Sunday, 24 May 2009

Of the Virtues of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary

This is the third part in a series; the preceding sections can be found here:
Of the Virtues of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary
SECTION I. Of the Humility of Mary.
SECTION II. Of Mary’s Charity towards God.
SECTION III. Of Mary’s Charity towards her Neighbour.

SECTION IV. Of Mary’s Faith.

As the Blessed Virgin is the mother of holy love and hope, so also is she the mother of faith: “I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.”1 And with reason is she so, says Saint Irenæus; for ‘the evil done by Eve’s incredulity was remedied by Mary’s faith.’2 This is confirmed by Tertullian, who says that because Eve, contrary to the assurance she had received from God, believed the serpent, she brought death into the world; but our Queen, because she believed the angel when he said that she, remaining a virgin, would become the mother of God, brought salvation into the world.3 For Saint Augustine says, that ‘when Mary consented to the incarnation of the Eternal Word, by means of her faith she opened heaven to men.’4 Richard, on the words of Saint Paul, “for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife,”5 also says, that ‘Mary is the believing woman by whose faith the unbelieving Adam and all his posterity are saved.’6 Hence, on account of her faith, Elizabeth called the holy Virgin blessed: “Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished in thee that were spoken by the Lord.”7 And Saint Augustine adds, that ‘Mary was rather blessed by receiving the faith of Christ than by conceiving the flesh of Christ.’8

Father Suarez says,9 that the most holy Virgin had more faith than all men and angels. She saw her Son in the crib of Bethlehem, and believed Him the Creator of the world. She saw Him fly from Herod, and yet believed Him the King of kings. She saw Him born, and believed Him eternal. She saw Him poor and in need of food, and believed Him the Lord of the universe. She saw Him lying on straw, and believed Him omnipotent. She observed that He did not speak, and she believed Him infinite wisdom. She heard Him weep, and believed Him the joy of Paradise. In fine, she saw Him in death, despised and crucified, and, although faith wavered in others, Mary remained firm in the belief that He was God. On these words of the Gospel, “there stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother,”10 Saint Antoninus says, ‘Mary stood, supported by her faith, which she retained firm in the divinity of Christ.’11 And for this reason it is, the Saint adds, that in the office of Tenebræ only one candle is left lighted. Saint Leo, on this subject, applies to our Blessed Lady the words of Proverbs, “Her lamp shall not be put out in the night.”12 And on the words of Isaias, “I have trodden the wine-press alone,”13 Saint Thomas remarks that the prophet says a man, on account of the Blessed Virgin, in whom faith never failed. Hence blessed Albert the Great assures us that ‘Mary then exercised perfect faith; for even when the disciples were doubting she did not doubt.’14 Therefore Mary merited by her great faith to become ‘the light of all the faithful,’15 as Saint Methodius calls her; and the ‘Queen of the true faith,’16 as she is called by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. The holy Church herself attributes to the merits of Mary’s faith the destruction of all heresies: ‘Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, for thou alone hast destroyed all heresies throughout the world.’17 Saint Thomas of Villanova, explaining the words of the Holy Ghost, “Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse . . . with one of thy eyes,”18 says that ‘these eyes denoted Mary’s faith, by which she greatly pleased the Son of God.’19

Here Saint Ildephonsus exhorts us to imitate Mary’s faith.20 But how can we do so? Faith, at the same time that it is a gift, is also a virtue. It is a gift of God, inasmuch as it is a light infused by Him into our souls; and a virtue, inasmuch as the soul has to exercise itself in the practice of it. Hence faith is not only to be the rule of our belief, but also that of our actions; therefore Saint Gregory says, ‘He truly believes who puts what he believes in practice;’21 and Saint Augustine, ‘Thou sayest, I believe; do what thou sayest, and it is faith.’22 This is to have a lively faith, to live according to our belief: “My just man liveth by faith.”23 Thus did the Blessed Virgin live very differently from those who do not live in accordance with what they believe, and whose faith is dead, as Saint James declares, “Faith without works is dead.”24 Diogenes sought for a man on earth; but God, amongst the many faithful, seems to seek for a Christian, for few there are who have good works; the greater part have only the name of Christian. To such as these should be applied the words once addressed by Alexander to a cowardly soldier who was also named Alexander: ‘Either change thy name or change thy conduct.’ But as Father Avila used to say, ‘It would be better to shut up these poor creatures as madmen, believing, as they do, that an eternity of happiness is prepared for those who lead good lives, and an eternity of misery for those who lead bad ones, and who yet live as if they believed nothing.’ Saint Augustine therefore exhorts us to see things with the eyes of Christians, that is to say, with eyes which look at all in the light of faith;25 for, as Saint Teresa often said, all sins come from a want of faith. Let us therefore entreat the most holy Virgin, by the merit of her faith, to obtain us a lively faith: ‘O Lady, increase our faith.’

SECTION V. Of Mary’s Hope.

Hope takes its rise in faith; for God enlightens us by faith to know His goodness and the promises He has made, that by this knowledge we may rise by hope to the desire of possessing Him. Mary, then, having had the virtue of faith in its highest degree, had also hope in the same degree of excellence; and this made her say with David, “But it is good for me to adhere to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God.”26 Mary was indeed that faithful spouse of the Holy Ghost, of whom it was said, “Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning on her beloved?”27 For she was always perfectly detached from earthly affections, looking upon the world as a desert, and therefore, in no way relying either on creatures or on her own merits, but relying only on Divine grace, in which was all her confidence, she always advanced in the love of God. Thus Ailgrino said of her: ‘She ascended from the desert, that is, from the world, which she so fully renounced, and so truly considered as a desert, that she turned all her affection from it. She leant upon her Beloved, for she trusted not in her own merits, but in His graces who bestows graces.’28

The most holy Virgin gave a clear indication of the greatness of her confidence in God, in the first place, when she saw the anxiety of her holy spouse Saint Joseph. Unable to account for her wonderful pregnancy, he was troubled at the thought of leaving her: “but Joseph . . . minded to put her away privately.”29 It appeared then necessary, as we have elsewhere remarked, that she should discover the hidden mystery to Saint Joseph; but no, she would not herself manifest the grace she had received; she thought it better to abandon herself to Divine Providence, in the full confidence that God Himself would defend her innocence and reputation. This is precisely what Cornelius a Lapide says, in his commentary on the words of the Gospel quoted above: ‘The Blessed Virgin was unwilling to reveal this secret to Joseph, lest she might seem to boast of her gifts; she therefore resigned herself to the care of God, in the fullest confidence that He would guard her innocence and reputation.’30 She again showed her confidence in God when she knew that the time for the birth of our Lord approached, and was yet driven even from the lodgings of the poor in Bethlehem, and obliged to bring forth in a stable: “and she laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn.”31 She did not then let drop a single word of complaint, but, abandoning herself to God, she trusted that He would there assist her. The Divine Mother also showed how great was her confidence in Divine Providence when she received notice from Saint Joseph that they must fly into Egypt. On that very night she undertook so long a journey to a strange and unknown country without provisions, without money, accompanied only by her Infant Jesus and her poor spouse, “who arose and took the Child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt.”32 But much more did she show her confidence when she asked her Son for wine at the marriage-feast of Cana; for when she had said, “They have no wine,” Jesus answered her, “Woman, what is it to thee and to me My hour is not yet come.”33 After this answer, which seemed an evident refusal, her confidence in the Divine goodness was such that she desired the servants to do whatever her Son told them; for the favour was certain to be granted: “whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.”34 It indeed was so: Jesus Christ ordered the vessels to be filled with water, and changed it into wine.

Let us, then, learn from Mary to have that confidence in God which we ought always to have, but principally in the great affair of our eternal salvation--an affair in which it is true that we must cooperate; yet it is from God alone that we must hope for the grace necessary to obtain it. We must distrust our own strength, and say with the Apostle, “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.”35

Ah, my most holy Lady, the Ecclesiasticus tells me that thou art “the Mother of holy hope;”36 and the holy Church, that thou art our hope.37 For what other hope, then, need I seek? Thou, after Jesus, art all my hope. Thus did Saint Bernard call thee; thus will I also call thee: ‘Thou art the whole ground of my hope;’38 and, with Saint Bonaventure, I will repeat again and again, ‘O, salvation of all who call upon thee, save me!’39

1Ego mater pulchræ dilectionis, et timoris, et agnitionis, et sanctæ spei. -- Eccles. xxiv. 24.

2Quod alligavit virgo Eva per incredulitatem, hoc Virgo Maria solvit per fidem. -- Adv. Hœrs. lib. iii. cap. 33.

3Crediderat Heva serpenti, Maria Gabrieli: quod illa credendo deliquit, hæc credendo delevit.—De Carne Chr.

4Fides Mariæ cœlum aperuis, cum angelo nuntianti consensit. -- Spinelli, M. Deip. c. 21. n. 7.

5Sanctificatus est enim vir infidelis per mulierem fidelem. -- 1 Cor. vii. 14.

6Hæc est mulier fidelis, per cujus fidem salvatus est Adam vir infidelis, et tota posteritas. -- De L. B. M. l. 6.

7Et beata, que credidisti, quoniam perficientur ea, quæ dicta sent tibi a Domino. -- Luc. i. 45.

8Beatior Maria percipiendo fidem Christi, quam concipiendo carnem Christi. -- De S. Virginitate, cap. iii.

9De Inc. p. 2. d. 19. s. 1.

10Stabant autem juxta, crucem Jesu mater ejus, &c. -- Joan. xix. 25.

11Stabat Maria fide elevata, quam de Christi divinitate fixam retinuit.

12Non extinguetur in nocte lucerna ejus. -- Prov. xxxi. 18.

13Torcular calcavi solus, et de gentibus non est vir mecum. -- Is. lxiii. 3.

14Fidem habuit in excellentissimo gradu, quæ, etiam discipulis dubitantibus non dubitavit. -- In Luc. i.

15Fidelium fax. -- De Sim. et Anna.

16Sceptrum orthodoxæ fidei. -- Hom. 4. int. div.

17Gaude, Maria Virgo, cunctas hæreses sola interemisti in universo mundo.

18Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, spousa . . . in uno oculorum tuorum. -- Cant. v. 9.

19Oculus fidem, capillus humilitatem designat quibus potentis Dei filio Virgo maxime complacuit. -- De Nat. Dom. Conc. viii.

20Imitamini signaculum fidei vegtræ beatam Mariam. -- De Assump. B. M. Serm. 1.

21Ille vere credit, qui exercet operando quod credit. -- In Evang. hom. 26.

22Dicis, credo: fac quod dicis, et fides est. -- Serm. xlix. ed. B.

23Justus autem meus ex fide vivit. -- Heb. x. 38.

24Fides sine operibus mortua est. -- Jac. ii. 26.

25Christianos oculos habete. -- In Ps. lvi.

26Mihi autem adhærere Deo bonum est: ponere in Domino Deo spem meam. -- Ps. lxxii. 28.

27Quæ est ista, quæ ascendit de deserto, deliciis affluens, innixa super dilectum suum? -- Cant. viii. 5.

28Ascendit de deserto, scilicet de mundo, quem sic deseruit, et tamquam desertum reputavit, quod ab ipso omnem suum avertit affectum. Affluere autem dicitur gratiarum deliciis et virtutum, et innixa super dilectum. Nam ne perderet delicias affluentes, non suis meritis, sed ipsius innitebatur gratiæ, qui gratiam tribuit, et meritum præmium superaddit. -- Ap. Corn. a Lap. in loc. cit.

29Joseph autem . . . voluit occulte dimittere eam. -- Matt. i. 19.

30B. Virgo autem ex modestia noluit ultro secretum hoc divinuni Josepho pandere, ne sua dona tanta et tam divina jactare videretur, sed Deo Deique providentiæ et curæ, cujus totum hoc opus erat, idipsum resignavit, certissime confidens Deum suam innocentiam et famam tutatunun. -- Comment. in loc. cit.

31Et reclinavit eum in præsepio quia non erat eis locum in diversorio. -- Luc. ii. 7.

32Qui consurgens, accepit puerum et matrem ejus nocte, et secessit in Ægyptum. -- Matt. ii. 14.

33Vinum non habent. . . . Quid mihi et tibi est, mulier? nondum venit hora mea. -- Joan. ii. 3, 4.

34Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite. -- Joan. ii. 5.

35Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat. -- Philipp. iv. 13.

36Ego mater . . . sancta spei. -- Eccl. xxiv. 24.

37Spes nostra salve.

38Tota ratio spei meæ. -- Serm. de Aquœd.

39O salus te invocantium, salva me.

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