine will, and another which leads to the improvement of suffering.  The first is in reality a trial of our obedience, since as God is our Creator He has a sovereign right to dispose of us and of all human things according to His own pleasure.  Man is naturally selfish and unwilling to leave all his desires in the hands of Providence.  Our purposes often ripen faster than the designs of God, and it is hard to rest quietly without any care for the results of our labors.  Yet we can never wholly please Him, unless we are content to act with that end alone in view.  If we seek for an immediate reward, or are anxious to see the fruits of our labors, we shall make little progress in the way of holiness.  Even in the affairs of this world we can never be truly successful without patience, but in the spiritual life we can accomplish absolutely nothing.  For new difficulties present themselves at every step, as temptations multiply and the great weakness of our own hearts manifests itself.  As the husbandman toils carefully in the spring and then awaits the harvest, so we must labor in hope and faith, leaving it for God to give the increase in His own time.  But suffering is also a law of progress in the regenerate soul, and we can get back to the paradise we have lost only by pain.  There is sorrow of heart and agony of body, and both are necessary to our purification.  “He that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sins.”  The road of the cross is the royal road of sanctification.  Great patience is required to bear well the afflictions of our probation, and to turn them to the profit of our souls.  The Blessed Virgin is a perfect model of this virtue in all its degrees, and under all its trials.  No creature was ever the subject of such peculiar and strange providences.  She was in the hands of God without a care for herself, and as His purposes developed, she was more and more anxious to renounce her own desires.  She left Him to fulfill His promises in His own time, certain that He would never fail her, and filled with increasing admiration at His wonderful ways.  She was in the midst of mysteries half-opened, where the divine hand was surely operating, but where flesh and sense were forced to be tranquil.  Now her celestial Spouse appeared to her full of grace, and oil was upon His lips.  Now He came up from the desert stained with blood, and clouds and darkness were round about Him.  In every shape she recognized Him, and meekly awaited His will.  Never for one instant did she have recourse to any human means, or seek to accomplish anything by plans of her own devising.  She labored in His garden and at His word, and she had nothing to do when He held her hands.  If He gave no success to her toil, it gave her no pain, for she sought not success, but only His favor.  Hence she was never in haste, nor for a passing moment lost her tranquility.  Quiet, calm and peaceful was the work going on in her soul, and yet her progress was more rapid than the flight of the eagle as he leaves far behind the high mountains of earth.  So has He promised, “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  In our brief view of Mary’s dolors we have seen how she drank the cup of sorrow, and was baptized in the blood of her Son.  The shadow of the cross was over her whole life, enveloping in its darkness even her brightest hours.  And all her pains were unmerited, and came to her as the precious gift of her Child, and the fruit of her union with Him.  Her different griefs pierced every portion of her maternal heart, and the sword of Simeon was never withdrawn from her bosom.  Patience, sublime and wonderful, sustained her in agonies, which without special grace would have extinguished her life.  In the night of her third sorrow she walked alone in the waste of human woe, without even the rod and staff of her Son.  Disease could not touch her fair form, because the immaculate flesh of the Mother of God was beyond the reach of decay.  But the anguish of her soul in the sufferings of Jesus made her frame to tremble, and drank up the fountains of her innocent life.  Follow her on the journey to Calvary, where the rude rabble made her a mark for their insults.  Behold her embracing the cross in the darkness which had terrified even the inhuman murderers, and waiting six long hours that the cup of sorrow might be drained to the dregs, that God’s love might be satisfied, and man’s malignity satiated.  See her calmly walking to the sepulcher to lay the Beloved of her heart upon His stony bed, and then patiently going to the house of St. John to await the resurrection.  And when He ascended to His Father, she was left alone once more, to bear her exile until the days of her great sanctity were accomplished, and the chariot of fire should bring her to His everlasting embrace.  Perfected by patience, and full of merits by suffering, she passed to the throne of her own Child.  She is an example of that entire submission to God which is the end of the Christian life.  As the angels quietly, peacefully and yet swiftly do His will in Heaven, so did she on earth obey the divine voice, running faster than thought after its every whisper, and yet never anxious, never weary, but tranquil as the infant Jesus when first He lay upon her breast.

We must imitate her in this patience if we desire to attain conformity with God.  The work of our sanctification shall go on, but not as we have imagined, and our road to Heaven shall not be the one which our fancies have pictured.  That path lies through valleys, around the base of high mountains, and up the steep ascent of cragged hills.  Many of our plans shall be frustrated, and our dearest hopes often disappointed.  We shall toil long and see no fruit of our labors.  The bright blossom of spring shall fall to the ground, and wither in the heat of the sun.  Let man be silent when God works, and when the great husbandman walks in His garden, let the creature be patient.  And when the cross brings its sacred weight to our shoulders, let us improve the day of grace.  We suffer because we are sinners, and because past transgression has left its mark upon our souls.  That mark must be burnt out by salutary pain, until every trace of defilement vanishes before the refiner’s fire.  The penitent need not fear in the hour of God’s greatest mercy.  The sinner who goes to Calvary bears in his flesh the proofs of the divine favor.  What though disease should prey upon our bodies, and like a worm eat away the vigor of our physical life?  The chastened flesh will be a more fitting habitation for the purified soul, and the veil of sense will melt before our eyes.  Pride will be laid low before the altar, and self-love will be the victim of the sacrifice.

 

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXIX

 

The Obedience of the Blessed Virgin

 

“To my company of horsemen in Pharao’s chariots have I likened thee, O my love.  Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle dove’s, thy neck as jewels.  We will make thee chains of gold, inlaid with silver” [Cant. 1:8-10].

 

By disobedience our first mother Eve lost Paradise, and left us to an inheritance of shame.  The second Eve, who was to restore us to our birthright, accomplished her task by a life of perfect obedience.  The service of God requires the submission of all our faculties to His will.  The laws which He gives us are only the expression of the eternal and unchangeable counsels of the divine Being.  A creature endowed with free will can resist the purposes of the Creator, but by so doing he frustrates the end for which he was made.  An intelligent obedience is not only the tribute due to the Author of our existence, it is also the only way of happiness.  Pride excites us to rebel against the divine counsels, and has been the cause of our ruin.  The Blessed Virgin began the work of our reparation by a just and true service of God.  In every act of her whole life she was guided by the sincere desire to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, and hence she never sought for one instant her own pleasure.  All that self would dictate she utterly renounced, and every moment her whole being was a sacrifice to God.  Her soul desired nothing but Him, her heart loved nothing but Him, and her intellect knew nothing but Him.  Being exempt by her especial privilege from original sin, the disorders of the fall never reached her.  There was never rebellion in any part of her being, nor even an impulse contrary to the wishes of her Beloved.  He had but to speak and instantly she obeyed, and His work and her cooperation kept pace in her soul.  So is she compared to a company of horsemen hastening after the voice of their captain; and the chains of gold inlaid with silver are the symbol of the perfect union of will between herself and her celestial Spouse.  Since then every breath she drew was an act of obedience, it is hard to particularize the proofs of her heroic conformity to the divine pleasure.  In her early life she offered herself to God, because His voice called her to the sacrifice, and the irrevocable vow was only the expression of her self-abnegation.  The office of Mother of God was freely accepted by her, with a full knowledge of the pains it involved.  The spirit of her life was according to her words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy will.”  She took a long journey to Bethlehem, led by the Holy Spirit, that according to the prophecy she might bring forth the Son of God in the city of David.  Blind obedience led her to the stable, to the despised village of Nazareth, to the lonely sojourn in Egypt.  It was her consolation never to have any desire of her own, and hence every event of providence found her prepared.  We have seen the Son of the highest bowed down to the earth in Gethsemane, while blood gushed from every pore of His body.  We have seen the God-man lifted upon a cross between two thieves, drinking to the dregs the cup of the world’s scorn and contempt.  A spectacle like this man had never seen before, and shall never see again.  But next to this astonishing picture is the sight of the brokenhearted Mother, standing beneath the accursed tree and offering up her infinite treasure, her only Child, all she had.  No mere creature ever approached this act of self-renunciation.  As obedience raised the knife by which our father Abraham prepared to slay his only son, so obedience sublime and wonderful fastened the afflicted Virgin to the foot of the cross.  In all she adored the divine purposes, in darkness as in light, in the shadows of death as in the splendors of the resurrection.  Obedience had reached its height.  Calvary was its test.  Mary gave God back to God, and not in the tender beauty of infancy as she received Him, but with bruised and mangled limbs crimsoned with His own blood.  The sinner may draw near the cross which he prepared for Mary’s Son, and learn the lesson of submission to God’s will.  If he cannot learn it here, there is no teacher who can instruct him.  Our lives have been made up of rebellions, and our free wills have often been employed to dishonor our Creator and to contemn His laws.  We could have given Him much glory before men and angels, and we have refused to pay Him our tribute.  Disobedience to His voice is the cause of every misery we have experienced, and there is but one remedy for our manifold infirmities.  We must trample under foot our won will, and by fidelity to all divine inspirations seek to recover the graces we have lost.  Regeneration made us in truth the children of God with the docility which belongs to the heart of a child.  “We must humble ourselves and become as little children” if we desire to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.  All God’s providences are directed for our sanctification.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge, and even the hairs of our heads are numbered.  Is it not easy to throw ourselves into the arms of His fatherly care, and to be led by His all-perfect counsels?  In the spiritual life He calls us to many trials.  No character could be perfected without painful lessons of the nothingness of human promises.  Yet wherever these is the earnest purpose to obey, there is always light enough to illumine our footsteps.  We need not to behold the distant scene when present day duty is clear, and the voice of conscience gives us its plain admonition.  God calls the sinner to repent of his sins, and to cut himself off from all dangerous occasions.  He calls a thousand times, and often His call is totally disregarded.  He seeks continually the perfection of the just, and bids them aim for higher and higher degrees of holiness.  We hear His voice, but we have not the inclination of the courage to obey Him.  So He can do very little with our souls, and there is no chance for us but in the scourges of His anger, or in the purifying flames of justice.  How much better would it be for us to yield Him a loving heart and to let His great mercy accomplish its work in us.  “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.”

That  we may not lose the fruit of these reflections, let us directly apply them to our own hearts, and ask our consciences to tell us the duty which at this moment God requires of us.  The answer will often come before we ask the question, and then if we desire any part on Mary’s reward, we must imitate her obedience.  At once, and with zeal we must do the work which our heavenly Master commands, and we shall find our labors light and our toil even refreshing.  From the way of life our feet shall never wander, for He Who is our guide can never err.  Step by step we shall leave the valley behind us, and ascend the mountain where God gathers His elect, and where the human will lays itself down at the feet of the divine perfections.  If we hesitate and seek to serve the world as well as God, we shall either fall altogether from the state of grace, or lead a cold and unhappy life, constantly tasting of remorse, and treasuring up fearful regrets for the hour of death.  Who can estimate the results of our false step, or tell the evils that shall flow from one disobedience?  Many a soul which would have glorified its creator through the long ages of eternity, is now agonizing in the eternal fire because of one transgression.  There are souls just hanging between life and death, and the next act shall decide their destiny.  And many of us for whom perhaps God designed high perfection, have wandered from the narrow path, when the heavenly goal was almost in view; and one slight infidelity was the turning point in our probation.  Happy indeed was Mary to have been the Mother of her God, but happier far that always and in everything she heard His word and kept it.

 

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXVIII

 

The Poverty of the Blessed Virgin

 

“I have put off my garment, how shall I put it on?  I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” [Cant. 5:3]

 

Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ has given us a perfect example of poverty and contempt of the world.  Having condescended to take our nature, He chose to be in a lowly and humble position.  For our sakes He chose to be “made poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.”  He could have enjoyed all the wealth of the world, and all its luxuriance might have rolled at His feet.  He could have been born in a palace with thousands to wait upon His every want.  But the gifts of earth did not become the humility of the incarnate God.  He saw the emptiness of human things, and He would not touch any of the gilded vanities which so attract mankind.  It was His will to be driven out of the habitations of men, and to have no place where to lay His head.  He preferred a cave for His birth-place, and the oxen’s stall for His cradle.  His holy Mother, whose heart was one with His, took part in His self-abnegation.  The world was nothing to her, and all its riches could not excite one emotion in her soul.  She gave all she had to the poor, that for the service of God she might be emancipated from every care.  The Fathers tell us that in her early childhood she made a vow never to possess any of the goods of this earth.  “Where our treasure is there also is our heart.”  She desired to have no treasure here, that her heart might be wholly united to God.  It was, therefore, no trial to her to bear the pains and inconveniences of poverty.  The cave of Bethlehem was a sweet hiding-place where she could prove to her Child that she loved nothing but Him.  The Magi brought their costly gifts, and they were devoted to charity.  She went before the altar with two turtle-doves, the offering of the poor, and knelt among the crowd.  The angel called her at midnight to arise in haste and fly to Egypt.  She arose at once, leaving all she had, and began her long and painful journey.  Many a time she felt the pangs of hunger and thirst in her pilgrimage through the desert, and during her lonely sojourn in the land of idolatry.  Her food was always coarse, and her raiment plain.  When the holy family returned to Nazareth, a lowly cottage became their abode, where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph all worked with their hands to earn their daily bread.  There was no rest for them in this world of sin.  The second Adam came to the thorny ground of the first Adam, and took His portion of toil.  It was Mary’s delight to be among the poor, and even to do menial offices for others.  She drank in more and more every day of the spirit of her Child, and became more and more detached from every earthly thing.  When He left her to begin His ministry she was dependent upon the charity of others.

He was on the mountain, and in the desert, and why should not His Mother be a pilgrim like Him?  And when He died He gave her in trust to St. John, that the disciple whom He loved might provide for her wants.  In Mary’s poverty we see not only the entire renunciation of all worldly goods, but a complete separation from them in heart.  She had nothing, and she desired nothing.  Her soul was most tranquil, because no created thing had power to touch her heart.  She had put off all the garments of earth, how could she ever put them on again?  She had washed her feet from every defilement of corruptible treasure, how could she touch again the dust of this world?  She had only one possession, an infinite one, her God; and this filled her whole heart.

There is much for us to learn in this brief view of the poverty of the Blessed Virgin.  The Church commends this virtue as most necessary for all who would tread in the steps of her Master.  Actual poverty is no doubt a grace for such as use it rightly.  The poor are freed from many temptations, and are not so likely to fasten their affections upon worldly things.  Their hard life here is an incentive to look above for enduring treasures.  To a certain extent they must feel themselves strangers and pilgrims on their way to a better country.  Hence the poor are generally the favored children of God.  The Lord was surrounded by them when He was on earth, and His Church is especially their portion.  But poverty of spirit is essential for all who would be saved.  We must learn to despise worldly things, or we can make no real progress in the love of God.  Whatever goods of earth God may give us, we must not fix our affections upon them, nor desire them for their own sake.  As good Christians we must be detached from the treasures of which we are only stewards. Our Lord Himself has said that it is hard for the rich to enter into His kingdom, and that they who trust in riches have no hope of salvation.  With the possession of wealth comes care, which weighs upon the soul, and bears it down among the pursuits of time.  Many spend their whole lives in toil and labor, and have no reward but treasures which one hour may take away, and which can never go beyond the grave.  The brief joys of the rich will never pay for the anxious mind or the aching heart.  If we are poor we must bless God for this grace, and endeavor to turn it to our sanctification.  If we are encumbered with the possessions of this life, we must use them for the benefit of our neighbors, as well as our own salvation.  We must make to ourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when we fail they may receive us into eternal habitations.  The Catholic religion, animated by the spirit of its divine Head, has taught us many heroic lessons in the virtue of poverty.  It has taught many souls to emulate the graces of Mary, and cheerfully to lay down at the feet of Jesus every temporal thing.  Princes have descended from their thrones to cast the dust of this world from their feet, and to be wholly emancipated for the service of God.  The vow of poverty is a necessary condition of the religious state, since perfect consecration of the soul is inconsistent with any hold upon the things of this life.  No one can leave the world except by renouncing all that he has, and by choosing alone a heavenly treasure.  “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and follow Me, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven.”

The example of the Blessed Virgin will be our encouragement as we endeavor to walk in her footsteps.  She will gently wean us from the love of all earthly possessions, guiding us, as we can bear it, to a more and more perfect life.  We need not be discouraged at the sight of our own self-love, nor at our great repugnance to mortification.  We shall not learn detachment all at once, nor in the easy way our imaginations have pictured.  But with Mary for our model we cannot wander from the right path.  As things temporal recede little by little from our view, things eternal will draw nearer to us.  The chains that bind us to earth will be broken one by one, and the love of God will be the only solace of our free spirits.  Who would compare corruptible treasures with the infinite wealth of God, Who becomes Himself the possession of His saints?

 

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVII

 

The Purity of the Blessed Virgin

 

“Thy name is as oil poured out, therefore young maidens have loved thee.  Draw me, we will run after thee, to the odor of thy ointments” [Cant. 1:2-3].

 

No mortal tongue can worthily speak of the purity of the holy Mother of God, and yet while we linger in this “house of gold,” it is meet to consider a virtue of which she is the great model and exemplification.  In body and soul she was wholly consecrated to God, and the infection of sin never came near her.  Conceived without sin, she was freed from the effects of the fall and its ignominy.  She never knew the stimulus of concupiscence, and there was no rebellion of the flesh against the spirit.  The prince of the world came to her, and found nothing in her to correspond with his temptation.  Hence he was baffled at every point, and could only address her with external solicitations which were resisted as soon as presented.  The degree of holiness to which the Blessed Virgin attained, led her to the most perfect love of God.  This love produced a true and real espousal to her celestial Bridegroom, and the vow of virginity was the necessary consequence.  That vow is only the consecration which love in his highest degree includes.  Of all the daughters of Eve, Mary was the first to solemnly devote herself in body and soul to the worship of God.  She began that life on earth, which is the angelic life in Heaven.  And after her many have followed, according to the words of Scripture, “after her shall virgins be brought to the king.”  Her name hath touched many souls, inspiring them with the divine love, and coming as oil poured out to soothe and heal the wounds of earth.  “Therefore your maidens have loved her,” and following her attractions, have run after her to the odor of her ointments.  She made her vow in her early years, and she would not have sacrificed her virginity even to be Mother of God.  She was espoused to St. Joseph with the express understanding that she should ever remain a virgin, and because wonderful designs of providence so ordered.  When the archangel Gabriel announced to her that she was to bring forth the Messiah, she did not consent until she was clearly assured that her purity should be preserved intact.  It was only when she heard that she was to conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, that she exclaimed, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.”  Thrice precious among all the jewels of Heaven is this grace of virginity of which Mary was the example.  Her holy soul was also beyond the reach of any contamination.  No darkness or ignorance ever clouded its clear view of God and things eternal.  Every thought was the inspiration of the Divine Spirit Who dwelt in her, and the pure intention with which every act was performed made her least work an acceptable offering in the sight of Heaven.  In her heart was no place for any merely human affection.  If she loved any human thing, it was by love which first went up to God, and then descended from Him to His creatures.  In her there was no division of services, no half-way consecration.  All was for God.  She was a temple filled with His life and light, and ever resounding with His praise such purity the creation had not before seen.  It was a wonderful condescension to our fallen humanity that she was made a creature like unto us, instead of a bright angel formed to tread the golden streets of the celestial city, and walk in the midst of the stones of fire.  Yet Mary, the second Eve, the Mother of the living race, was only a daughter of Adam adopted by God as His own daughter, the Mother of His Son, and the spouse of His eternal Spirit.

Of all virtues, perhaps chastity is the most difficult to practice.  In our fallen state the flesh ever rebels against the spirit, and the motions of concupiscence are sometimes a heavy trial to the regenerate soul.  Sense allures with the sight of apparent good, and our appetites are seduced by the desire of gratification.  Without grace we cannot overcome the power of sin in our members.  But thanks be to God, Who hath given us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Under the new law where sin abounded, grace much more abounds.  The Redeemer has wrought a perfect work.  He has left grace to counteract every effect of the fall, and His blood has power to cleanse every stain and defilement.  He pours His Spirit into our hearts and washes us clean from every transgression.  He gives us His own flesh, which is the food of angels, and His own blood, which is the wine that germinates virgins.  He gives us the immaculate Mary for our Mother, and He brings the young heart to her and seeks to preserve it from the contamination of the world.  What more could infinite love devise?  God calls us all to preserve purity according to our state of life.  Virginal chastity is not the lot of all His servants.  But all are bound to seek Him alone with upright souls, and to be pure in heart.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” shall draw nigh to Him in this life, and experience even on earth His gracious manifestations.  And in proportion as we purify our hearts, does the great King come near us, to draw us more completely within the circle of His attractions, and to bring us to oneness with Himself.  For all our past sins against this great virtue there is a remedy at hand.  A stream purer far than Jordan rolls at our feet.  We must wash in it seven times and we shall be clean, and the flesh of a child shall come back to us.  For every present temptation we have a ready assistance.  Jesus and Mary are ours.  We have but to ask, and the arm that prostrated the tempter in the wilderness will hold us up.  We have but to call upon Mary, and the serpent whose head she crushed will flee away.  The cool breath of the rose of Sharon will revive our fainting spirit; the fragrance of the lily of the valley will throw around us the air of Heaven.  And for the future let us prize our purity even above all virtues.  Let us guard our senses, for the least touch will defile us.  Our unguarded moment will undo the work of many years.  Let us remember that we belong to God, that Jesus is our Master, that Mary is our Mother.  Whatever grace God may deny us, let us ask Him to give us this most precious jewel of chastity.  Let Him bring us into the waters of affliction, or prostrate our strength beneath the wasting power of disease, rather than let us fall victims to sin which defiles the body and kills the soul.  And happy are they who can follow closely in Mary’s footsteps.  The heavenly Bridegroom will be faithful to them.  He will lead them into green pastures, and one day they shall follow Him wheresoever He goeth.

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVI

 

The Humility of the Blessed Virgin

 

“I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys” [Cant. 2:1]

 

Humility is the foundation of all virtues, and without it no one can please God.  Pride destroys every merit and puts an end to all growth in holiness.  The moment the creature exalts himself through consciousness of the divine gifts, he places himself in an attitude of rebellion.  As the Blessed Virgin was the holiest of all creatures, so she was of necessity the most humble.  In her, self-love was entirely extinct, and God was the only object of every action.  As the Incarnation was the great act of the divine condescension, so the Mother partook of the humility of her Child.  The same mind was in her that was in her Son.  He was meek and lowly of heart, she was the while lily of the valley, the companion of the humility in which He was pleased to dwell.  With all her gifts Mary had always a lowly opinion of herself.  She was not unconscious of what God had done for her, but she recognized that the favors she had received were all for the glory of the giver.  She was only the handmaid of the Lord, and every new gift He gave her, only increased her debt.  It did not stimulate any self-complacency.  Rather she was the more abased at the sight of her own littleness, and she thought herself unworthy of any favor.  Enveloped as she was with the wonderful displays of divine power, in all she saw only the love and mercy of her Creator.  “He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.”  “He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His name.”  “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and hath exalted the humble.”  She was too lowly in spirit to think she was to become the Mother of God, although she might have learned it from the wonderful providences which surrounded her.  The message of the archangel startled her because she was too humble to dream of such a dignity, and she trembled when Gabriel bent the knee before her, and called her “full of grace.”  And when Jesus lay in her arms, and she clasped her God to her bosom, her joy left the creature far out of sight to rest alone in the beauty of the Creator manifest in the flesh.  But though she was conscious of her gifts, she was not conscious of her merits.  She set no value no what she did, and she ascribed all her graces to the undeserved love of God, rather than to her own good works.  She never thought that her virtues had drawn the eternal Word to her, or that her great reward in Heaven was to be the recompense of her fidelity.  And she was ever disposed to conceal from others the great favors God had bestowed upon her.  When St. Elizabeth called her blessed above all women, and by the impulse of the Holy Ghost gave her praise for the faith she had shown, she simple replied, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  When St. Joseph was permitted to doubt of her integrity, she had no words of defense for herself, but left it for God to tech him the mystery of the Incarnation.  She never prided herself on her dignity, or before others exacted any of her maternal privileges.  She loved the obscurity of her home in Nazareth, where the world knew nothing of her joys, and where St. Joseph and her Son were accounted as laborers.  She went to the temple as the law commanded, and made an offering for her purification, when she had never known sin.  She appeared before the altar as any ordinary woman, leaving it for God to make known her dignity, if He should see fit, or to leave the world in ignorance of her privileges.  And although she was the Mother of the Highest, excelling in rank the most glorious archangel, yet the lowliest duties were her delight.  She went a long journey to serve her cousin Elizabeth, and remained with her three months.  Nothing pleased her more than to minister to others.  She became the Mother of the disciples of our Lord, and after His resurrection remained on earth to direct and assist the apostles in the foundation of the Church.  No one ever came near her, that she did not seek to do them some kindness.  It is so now, when she is in Heaven, and it will be so throughout eternity.  The love of contempt was also a crowning feature in her humility.  The poverty of Bethlehem was dear to her.  It shut her in a cave, with her Child, away from the world.  When men despised Him, it wounded her in her tenderest point, but for herself she had no care.  In the day of triumph she was not seen.  She was not present when the multitude came to take Him by force and make Him a king.  When He rode into Jerusalem with the palm-branches waving before Him, and the shout of hosannas rending the air, the Mother did not mingle in the general joy.  But when the mob were dragging Him in His own blood through the streets, she went out to partake of His cup of ignominy.  She stood to the last by the cross, heedless alike of the scorn of her won nation, or the rough jeer of the infidel.  In sorrow, contempt, poverty, she was ever at His side, because she loved to be nothing among mankind, since God was everything to her, and the creature nothing.  And her course of self-abnegation still continues.  She has never vindicated her own honors, except when they concerned the honor of her Son.  She has been established in Sion, and has taken root in God’s holy mountain, and her throne is in the full assembly of saints.  Yet she has never asked for any privilege, but to defend with her own person the rights of her Child.  She was all for Jesus, without a thought of herself.  Such a wonderful degree of humility became the Mother of God, and we her children praise the divine wisdom which has given us such a model.  Pride is the root of all our evils, and the cause of our many imperfections.  We are not only conscious of our gifts, but we even imagine favors which do not belong to us.  Scarcely ever do we have a true idea of ourselves.  When we sin or wound our Lord by infidelity, we have a ready excuse.  When we do any good work, we are quick enough to ascribe it to our own virtues.  We fear much that others will tale too low an estimate of our merits, and are quite often anxious to make known every advance we make in the way of self-mastery.  We cannot easily condescend to do kind offices for others, except when some praise will be our reward.  And as for the love of contempt, it is far above ordinary Christians, and has the appearance of fanaticism in those who profess it.  It is easy to see that self lies at the bottom of many of our best and holiest actions.  Yet with the sincere confession of our weakness, let us not be discouraged.  God became incarnate to cure our pride.  Mary was the most humble of creatures to be our model.  Let us follow in her footsteps.  We have had experience enough to convince us that in our own strength we can do nothing.  Let us never think of any strength but God’s.  His arm will be under us if we look to Him alone.  And if we really desire conformity with Christ, the heavenly Physician will know how to minister to our maladies.  He will lead us by paths we could not have conjectured to the valley of self-abnegation, and there teach us to cast off our whole load of sin.  Humility, then, will not be unreal in us, nor hypocritical.  It will spring from the thorough conviction of the all-sufficiency of God, and the utter nothingness of all created things.  Happy are they who learn this lesson.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” and, “if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with Him.”

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Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XXV

Chapter XXV

 

The Charity of the Blessed Virgin

 

“I sat down under His shadow, Whom I desired; and His fruit was sweet to my palate.  He brought me into the cellar of wine, He set in order charity in me” [Cant. 2:3-4].

 

As the love of God is the sign of life, so in Mary the spouse of the Holy Ghost we find it in overflowing luxuriance.  Her life was a life of love.  In fact, she lived through love and she died of love.  Jesus was impressed “as a seal upon her heart, as a seal upon her arm.”  Her love was strong as death.  Many waters could not quench it, neither could the floods drown it.  To love God with the whole heart and soul is the precept of the law, and all Christians are bound to render Him this service.  Mary outstripped every command, and went beyond every counsel of perfection.  From her first existence she gave her pure heart to God, and she became more entirely His with every breath she drew.  Her first reasonable act was an act of love to God, and every act which followed was a new fruit of her love.  Every word she spake, every look, every thought, every respiration even was meritorious before Heaven, because all she did was animated by her great ruling motive, the divine love.  Her whole being was filled with her charity.  To God she gave every faculty, every power of soul and body.  And all this service was free on her part.  No constraint was every employed to force her obedience.  She sought the divine attractions, and as they were daily more and more manifested to her, her will could hardly run fast enough for the impulses of her heart.  Her sleep even, as the Fathers tell us, was a beautiful offering to her Creator.  “I sleep,” says she, in the Canticles, “but my heart waketh.”  “In my bed by might I sought Him Whom my heart loveth.”  So perfect a passion for God excluded every affection merely human from her soul.  What was all of earth to her?  What were its strongest attractions to the eyes which gazed on the infinite beauty?  How like an empty bubble appeared to her every created thing, when compared with the immeasurable glories of the Creator?  All the characteristics of love were found in her in their highest perfection.  Hers was a love of attraction since God first drew her to Himself, and her free will obeyed the call.  Her love was also a love of gratitude.  The favors she had received bound her by a tie of inexpressible sweetness to Him Who had so magnified her.  She could never do enough to show her thankfulness.  He had freed her from every touch of sin, had taken the whole weight of Adam’s sin from her shoulders, had lavished upon her the profusion of His grace.  He had done more; He had come down from Heaven, and had become her Child!  He was a true, faithful, loving Child to her.  Could she ever make return for such favors?  All she could do was to throw herself back upon Him with all she had to give – the wealth of the virginal heart which He loved so well.  He was everything to her, and she was nothing but what He had been pleased to make her.  Her love was also one of preference.  She was free to choose the object of her affection, and she chose her God and Him alone.  Nothing but God ever moved her will.  She had a clear sight of His claims upon her heart, and her whole intellect was filled with His light.  She was therefore borne to Him the only choice of her soul, as surely and steadily as the needle points to the pole.  And so she accomplished the love of union which made her one with the object of her love.  In this degree of love, the person loving and the object loved meet together by one and a simultaneous action.  God, the jealous lover of souls, throws His attractions around the heart, and the heart responds by an instantaneous burst of affection.  Or rather the stream of love flows from God, and meets the stream which He sets in motion from the creature, and the two streams are mingled together.  The Creator lovingly extends His arms to embrace the creature, and the creature lovingly casts itself into that blissful and unending embrace.  In such a love everything earthly has vanished out of sight.  There is perfect purification from every sin and every affection to sin, and the whole being is illumined with light that pervades every part, and puts every shadow of sense to flight.  In Mary there was no need of purification.  She was ever purer than the crystal dew of Heaven.  And from her very conception she was the temple of the Holy Ghost, the tower of David, the tower of ivory and the house of gold.  There was no rebellion in her flesh, and no obstacle in her soul to the perfect effect of the divine graces.  What she received she gave back to the Giver, and in every oblation gave herself.  The hearts of Jesus and Mary were the hearts of Mother and Child, and while one was the heart of God, filled with all His infinite riches, the other was the heart of the holiest of creatures, consuming and overflowing with love.  Angel and archangel were mute before the throne of the infinite majesty.  Cherubim and seraphim were the very intelligent expression of love, and yet no creature ever loved God as Mary loved Him, as she loves Him now, and as she will love Him through eternity.  If we are in any sense the children of Mary, her heart is the model after which we are seeking to form our own hearts.  If we have none of her love for God, we are in no sense her servants.  The very first thing which she does for the sinner is to give him a love for her Son.  If she cannot accomplish this in us, she can do nothing.  Love is the sign of life.  It is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Whose indwelling makes us sons of God and heirs of Heaven.  Without it we are dead and barren branches of the vine.  And even if we find in ourselves some degree of love, by comparing our hearts to Mary’s, we shall see how utterly deficient we are in this most necessary of all virtues.  The world has such a strong hold upon us that the divine attractions are hardly felt.  We mean to serve God, but our purposes, aims, and wishes are formed after human models, and breathe a worldly spirit.  Few are the generous hearts that freely and unreservedly follow the impulses of grace, to the utter disregard of human respect and human opinion.  The flesh is rebellious, and things sensual have not lost their power over us.  We feel the divine attraction, but we respond freely to it, as if afraid of the sacrifices which may be the consequence.  We say we have chosen God for our portion, but our actions belie our words.  There is something else which we seek for, some other object of affection, some shapeless hope perhaps which we run after, as it ever eludes our grasp.  And the worst of all is, that generally there is some dark corner in our hearts, some wound into which we like not to put the probing knife of the physician.  One would think that gratitude would rise above all these obstacles, but alas!  Gratitude is rarer than love.  Here we see the great want of our souls.  Here we behold the cause of our imperfection.  We see why we do not daily overcome our defects, why we remain ever as beginners in the way of life.  The garden of the Lord is filled with weeds and briars, instead of fruits and flowers.  Our resolutions come to nothing, our good intentions die before they result in actions, because the vital flame of love burns so low and feebly in us.  We are just alive, and that is all that can be said of the most of us.  To be conscious of our need is the first step to restoration, and hence of the picture of Mary’s loving heart makes us sensible of our coldness, we shall have accomplished much towards our recovery.  Let us pray to her to give us of her own spirit.  Let us really turn from earthly things as she did.  God will manifest Himself to us as soon as we make ready to receive His attractions.  His love will be the sovereign remedy for all our ills.  It will undo the effects of past sin, dispel the power of present temptation, and give peace to the most distracted heart.  It will bind up every bleeding wound, and make the wilderness a garden and the desert a paradise.

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