THE GLORIES OF MARY
Saint Alphonsus Liguori
1. HAIL, HOLY QUEEN, MOTHER OF MERCY
Our confidence in Mary should be great because she is the queen of mercy
The Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen to be the Mother of the King of Kings. Accordingly, holy Church honors her, and wants everyone to honor her, with the glorious title of "Queen."
Saint Athanasius mentions how proper this is in his sermon on the Annunciation: "If he who was born of the virgin is a king, then the one who bore him is rightly called a lady and a queen." Ever since the moment that Mary gave her consent to be the Mother of the Eternal Word, adds Saint Bernardine of Siena, she deserved to be called the queen of the whole world and of every creature in it. If Jesus took his flesh from Mary, how can Mary be disjoined from the royal dignity of her son? So asks Arnold the Abbot. We must conclude, he infers, that not only the kingdom's glory, but the very kingdom itself, belongs to both the Son and the Mother.
The Abbot Rupert also says that if Jesus is the king of the universe, then Mary is its queen. And Saint Bernardine of Siena assures us that all creatures who serve God must also serve Mary. All angels, all men, all things in heaven and on earth, inasmuch as they are subject to God's dominion, are also subject to Mary. That is why the Abbot Guerric turns to Mary and says: "Continue, O Mary, to feel that all that your Son possesses is yours. Have no hesitation in acting as a queen, as Mother of the King, and as his spouse, for both the kingdom and the power over it belong to you."
There is no doubt, then, that Mary is a queen. But let everyone know, for his own consolation, that she is a most sweet, a most merciful queen, completely dedicated to the well-being of sinners. That is why the Church wants us to greet her in this prayer as the "queen of mercy."
The very name of queen, observes Saint Albert the Great, implies kindness to the poor and solicitude for them. It is different from the title of empress, which usually denotes severity and rigor. According to Seneca, the greatness of kings and queens consists in helping the unfortunate. Tyrants have their own good in view; kings should look to the good of their subjects. That is why kings, when they are consecrated, have their heads anointed with oil. Oil is a symbol of mercy, and it signifies that when a king governs, he should, before all else, be kind and compassionate to his subjects.
It is obvious, therefore, that kings should first and foremost spend themselves in acts of mercy. At the same time, of course, they must not neglect to exercise justice towards the guilty when this is necessary. Mary, however, is different. Though she is queen, she is not a queen of justice. That is to say, she is not concerned with punishing. She is a queen of mercy, committed to pity and pardon. Holy Church expressly wants us to call her a "queen of mercy."
The Grand Chancellor of Paris, John Gerson, meditating on these words of David: "These two things have I heard, that power belongs to God, and mercy to you, O Lord" (Ps 61:12-13), reasoned this way - since God's kingdom consists of two elements, justice and mercy, God decided to divide his kingdom. Justice he reserved to himself; mercy he transmitted to Mary, ordaining that all mercies which come to human beings should come through Mary's hands, and that these mercies should be distributed according to her choice. Saint Thomas, in the preface to his commentary on the Canonical Epistles holds the same opinion. He says that when the Blessed Virgin conceived the Eternal Word in her womb, she obtained half of his kingdom. Mary became the queen of mercy, he says, while the distribution of justice remained in the hands of her son.
The Eternal Father appointed Jesus Christ the King of justice and made him the judge of the whole world. For this reason, the prophet says: "O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice the king's son" (Ps 71:2). Commenting on this, a learned interpreter says: "Lord, you have given justice to your Son, because you have given mercy to the King's Mother."
Saint Bonaventure paraphrases this passage of David by saying: "O God, give judgment to the King and mercy to his Mother." Ernest, the Archbishop of Prague, also says that the Eternal Father gave to his Son the office of judging and punishing and to his Mother the office of pitying and comforting. Hence we can say that the prophet David foretold that God himself, as it were, consecrated Mary as the queen of mercy, anointing her with the oil of gladness: "God has anointed you with the oil of gladness" (Ps 44:8). God did this, according to Saint Bonaventure, so that all the children of Adam might be happy in the thought of having in heaven so great a queen, a queen anointed with the balm of mercy, a queen all full of kindness.
Saint Albert the Great appropriately applies to Mary the history of Queen Esther who was a figure of our heavenly queen. In the fourth chapter of the book of Esther, we read that during the reign of Ahasuerus a decree was issued ordering all Jews to be killed. At that time Mordecai, one of their number, sought help from Esther, begging her to use her influence with the king and have the decree revoked. At first Esther refused because she was afraid that Ahasuerus would become even more angry. But Mordecai chided her and told her she should not think of saving merely herself: the Lord had put her on the throne to insure the safety of all the Jews: "Think not that you may save your life only, because you are in the king's house more than all Jews" (Est 4:13). Just as Mordecai spoke to Esther, so we poor sinners can speak to Mary, our queen, should she ever refuse to plead with God and save us from the punishment we deserve. "Do not think, dear lady," we can say, "that the Lord has made you queen of the universe merely for your own sake. He gave you the power you have so that you could feel all the more pity for us and help us all the more."
When Esther appeared before King Ahasuerus, he said lovingly: "What do you ask of me, Esther?" The queen answered: "If I have found favor in your sight, O king...give me...my people for whom I pray" (Est 7:2-3). Ahasuerus's heart was touched and he immediately ordered the decree to be revoked.
Now, if Ahasuerus spared the Jews because he loved Esther, how can God, who loves Mary immensely, fail to hear her when she prays for the sinners who recommend themselves to her? "If I have found favor in your sight, O king..." Mary knows very well that she has found favor in God's sight. She knows very well that she alone of all creatures has found the grace lost by men, that she is the favorite of the Lord, loved by him more than all the angels and saints together. Therefore she can well say: "Give me my people, for whom I pray." Is it possible for God not to hear her? Is there anyone who has never heard of the power of Mary's prayers with God? "On her tongue is kindly counsel" (Prov 31:26). Her every prayer is like a law established by God - a decision, we might say, on God's part to show mercy toward all for whom Mary intercedes.
Saint Bernard asks why the Church calls Mary the "queen of mercy." And he answers that it is because we believe that Mary opens up the vaults of God's mercy to anyone she likes, when she likes, and as she likes. There is not a sinner, he adds, no matter how wicked, who is lost as long as Mary protects him.
Perhaps there are some who fear that Mary would refuse to pray for this or that sinner, because she sees him hopelessly involved in sin. Or some may feel that we ought to be frightened by the majesty and holiness of this great queen. Saint Gregory puts us at ease. The higher Mary's position, he says, and the greater her holiness, the more gentle and compassionate she is with sinners who want to amend and who have recourse to her. Kings and queens, by the very display of their majesty, inspire awe and their subjects are afraid to come into their presence. But how can sinners, says Saint Bernard, be afraid of this queen of mercy? Mary is not stern or forbidding. "Why should weak humanity fear to approach Mary? There is nothing severe about her, nothing frightening. She is unspeakably sweet, and offers milk and wool to all." Mary not only gives, but she goes out of her way to offer to all, no matter who they are, the milk of mercy to quicken their confidence, and the wool of protection to shelter them from the storms of divine justice.
Suetonius tells us that the Emperor Titus was so tender-hearted that he could never refuse a favor. At times, in fact, he promised more than he was asked. When this was brought to his attention, he replied that a prince should never send anyone away discontented. But once in a while Titus must have lied or at least was unable to keep his promise. But Mary cannot lie and certainly she has sufficient power to obtain for her clients every single favor that they ask. Her heart is so kind and compassionate that, if anyone prays to her, she cannot bear to send him away unsatisfied. "She is so kind," says Louis Blosius, "that she never lets anyone go away disappointed."
How could you, O Mother of Mercy, asked Saint Bernard, refuse to help the miserable, since you are the queen of mercy? And who are the most likely candidates for mercy, if not unfortunate sinners? "And that is why I," he adds, "the most wretched of all sinners, am the first of your subjects. You have to take more care of me than of the rest. Have pity on all of us, therefore, O queen of mercy, and do all in your power to save us."
O most holy virgin, prays Saint Gregory of Nicomedia, please do not claim that you are unable to help us because of the number of our sins. Your power and mercy are so great that they can outweigh any number of sins. Nothing can resist your power, for the Creator himself considers your glory as his own. And your son, exulting in this glory, fulfills all your petitions as if he were paying back a debt. Saint Gregory is saying, in effect, that even though Mary has an infinite obligation towards her son because he chose her to be his mother, at the same time we cannot deny that the son is indebted to his mother for giving him his human nature. And that is why, in recompense to Mary who now enjoys his glory, Jesus especially honors her by always hearing her prayers.
How great, then, should be our confidence in this queen, when we know on the one hand how powerful she is with God, and on the other how tremendously rich in mercy she is - so much so that there is not a person on earth who does not share in Mary's kindness. The Blessed Virgin herself revealed this to Saint Bridget. "I am the queen of the world and the Mother of Mercy. I am the joy of the just and the gate that opens up to sinners the way to God. There is no sinner on earth so abandoned that, while he lives, he will be deprived of my mercy. If he receives no other grace, he will receive at least the grace to be less frequently tempted by the devils than he would otherwise be."
"Nobody," adds Our Lady, "provided he has not been already definitely damned (and this refers to the final irrevocable sentence of damnation), is so cut off from God that he will not return to God and find mercy if he calls on me. Everybody calls me the Mother of Mercy, and indeed it is God's mercy that has made me merciful." She concludes with these words: "He will be very miserable who does not approach me, merciful as I am, when he can do so." There is no doubt then that that man will be miserable forever in the life to come who in this life can have recourse to Mary (who is so compassionate and so eager to help everyone), but who refuses to do so and thus damns himself.
Come, then, you and I - if we want to be saved, let us hasten to the feet of this sweetest of queens. If we are frightened and discouraged at the sight of our sins, we must realize that it was precisely for this that Mary was made the queen of mercy, to protect and save the greatest and most abandoned sinners who beg her for help. These sinners are to be her crown in heaven, according to the words of her divine spouse: "Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; you shall be crowned...from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards" (Cant 4:8). What else are these dens of wild beasts and monsters but wretched sinners? Their souls have become dens of sin and they are the most hideous monsters that can be found. It is these same miserable sinners, comments the Abbot Rupert, the sinners you have saved, O Mary, who will crown you in heaven. Their salvation will be your crown, a worthy and becoming crown for a queen of mercy.
Our confidence in Mary should be even greater because she is our mother
Mary's clients are not using empty words, or just speaking at random, when they call her "Mother." It is because they know no other name for her and never tire of calling her "Mother." Yes, she really is our mother. Not according to the flesh, of course, but spiritually. She is the mother of our souls and of our salvation.
When sin deprived our souls of grace, it also deprived them of life. Jesus, our Redeemer, with an excess of mercy and love, came to restore this life by his own death on the cross. He himself declared, "I came that they may have life and may have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). Jesus said "more abundantly" because, as the theologians teach, Jesus Christ brought us more benefits through the Redemption than we had lost through Adam's sin. By reconciling us with God, he made himself the Father of our souls in the new law of grace, as the prophet Isaiah foretold: "He shall be called...the Father of the world to come, the prince of peace" (Isa 9:6). Now, if Jesus was the Father of our souls then Mary was the Mother, because in giving us Jesus she gave us true life. And by offering her son's life on Mount Calvary for our salvation, she brought us forth to the life of grace.
The Fathers tell us that Mary became our spiritual mother on two occasions. The first, according to Saint Albert the Great, was when she merited to conceive in her virginal womb the Son of God. Even more clearly does Saint Bernardine of Siena tell us this: "The Blessed Virgin, by her consent to the Son's Incarnation, with the most intense ardor sought and obtained the salvation of all. By this consent she dedicated herself to the salvation of all. So much so that ever since, she has carried us in her womb as a true mother carries the children of her flesh."
Speaking of our Redeemer's birth, Saint Luke says that Mary "brought forth her firstborn son" (Lk 2:7). A certain author remarks that since the evangelist speaks of Mary's "firstborn," are we to suppose that later she had other children? But then he replies to his own question, asserting that if it is of faith that according to the flesh Mary had no other children but Jesus, then she must have had other children who were spiritual. We are those spiritual children. Our Lord revealed this to Saint Gertrude, who was puzzled on reading this text from the Gospel. She could not understand how, if Mary had no other children but Jesus, he could be called the firstborn. God explained it to her, saying that Jesus was Mary's firstborn according to the flesh, but that all men are her second-born according to the spirit.
In view of this we can understand why the Canticle of Canticles says in reference to Mary: "Your body is a heap of wheat encircled with lilies" (Cant 7:2). Saint Ambrose explains this verse by saying: "One grain of wheat was in the Virgin's womb, Christ Jesus. But we say 'heap of wheat' because this single grain contained virtually all the elect, so that he was the firstborn of many brethren." And the Abbot Saint William writes that Mary, in bringing forth Jesus, our Savior and our life, brought forth many unto salvation. "By giving birth to life itself, she gave life to many."
The second occasion on which Mary became our spiritual mother was on Mount Calvary, when she so sorrowfully offered the life of her beloved son to the Eternal Father for our salvation. "As she cooperated by her love in the birth of the faithful to the life of her beloved Son to the Eternal Father for our salvation. Mother of all who are members of the one Head, Jesus Christ." This is the meaning of the words of the sacred Canticle as applied to Mary: "They charged me with the care of the vineyards: my own vineyard I have not cared for" (Cant 1:5). In order to save our souls, Mary was content to sacrifice her son's life, as Saint William the Abbot comments: "That she might save many souls, she exposed her own soul to death." And who but Jesus was the soul of Mary? He was her whole life and all her love. And that is what Simeon meant when he announced that one day a sword would pierce her soul (Lk 2:35). This sword was the lance that pierced the side of Jesus, her very soul. It was then that, through her sorrows, she brought us forth to eternal life. And that is why we can call ourselves "children of Mary's sorrows." Our most loving mother was always completely united to the will of God. And therefore, says Saint Bonaventure, when she saw that the love of the Father toward humankind was so great that in order to save men he willed the death of his son; and on the other hand, that the son, out of love, wished to die for us, in order to conform herself to what Saint Bonaventure reverently calls the excessive love of both the Father and the Son, Mary also, for the salvation of men, offered and consented to the death of her son.
It is true that Jesus wanted to be alone in dying for the human race. "I have trodden the winepress alone" (Isa 63:3). But when he saw Mary's eagerness to share in man's salvation, he so arranged it that she, by offering the life of her Jesus, should cooperate in our salvation and in that way become the mother of our souls. Our Savior manifested this when he looked down from the cross upon his mother and upon Saint John, who stood at its foot, and said to Mary: "Behold your son" (Jn 19:26). By that he meant to say: Behold the whole human race, which is even now being born to the life of grace as a result of the sacrifice you have made of my life for the salvation of all. Turning to the disciple, he said: "Behold your Mother" (Jn 19:26). By these words, says Saint Bernardine of Siena, Mary became mother not only to Saint John, but also to all men, because of the love she bore them. Sylveira makes the reflection that Saint John himself gives us this idea by the wording he uses in his Gospel: "Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your Mother.'" Take notice, Christ did not say these words specifically to John, but to the "disciple." This was to show that the Savior assigned Mary as the common mother to all who, because they are Christians, bear the name of "disciple." "John is a particular name, but 'disciple' is a general name and it shows that Mary is being given as a mother to all."
Blessed are they who live under the protection of a mother so loving and so powerful! The prophet David, before Mary was even born, sought salvation from God by dedicating himself to her as a son. He prayed: "Save the son of your handmaid" (Ps 85:16). "Of what handmaid?" asks Saint Augustine. He answers, "Of her who said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord.'" And who, asks Cardinal Bellarmine, will dare to snatch these children from the bosom of Mary once they have turned to her to be saved from their enemies? What power of hell, what temptation can overcome them, once they have placed their confidence in the protection of this great mother?
It is said that when a whale sees her little ones in danger, from storms or from hunters, she opens her mouth and swallows them. Novarinus applies this to Mary, and says that when Mary sees her children in danger she receives them into her bosom and protects them there until she brings them to the harbor of salvation. O most loving Mother, most compassionate Mother, praise be to you forever, and praise be to God forever, for having given you to us as our mother and as a refuge from all the dangers of life.
The Blessed Virgin revealed to Saint Bridget that she is like a mother who sees her child surrounded by the enemy's swords. She wants to do everything in her power to save him. "And this I shall do for my children, sinners though they be, as long as they turn to me for help." There is no doubt, then, that in every battle with hell we shall surely win if we fly to Mary and repeat over and over again: "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God." O how many victories have the faithful won over the forces of hell because they had recourse to Mary with this short but powerful prayer! It was with this prayer that that great servant of God, Sister Mary Crucified, the Benedictine nun, always conquered the demons.
Rejoice, therefore, you who are Mary's children. And know that Mary receives and accepts everyone who wants to be her child. Why should you fear to be lost when this mother defends and protects you? Saint Bonaventure says: "Say it, my soul, and say it most confidently: I rejoice and exult because, whatever my judgment will be, it depends on what my Brother and my Mother say." The same thought makes Saint Anselm cry out with joy: "O blessed hope! O safe refuge! The Mother of God is my mother! How firm should be our confidence, since our salvation depends on the judgment of so good a Brother and so tender a Mother." It is then our mother who calls out to us: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me" (Prov 9:4). Little children always have the word "mother" on their lips. And every time they are frightened, they immediately raise their voice and cry out: "Mother! Mother!" - O sweetest Mary, O most ioving Mother, this is precisely what you want us to do. You want us to cry out to you like chiidren in every danger. You want us to run to you always, because you want to help and save us, as you have in the past helped and saved all your children who ran to you for help.
Our Mother's great love for us
Precisely because Mary is our mother, let us see how much she loves us. Love for one's children is a natural instinct. That is why Saint Thomas points out that God's law commands children to love their parents, but gives no express command to parents to love their children. Saint Ambrose goes further and says that love for one's offspring is so strong a force and one so deeply implanted by nature itself that even the wild beasts have to love their young. Explorers tell us that when tigers hear the cries of their cubs when they have been captured by hunters, they will even plunge into the sea to reach the ships on which they are.
Since the very tigers, says our loving Mother Mary, cannot forget their young ones, how can I forget to love you, my children? And should the impossible happen, that a woman should forget her child, it is impossible that I forget a soul that is my child. "Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will I not forget you" (Isa 49:15).
As we have said, Mary is our mother, not according to the flesh, but through love, "I am the mother of fair love" (Prov 24:24). It is her love for us that makes her our mother and, as a certain author observes, she glories in being the mother of love. All her love is for us, her adopted children.
It is absolutely impossible to analyze the love Mary has for us creatures. Arnold of Chartres tells us that at the death of the Savior, Mary desired, with intense ardor, to die along with him for love of us. And Saint Ambrose adds that while her son was hanging on the cross, Mary offered herself to the executioners.
Consider now the reason for such love, and you will come to some understanding of how much Mary loves us.
The first reason behind the great love Mary bears to men is the great love she bears to God. According to Saint John, love of God and love of our neighbor belong to one and the same commandment: "And this command we have from God, that he who loves God, love also his brother" (1 Jn 4:21). As the one love increases, so does the other. See what the saints have done out of love for their neighbor, because they loved God so much. They gave up everything, even their lives. Read what Saint Francis Xavier did in India. To help the souls of those people and to bring them to God, he went climbing mountains and submitted to all kinds of dangers in his quest for these poor wretches who, like animals, lived in caves.
Saint Francis de Sales, to convert the heretics in the province of Chablais, risked his life for a full year as he daily crossed the streams on an ice-covered beam to reach the other side and preach to those obstinate people. Saint Paulinus gave himself up as a slave to free the son of a poor widow. Saint Fidelis persisted in going to a certain place to preach to the heretics, even though he knew it would cost him his life. It was because the saints loved God so much that they succeeded in doing so much for their neighbor.
But who ever loved God more than Mary did? At the very first moment of her life, she loved God more than all the angels and saints did in the whole course of their existence - as we shall consider at length when we treat of Mary's virtues. Our Blessed Lady herself revealed to Sister Mary Crucified that the fire of love with which she was inflamed toward God was so great that if the heavens and the earth were put in it, they would be instantly consumed. Compared to it, the ardor of the seraphim is like a fresh, gentle breeze. Therefore, since neither angels nor saints surpass Mary in loving God, so no one, after God, loves us or can love us as much as Mary. And if we were to combine all the love that mothers bear their children, all the love of husbands for their wives, all the love of the angels and saints for their devoted clients, all this would not equal Mary's love for a single soul.
Father Nieremberg says that the love that all mothers have ever had for their children is but a shadow in comparison with the love which Mary bears to each one of us; and he adds that she loves us more than all the angels and saints put together.
Furthermore, Mary loves us so much because Jesus himself gave us to her when he said, just before dying: "Woman, behold your son" (Jn 19:26). He intended Saint John to represent all men, as we observed above. These were the last words her son said to her. The last mementoes our loved ones leave us at the point of death are always cherished and can never be forgotten.
Again, we are so dear to Mary because we caused her so much sorrow. Mothers generally love those children most who cause them the most labor and pain to be kept alive. We belong to this class of children. To obtain for us the life of grace, Mary had to suffer the pain of offering her own dear son to the executioners. She was content to see him die in torment before her very eyes. Through this grand sacrifice of Mary, we were born to the life of grace. Analogously, we may apply to Mary what was written of God's love for men in delivering his own Son to death: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). Saint Bonaventure writes that it can be said of Mary: "Mary so loved us that she gave her only-begotten son."
When did she give him? She gave him first, says Father Nieremberg, when she gave him permission to go and die. Second, when she declined to defend her son's life before his judges when others, out of fear or hatred, failed to defend him. We can well believe that the words of so wonderful a mother would have influenced Pilate and stopped him from condemning to death a man whom he himself had recognized and declared as innocent. But no; Mary declined to say one word in favor of her son to hinder the death on which our salvation depended. Finally, she gave him to us a thousand times at the foot of the cross during the three hours she watched him die. Every moment of these three hours, as her heart overflowed with sorrow and with love for us, she constantly offered the sacrifice of her son's life for us. So much so that Saint Anselm and Saint Antoninus maintain that, if there had been no executioners, she herself would have crucified him to obey the will of the Father who wished his Son to die for our salvation. If Abraham showed a similar courage in his willingness to sacrifice his son with his own hand, we must believe that Mary would have fulfilled God's will with even greater courage, since she is more holy and more obedient than Abraham.
Returning to our theme, how grateful we ought to be to Mary for so great an act of love! She sacrificed her son's life amid so much sorrow to obtain salvation for us all. God rewarded Abraham generously for his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. But how can we thank Mary enough for the life of her son, so much more holy and beloved than Abraham's son? The only gift we can give Mary is the gift of our own love, especially since Mary loved us more than anyone else ever loved us. Saint Bonaventure says: "No one besides Mary has loved us so much as to give an only-begotten and well-beloved Son for us."
This last reason supplies another motive why Mary loved us so dearly. She realizes the great price of the ransom her Son paid for our souls. Suppose a mother saw her beloved son ransom one of her servants at the cost of twenty years' hard labor and imprisonment. How highly she would esteem that servant! Mary knows very well that Christ came to earth for the sole purpose of saving us poor creatures. He himself protested: "The Son of man came to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). And to save us, he was content even to lay down his life: "becoming obedient to death" (Phil 2:8). Were Mary not to love us, she would show very little appreciation of her son's blood, the price of our salvation. It was revealed to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary that from the time Mary entered the temple, she prayed continually that God would soon send his Son for the world's salvation. How much more does she love us now that he has come and purchased us at so heavy a cost!
Mary loves and favors all of us because all men were redeemed by Jesus. Saint John saw Our Lady clothed with the sun (Apoc 12:1). She is clothed "with the sun" because there is nothing on earth that can be hidden from the heat of the sun: "There is no one that can hide himself from his heat" (Ps 18:7). So too there is no living being on earth without Mary's love. The Blessed Raymond Jordano, who called himself the Unlearned, says: "From her heat, that is, from her love, no one can escape."
Who can form any idea, asks Saint Antoninus, of the great concern that Mary has for each one of us? That is why she offers and dispenses her mercy to everyone. As our mother, she longed for the salvation of all and cooperated in the salvation of all. It is evident, says Saint Bernard, that she was solicitous for the whole human race. According to Cornelius à Lapide, some clients of Mary have adopted the very beneficial practice of begging God to grant them the graces that Mary implores for them, saying, "Lord, give me whatever the Most Blessed Virgin asks for me." Cornelius à Lapide says this is very reasonable, since Mary desires greater favors for us than we ourselves could desire. Bernardine de Bustis says the same thing: "She is more eager to do you good and to be generous with her graces than you yourself could desire her to be."
Saint Albert the Great applies to Mary a text from the Book of Wisdom and says that Mary forestalls those who have recourse to her by making them find her before they even look for her. Richard of Saint Victor says that the love which this good mother has for us is so great that, as soon as she is aware that we need something, she runs to help us. "She comes before she is asked."
Now, if Mary is so good to all, even to the ungrateful and the negligent who do not love her and do not invoke her, how much more devoted will she be toward those who really love her and frequently call upon her? "She is easily found by them that seek her" (Wis 6:13). O how easy it is, says Saint Albert the Great, for those who love Mary to find her, and to find her filled with compassion and love! Our Blessed Mother protests: "Those who love me, I also love" (Prov 8:17). Though this most loving lady loves all people as her children, yet, says Saint Bernard, she knows and loves more tenderly those who love her. And these happy lovers of Mary, asserts Raymond Jordano, are not only loved by her, but are even served by her.
The Chronicles of the Order of Saint Dominic relate that one of the friars named Leonard used to recommend himself two hundred times a day to Mary, and that when he was dying he saw a most beautiful queen by his bedside. She said to him, "Leonard, do you want to die and come to my Son and me?" "Who are you?" he asked. And the queen replied, "I am the Mother of Mercy. You have prayed to me very often. Now I am coming for you. Let us go to paradise." The Chronicle says, "And Leonard died that very day, and, we hope, followed her to the kingdom of the blessed."
"Ah, my most sweet Mary," exclaimed Saint John Berchmans, S.J., "happy the man that loves you. If I love Mary, I am certain of final perseverance and I shall obtain whatever I ask from God." Therefore, this holy youth never tired of renewing his resolution and of repeating often to himself: "I will love Mary! I will love Mary!"
It is a truism that the Blessed Mother makes all her children advance in love. "She is especially amiable towards those who love her," says Saint Ignatius the Martyr. Let them love her as did Saint Stanislaus Kostka. He loved Mary so much that when he spoke of her he made everyone who heard him love her. He coined new words and invented new titles to honor her. He never did anything without first turning to Mary and asking her blessing. When he recited the Office, said his Rosary, and recited other prayers, he did so with such affection and devotion that he seemed to be speaking with Mary face to face. When the Salve Regina was sung, his whole soul and his countenance were aglow with love. On one occasion, while he and a Jesuit companion were on their way to visit a certain shrine of Our Lady, his companion asked him how much he loved Mary. He replied, "What more can I say than that she is my mother?" The Father afterwards said that when the youth spoke these words, he uttered them with such tenderness and devotion that he seemed no longer a man, but rather an angel speaking of love for Mary.
Let them love her as Blessed Herman loved her. He called her the spouse of his love, because Mary herself had honored him with that title. Let them love her as Saint Philip Neri did. He was filled with consolation when he merely thought of Mary, and for that reason he called her his delight. Let them love her like Saint Bonaventure, who called Mary not only his lady and mother but even his heart and his soul.
Let them love her like that great lover of Mary, Saint Bernard, who called her the "ravisher of hearts." To express his ardent love he would often say: "Have you not stolen my heart?"
Let them even call her "sweetheart," as did Saint Bernardine of Siena. Every day, he made a visit to a shrine of Mary and protested his love for her. When someone asked him where he went each day, he replied that he went to call on his sweetheart.
Let them love her as Saint Aloysius Gonzaga loved her. He loved her so much that whenever he heard her name mentioned his heart was inflamed and even his countenance reddened with a glow that everybody could see.
Let them love her as Saint Francis Solano did, who was considered mad (but with a holy madness) for love of Mary. He would sing before her picture and play a musical instrument, and claim, like worldly troubadours, that he was serenading his queen.
Finally, let them love her as did so many of her servants who could never do enough to show their love. Father John Trexo, S.J., used to call himself the slave of Mary. He often visited her in one or the other of her churches. Then, to prove his servitude, he would drench the floor with his tears. Next, he would wipe away those tears with kisses - all because this was the house of his lady.
Another Jesuit, Father James Martinez, was honored in a special way for his devotion to Mary. On great feasts he was taken by angels to heaven to see how the feasts were observed there. He would often say: "I wish I had the hearts of all the angels and saints to love Mary as they love her! I wish I could control the lives of all men, so that I could direct them all to the love of Mary."
Let still others love her as did Saint Bridget's son, Charles, who claimed he had no greater consolation on earth than knowing that God loved Mary so dearly. He also maintained that he would gladly accept any suffering rather than have Mary lose even one iota of her greatness, if indeed if were possible for her to lose any. Furthermore, he said that if her glory were his, he would renounce it in her favor since she is ever so much more worthy of it.
Let them desire even to lay down their lives as proof of their love for Mary, as Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez did. Let them love Mary as did those who carved the sweet name of Mary on their breasts with sharp knives, as did Francis Binanzio, a holy religious, and Queen Radigunde, the wife of King Clothaire. Let them love her as did those who took red hot irons and imprinted her name upon their flesh, so that it would remain there clear and long, as did John Baptist Achinto and Augustine d'Espinoso of the Society of Jesus, both driven to this by the vehemence of their love.
Even though these lovers of Mary exert their best efforts to prove their affection for her, they will never succeed in loving her as much as she loves them. "I know, O Mary," says Saint Peter Damian, "that you are most lovable and that you love us with an invincible love." I know, my Lady, he said in effect, that you love us with a love that is unsurpassable, that cannot be topped by any other love.
On one occasion, Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., was praying before an image of Mary. His heart became inflamed with love for her and he cried out: "My dearest Mother, I know that you love me, but you do not love me as much as I love you." Mary, offended, as it were, on a point of love, immediately answered: "What are you saying, Alphonsus? My love for you is greater than any love you could have for me. The distance between heaven and earth is not so great as the distance between your love and mine."
Saint Bonaventure then was right in exclaiming: "Blessed are the hearts that love Mary! Blessed are those who serve her!" Yes, for Mary will never allow herself to be surpassed in love by her clients. "In this contest, she will never be worsted by us. She returns our love and always adds some new favors to past ones." In this respect Mary imitates our most loving Redeemer. She returns to those who love her their love doubled and redoubled in favors and benefits.
With Saint Anselm, so enamored of Mary, I also exclaim: "May the love of you, O Mary, make my heart languish and my soul melt!" May my heart always burn and my soul be consumed with love for you, my dear Savior, and for you, my dear Mother Mary. Through your merits, therefore, and not because I deserve it, grant my suppliant soul a love that is worthy of you. Therefore, through your merits and not my own, O Jesus and Mary, grant my soul the grace to love you as much as you deserve. O lover of souls, you were able to love guilty men unto death. Will you then refuse love for yourself and for your mother to one who prays for it?
Mary is the mother of penitent sinners
Our Blessed Lady told Saint Bridget that she was the mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they were willing to repent. Every sinner who wishes to mend his ways finds this good mother ever so willing to embrace and help him; far more so than any earthly mother. Saint Gregory VII had this thought in mind when he wrote to the Countess Matilda, saying: "Resolve to give up sin, and I promise you that you will find Mary more ready to love you than any earthly mother."
But whoever hopes to be a child of this great mother must first abandon sin. Only then can he hope to be accepted as Mary's son. Richard of Saint Lawrence, commenting on the words of Proverbs: "Her children rise up and praise her" (Prov 31:28), remarks that these words indicate that no one can be a child of Mary without first endeavoring to rise from the depths into which he has fallen. He who is in mortal sin is not worthy to be called the son of such a mother. And Saint Peter Chrysologus says, "He who acts differently from Mary plainly proves that he does not want to be her son." Mary is humble, and he is proud; Mary is pure, and he is evil; Mary is full of love, and he hates his neighbor.
"The sons of Mary," says Richard of Saint Lawrence, "imitate her, and they follow her chiefly in four things: in chastity, meekness, humility, and mercy." How can he who repudiates Mary by living a wicked life even dare to wish to be a child of Mary? A certain sinner once said to Mary, "Prove that you are my mother." But the Blessed Virgin answered: "Prove that you are my son."
Another sinner invoked Mary, calling her the "Mother of Mercy." And she replied: "You sinners, when you want my help, call me Mother of Mercy. But at the same time, you do not cease by your sins to make me a mother of sorrows and anguish."
We read in Ecclesiasticus, "He is cursed of God that angers his mother" (Ecclus 3:18). That mother, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, is Mary. God curses those who by their wicked life and by their obstinacy in sin afflict so good a Mother.
I say, by their obstinacy, for if a sinner, though he may not have given up his sin, endeavors to mend his ways and, for this purpose, seeks the help of Mary, this good mother will not fail to help him and make him recover the grace of God. One day, Saint Bridget heard Jesus say to his Mother: "You help everyone who tries to rise to God, and you leave nobody deprived of your consolation." But when the sinner is obstinate, Mary cannot love him. However, if he finds himself chained by some passion which makes him a slave of hell and still recommends himself to the Blessed Virgin and implores her with confidence to draw him out of that state of sin, there can be no doubt that Mary will reach forth her powerful hand, will deliver him from his chains, and will bring him to salvation.
The doctrine that all prayers and works performed in the state of sin are themselves sins was condemned as heretical by the Council of Trent. Saint Bernard says that, although prayer in the mouth of a sinner is devoid of all merit because it is not accompanied by charity, nevertheless it is useful and wins the grace to abandon sin. Saint Thomas teaches that the prayer of a sinner, though without merit, is an act which obtains the grace of forgiveness, since the power of impetration is based not on the merit of him who asks, but on the divine goodness and the merits of Jesus Christ, who said: "Everyone who asks receives" (Lk 11:10).
We must say the same of prayers offered to the Blessed Mother. "If the person who prays," says Saint Anselm, "does not merit to be heard, the merits of Mary, to whom he recommends himself, will effectually intercede for him." Saint Bernard exhorts every sinner to invoke Mary and to have the greatest confidence in praying to her, because, although the sinner does not deserve what he asks, it will be granted to Mary on account of her merits. And those graces will be given to the sinner which she begs of God for him.
Adam, the Abbot of Perseigne, uses this comparison. Suppose a mother knew that her two sons were deadly enemies and plotting each other's murder. What else would she do than try in every way to pacify them? "Mary," says the abbot, "is man's mother and Jesus' mother." When she sees a sinner become the enemy of Jesus Christ, she cannot bear it, and consequently does everything in her power to establish peace between them. "O happy Mary," he said, "you are the mother of the criminal and the mother of the Judge. You are the mother of both and you cannot suffer to see discord between your sons."
The only thing that Mary demands is that the sinner have recourse to her and intend to change his ways. When Mary sees a sinner at her feet begging for mercy, she does not concentrate on the sins with which he is burdened, but rather on the intention with which he comes. If he comes with the proper good intention, even though his soul be black with sin, she welcomes him, and like a loving mother, does not hesitate to heal all the wounds of his soul. For Mary is not merely called, but actually is, the Mother of Mercy. She makes herself known as such by the spontaneous love and tenderness with which she helps all who turn to her. This is precisely what she said to Saint Bridget; "No matter how much a man sins, I am instantly ready to welcome him back. I do not fix my attention on the number of his sins, but rather on the intention with which he returns. I will not refuse to anoint and heal his wounds, for I am called and really am the Mother of Mercy."
Mary is the mother of all sinners who wish to repent. And as such, she cannot help but pity them. In fact, she feels the misfortunes of her children as though they were her own. When the Canaanite woman begged Our Lord to free her daughter from the devil that troubled her, she said: "Have pity on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is sorely beset by a devil" (Mt 15:22). Now, since it was the daughter, and not the mother who was tormented by the devil, we would think she should have said: "Lord, have pity on my daughter," and not "have pity on me." Nevertheless she said: "Have pity on me." And rightly, because mothers feel the miseries of their children as if they were their own. Richard of Saint Lawrence says that is the way that Mary prays for sinners who have recourse to her: "Mary cries out with a loud voice for a sinful soul and says, 'Have pity on me.'" "Yes," she seems to say, "this poor soul is in sin. This soul is my child, and therefore have pity not only on her but also on me, her mother."
God grant that all sinners have recourse to Mary. Because then he will pardon them all. In rapture, Saint Bonaventure exclaims: "O Mary, you affectionately embrace the sinner who is despised by the whole world. And you do not leave him go till you reconcile him with his Judge." What the saint wants to say is, that a sinner is hated and despised by everybody. Inanimate creatures - fire, air, and earth - would like to punish him and take revenge on him for dishonoring their Lord whom the sinner has despised. But when the wretch turns to Mary, does she turn away? On the contrary. If he goes to her for help and is ready to mend his ways, she embraces him like an affectionate mother. And she will not rest till by her powerful intercession she has reconciled him to God and restored him to grace.
We read in the Second Book of Kings how that wise woman of Thecua said to David: "I had two sons. Unfortunately, the one killed the other, and so I have lost a son. Now in justice, they want to take the other, the only one left to me. Have pity on me, their poor mother, and do not let me be deprived of both my sons" (2 Kings 14). David wisely declared that the delinquent should be set free and restored to her. Mary seems to say the same thing when God is indignant against a sinner who has recourse to her: "My God, I had two sons, Jesus and man. Man has slain my Jesus on the cross and now your justice wants to condemn man. O Lord, my Jesus is already dead. Have pity on me. Now that I have lost the one son, do not make me lose the other also."
Surely God does not condemn those sinners who have recourse to Mary and for whom she intercedes. God himself has recommended these sinners as sons to Mary. The devout Lanspergius makes God speak in this vein: "I have commended sinners to Mary as her sons. No one committed to her care shall perish, particularly if he goes to her for help. In as far as it lies in her power, she will bring him back to me."
Who, says Blosius, can ever describe the mercy, the fidelity, and the charity with which this good mother seeks to save us whenever we beg her for help? Let us prostrate ourselves before her, says Saint Bernard, let us embrace her feet, let us not leave her until she has blessed us and received us as her children.
Who could ever mistrust the compassion of Mary? Saint Bonaventure used to say, "Even though she should ask for my life, I would still hope in her. Full of confidence, I hope to die before her image. And I know I shall be saved." Every sinner who has recourse to her should feel the same and should say: "O Lady, O my Mother! On account of my sins I deserve to be abandoned by you and punished according to my just desserts. But even though you would banish me and take my life, I will still trust in you and hope with a firm hope that you will save me. My entire confidence is in you. Give me the grace to die before your image, recommending myself to your mercy. That will convince me that I will not be lost and that I will go to praise you in heaven, in the company of so many of your servants who, when dying, called on you for help, and who were all saved by your powerful intercession."
2. OUR LIFE, OUR SWEETNESS
Mary is our life because she obtains the pardon of our sins
To understand clearly why Holy Church bids us call Mary our life, we must realize that, as the soul is the life of the body, so divine grace is the life of the soul. The Apocalypse says that a soul without grace is really dead, even though it appears to be alive: "You have the name of being alive, and you are dead" (Apoc 3:1). Therefore, when Mary, by her intercession, obtains grace for sinners, she obtains life for them.
The Church applies to Mary these words of Proverbs, and has Mary say: "They that in the early morning watch for me, shall find me" (Prov 8:17). In the Septuagint the words "shall find me" are translated "shall find grace," implying, of course, that to find Mary and to find grace are one and the same thing.
Later, in the same book of Proverbs, these words are applied to Mary: "He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord" (Prov 8:35). "Pay attention to these words," exclaims Saint Bonaventure, "you that desire the kingdom of God. Honor Mary and you shall find life and eternal salvation."
Saint Bernardine of Siena gives it as his opinion that, if God did not destroy man after his first sin, it was because of his great love for the Blessed Virgin, who was to be born of this race. He adds that he does not doubt that all the mercy and pardon received by sinners in the Old Testament were granted in consideration of Mary.
Therefore, Saint Bernard does well to exhort us in these words: "Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary." Even though we may have lost grace, it is she who has recovered it. He calls her "the finder of grace." The idea was earlier expressed by the Archangel Gabriel, who said to Mary: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace" (Lk 1:30). How can the Archangel say Mary found grace when she had never been without it? When anybody gets something he did not previously have, he is said to have found it. Yet the Archangel himself said that Mary was always with God and always possessed grace: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). Since, then, Mary did not find grace for herself, and was always full of grace, for whom did she find it? Cardinal Hugo, in commenting on these words of Saint Luke, says: "She found it for sinners who had lost it." Therefore, says the same writer, let sinners who have lost grace run to Mary and they will find grace with her. Let them say to her confidently: "Give us back what we have lost and what you have found. Whatever is lost must be restored to its owner. This grace which you have found is not really yours, because you never lost it. Therefore, you must return it to us." In keeping with this thought, Richard of Saint Lawrence concludes: "Since we desire to find grace, let us go to the finder of grace. Mary always finds what she seeks, and cannot possibly fail us."
In the eighth chapter of Canticles, Mary says that God has placed her in this world to be our defense. "I am a wall; and my breasts are like towers" (Cant 8:10). And so Mary is truly a mediatrix of peace between God and sinners. "I am become in his presence as one finding peace" (Cant 8:10). Inspired by these words, Saint Bernard encourages the sinner and says: "Go to the Mother of Mercy and show her the wounds inflicted by your sins. She will show you mercy, because the son always hears his mother." This is the sentiment we find in the prayer recited after the Ave Regina Coelorum: "Grant, O merciful God, protection for our weakness, so that we who are ever mindful of the holy Mother of God may, by the help of her intercession, rise again from our sins."
With good reason, then, does Saint Lawrence Giustiniani call Mary "the hope of evildoers," since she alone is the one who obtains God's pardon for them. With good reason, too, does Saint Bernard style her "the ladder of sinners," because she extends her merciful hand to rescue sinners from the abyss into which they have fallen and raises them up to God. Saint Augustine calls her "the only hope of sinners," because through Mary alone do they hope for forgiveness of their sins. Saint John Chrysostom speaks in the same vein when he says that only through Mary's intercession do sinners receive pardon. Therefore does he greet Mary in this fashion in the name of all sinners: "Hail, Mother of God and of us all - the heaven where God dwells, the throne from which Our Lord dispenses all graces, the glory of our Church! Pray unceasingly to Jesus so that we may find mercy on the day of judgment, and that through you we may come into possession of the wonderful things he has prepared for those who love him."
Finally, Mary is fittingly called "the dawn." "Who is she that comes forth like the dawn" (Cant 6:9). "Yes," says Pope Innocent III, "as the dawn marks the end of night and the beginning of day, so is Mary truly styled the dawn, because she marks the end of vice and the beginning of virtue." When devotion toward Mary begins in a soul, it produces the same effect as the birth of Mary produced in the world. It puts an end to the night of sin and makes the soul walk in the path of virtue. That is why Saint Germanus says: "O Mother of God, your protection never ceases; your intercession is life." He goes on to say that the affectionate mention of Mary's name is a proof of life in the soul or a sign that life will soon return there.
We read in the Gospel of Saint Luke that Mary said: "Behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk 1:48). "Yes, my Lady," exclaims Saint Bernard, "henceforth all generations shall call you blessed, because you have brought forth glory and life for all generations. In you do sinners find their pardon, and the just perseverance and eternal life."
Listen to the devout Bernardine de Bustis: "Do not be afraid, O sinner, even if you have committed every kind of sin. Run to this lady and you will find her hands filled with mercy. She desires more to do you good than you can desire to receive favors from her."
Saint Andrew of Crete calls Mary the guarantee of divine pardon. Here is his meaning. When sinners call upon Mary in order to be reconciled to God, God promises them pardon and moreover gives a pledge of it. That pledge is Mary, whom he has given them as a champion or advocate. Through her intercession and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, God pardons all sinners who go to Mary. Saint Bridget tells us that she heard from her Guardian Angel that the early prophets were happy in knowing that God was to be reconciled with sinners through the humility and purity of Mary.
No sinner need ever fear that Mary will spurn him when he calls on her for mercy. Never! Because Mary is the Mother of Mercy and she burns with the desire to help unfortunate sinners. Mary is that blessed ark, says Saint Bernard, where anyone who takes refuge will escape the shipwreck of eternal damnation. At the time of the deluge, even the brute animals were saved in Noah's ark. And so, under Mary's protection, even sinners are saved.
One day in a vision, Saint Gertrude saw Mary with her cloak spread wide open. Under its folds were many wild animals: lions, bears, tigers - all of whom had taken refuge there. The saint noticed that Mary did not chase the beasts away. She welcomed them kindly and caressed them. From this, Saint Gertrude concluded that even the most sordid sinners are not only not rejected by Mary, but are even welcomed and saved by her from eternal death. Let us then enter this ark, let us take refuge under the cloak of Mary and she will most certainly not spurn us, but will secure our eternal salvation.
Mary is also our life because she obtains perseverance for us
Final perseverance is so great a gift of God that, as the Council of Trent has declared, it is entirely gratuitous on his part, and we cannot merit it. According to Saint Augustine, those who ask for perseverance will obtain it. And according to Suarez, they will infallibly obtain it if they ask for it diligently till the end of their lives. Saint Robert Bellarmine writes: "You must ask for perseverance every day, in order to obtain it every day."
Now, if it is true - and I hold that it is true, according to the common opinion, and as I shall show later in Chapter V - if it is true that all graces given us by God come through Mary's hands, then it is also true that only through the help of Mary are we able to hope for and obtain the greatest grace of all, the grace of final perseverance. We will certainly obtain it if we constantly and confidently ask it of Mary. She herself promises this grace to all who in this life serve her faithfully, according to the words which the Church puts on her lips for the feast of the Immaculate Conception: "They that work by me shall not sin; they that explain me shall have life everlasting" (Ecclus 24:30-31).
To be preserved in the life of grace we must have the spiritual strength to resist all the enemies of our salvation. This strength, however, we will obtain only through Mary. In the liturgy of the feast of Our Lady of the Snows we read this quotation from Proverbs: "Mine is strength; by me kings reign" (Prov 8:14-15). This strength is mine, says Mary. God has put this gift in my hands, so that I can dispense it to my devoted ones. By my help, kings reign. By my help, my children reign over and have control over all their senses and passions, and in that way make themselves worthy to reign eternally in heaven.
How tremendous is this power which Mary's servants have to conquer all the temptations of hell! Mary is that tower of which the sacred Canticle says: "Your neck is like David's tower, girt with battlements; a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the shields of valiant men" (Cant 4:4). To all who love her and look to her for help in battle, Mary is like a strong tower surrounded by defenses. She contains all the shields and weapons they need to battle against the forces of evil.
That is why Mary is also called a plane tree: "As a plane tree by the water in the streets was I exalted" (Ecclus 24:19). Cardinal Hugo explains this by pointing out that the leaves of the plane tree resemble shields. Blessed Amadeus gives another explanation. He says Mary resembles the plane tree because the shade of its leaves offers the traveler shelter from the sun's heat and from rain. Under the shade of Mary's protection, human beings find refuge from the heat of their passions and from the fury of temptation.
Unfortunate indeed are those souls who get away from this protection, who give up their devotion to Mary, who no longer recommend themselves to her in occasions of sin. Saint Bernard says that if the sun did not rise upon the world, the world would be nothing but a chaos of darkness and horror. "Take away the sun," says the saint, "and where is the daylight? Take away Mary, and what is left but darkness?"
Once a soul loses devotion to Mary, there is nothing left but the darkness of which the Holy Spirit speaks: "You bring darkness and it is night; then all the beasts of the forest roam about" (Ps 103:20). Divine light no longer shines in the soul. It is night, and the soul becomes the haunt of devils and of every sin. Woe to those, says Saint Anselm, who despise the light of this sun, who despise devotion to Mary! Saint Francis Borgia used to fear for the perseverance of those in whom he found no devotion to Mary. He warned the Novice Master to keep an eye on such unfortunate novices. It happened that every one of those eventually lost his vocation and left the Order.
So it was perfectly natural for Saint Germanus to call Mary the "breath of Christians." Just as the body cannot live without breathing, so the soul cannot live without having recourse to Mary, through whom the life of grace is acquired and preserved in us. Here are the saint's own words: "As breathing is not only a sign of life, but also its very cause, so Mary's name, ever on the lips of God's servants, not only is a sign that they really live, but actually causes that life and gives them every help they need to sustain it."
Blessed Alan was once assailed by a strong temptation and was on the point of yielding, because he had neglected to recommend himself to Mary. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him. To warn him once and for all, she struck him on the face, saying, "If you had recommended yourself to me before, you would not be in this danger."
"Happy the man," says Mary, "watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts" (Prov 8:34). Happy the man that hears my voice and is always ready to come to the doors of my mercy for light and help. Mary will take care of such a man. Mary will get for him the light and strength to abandon sin and walk the way of virtue. That is why Pope Innocent III beautifully calls her "the moon in the night, the dawn in the morning, and the sun in the day." She is a moon, because she enlightens those steeped in the night of sin so that they will recognize their wretched state; she is the dawn, that is, the herald of the sun, to those whom she has already enlightened, to help them abandon sin and return to divine grace; she is the sun to those who are already in the state of grace, lest they fall back into sin again.
Learned writers apply these words of Ecclesiasticus to Mary: "Her bands are a healthful binding" (Ecclus 6:31). "Why bands," asks Saint Lawrence Giustiniani, "unless it be to bind her children lest they run about freely on the fields of vice?" Saint Bonaventure gives a similar explanation of these words in Our Lady's Office, "My abode is in the full assembly of the saints" (Ecclus 24:16). He says that Mary is not only placed in the midst of the assembly of the saints, but also preserves the saints from falling out of that assembly. She preserves their virtue and keeps the demons from harming them.
Our Lady's servants are said to be clothed very warmly. "All her charges are doubly clothed" (Prov 31:21). Cornelius à Lapide explains what this double clothing is. He says that Mary adorns her servants with the virtues of her son and with her own. Clothed in this way, they persevere in virtue.
That is why Saint Philip Neri always admonished his penitents with these words: "If you want to persevere, be devoted to Mary." Saint John Berchmans, S.J., often used to say: "Whoever loves Mary will persevere."
The Abbot Rupert makes a beautiful comment on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He says that if this wayward son had had a mother alive, either he would never have left his father's house or he would have returned sooner that he did. It is obvious that the abbot meant to say that whoever is a child of Mary either will not leave God, or, if he has unfortunately done so, will soon return through Mary.
Who would ever fall into sin if all men loved this most kind Mother and immediately ran to her in temptations? Who would ever be lost? Not to have recourse to Mary is one of the surest ways of falling into sin. Saint Lawrence Giustiniani applies to Mary these words of Ecclesiasticus: "I have walked in the waves of the sea" (Ecclus 24:8). And he makes her say: "I have walked with my servants in the waves of the sea, so that I might rescue them from shipwreck."
Father Bernardine de Bustis tells of a little bird that was taught to say: "Ave, Maria!" A sparrow-hawk was on the point of seizing it when the bird cried out, "Ave, Maria!" In an instant, the hawk fell dead. By this, God wanted to show that, if an irrational ittle bird was saved by invoking Mary, how much more surely will one who is tempted be saved from the clutches of Satan who at the moment of the attack calls upon Mary.
All we have to do when we are tempted, says Saint Thomas of Villanova, is to imitate little chicks. As soon as they see the chicken hawk flying about, they run under the wings of their mother for protection. That is exactly what we should do in moments of temptation. There should be no stopping to reason or to argue with the temptation. We should fly under the wings of Mary's protection immediately. "We know no other refuge than you," says the saint. "You are our only hope; you are the only one to whom we can look for help."
Let us conclude then in the words of Saint Bernard: "O man, whoever you are, know that in this world you are tossed around on a stormy sea, rather than walking on solid ground. Remember that, if you want to escape shipwreck, you must never tum your eyes from this bright star which is Mary. Keep your eyes fixed on her and call on her. In dangers, in troubles, in doubts, remember Mary, call on Mary." Yes, in danger of sinning, and when beset by temptations, when in doubt how to act, remember that Mary can help you. Call on her and she will help you immediately. Never let her name be absent from your heart and lips. Follow her, and you cannot go astray. Pray to her and you will never despair. If she sustains you, you will not fall. If she protects you, you need never fear. If she guides you, you will never become exhausted. With her help, you will reach your goal. In short, with Mary on your side, you will surely reach heaven. Do this, and live!
Mary, our sweetness - she makes death sweet to her clients
"He who is a friend is always a friend, and a brother is born for the time of stress" (Prov 17:17). It is in times of distress and misery that we recognize true friends, not in times of prosperity. People of the world never abandon a friend as long as he is wealthy and successful. But, if he should have some misfortune, and particularly when death comes along, his friends are quick to abandon him. That is not the way Mary acts. When those who love her are in distress, particularly when they are at the point of death, which is the greatest trial they can have on earth, this good mother simply cannot abandon her faithful servants. As during our earthly exile Mary is our life, so too at the moment of death she becomes our sweetness by obtaining for us a sweet and peaceful death. From the very day when Mary sorrowfully stood at the cross of her son, Jesus, who is the head of the Mystical Body, she received the grace to assist the members of that Mystical Body at the moment of their death. That is why Holy Church begs us to admonish Mary to assist us, particularly at the moment of death: "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
The moment of death brings to a departing soul many anxieties. It is apt to suffer from remorse for past sins, fear of the approaching judgment, and uncertainty of eternal salvation. It is at that moment that all hell arms itself to snatch the soul on the point of entering eternity. Satan knows there is little time left to win that soul and that, if this attempt fails, he has lost that soul forever. "The devil has gone down to you in great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time" (Apoc 12:12).
That is why too, as Isaiah says, the devil, who has been tempting the soul during life, is not content to act alone in tempting the soul at death. He calls on his companions to help: "Their houses shall be filled with serpents" (Isa 13:21). When a person is at the point of death, the whole place is filled with devils who all combine in the attempt to make him lose his soul.
The story is told that when Saint Andrew Avellino lay dying, ten thousand demons came to tempt him. The conflict that he had with the powers of hell at his last agony was so severe that the good religious at his bedside trembled with fear. They saw the saint's face swell and turn black with agitation. They saw his limbs quiver and become frightfully contorted. Tears coursed down his cheeks and his head shook violently. All this was an evidence of the frightful battle hell was waging against him. Trembling with fear to see a saint dying this way, the brethren in the room wept with pity and redoubled their prayers. They were consoled, however, in seeing that very often, as if begging for help, the saint turned his eyes to a picture of Mary. They remembered how he had assured them that at the hour of his death Mary would have to be his refuge. Finally, God put an end to the conflict and gave the saint a glorious victory. The contortions ceased; his face resumed its original shape and color, his eyes remained peacefully fixed on the image of Mary. Then, as if to thank Our Lady, the saint bowed to her and devoutly expired. It is piously believed that Our Blessed Lady had appeared to him at that moment. A Capuchin nun, who was also in her agony at the same time, turned to the Sisters around her and said: "Say an Ave Maria, for a saint has just died."
Imagine how the evil spirits must flee from the presence of Mary! If we have Mary on our side at the hour of death, there is no reason to fear the enemies from hell. When David grew frightened at the thought of death, he comforted himself by placing his reliance in the death of the coming Redeemer and in the intercession of the Blessed Mother. "Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage" (Ps 22:4). Cardinal Hugo beautifully explains these words by saying that the staff is the wood of the cross and the rod is the intercession of Mary, who was the rod foretold by Isaiah; "There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise out of his root" (Isa 11:1).
Saint Peter Damian affirms that Mary is that powerful rod by which the violence of hell is overcome. Saint Antoninus encourages us by saying: "If Mary is for us, who is against us?" When Father Manuel Padial was at the point of death, Mary appeared to him and spoke these consoling words: "At length the hour has come when angels rejoice with you and exclaim: O happy labors! O well-rewarded mortifications!" At the same moment, an army of demons was seen taking flight and howling in hideous despair: "We are helpless now, because she who is spotless is defending him." Father Jasper Hayewood was similarly attacked by devils with a strong temptation against faith. He turned immediately to Mary for help and those around him heard him exclaim: "Thank you, Mary, for coming to my aid."
Saint Bonaventure claims that, to defend her dying clients, Mary sends the Archangel Saint Michael, together with his host of angels. Moreover, she commands Saint Michael to receive the souls of all who had constantly recommended themselves to her. Addressing Our Blessed Lady, the saint says: "Michael, the leader and prince of the heavenly army, with all his ministering angels, obeys your commands, O Virgin, and defends and receives the souls of the faithful departed who day and night have particularly recommended themselves to you."
The prophet Isaiah tells us that when a man is about to die, hell is opened and sends out its worst devils, both to tempt the soul before it leaves the body and to accuse it when it is presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ for judgment. The prophet says: "Hell below was in an uproar to meet you at thy coming; it stirred up the giants for you" (Isa 14:9). But Richard of Saint Lawrence says that when Mary defends a soul, the devils dare not even accuse it. They know the supreme judge never has condemned, nor ever will condemn, such a soul.
Saint Jerome wrote to Eustochius that Mary not only helps her servants at the hour of death; she even comes to meet them on their way to eternity, so that she can encourage them and accompany them to the divine tribunal. This is in line with what Saint Bridget heard from the Blessed Virgin. Speaking of the death of those who are devoted to her, Mary said: "Then will I, their lady and mother, fly swiftly to them to console and refresh them."
Saint Vincent Ferrer writes: "This loving queen takes the souls of the dying under her protection and presents them to the judge, her son, and most certainly obtains their salvation." This was verified in the case of Charles, the son of Saint Bridget, who died on the field of battle, far from his mother. The Blessed Virgin revealed to Saint Bridget that Charles was saved because of his love for Mary, and that she herself had aided him at death and suggested to him the acts of faith, hope, love, and contrition that should be made at that hour. In the same vision, the saint saw Jesus seated on his throne as the devil lodged two accusations against the Blessed Mother. The first was that Mary had prevented the devil from tempting Charles at the moment of death; the second, that without giving any reason for claiming him as her son, she herself presented Charles to be judged and thus saved him. Saint Bridget saw the judge drive the devil away in confusion and Charles's soul carried away to heaven.
"In her there is beauty of life," says Ecclesiasticus, "and her bands are a healthful binding" (Ecclus 6:31). He indeed is blessed who finds himself at death bound by the sweet chains of love for Mary. These chains are chains of salvation that assure us of eternal happiness. Father Binetti, in his book The Perfections of Our Blessed Lord, tells how he was present at the deathbed of a great client of Mary. Just before breathing his last, the dying man said: "O Father, I wish I could let you know how happy I feel that I have served the most Blessed Mother of God. I cannot possibly describe the joy I feel at this moment."
Father Suarez was so devoted to Mary that he claimed he would be willing to exchange all of his knowledge for the merit of a single Hail Mary. As a result of his devotion, he died so cheerfully and so happily that he was able to say: "I never thought it was so sweet to die." You, too, will have the same satisfaction at the moment of death if you remember having loved this good mother. Mary simply cannot help being loyal to those who have been faithful to her - faithful by their visits, Rosaries, fasts, and other acts of devotion.
In spite of your sins, as long as you are determined from now on to lead a good life and to be devoted to her, Mary will give you this consolation. In your trials, in your temptations (which the devil will surely bring before you to make you despair), Mary will comfort you and will come to assist you at the moment of death. Saint Peter Damian relates that his brother, Marinus, had seriously offended God and had one day gone to an altar of Mary to dedicate himself to her as her slave. He took the cord which he wore about his waist and put it around his neck as a sign of slavery, and then said to the Blessed Mother: "My Lady, mirror of purity, I have offended God and you by a sin against chastity. There is nothing left for me but to offer myself to you as your slave. This I do. Receive me, a rebel, and do not abandon me." He left a sum of money on the altar step and promised to leave the same amount there annually as a tribute of his slavery to Mary.
Eventually Marinus came to die. One morning before he passed away, he was heard saying these words: "Arise, and honor the presence of my lady." Then he added: "What favor is this, O Queen of Heaven, that you come to visit your poor slave? Bless me, O Lady, and do not let me be lost after you have honored me with your presence." At that moment his brother Peter entered the room. Marinus told him all that had happened, how the Blessed Mother had appeared to him and blessed him. Then he complained that the persons present in the room at the time had not risen from their seats while Mary was present. A few moments later, Marinus died peacefully.
You, too, dear reader, will taste the same joy in death, if you are faithful to Mary. Even though you have offended God seriously in the past, she will see to it that you die a sweet and happy death.
And if at that moment you are still frightened and lose confidence at the thought of your past sins, she will come and encourage you just as she did Adolph, the Count of Alsace. Adolph had left the world and became a Franciscan and was very devoted to the Mother of God. His days were coming to an end, and as he reviewed his past life - the government of his property and the treatment of his vassals - the rigors of God's justice rose up before his mind and he began to tremble for his salvation. Suddenly Mary appeared to him, accompanied by many saints. Reproving the dying religious, she said to him: "Adolph, you are mine. You have given yourself to me and belong to me. Why are you so afraid to die?" At these words of Our Lady, Adolph felt immensely consoled. Every fear disappeared and he died peacefully and contentedly.
Even though we are sinners, as long as we have this confidence in Mary, we may rest assured that Mary will come to assist us at the hour of our death. She said as much to Saint Matilda. What a consolation it will be at the last moment of our lives, when in a few moments the issue of our salvation must be settled, to see the queen of heaven near us, assisting and consoling us with the assurance of her protection!
In various books there are countless examples besides those I have just cited, of how Mary comes to the assistance of her devotees at the moment of death. Saint Clare, Saint Felix the Capuchin, Saint Clare of Montefalco, Saint Teresa, Saint Peter of Alcántara - all were remarkably assisted by Mary on their deathbed. But for your encouragement and extraordinary consolation, let me relate the following incidents.
Father Crasset relates that Blessed Mary of Oignies saw the Blessed Virgin standing near the deathbed of a devout widow of Willambronx. The widow was burning with fever, and Mary stood near her consoling her and cooling her with a fan.
They tell of Saint John of God that he was tenderly devoted to Mary and that he expected a visit from her when he was dying. He was disappointed when she did not appear immediately and even complained a little. First, Mary reproved him for his lack of confidence. Then she spoke to him these tender words that should console all who are devoted to Mary: "John, it is not my practice to abandon my clients at this hour." As much as to say: "My dear John, what is the matter with you? Did you think I had forsaken you? Do you not know that I cannot abandon my clients at the point of death? I did not come sooner because the appointed hour had not yet struck. Now, however, the hour has come and I have come to take you. Let us go to paradise." Shortly after, the saint breathed his last and his soul took flight to heaven, there to thank his most loving queen forever.
3. OUR HOPE
Mary is everybody's hope
People outside the Church cannot bear to hear us call Mary "our hope." They say that God is our only hope and that he curses anyone who puts his trust in creatures: "Cursed be the man that trusts in man" (Jer 17:5). Mary is a creature, they argue, and how can a creature be "our hope"? That is what many non-Catholics say. Nevertheless, Holy Church obliges all priests and religious to raise their voices every day in the name of the faithful and invoke Mary by the sweet name of "our hope," the hope of all: "Hail, our hope!"
The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas, says that we can place our hope in a person in two ways: as a principal cause and as a mediate cause. Those who expect something from a king put their trust in him as their sovereign. They put their trust in his ministers or courtiers as intercessors. When the favor is granted, it comes really from the king, though the minister or courtier is the intermediary. In this case, the one who seeks the favor is right in calling the intercessor or intermediary his hope.
Because his goodness is infinite, the king of heaven is most eager to enrich us with his graces. On our part, we must have confidence. To increase this confidence, God has given us his own mother as our mother and advocate and has supplied her with the power to help us. Therefore he wants us to place our hope of salvation and of every blessing in her. To fix one's hope on creatures alone, independently of God, as sinners are wont to do, and to outrage God in seeking the friendship and favor of men, is to bring down the curse of heaven, says the prophet Jeremiah. But to hope in Mary, the Mother of God, who can really obtain grace and eternal life for men, is to do something very pleasing to the heart of God. For God desires to see Mary honored in this way, that same Mary whom in this world he loved and who loved and honored him more than all angels and all people together.
That is why we justly and reasonably call Mary our hope, trusting, as Saint Robert Bellarmine says, to obtain through her intercession what we cannot obtain by our prayers alone. Saint Anselm says that we pray to her so that her dignity as intercessor may supply for our unworthiness. And he adds that when we invoke the Blessed Virgin with this kind of hope, it does not mean that we lack hope in God's mercy, but rather that we fear our own lack of the proper dispositions.
Consequently, the Church is right when she applies these words of Ecclesiasticus to Mary: "I am the mother...of holy hope" (Ecclus 24:24). She is the mother who gives birth to holy hope in our hearts. Not the hope of the transitory goods of this life, but the hope of boundless joys and the eternal goods of heaven. Saint Ephrem greets Mary by saying: "Hail, hope of my soul! Hail, sure salvation of Christians! Hail, helper of sinners! Hail, defense of the faithful and salvation of the world." Saint Basil, too, is right in reminding us that after God we have no other hope than Mary.
Reflecting on the present arrangement of Providence by which, as Saint Bernard says (and as we shall discuss at length later), God has disposed that all who are to be saved must be saved through Mary, Saint Ephrem says to her: "Lady, never stop guarding and protecting us, because, next to God, we have no other hope but you." Saint Thomas of Villanova says the same thing: "You are our only refuge, our only hope." Saint Bernard gives the reason for this when he says: "Behold, O man, God's merciful plan. About to redeem the human race, he places the price in Mary's hands." He places the price in Mary's hands so that she can dispense it at will.
We read in the Book of Exodus that God commanded Moses to make a mercy-seat of purest gold, because it was from there he would speak to him (Exod 25:17-22). Saint Andrew of Crete says that the whole world considers Mary as this mercy-seat. A certain author, commenting on this, says: "You, O Mary, are the propitiatory of the whole world. From you, our most compassionate Lord speaks to our hearts. From you, he speaks words of pardon and mercy. From you, he bestows his gifts. From you, all good flows to us." And, therefore, according to Saint Irenaeus, before the Divine Word took flesh in Mary's womb, he sent an archangel to ask her consent: because he willed that the world should receive the Incarnate Word through Mary and that she should be the source of every blessing.
Blessed Raymond Jordano, who styles himself the Unlearned, says: "Through her the world has, and shall have, every good." Every good, every help, every grace that men are to receive from God till the very end of time, and every grace that men have received must have come to them and shall come to them through Mary and her intercession. The devout Blosius did well to exclaim: "O Mary, who would not love you? You are a light in doubts, a comfort in sadness, a refuge in danger. After your only begotten Son, you are the sure salvation of the faithful. Hail, hope of the despairing! Hail, helper of the needy! So much does your Son honor you that he immediately does what you ask him."
Saint Germanus recognizes Mary as the channel of all our blessings and of our liberation from evil, and addresses her in this fashion: "O my Lady, you alone are my consolation from God, the guide for my path, the strength for my weakness, the wealth for my poverty, the medicine for my wounds, the assuagement of my sorrows, the severing of my fetters, the hope of my salvation. Hear my prayers, have pity on my sighs, O my Lady, my refuge, my life, my help, my hope, and my strength."
We should not be surprised then that Saint Antoninus applies these words from the Book of Wisdom to Mary: "All good things together came to me in her company" (Wis 7:11). Since Mary is the mother and dispenser of every good, the whole world, and more particularly each individual who is devoted to Mary, may say with truth that, with devotion to Mary, there came to both him and the world everything good and perfect. And the Abbot of Celles does not hesitate to say absolutely: "To find Mary means to find every good." Whoever finds Mary, finds all graces and every virtue, because by her intercession he obtains everything he needs to become rich in divine grace. In the Book of Proverbs Mary herself tells us that she possesses all the riches of God, that is, his mercies, so that she may disperse them to her lovers: "With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity....On the way of duty I walk...granting wealth to those who love me, and filling their treasuries" (Prov 8:18-21). That is why Saint Bonaventure says that all of us should keep our eyes fixed on Mary's hands, so as to receive from her whatever favor we want.
Oh, how many people who were once proud have become humble through Mary! How many ill-tempered people have become meek, and how many blind have been enlightened! How many in despair have found confidence, how many lost have been saved! Our Blessed Lady foretold all this in the sublime canticle she sang when visiting Elizabeth: "For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk 1:48). Saint Bernard paraphrases these words and says: "Henceforth all generations shall call you blessed, because you have brought all generations forth to life and glory. In you, sinners find forgiveness, and the just find perseverance in divine grace."
We find the devout Lanspergius picturing Our Lord as saying to the world: "Men, poor children of Adam, who live surrounded by so many enemies and in the midst of so many trials, endeavor to honor my Mother and yours with special veneration. For I have given Mary to the world so that she may be your model, and that you may learn from her to lead a good life. Also so that she may be a refuge to which you can fly in all your afflictions and trials. I have so created this daughter of mine that nobody should fear her or hesitate to turn to her. I have given her so kind and compassionate a nature that it is impossible for her to despise anyone having recourse to her, nor can she deny her favor to anyone who seeks it. Her mercy is open to all and she does not allow anyone to leave her without being consoled." May the immense goodness of God be forever praised and blessed for having given us so great, so tender, so loving a mother and advocate!
How touching and full of confidence are the sentiments of the enamored Saint Bonaventure toward Jesus our loving Redeemer and Mary our most loving advocate. He says: "No matter how much the Lord may know about me, I am confident that he cannot deny himself to one who loves him and seeks him with all his heart. I will embrace him, and if he does not bless me, I will never let him go, for without me he will never be able to leave me. If I can do nothing else, I can at least hide myself in the depth of his wounds and it will be in himself alone that he will find me. And if, finally, on account of my sins, my Redeemer does drive me from his feet, I will throw myself at the feet of Mary and there I will remain prostrate until she has obtained forgiveness for me. This Mother of Mercy does not know, and has never known, how to do otherwise than pity the miseries and satisfy the wishes of troubled creatures who run to her for help. And so, if not out of duty, at least out of love and compassion, she will influence her Son to pardon me."
"Look down upon us then," let us exclaim in the words of Saint Euthymius, "look down upon us, O compassionate Mother, for we are your slaves and we have placed all our trust in you."
Mary is the hope of sinners
In the first chapter of Genesis we read: "God made two great lights; a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night" (Gen 1:16). Cardinal Hugo says that the sun is a figure of Jesus Christ, whose light illumines the just who live in the day of divine grace; the moon is a figure of Mary who enlightens those who dwell in the night of sin. Since Mary is the moon, so propitious to sinners, Innocent III asks what a man should do who finds himself in the night of sin, and answers: "Let him who wanders despairingly in this night of sin look at the moon. That is, let him pray to Mary." Since he has lost the light of the sun by losing divine grace, let him turn to the moon, let him pray to Mary that she obtain for him light to know his miserable state and the power to escape from it. Saint Methodius says that an innumerable multitude of sinners are constantly being converted through Mary's prayers: "By the power and prayers of Mary an almost uncountable number of conversions takes place."
One of the most encouraging titles under which the Church bids us have recourse to Mary is the title "refuge of sinners." In ancient Judea, there were cities of refuge to which criminals fled to escape punishment for their crimes. There are very few, if any, such cities today; but we still have one in Mary, of whom it is said: "Glorious things are said of you, O city of God" (Ps 86:3). However, there is this difference: not all criminals were sheltered by the ancient cities of refuge, nor were these cities for every kind of crime. But, under Mary's mantle, all sinners find refuge; it is enough that a sinner turn to her for protection. Saint John Damascene puts these words on Mary's lips: "I am the city of refuge for all who come to me."
It is enough simply to take refuge there. Those who already have the good fortune to have entered this city need say no more in order to be saved. Quickly "let us enter into the fenced city, and let us be silent there" (Jer 8:14). Saint Albert the Great explains that this walled city is the Blessed Virgin, who is fortified with grace and glory. The Commentary says: "And let us be silent there, because we dare not implore the Lord whom we offended. Let her pray and plead for us." Because we do not dare beg the Lord's pardon, it is enough to enter this city and remain silent, because then Mary will speak for us and pray for us. That is why a pious author, Benedict Fernandez, exhorts all sinners to take shelter under Mary's mantle when he says: "Flee, O Adam and Eve - and you, their children - flee to Mary's bosom. She is the city of refuge, the only hope of sinners." Years before Saint Augustine had already styled her "the only hope of sinners."
Saint Ephrem says to Mary: "You are the only advocate of sinners and the helpless." And he greets her with these words: "Hail, refuge of sinners; hail, haven to which sinners can safely fly for refuge." A certain author thinks that this is what David meant when he said: "For he has hidden me in his tabernacle" (Ps 26:5). What other tabernacle can this be but Mary? So Saint Germanus says, in reference to her: "O tabernacle made by God, which God alone has entered, to work in you his sacred mysteries for the salvation of all men!" Yes, a God-made tabernacle where God alone entered to effect the mysteries of man's redemption. And Saint Basil says that God gave us Mary as a "public hospital," where all the sick who are poor and without any help may be received. I ask: in hospitals established for the poor, who but the sickest and the poorest have the greatest right to be accepted?
The greatest sinners, therefore, being short on merits and most oppressed by ailments of the soul, can say to Mary: "O Lady, you are the refuge of the poor and the sick. Do not send me away; since I am sicker and poorer than the rest, I have a greater claim to your pity." Let us say then with Saint Thomas of Villanova: "We do not know of any refuge but you. You are the only one in whom we trust. You are the only one to whom we look for aid." O Mary, we poor sinners cannot find any other refuge but you. You, to whom we all have turned, are our only hope and we confide our salvation to you. You are our only advocate with Jesus Christ.
In the revelations of Saint Bridget, Mary is called "the star preceding the sun." She is so named, because when we notice devotion to Mary appearing in a soul, we may recognize it as a sure sign that God will soon enrich this soul with his grace. In order to inspire sinners with devotion to Mary, Saint Bonaventure pictures a stormy sea into which sinners have fallen from the ship of divine grace, and where they are buffeted to and fro by remorse of conscience and by a fear of divine justice. They are without light and without a guide; they are about to lose the breath of hope and are on the point of despair. With these thoughts in mind, the saint recommends Mary to sinners, Mary who is commonly called "star of the sea." Raising his voice, he says to them: "Look to her, you sinners who are lost, and she will lead you to port." Poor sinners, you who are lost, do not despair; raise your eyes to this beautiful star and regain the breath of hope, because she will bring you out of the storm and lead you to the port of salvation.
Saint Bernard says the same: "If you do not want to be overwhelmed by the waves, look at this star and call on Mary." And the devout Blosius says, she is the only shelter for those who have offended God. She is the refuge of all the tempted and afflicted. She is all kindness and sweetness not only to the just but also to the despairing and to sinners. Whenever she sees that unfortunate creatures with all their heart seek her help, she aids them at once, welcomes them, and obtains pardon from her son. She cannot despise anybody, no matter how unworthy he is, and does not deny her protection to anyone. She consoles everybody. Merely to have invoked her means that immediately she helps the one who has called upon her. And in her gentle way she knows how to attract to her devotion those sinners who are most at enmity with God and most deeply plunged in sin: "Often through her kindness she sweetly draws to her devotion sinners who are least attached to God. She influences them powerfully and prepares them for the reception of grace, and finally makes them fit for the kingdom of heaven." That is how God made her, so that nobody need fear to approach her. It is impossible for anyone to perish who has been diligently and humbly devoted to Mary.
She is called in sacred Scripture a plane tree: "As a plane tree...was I exalted" (Ecclus 24:19). As the plane tree offers relief to travelers resting under its shade to escape the sun's heat, so Mary, on seeing the anger of divine justice raised against sinners, invites them to rest in the shade of her protection. Saint Bonaventure reminds us that the prophet Isaiah made this complaint to God: "Behold you are angry, and we have sinned...there is none...that rises up and takes hold of you" (Isa 64:5, 7). There was no one then to appease God because Mary had not yet been born. "Before Mary," says the saint, "there was nobody who dared stay God's hand." But now, whenever God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, "she restrains her son's hand and withholds him from punishing." In fact, continues Saint Bonaventure, "there is nobody so capable as Mary of putting a detaining hand on the sword of divine justice," lest it fall to punish the sinner.
Following the same line of thought, Richard of Saint Lawrence says that before Mary came into the world, God complained that there was not anybody to keep him from punishing the sinner; but once Mary was born she appeased him and stayed the hand of his justice.
Saint Basil encourages sinners with these words: "Do not lose hope, O sinner, but in all things follow and invoke Mary, whom God desired to be our aid in all things." You will find her ever ready to help you, because it is God's will that she help everybody in all necessities. This Mother of Mercy so greatly desires to help the most abandoned sinners that she goes out in search of them. And if they have recourse to her, she has no difficulty in making them acceptable to God.
Because the Patriarch Isaac was eager to eat a dish of game, he promised to bless Esau. But Rebecca wanted her other son, Jacob, to receive the blessing; so she told Jacob to bring in a pair of goats which she would season according to Isaac's taste: "Go your way to the flock, bring me two kids of the best, that I may make of them meat for your father, such as he gladly eats" (Gen 27:9). Saint Antoninus says Rebecca is a figure of Mary saying to the angels: "Bring me sinners" - prefigured by the kids - "because by obtaining for them sorrow and amendment, I shall season them in such a manner that they become dear and acceptable to my Lord." The Abbot Francone, following the same idea, says that Mary knows how to season these goats in a manner that they not only equal but even surpass the flavor of venison.
The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to Saint Bridget that there is no sinner on earth so far removed from God that he will not return to him and recover his grace, if he has recourse to Mary and begs her assistance.
One day, the same Saint Bridget heard Jesus say to his mother: "You would obtain mercy even for Lucifer if he humbly asked for it." That proud spirit, however, would never humble himself so much as to beg for Mary's protection. Nevertheless, were it possible for Lucifer to humiliate himself enough to ask Mary for her protection, she would have the power and mercy to obtain his pardon and salvation from God. What will never come true with regard to the devil, will come true in the case of every sinner who seeks the protection of this Mother of Mercy.
The ark of Noah was a figure of Mary, because every species of animal found refuge there. Similarly, all sinners who have become brutes by their vices and sins of sensuality find refuge under Mary's protection - with this difference, however, that the ark received them as animals and kept them as animals. The wolf remained a wolf, the tiger a tiger. But under Mary's protection the wolf becomes a lamb, and the tiger a dove. One day Saint Gertrude saw Mary with her cloak spread wide open and under it many different wild beasts, such as leopards, lions, tigers, and bears. She noticed that the Blessed Virgin not only did not chase them away, but with her own kind hand welcomed and caressed them. The saint understood that these wild animals represented sinners who have recourse to Mary and are welcomed by her kindness and love.
Therefore Saint Bernard had good reason to say to Mary: "Lady, you do not turn your back on any sinner, no matter how despicable, as long as he approaches you. If he begs your help, you do not refuse to extend a hand to rescue him from the depths of despair." May God be ever blessed and thanked, O loving Mother, for having made you so kind and gentle towards sinners! Doomed indeed is the man who does not love you, who does not hope in you. Whoever does not turn to Mary will be lost. But, on the other hand, who has ever been lost who has turned to Mary for help?
There is a scriptural story that tells how Boaz allowed Ruth to gather the ears of corn which at the harvest fell from the reapers' hands: "She went therefore and gleaned the ears of corn after the reapers" (Ruth 2:3). Saint Bonaventure's comment on this passage is this: "As Ruth found favor in the eyes of Boaz, so Mary found favor in the Lord's eyes and was allowed to glean the ears of corn, that is, the souls left by the reapers, and bring them to pardon." These reapers of souls are the missionaries, preachers, and confessors who daily acquire souls for God by their labors. But there are certain rebellious and hardened souls who are left behind by the reapers. Only Mary has the privilege of saving these by her intercession. There is no doubt that the souls that will not let themselves be garnered by Mary are in a sad way. Hell is of their own choosing. On the other hand, how fortunate the souls that let themselves be gathered up by Mary. The devout Blosius says there is no sinner on earth so depraved, so abandoned, and so filled with misery as to be rejected and despised by Mary. Mary can and will reconcile him to her beloved son, if only he begs for her help.
With excellent reason then, O sweetest queen, Saint John Damascene calls you the "hope of the despairing." And with equal right, Saint Lawrence Giustiniani calls you the "hope of evildoers," and Saint Augustine the "only hope of sinners." Saint Ephrem likes to call you the "safe port of the shipwrecked." He even goes so far as to call you the "protectress of the damned." Finally, Saint Bernard is right when he tells even the despairing not to despair: "Let him who is without hope, hope in you."
Saint Antoninus tells of a sinner who was under God's displeasure and who saw himself in a vision standing before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. The devil was accusing him and Mary was defending him. In the prosecution, the devil presented the entire list of sins the defendant had committed. When these were put on the scales of divine justice, they outweighed all the sinner's good works. But what did Mary do? She gently placed her hand on the side of the good works and the balance went down in favor of her client. In this way, she gave him to understand that she would obtain his pardon if he would but amend his life. After the vision, the sinner was converted and led a devout life.
4. TO YOU DO WE CRY, POOR BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE
Mary is prompt to help those who invoke her
We are poor unfortunate children of Eve. As guilty before God as she, and condemned to the same penalty, we are doomed to wander in this valley of tears as exiles, weeping over our many afflictions of body and soul. But happy is he who can turn in the midst of these sorrows to the comforter of the world, to the great Mother of God, and who can devoutly and humbly pray to her: "Blessed is the man that hears me, and that watches daily at my gates" (Prov 8:34). Blessed, says Mary, is he who listens to my counsels and who watches at the gates of my mercy and invokes my intercession and aid.
Holy Church indicates quite clearly how attentively and confidently we are to have recourse constantly to this loving protectress. As a matter of fact, she commands us to have a special devotion to Mary. During the year, a certain number of feasts are to be celebrated in her honor. One day a week is to be specially dedicated to her. In the daily Office, all priests and religious are to invoke her in the name of all Christendom, and three times a day all the faithful are to greet her at the sound of the Angelus bell.
A deeper insight into the mind of the Church is gotten from the fact that in all public calamities the Church wants us to turn to Mary through novenas, special prayers, processions, and visits to her shrines. This is the way Mary wants it. She wants us constantly to seek and invoke her help. Not that she is begging for it, because all the homage we can show her falls far short of what she deserves. But as Saint Bonaventure says, she wants us to increase our confidence and in that way receive greater consolation and help.
Saint Bonaventure also says that Ruth is a figure of Mary because the very name Ruth means seeing and hastening. When Mary sees our miseries, she hastens to help us with her mercy. Novarinus adds that, because of her great desire to do us good, Mary does not delay. She is not a greedy guardian of her graces but the Mother of Mercy, and so she cannot help distributing the treasure of her graces as soon as she can.
Oh, how prompt this good mother is to help those who invoke her: "Your breasts are like twin fawns" (Cant 4:5). In explaining this passage Richard of Saint Lawrence says that, just as fawns are known for the speed with which they run, so also are the breasts of Mary quick to give the milk of mercy to any who ask for it. Richard assures us that Mary dispenses her mercy to everyone who asks for it, even though his prayer be only a simple Hail Mary.
Novarinus claims that the Blessed Virgin not only runs, but actually flies to help whoever calls on her. And he assures us that whenever Mary dispenses mercy she imitates God. Just as Our Lord immediately flies to the rescue of those who ask his help, mindful of his promise, "Ask and you shall receive" (Jn 16:24), so too, whenever Mary is invoked she actually hurries to help the one who prays. "God uses wings and immediately flies to help his servants; and the Blessed Virgin also dons wings to fly to our aid."
From this, we can readily understand how Mary is the woman mentioned in the Apocalypse, of whom it is said: "And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness" (Apoc 12:14). Father Ribera, S.J., explains this passage by saying that the two wings are the love wherewith Mary is ever flying toward God. "She has the wings of an eagle, because she flies out of love for God." But Blessed Amadeus has another explanation, one more in accord with our own opinion, and says that the two wings indicate the speed with which Mary always flies to the aid of her children, a speed that surpasses even that of the Seraphim: "At a most rapid speed, surpassing even the Seraphim, Mary, as a mother, flies everywhere to aid her own."
In Luke's Gospel, we read that when Mary went to visit Elizabeth and shower that entire family with grace, she did not tarry but made the whole journey rapidly: "Now in those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country" (Lk 1:39). Nothing is said in the Gospel about her also returning with haste.
From the fifth chapter of the Canticle of Canticles, we get the impression that Mary's hands are used to the lathe. Richard of Saint Lawrence explains that the use of the lathe makes difficult work easy and also enables the artisan to work swiftly. He explains the passage in Canticles (5:14) thus: "As the art of working a lathe is the quickest of all, so is Mary quicker than all the saints in doing good."
Mary has the greatest desire to console everybody. No sooner is she invoked, says Blosius, than she immediately hears the prayers and graciously helps the petitioner. That is why Saint Bonaventure rightly calls her "the salvation of all who call on her." He means to say that in order to be saved it is enough merely to call on Mary. According to Richard of Saint Lawrence, Mary is always found ready to help everyone who prays. And Bernardine de Bustis tells us she is more eager to do us favors than we are to receive them. "Mary is more anxious to do us good than we are to receive her benefits."
The fact that we have committed many sins should not lessen our confidence that Mary will hear us when we fly to her. Mary is the Mother of Mercy and there is no place for mercy where there is no misery to be relieved. Just as a good mother does not hesitate to apply remedies to the ulcerous wounds of her son, even though the treatment is annoying and nauseating, so too Mary cannot abandon us when we have recourse to her, even though the wounds of our sins be nauseating and revolting. This thought is the sentiment of Richard of Saint Lawrence who says: "For this good mother does not despise sinners any more than any good mother would despise her child who is afflicted with a horrible disease, for this reminds her why she became the Mother of Mercy. Where there is no misery, there is no demand for mercy." This is the very point that Mary wished to bring home to Saint Gertrude when Mary opened her cloak to receive all who turned to her. At the same time, the saint was told that all the angels of heaven constantly protect Mary's clients from the assaults of hell.
The Blessed Virgin's compassion and love are so great that she does not wait for our prayers before helping us. The Book of Wisdom expresses this beautifully: "She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of men's desires" (6:13). Saint Anselm applies these words to Mary and says she forestalls those who desire her protection. By this we are to understand that she implores many favors for us from God before we even pray to her!
Precisely for this reason, says Richard of Saint Victor, is Mary called "beautiful as the moon" (Cant 6:9), because in flying to the aid of those who call on her, Mary is as swift as the moon in its course. Swifter, in fact, because she is so concerned about our welfare that she even anticipates our prayers. And, adds Richard, it is not possible for this benign queen to behold the want of any soul without immediately assisting it.
Mary, even when living in this world, showed at the marriage feast of Cana the extraordinary compassion she would exercise for us later in heaven - that compassion which would make her come to our aid even before we ask her. In the second chapter of Saint John, we read that Mary noticed the distress and embarrassment of the bride and groom because the supply of wine was running low. Without being asked, and listening only to the dictates of her compassionate heart (which can never notice the distress of others without feeling for them), Mary prevailed upon Jesus to relieve the situation. She merely mentioned to him: "They have no wine" (Jn 2:3). To spare the couple embarrassment, but even more to content the tender heart of his mother, Jesus ordered the water pots to be filled. Then he miraculously transformed the water into wine. Arguing from this fact, Novarinus remarks: "If Mary comes to the rescue so quickly, without being asked, what more will she do if she is asked?"
If anyone still doubts that Mary will hasten to his help when asked, let him feel rebuked by the words of Innocent III who says: "Who has ever called upon her from the dark night of sin, and was not relieved?" Blessed Eutychian asks the same question: "Who has ever faithfully implored your all-powerful aid and was abandoned by you?" Such a thing has never happened and never will happen. "I would be perfectly satisfied," says Saint Bernard, "if anyone who ever called on you and was not helped by you would never even speak about you and praise your mercy." But such a case has never occurred.
"Sooner," says the devout Blosius, "would heaven and earth be destroyed than Mary would fail to help anyone who asked for help, provided he did so with a good intention and with confidence in her." Saint Anselm, to increase our confidence, says this: "When we have recourse to Mary, not only may we be sure of her protection, but often we will be heard by Mary more speedily than if we had recourse to Jesus, our Savior." The reason he gives is that it is the office of Jesus as judge to punish, but it is Mary's role, as mother, to be merciful. He says this, not because Mary's power to save us is more powerful than her son's, for we know that Jesus is our only Savior, the only one who through his merits has brought about our salvation. But when we remember that Jesus is our judge, and that it is his province as judge to punish ungrateful sinners, we may become apprehensive and lack the confidence we need to be heard. Surely our confidence is greater when we go to Mary, whose only office as Mother of Mercy is to help us and defend us as our advocate. To substantiate this, we have the beautiful words of Nicephorus: "Many things are asked of God and not obtained. Many things are asked of Mary and obtained - not because she is more powerful, but because God has arranged this to honor her."
Saint Bridget heard Our Lord make a most sweet and consoling promise. In the fiftieth chapter of the first book of her Revelations we read how the saint one day heard Jesus say to his mother: "There is no prayer of yours that will not be heard. My dear Mother, ask for whatever you wish. I will refuse you nothing. And I also promise to hear the prayers of all who for love of you ask me for grace, even though they be sinners, provided they want to amend." Saint Gertrude heard our Divine Redeemer make the same promise to his mother, namely, that through his omnipotence he had granted Mary the power to reconcile all sinners who called on her for help in whatever way it should suit Mary to help them.
Let everyone, then, with the fullest and completest confidence, make this well-known prayer of Saint Bernard his own: "Remember, o most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided." Therefore, forgive me, O Mary, if I say that I will not be the first unfortunate creature who has ever had recourse to you and was not abandoned.
Mary's power is great in time of temptation
Not only is Mary the queen of heaven and of all the saints, but she is also the queen of hell and of all evil spirits. The reason is that she has gloriously routed them by her virtues. At the very beginning of the world, when God announced that a woman would come into the world to conquer the devil, he notified the infernal serpent how our queen would conquer him and rule over him: "I will put enmities between you and the woman...she shall crush your head" (Gen 3:15).
Who else is this woman, this enemy of Satan, but Mary who, by her gentle humility and holy life, completely routed and conquered him? According to Saint Cyprian, "the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ was promised in that woman." And that is why, reflects the saint, God did not say "I put enmities" but rather "I will put enmities," lest he seem to be referring to Eve. God said "I will put enmities between you and the woman" to show that Satan's opponent was not to be Eve, who was still living, but another woman descending from her, who, as Saint Vincent Ferrer observes, "would bring our first parents far greater blessings that they had lost by sin."
Mary then is this great and valiant woman who has conquered the devil and has crushed his head by bringing down his pride, as God himself foretold: "She shall crush your head." Because the Septuagint version has "He shall crush your head," some doubt whether the words refer to Mary or to Jesus. But our Vulgate edition, the only one approved by the Council of Trent, has She instead of He. And that this is correct is the opinion of Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, and many others. Be that as it may, it is nevertheless certain that either the Son through his Mother, or the Mother, by the Son's power, has overcome Lucifer. And this prompts Saint Bernard to remark that this proud spirit, in spite of himself, has been beaten down and trampled underfoot by the most Blessed Virgin. Like a slave conquered in war, he is forced always to obey the orders of his queen.
Saint Bruno says that Eve was the cause of death, because she allowed herself to be overcome by the serpent, but Mary restored life to us by conquering the devil. "In Eve are darkness and death; in Mary, life and light. Eve was conquered by the devil. Mary conquered and bound the devil." Yes, Mary bound him in such a way that he cannot stir himself to do the least injury to any of her clients.
What a beautiful explanation Richard of Saint Lawrence gives of these words from the Book of Proverbs: "The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he shall have no need of spoils" (Prov 31:11). He says: "The heart of her husband, that is, the heart of Christ, trusts in her and he will have no need of spoils, because she, as it were, enriches him with spoils taken from the devil." Cornelius à Lapide says: "God has entrusted the heart of Jesus to the hands of Mary that she may win for the Sacred Heart the love of man." In that way he will not need spoils; that is, he will be abundantly supplied with souls; for she enriches him with those whom she has snatched from hell and saved from the devil by her powerful aid.
We know that the palm is a symbol of victory. Therefore our queen is placed on a lofty throne in view of all the mighty ones of the world, like a palm that symbolizes certain victory for all who put themselves under her patronage. "I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades" (Ecclus 24:18). That is, "for defense," adds Saint Albert the Great. Mary therefore seems to address us, saying: "My children, when the enemy attacks you, turn to me, look upon me and take courage; because when you look to me to defend you, you are sure of victory."
Recourse to Mary, then, is the surest way of overcoming all the attacks of hell. In the words of Saint Bernardine of Siena, Mary is also queen over hell and the devils. She is the one who overcomes and subdues them. And for this reason she is called an enemy that is terrible to the powers of hell. "Terrible as an army set in array" (Cant 6:3). Mary knows how to deploy her forces, that is, her mercy and her prayers, to the confusion of the enemy and for the benefit of those who call on her for defense in temptation.
In the words of the Holy Spirit, Mary says: "As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odor" (Ecclus 24:23). "We are told," says Saint Bernard on this passage, "that all venomous reptiles stay away from flowering vines." Similarly, the demons of hell stay away from those happy souls who breathe forth the fragrance of devotion to Mary. In the same chapter, we read that Mary was "exalted like a cedar in Libanus" (Ecclus 24:17). This is not only because Mary was free from sin, as the cedar is free from corruption, but also, as Cardinal Hugo remarks on the same passage, because Mary by her holiness disperses the demons, just as the cedar, by its fragrance, repels reptiles.
In Judea, victories were won by means of the Ark. This is how Moses conquered his enemies, as we learn from the Book of Numbers. "Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, 'Arise, O Lord, that your enemies may be scattered, and those who hate you may flee before you'" (Num 10:35). Jericho and the Philistines were conquered in the same way, "for the ark of God was there that day with the children of Israel" (1 Kings 14:18). We know that the ark is a figure of Mary. As Cornelius à Lapide puts it: "The ark containing the manna, namely Christ, is the Blessed Virgin who gives victory over men and devils." And Saint Bernardine of Siena says that when Mary, the ark of the New Testament, was raised on high and made queen of heaven, the power of hell over humankind was weakened and dissipated.
Oh, how the demons of hell tremble at the thought of Mary and quake at the mention of her name, says Saint Bonaventure. The saint compares these enemies to those of whom Job speaks: "In the dark he breaks into houses. By day they shut themselves in; none of them know the light" (Job 24:16). It is in the dark that thieves go to rob a house. And when day begins to dawn they hurry away as if an image of death had appeared to them. "Precisely thus," says Saint Bonaventure, "do the devils enter a soul when it is darkened by ignorance. And if the dawn suddenly comes, namely the grace and mercy of Mary, they flee as everybody flees from death." Blessed is the man who invokes the name of Mary in his battles with the demons of hell!
In proof of this, there is the revelation made to Saint Bridget which discloses that God made Mary so powerful against the devils that, whenever they attack someone who has called upon Mary for help, they are immediately terrified and leave off molesting that soul. They prefer to flee and to take a double dose of their torments, rather than see themselves subjected to Mary's power.
Cornelius à Lapide reflects on the words with which the divine bridegroom praises his spouse, calling her a lily: "As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among women" (Cant 2:2). He says: "As experience teaches, calling upon the Blessed Virgin is a singular remedy in all temptations, especially against lust, just as the lily is a remedy against snakes and poisons."
Saint John Damascene used to say: "I shall be saved, O Mother of God, if I keep alive my hope in you. I will fight and overcome my enemies with no other weapon than your protection and your invincible aid." And everyone who has the good fortune to be devoted to this great queen can say the same thing. O Mother of God, if I put my hope in you, I shall certainly not be conquered. Defended by you, I shall rout my enemies. I shall oppose them with the shield of your all-powerful protection. And I shall conquer them. The monk James, one of the Greek Doctors, speaking to Our Lord about Mary, says: "You have given us in Mary, O Lord, a weapon that the forces of the enemy cannot overcome and a sign of victory that cannot be taken away from us."
In the Old Testament we read that God guided his people from Egypt to the land of promise "by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire" (Exod 13:21). This stupendous pillar, at times as a cloud, at times as fire, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, was a type of Mary as she fulfills the double office she constantly exercises for our good. As a cloud, she protects us from the heat of divine justice. As fire, she protects us from the demons. Saint Bonaventure adds that as wax melts in the presence of a flame, so do the devils lose their power against souls who often invoke Mary's name - particularly if they try to imitate her.
The devils tremble at the mere mention of Mary's name. Saint Bernard declares that at the name of Mary every knee bows, and the devils not only fear but actually tremble at the mention of that name. Thomas à Kempis agrees. He says that as men often fall to the ground when a bolt of lightning strikes near them, so do the devils quake with fear when they hear Mary's name. Countless are the victories that the clients of Mary have won by merely pronouncing her name. That is how Saint Anthony of Padua dispelled temptation - also the Blessed Henry Suso and many others devoted to this great queen.
We read in the history of the missions in Japan that there was a certain Christian to whom many devils appeared in the form of ferocious animals. But he spoke to them boldly and said, "Personally, I have no weapons that you are afraid of. If God permits it, you can do whatever you want with me. But, meanwhile, I am going to defend myself with the most powerful names of Jesus and Mary." He had hardly pronounced these names when the earth opened up and the evil spirits, howling horribly, cast themselves headlong into it.
Saint Anselm affirms that he personally knew and had seen and heard of many who had invoked the name of Mary in temptation and were immediately delivered. Saint Bonaventure exclaims: "Glorious and admirable is your name, O Mary! Those who hold to this name have no fear at the hour of death, for when the demons hear the name of Mary they immediately let that soul alone." He adds, "No enemy on earth fears a powerful hostile army as much as the demons of hell fear the name and protection of Mary." Saint Germanus says: "At the mere invocation of your name, you secure your servants against all the attacks of hell."
What a great thing if, during temptation, all Christians thought of confidently invoking Mary's name! They would certainly never fall. As Blessed Alan says: "At the very sound of the words Hail Mary, Satan flees and hell trembles." To Saint Bridget, Our Lady revealed that even from the most abandoned sinners, from those farthest from God, from those most under Satan's power, the enemy will flee as soon as he hears Mary's name pronounced, and when the sinner has a true desire to mend his ways. But at the same time Our Lady added: "If the sinner is not contrite and will not amend, the devil will immediately return and possess him."
5. TO YOU DO WE SEND UP OUR SIGHS, MOURNING, AND WEEPING IN THIS VALLEY OF TEARS
Mary's intercession is necessary for our salvation
That it is not only lawful, but also useful, to invoke and pray to the saints, and especially to the queen of saints, so that they may obtain divine grace for us, is an article of faith. This has been defined by General Councils against heretics who condemned it as injurious to Jesus Christ, who is our only mediator. But if Jeremiah, after his death, prays for Jerusalem (2 Macc 15:14); if the ancients of the Apocalypse present the prayers of the saints to God (Apoc 5:8); if Saint Peter promises to remember his disciples after his death (2 Pet 1:15); if Saint Stephen prays for his persecutors (Acts 7:59) and Saint Paul prays for his companions (Acts 27:24); if, in fact, the saints can pray for us, why can we not implore them to do so? Saint Paul recommends himself to the prayers of his disciples: "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess 5:25). Saint James exhorts us to pray for one another: "Pray for one another, that you may be saved" (Jas 5:16). Then we can do the same.
No one denies that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice, that through his merits he obtained our reconciliation with God. But, on the other hand, it is sinful to assert that God is not pleased to grant graces through the intercession of his saints, especially of Mary, his mother, whom Jesus so much desired to be honored and loved. Who can pretend that the honor a mother receives does not redound to the honor of her son? "The glory of children is their parentage" (Prov 17:6).
Therefore Saint Bernard says that we should not imagine that we obscure the prestige of a son by the praise we lavish on his mother. The more we honor a mother, the greater is the renown of her son. And Saint Ildephonsus adds quite logically: "The more honor that is given to the queen, the more is the king exalted and honored." There can be no doubt that, by the merits of Jesus, Mary was made the mediatrix of our salvation. True, she is not a mediatrix of justice, but of grace and intercession. As Saint Bonaventure puts it: "Faithless Eve was the mediatrix of perdition; the most faithful Mary is the mediatrix of our salvation." And Saint Lawrence Giustiniani asks: "How can she be otherwise than full of grace - she who has been made the ladder to paradise, the gate of heaven, and the most true mediatrix between God and man?"
Saint Anselm makes the very pertinent remark that when we pray to Mary for graces, it is not because we lack confidence in God's mercy, but rather because we mistrust our own unworthiness. We commend ourselves to Mary so that her worthiness may supply for our insufficiency.
Only those who lack faith can doubt that recourse to Mary's intercession is a holy and profitable thing. To speak plainly, the point we wish to prove here is that Mary's intercession is necessary for salvation. Not absolutely necessary, but morally necessary. Moreover, we say that this necessity arises from the very will of God, who wills that all the graces he dispenses should pass through Mary's hands. This is Saint Bernard's opinion, which today can certainly be called the common opinion of theologians and scholars.
The author of The Reign of Mary, the Carmelite Father Emmanuel of Jesus Mary, says that this is so. And he is followed by Vega, Mendoza, Paciucchelli, Segneri, Poire, Crasset, and innumerable other scholars. Even Father Noël Alexandre holds this, and he is usually very conservative in his opinions. These are his own words: "God wills that we hope for all graces from him, and that we obtain them through the most powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin, when, as is fitting, we invoke her." In proof of his contention, Father Noël quotes the celebrated passage of Saint Bernard: "Such is his will, that he wants us to have everything through Mary." Father Contenson agrees with this when he explains the words of Our Lord on the cross to Saint John: "Behold thy mother!" It is almost as if he had said: "No one shall share in my blood, except through my mother's intercession. My wounds are fountains of grace; but their waters will not be brought to anyone except through Mary, their channel. You, John, my disciple, shall be loved by me in proportion as you love her."
This proposition, that all the graces we receive from the Lord come to us through Mary, does not please a certain modern author. Although he speaks with great learning and piety about other aspects of true and false devotion, nevertheless, in discussing devotion to Mary, he seems to grudge her that glory which was given her without scruple by Saint Germanus, Saint Anselm, Saint John Damascene, Saint Antoninus, Saint Bernardine of Siena, the Venerable Abbot of Celles, and so many other learned men who found no difficulty in maintaining, by force of the reasons just mentioned, that Mary's intercession is not only useful but necessary. The modern author claims that this opinion is merely a figure of speech, an exaggeration that fell from the lips of the saints in the heat of their fervor. Actually, he claims, the sentence is to be understood merely as meaning that through Mary we have received Jesus Christ, by whose merits we receive all graces. He says that, except in this restricted sense, we would be in error to believe that God cannot grant graces without Mary's intercession, for Saint Paul tells us that we recognize but one God and only one mediator between God and men, namely, Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). So much for his argument.
But with his leave, and going on his own admission in his books, mediation of justice by way of merit is one thing, and mediation of grace by way of prayer is another. And again, it is one thing to say God cannot and another to say he will not grant any graces without Mary's intercession. We admit freely that God is the source of every good and the absolute master of all graces. Also, that Mary is only a creature, who receives whatever she obtains as a pure favor from God. But who can deny that it is most reasonable and proper to assert that God wants every grace destined for redeemed souls to pass through Mary's hands and be dispensed by her, since she, more than all others, loved and honored him during his life and had been chosen by him to be the mother of his son and our common Redeemer? We most readily admit that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice, according to the distinction just made, because through his merits he obtained grace and salvation for us. But we say that Mary is the mediatrix of grace. Whatever she obtains, of course, is gotten through the merits of Christ, and that is why she asks and prays in his name. Nevertheless, every grace we seek is obtained through her prayer and intercession.
There is certainly nothing contrary to faith in this. Actually, it is quite in accord with the mind of Holy Church. She has approved many prayers in which we are taught continually to have recourse to Mary - many prayers in which Mary is called the health of the sick, the refuge of sinners, the help of Christians, our life and our hope. In the Divine Office for the feasts of Mary, the Church applies to her the words of Ecclesiasticus, giving us to understand that in Mary we shall all find hope: "In me is all hope of life and of virtue" (Ecclus 24:25). In Mary we find every grace: "In me is all grace of the way and of the truth." In Mary we find life and eternal salvation: "He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord" (Prov 8:35). In still another place in Scripture we read: "They that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting" (Ecclus 24:30-31). All this points out how much we need Mary's intercession.
This, then, is the point of which I am convinced by so many theologians and Fathers of the Church. It is definitely incorrect in speaking of them to say, as this modern author does, that, in exalting Mary, they spoke exaggeratingly and that these words dropped from their lips in an excess of fervor. It ill becomes us to say that the saints exaggerated, spoke in hyperboles, and overstepped the limits of truth. The saints were animated by the Holy Spirit, who is Truth itself, and it was through him they spoke.
If I may be permitted to make a short digression and to express my own sentiment, it is this: When an opinion tends in any way to honor the Most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, when it is not contrary to faith or the canons of the Church or to truth, the refusal to hold that opinion or to oppose it, because its opposite might possibly be true, would show little devotion to the Mother of God. I do not want to be numbered among those who have so little devotion to Mary. Nor do I want my readers to belong to such a group. I prefer to be one of those who fully and firmly believe everything that can be believed without error about Mary's greatness. The Abbot Rupert, listing the various ways of giving honor to Mary, places this most prominently: "To believe firmly everything that redounds to her honor." If there were nothing else to take away our fear of excess in honoring Mary, the words of Saint Augustine should suffice. He maintains that whatever we say in praise of Mary is slight in comparison to what she deserves by reason of her dignity as Mother of God. And Holy Church has us say in the Mass of the Blessed Virgin: "You are fortunate indeed, O holy Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise."
But let us return to the point and see what the saints say about the subject. Saint Bernard says that God filled Mary with all graces so that through Mary, as through a channel, all people may receive whatever they need. He remarks significantly: "Before Mary's birth there was no such flow of graces into the world for everybody because this much-desired aqueduct did not yet exist." Precisely for this was Mary given to the world, he adds, that, through her, graces would descend from God upon all men.
Just as Holofernes ordered the aqueducts to be destroyed so that he could capture the city of Bethulia, so also does the devil do his utmost to make men lose their devotion to the Mother of God. If this channel of grace is closed to them, the devil will have no trouble in winning them. And so, Saint Bernard continues: "See with what tender devotion God wants us to honor Mary. He placed the fullness of every grace in her. So much so that every expectation of salvation comes to us through her." Saint Antoninus says the same thing: "Every grace that has ever been given to man has come to him through Mary."
Mary has been compared to the moon. The reason, says Saint Bonaventure, is that just as the moon is a kind of intermediary between the sun and the earth and reflects upon the earth what it receives from the sun, so also does Mary act as an intermediary between God and ourselves. She pours out upon the world the heavenly graces she receives from the sun of justice.
One of Mary's titles is "gate of heaven." As every rescript of grace or pardon ordered by a king passes through the palace gates, so, according to Saint Bernard, does every grace from heaven pass through Mary's hands. In another place, Saint Bernard says that nobody can enter heaven unless he passes through Mary as a gate.
An ancient author, in a sermon on the Assumption published with the works of Saint Jerome, says that the fullness of grace was in Christ Jesus as the Head. From this Head flow upon the members all the life-giving graces they need to attain eternal salvation. But the same fullness of grace is in Mary, as in the neck through which these vital graces are channeled to the members. The same opinion is confirmed by Saint Bernardine of Siena who says: "Life-giving grace is poured into the Mystical Body of Christ the Head through the Blessed Virgin."
Saint Bonaventure tries to give us the reason for this when he argues that, since God chose to dwell in Mary's womb, Mary acquired, so to speak, a jurisdiction over all graces. And when Jesus issued forth from her virginal womb, streams of divine grace issued forth from her as from a heavenly ocean. Saint Bernardine of Siena says the same, but in clearer terms, when he asserts that from the moment the Virgin Mother conceived the Divine Word in her womb, she acquired, as it were, a special claim over the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit, so much so that no one has ever received any grace except through the hands of Mary.
Another author, commenting on the passage from Jeremiah in which the prophet says that "a woman shall compass a man" (Jer 31:22), gives this explanation of the text: As no line can be drawn from the center of a circle without passing through the circumference, so no grace proceeds from Jesus, who is the center of every good thing, without passing through Mary, who compassed him when she received him into her womb.
From this truth, Saint Bernardine concludes that all gifts, all virtues, all graces are dispensed by Mary's hands to whomever she wishes, whenever she wishes, and in whatever way she wishes. Richard of Saint Lawrence also says that whatever good God wishes to give to creatures he gives through the hands of Mary. That is why the venerable Abbot of Celles exhorts everyone to have recourse to this treasury of graces, as he calls her. "Go to the Virgin," he says, "because through her the world shall get possession of every blessing."
It must be evident to all now that, when the saints and authors tell us in such terms that all graces come to us through Mary, they do not simply mean, as the abovementioned author maintains, that through Mary we have received Jesus Christ, the source of every grace. They very clearly assure us that after God gave us Jesus Christ, he willed that from then till the world's end all the graces to be bestowed on men through the merits of Jesus Christ would be dispensed through Mary's hands and through Mary's intercession.
Father Suarez concludes from all this that it is the universal mind of the Church today that Mary's intercession is not only useful for us, but necessary. Not absolutely necessary, as we have already said, because only the mediation of Christ is absolutely necessary. But morally necessary, because the Church feels, with Saint Bernard, that God has determined that no grace be given except through Mary's hands. Even before Saint Bernard, Saint Ildephonsus said the same thing in addressing Mary: "O Mary, the Lord has decreed that all the favors he has determined to bestow on man shall be entrusted to your hands. He has entrusted to you all the treasures and riches of grace." And Saint Peter Damian remarks that God would not become man without the consent of Mary for two reasons: first, that all of us might feel ourselves highly obligated to Mary; secondly, that we might all understand that our salvation is left to the care and judgment of this Blessed Virgin.
In Isaiah we read: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of this root; and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him" (Isa 11:1-2). By these words, Isaiah prophesies that a virgin, Mary, would be born from the offspring of Jesse and from her would rise a flower, the Incarnate Word. Meditating on this prophecy, Saint Bonaventure utters these beautiful words: "Whoever wishes to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit should seek the flower on the stem. For through the stem we come to the flower and through the flower to the Spirit." In other words, let everyone seek Jesus through Mary. Having found Jesus through Mary, we will come to the Spirit of God through Jesus.
In the tenth chapter of the same work he adds: "And if you wish to possess the flower, bend down by your prayers the stem which bears this flower." That is the way you will get possession of the blossom. In his sermon on the Epiphany, the Seraphic Doctor comments on the words of Saint Matthew: "They found the child with Mary, his mother" (2:11), and indicates that if we wish to find Jesus, we must go to Mary. "Christ is never found except with and through Mary." Whoever does not try to find Jesus with Mary seeks in vain. That, most likely, is why Saint Ildephonsus said: "I want to be the slave of Jesus. But since no one can ever serve the son without serving the mother, for this reason, I make myself a slave of Mary."
Mary intercedes for all sinners
Saint Bernard says that as a man and woman cooperated in our ruin, so also was it proper that another man and woman, Jesus and his Mother Mary, cooperate in our redemption. "There is no doubt," says the saint, "that Jesus Christ alone was more than able to redeem us. But it was indeed fitting that both sexes should work together in repairing the ruin which both sexes has caused." Hence Saint Albert the Great beautifully calls Mary the "cooperatrix of the redemption." The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to Saint Bridget that, as Adam and Eve had sold the whole world for one apple, so Mary, together with her son, ransomed the world with one heart. And Saint Anselm affirms that God was well able to create the world out of nothing, but, when the world was lost through sin, he did not wish to rescue it without Mary's cooperation: "He who could make all things out of nothing, did not wish to repair the shattered world without Mary."
Father Suarez explains that the Blessed Mother cooperated in our redemption in three ways: first, by having merited with a merit of congruity or fitness the Incarnation of the Word; second, by having prayed for us continually while she lived on earth; third, by having voluntarily offered her son's life to God for our salvation. For this reason, God justly decreed that, since Mary cooperated with so much love in the salvation of man and at the same time gave so much glory to God, all men are to obtain their salvation through Mary's intercession.
Mary is called the cooperatrix of our justification because God has committed into her hands all the graces intended for us. Therefore, Saint Bernard affirms that all men, past, present, and future, must look upon Mary as "the means and negotiator of their salvation."
Jesus Christ says that no one can find him unless the Eternal Father first draw him by means of divine grace: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him" (Jn 6:44). According to Richard of Saint Lawrence, Jesus says of his mother: "No one comes to me unless my mother draws him by her prayers." Jesus was the fruit of Mary's womb, as Saint Elizabeth told her: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk 1:42). Whoever wants the fruit must go to the tree. Whoever wants Jesus must go to Mary. Whoever finds Mary will certainly find Jesus.
When Saint Elizabeth saw the Blessed Virgin coming to visit her, she was at a loss how to thank her. So she exclaimed in all humility: "And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43). Why did Elizabeth word it that way? Surely she knew that it was not Mary alone coming to visit her. Surely she knew that Jesus had also come into her home. Why did she then deem herself unworthy of welcoming Mary, instead of considering herself unworthy of having Mary's son come to visit her? It was because Elizabeth knew very well that when Mary comes, she invariably brings Jesus. That is why she felt confident that it was enough to thank the mother without also naming the son.
"She is like the merchant's ship, she brings her bread from afar" (Prov 31:14). Mary is this happy ship that brought from heaven Jesus Christ, the living bread that came down from heaven to give us eternal life. "I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever" (Jn 6:51-52). Richard of Saint Lawrence says that in the sea of this world everyone shall perish who is not taken aboard this ship. That is, all will perish who are not protected by Mary. Therefore, he adds, when we see the waves of the sea rising high, we must cry out to Mary: "O Lady, save us, we perish!" Whenever we find ourselves in danger from the temptations or passions of life, we must run to Mary and cry: "Come quickly, O Lady, and help us! Save us if you do not want us to be lost!"
Take notice how the author says: "Mary, save us, we perish!" He does not mention the objection of that certain author, already mentioned, who forbids us to ask Mary to save us. That author forbids this because, as he says, it is proper to God alone to save us. Now, suppose a man is condemned to death. Can he not beg for his life through a friend of the king, who can put in a good word for him? Why cannot we ask Our Lady to put in a good word for us and obtain for us the favor of eternal life from God? Saint John Damascene did not scruple to say to Mary: "O pure and immaculate queen, save me from eternal damnation!" Holy Church approves of calling her "health of the sick." Shall we then scruple to ask her to save us when a certain author (Paciucchelli) says: "Only through her is the entrance to salvation open." Long before this author, Saint Germanus addressed Mary with the same words: "No one is saved, except through you."
But let us see now what else the saints say about the necessity of Mary's intercession. The glorious Saint Cajetan used to say that we may seek and seek for graces, but we shall never find them without the intercession of Mary. Saint Antoninus confirms this beautifully when he says: "Whoever expects to obtain graces without Mary is attempting to fly without wings." King Pharaoh said to Joseph: "The land or Egypt is at your disposal" (Gen 47:6), and then sent to him everyone that came for help, saying: "Go to Joseph" (Gen 41:55). So, too, when we ask God for graces, he says: "Go to Mary," because, as Saint Bernard says, God determined he would grant no graces except through the hands of Mary. That is why Richard of Saint Lawrence says: "Our salvation is in Mary's hands. And we can better say to Mary than did the Egyptians to Joseph: 'You have kept us alive.'" Blessed Raymond Jordano says exactly the same thing, and Cassian speaks in even stronger terms. He declares absolutely that everybody's salvation consists in being favored and protected by Mary. Whoever is protected by Mary will be saved; whoever is not protected by her will be lost. Saint Bernardine of Siena says to Our Lady: "You are the dispensatrix of all graces; our salvation is in your hands."
Therefore Richard of Saint Lawrence was right in saying that as a stone falls when the earth that holds it is removed, so also does a soul without Mary's aid fall, first into sin and then into hell. Saint Bonaventure says that God will not save us without Mary's intercession: "Just as the infant cannot live without the nurse that cares for it, so also can no one be saved without Mary's aid." Therefore he exhorts us to hunger and thirst after devotion to her, to preserve it with care and never to abandon it until we have received her maternal blessing in heaven.
"And who would ever know God," exclaims Saint Germanus, "if it were not for you, O most holy Mary? Who would be saved? Who would be free from sin? Who would receive any grace at all, if it were not for you, O Mother of God, who are so full of grace?" Listen to his beautiful words: "Nobody, O most holy Virgin, learns to know God except through you. No one will ever be saved but through you, O Mother of God. No one will ever be free from dangers except through you. No one will ever receive any gift from God except through you, O full of grace!" Elsewhere, too, Saint Germanus says to Our Lady: "Nobody would ever be free from the stings of the flesh and from sin unless you made it possible."
Saint Bernard tells us that, as we have no access to the Eternal Father but through Jesus, so also we have no access to Jesus but through Mary. This is the reason he gives why God determined that we should be saved by Mary's intercession: "Through you we have access to the Son, O blessed finder of grace, O bearer of life, that by you we may receive him who was given to us through you." Therefore he calls Mary the Mother of Grace and of our salvation. "What will become of us," asks Saint Germanus, "what hope of salvation will remain to us, O Mary, if you, who are the life of Christians, abandon us?"
The modern author already quoted uses this absurd argument: If all graces come through Mary, do not the other saints then have to approach Mary to obtain graces when we invoke their intercession? He says no one ever dreamed of such a thing and certainly no one would believe it. As to believing it, I reply that there is no difficulty at all. Since God established Mary as the queen of all saints, and since God wants all graces to be dispensed by her hands, where would be the impropriety in saying that, to honor Mary, God wants the other saints to turn to her for the graces they wish to obtain for their clients? And as for saying that no one would ever dream of such a thing, I rejoin that I find Saint Bernard, Saint Anselm, Saint Bonaventure, together with Father Suarez and many others expressly teaching this. Saint Bernard says: "He who prays to the other saints would pray in vain if Mary did not help." It is in this sense also that a certain author explains these words of David: "The rich among the people seek your favor" (Ps 44:13). The rich among God's people are the saints, and when they wish to obtain a favor for a client, they turn to Mary and she obtains it for them. Father Suarez says wisely: "Among the saints we do not usually ask one to intercede with the other, because all are of equal rank. But we do ask them to intercede with Mary, because she is their sovereign and their queen." This is exactly what Saint Benedict promised to Saint Frances of Rome, as we read in Father Marchese's book. The saint one day appeared to Saint Frances and promised to protect her and to be her advocate with the Blessed Virgin.
I can quote Saint Anselm in support of the same opinion. "What all the saints can do united with you," he says, "you can do alone without them." "Why is this?" he asks. "Why do you alone have such tremendous power? Because you are the Mother of our Redeemer, you are the spouse of God, you are the queen of heaven and earth. If you do not speak for us, none of the saints will pray for us or help us. But if you pray for us, then all the saints will do the same."
Father Segneri says the same thing in his book The Devout Client of Mary. Together with the Church he applies these words of Holy Writ to Mary: "The vault of heaven I compassed alone" (Ecclus 24:8). He says that as the movement of the first sphere causes all the rest to move, so, when Mary is moved to pray for a soul, she causes the whole court of heaven to join in her prayers. In fact, says Saint Bonaventure, whenever the Blessed Virgin goes to God to intercede for us, she, as queen, actually commands all the angels and saints to join her in her prayers.
And so now we finally understand why Holy Church commands us to greet Mary with the grand title of "our hope." Martin Luther could not endure the thought that the Catholic Church insists upon calling Mary our hope, even though she is only a creature. He said that only God, and our mediator Jesus Christ, are our hope. He added that God curses everyone who places his hope in creatures and quotes as his authority the prophet Jeremiah, who said: "Cursed be the man that trusts in man" (Jer 17:5).
Holy Church, however, teaches us to invoke Mary on all occasions and not to hesitate to call her "our hope." Whoever places his hope in creatures independently of God will certainly meet with God's displeasure. God is the only source and dispenser of every good, and any creature without God has nothing and can give nothing. But yet, if God so arranged matters - and we have proved that he did - that all graces should pass through Mary, as through a channel of mercy, then we not only can, but indeed must, affirm that Mary is our hope, because through her we receive divine grace.
That is why Saint Bernard called Mary the whole foundation of his hope. And Saint John Damascene said: "O Lady, I have placed all my hope in you. With my eyes fixed on you, I expect eternal salvation." In his eighth Opusculum, Saint Thomas claims that Mary is the whole hope of his salvation. And Saint Ephrem protests: "If you want us to be saved, o Mary, protect us, because we have no other hope of salvation but through you."
Let us conclude with Saint Bernard, who says: "With all our heart let us honor Mary, because this is the will of him who wants us to have everything through Mary." He exhorts us to recommend ourselves to her with the hope of obtaining anything we desire: "Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary." Saint Bernard says that even if you do not deserve the grace you ask for, Mary, who will ask for it for you, is deserving of it. And by the same token, he adds, whatever you offer to God by way of good works or prayers, be sure to offer through Mary if you want the Lord to accept it.
6. MOST GRACIOUS ADVOCATE
Mary is an advocate who is able to save everybody
So great is the authority which a mother has over her son, that even though he is a monarch and has absolute power over everybody in the kingdom, still she can never become her son's subject.
It is true that Jesus who is now in heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father has, as Saint Thomas explains it, even as man, supreme power over all creatures, even over Mary, because of the hypostatic union with the Person of the Divine Word. At the same time, it will always be true that there was a time, while he was living on this earth, when he was pleased to humble himself and be subject to Mary, as we are told by Saint Luke: "And he was subject to them" (Lk 2:51). We can go even further, according to Saint Ambrose, and say that, having deigned to make Mary his mother, Jesus Christ obligated himself to obey her, since he was her son. For this reason, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, while we may say of the other saints that they are "with God," of Mary alone can it be said that since she was not only favored to be subject to the will of God, but that God himself was subject to her will, the Lord could well be said to be "with Mary": "The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). And whereas it can be said of all other virgins, the same author remarks, that "they follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Apoc 14:4), of the Blessed Virgin alone can it be said that the Lamb followed her, having become subject to her.
Mary is now in heaven. Although she can now no longer command her son, nevertheless her prayers are always the prayers of a mother, and, as such, are so powerful that they can obtain whatever she asks. "Mary," says Saint Bonaventure, "has this great privilege compared with other saints, that she is most powerful in obtaining whatever she requests from her son." Why is this? Precisely for the reason which we have just mentioned and which we will examine later on, at greater length, because her prayers are those of a mother.
Therefore, as Saint Peter Damian remarks, the Blessed Virgin can do whatever she pleases both in heaven and on earth. She can cause even those who are in despair to hope; and so he addresses the following words to her: "All power is given to you in heaven and on earth, and nothing is impossible to you because you can raise those who are in despair to the hope of salvation." And then he adds: "When the mother goes to seek a favor for us from Jesus Christ (whom the saint calls the golden altar of mercy, at which sinners obtain pardon) her son regards her prayers so highly and is so eager to satisfy her, that when she prays it seems as if she were commanding rather than praying, and as if she were a lady rather than a servant." Mary honored Jesus so much during her life that Jesus is now pleased to honor his beloved mother in this way, by granting at once whatever she asks or desires. This is beautifully confirmed by Saint Germanus, who addresses the Blessed Virgin and says: "You are the Mother of God and are all-powerful to save sinners; with God you need no other recommendation, for you are the mother of true life."
"At the command of Mary, everybody obeys, even God." Saint Bernardine of Siena is not afraid to utter this sentence, meaning thereby, of course, that God grants the prayers of Mary as if they were commands. And so Saint Anselm addresses her, saying: "Our Lord, O holy Mary, has exalted you to such an extent that by his favor all things that are possible to him should be possible to you!" "For your protection is omnipotent, O Mary," says Cosmas of Jerusalem. Yes, Mary is omnipotent, remarks Richard of Saint Lawrence, for by every law the queen enjoys the same privileges as the king. And since the power of a son and that of a mother are the same, a mother is made omnipotent by an omnipotent son. "And thus," says Saint Antoninus, "God has placed the whole Church not only under the patronage, but also under the dominion of Mary."
Since the mother, then, should have the same power as the son, Jesus, who is omnipotent, has also made Mary omnipotent; though, of course, it is always true that, while Jesus is omnipotent by nature, Mary is omnipotent only by grace. But that she is so appears from the fact that, whatever the mother asks for, the son never denies her. This was revealed to Saint Bridget. One day she heard Jesus talking to Mary and saying: "Ask me for whatever you wish, for whatever you desire will not be denied you." As if he had said: "My Mother, you know how much I love you, so you may ask me for anything you wish. It is not possible for me to refuse you." And he gave this beautiful reason: "Because you never denied me anything on earth, I will not deny you anything in heaven." Mary, then, is called omnipotent in the sense in which such a term can be applied to a creature who is incapable of a divine attribute; that is, she is omnipotent because she obtains by her prayers whatever she wishes.
It is very much to the point, therefore, for Saint Bernard to address Mary thus: "You will it, and all things are done." And for Saint Anselm to say: "Whatever you will, O Blessed Virgin, cannot but be done." If you should choose to raise one of the most abandoned sinners to the highest pinnacle of holiness, you would be able to do this. Saint Albert the Great has Mary say: "I must be asked to will it; but once I do will it, it must necessarily be done."
Saint Peter Damian, reflecting on this great power of Mary and begging her to have pity on us, says this to her: "May your nature move you, may your power move you. For the more powerful you are, the greater your mercy should be." O Mary, our beloved advocate, since you have such a compassionate heart that you cannot even see the wretched without being moved to pity, and since, at the same time, you have such great power with God that you can save all whom you protect, do not refuse to take up the cause of us forlorn creatures who place all our hope in you. If our prayers cannot move you, at least let your own gracious heart move you. For God has enriched you with such great power that, the richer you are in power to help us, the more willing you will be to help us. Saint Bernard reassures us on this point. He says that Mary is equally rich in power and in mercy. Precisely because she is so powerful, for that very reason is she so merciful and compassionate.
From the time Mary came into the world, her only thought, after seeking the glory of God, was to help the unfortunate. We know that even then she enjoyed the privilege of obtaining whatever she asked. We know this from what happened at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee. When the wine failed, Mary was touched with pity at the embarrassment of the bride and groom. She asked her son to relieve them by performing a miracle. She simply said to him: "They have no wine" (Jn 2:3). Jesus replied: "Woman, what is that to you and to me? My hour is not yet come" (Jn 2:3). Note that Our Lord seemed to refuse his mother the favor she asked, saying in effect: "What is it to you and to me if the wine has failed? This is not the time for me to perform a miracle; the time will come when I will begin to preach and when miracles will be required to confirm my doctrines." Nevertheless, Mary, as if the favor had already been granted, ordered the waiters to fill the jars with water, so that the guests would immediately be satisfied. And this is precisely what happened. Jesus, in order to content his mother, changed the water into the best wine.
Why did he do it? If the time for working miracles was to be that of his public life, how could he perform this miracle, contrary to the divine decrees? According to Saint Augustine, there was nothing contrary to the divine decrees in this. Although, generally speaking, the time for miracles had not yet arrived, from all eternity God had determined by another decree that nothing Mary asked for should ever be refused her. And therefore Mary, who was well aware of this privilege, told them to fill the jars with water as if her request had already been granted, although her son seemed to have refused her. This is the way Saint John Chrysostom understood the passage. Explaining these words of Our Lord: "Woman, what is it to you and me?" he says, that "though Jesus answered in this way, nevertheless, in order to honor his mother, he obeyed her." This is confirmed by Saint Thomas, who says that by the words: "My hour is not yet come," Jesus intended to show that if the request had come from any other person, he would not have complied with it; but because it was addressed to him by his mother, he could not refuse it. Saint Cyril and Saint Jerome both say the same thing, according to Barrada. And so does Jansenius in his commentary on this passage: "To honor his mother, Our Lord anticipated the time for working miracles."
In short, it is quite certain that no creature can obtain so many favors for us as this gentle advocate, who is so highly honored by God, not only as his beloved handmaid, but also as his true mother. As William of Paris says: "No creature can obtain so many important favors for us as you obtain for poor sinners; it is evident, therefore, that God honors you not only as a servant, but also as his very own mother." Mary has only to speak, and her son complies with her wishes.
Our Lord conversing with the spouse of the Canticle of Canticles - this is, Mary - says: "O garden-dweller, my friends are listening for your voice, let me hear it!" (Cant 8:13). The friends are the saints, who, when they desire to have some favor for their servants, wait for their queen to ask and obtain it for them. For, as we said in the preceding chapter, no grace is granted except at the prayer of Mary.
How does Mary obtain these favors? She has only to speak - "my friends are listening for your voice" - and her son immediately grants her prayer. Listen to what Abbot William says, commenting on the above text. Jesus addresses Mary as follows: "You who dwell in the heavenly gardens, intercede with confidence for whomever you wish; for it is not possible that I should so far forget that I am your son as to deny you anything, O my Mother. Your voice has only to be heard, for to be heard by your son is to be obeyed." Abbot Godfrey adds: "Although Mary obtains favors by asking, she nevertheless asks with a certain maternal authority, and therefore we have every reason to feel confident that she obtains whatever she desires and asks for us."
Valerius Maximus relates that when Coriolanus was besieging Rome, the pleas of his friends and all the citizens could not make him stop. But as soon as his mother, Veturia, appeared on the scene, he could refuse no longer; he immediately raised the siege. Now, the prayers of Mary are far more powerful with Jesus than those of Veturia were with Coriolanus, just as the love and gratitude of this son for his dear mother are much greater than the love and gratitude of Coriolanus. Father Justin of Miechowice says that "a single sigh of the most Blessed Virgin can do more than all the prayers of the saints together." The devil admitted as much to Saint Dominic. According to Father Paciucchelli, the saint forced the evil one to speak from the mouth of a possessed person and he was obliged to admit that "a single sigh from Mary was worth more in God's sight than all the combined prayers of the saints."
Saint Antoninus maintains that since the prayers of the Blessed Virgin are those of a mother, they necessarily have, to a certain extent, the nature of a command. It is impossible, in other words, that she should not obtain what she asks for. Saint Germanus encourages sinners who appeal to her and thus addresses her: "Since you have the authority of a Mother of God, O Mary, you can obtain pardon for the worst sinners. Because the Lord acknowledges you in all things as his true and spotless mother, he cannot do otherwise than grant what you ask." This explains why Saint Bridget heard the saints in heaven addressing the Blessed Virgin: "O most blessed Queen, what is there that you cannot do? You have only to will it and it is done." There is a famous saying which corresponds to this thought: "What God can do by his power, you can do by your prayers, O Blessed Virgin." Saint Augustine says: "Is it not consistent with the kindness of the Lord to wish to honor his mother, especially when he came on earth not to break the law but to fulfil it, and one of the commandments of the law is that we honor our parents?"
Saint George, Archbishop of Nicomedia, says Jesus Christ grants all that his mother asks, as if he were satisfying an obligation he had placed upon himself when she consented to give him his human nature: "The Son, as if paying a debt, grants all your petitions." With this thought in mind, the holy martyr Saint Methodius exclaims: "Rejoice, O Mary, for you have as your debtor that son who gives to everyone and receives from no one. We are all indebted to God for all that we possess, for everything is his gift; but God has been pleased to be indebted to you by taking flesh from you and becoming man."
This truth enabled Saint Augustine to say: "Since Mary was found worthy to give flesh to the Divine Word and thus supply the price of our redemption, that we might be delivered from eternal death, she is obviously more powerful than all others in helping us to gain eternal life." Saint Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, a contemporary of Saint Jerome, wrote: "The prayers of his mother are a pleasure to the son, because he desires to grant all that is granted on her account. In this way, he repays her for the favor she did him in giving him his body." Saint John Damascene addresses the Blessed Virgin and says: "Being Mother of the Most High, O Mary, you can save everybody by your prayers. Your prayers have increased value because they are the prayers of a mother."
Let us conclude with Saint Bonaventure, who, bearing in mind the great benefit conferred on us by Our Lord in giving us Mary for our advocate, says: "O truly admirable goodness of God, which has been pleased to grant you, O sovereign Mother, to us miserable sinners as our advocate, so that, by your powerful intercession, you may obtain all that you please for us!" "O wonderful mercy of God," continues the same saint, "whereby he has given us his own mother and the patroness of grace to be our advocate, so that we may not be unduly frightened by the sentence that might be pronounced upon us!"
Mary pleads the cause of even the greatest sinners
There are so many reasons for loving our most loving queen, that if Mary were praised throughout the world - if in every sermon preachers spoke only of her - if all men laid down their lives for Mary - still everything would be very little in comparison with the honor and gratitude we owe her for the tender love she has for men, even for the most miserable sinners who happen to have the slightest spark of devotion for her.
Blessed Raymond Jordano who, because of his humility, called himself the Unlearned, used to say that Mary cannot help loving those who love her. And she cannot help doing favors for those who serve her. If they are sinners, she uses all her power to get forgiveness for them from her blessed son. And he adds that her kindness and mercy are so great, that no one, no matter how far gone in sin he may be, ought to be afraid to cast himself at her feet, for she never rejects anyone who appeals to her. "Mary, as our most loving advocate, herself offers the prayers of her servants to God, especially those who place themselves in her hands. For as the Son intercedes with the Father for us, so she intercedes with the Son and does not cease to plead with both for the great affair of our salvation and for the graces that we request." It is with good reason, then, that Denis the Carthusian calls the Blessed Virgin the unique refuge of the lost, the hope of the most abandoned, and the advocate of all sinners who appeal to her.
But suppose a sinner has no doubts about her power, but does wonder about her mercy, because he fears she will be reluctant to help anyone with sins as great as his. That sinner should take courage from the words of Saint Bonaventure: "The great, the special privilege of Mary is that she is all-powerful with her son." But, he adds, what would be the purpose of such great power if she did not bother about us? "Let us have no misgivings," he concludes, "but be quite certain and always thank Our Lord and his Blessed Mother for the fact that, just as her power with God exceeds that of all the other saints, so to the same extent she is also our most loving advocate and the one who is the most solicitous for our welfare."
"Who, O Mother of Mercy," exclaims Saint Germanus, "after Jesus, is as tenderly solicitous for our welfare as you are? Who defends us in the temptations to which we are subject as much as you do? Who protects and fights for sinners as you do? That is why your patronage, O Mary, is more powerful and loving than we can ever understand."
Blessed Raymond Jordano says that the other saints can do more for their own clients than for others. Mary, however, as queen of the world, is everybody's advocate and is interested in the salvation of everyone.
Mary takes care of all, even sinners. As a matter of fact, she glories in being called their special advocate, as she herself declared to the Venerable Sister Mary Villani when she said: "Next to the title of Mother of God, I am most happy with that of advocate of sinners."
Blessed Amadeus says that our Lady constantly stands before the Divine Majesty, interceding for us by her powerful prayers. And since she is well acquainted with our miseries and wants in heaven, she cannot help but have mercy on us; and so, with the tender affection of a mother, she is always trying to help and save us. That is why Richard of Saint Lawrence encourages everyone, no matter how bad they may be, to appeal to this sweet advocate with confidence, and to feel sure that they will always find her ready to help them. As the Abbot Godfrey says, "Mary is always ready to pray for all."
How effectively and lovingly this good advocate, according to Saint Bernard, takes an interest in our salvation! Considering the affection and zeal with which Mary always intercedes with the Divine Majesty for us, in order that Our Lord may pardon our sins, help us with his grace, free us from dangers, and relieve us in our wants, Saint Bonaventure, addressing the Blessed Virgin, uses these words of an ancient author: "We know that we have, as it were, but one person solicitous for us in heaven, and that person is you." That is to say: O Mary, it is true that all the saints wish for our salvation and pray for us, but the love, the tenderness which you show us in heaven, by obtaining so many mercies for us from God through your prayers, compel us to admit that we have but one advocate in heaven, namely you, and that you alone are truly loving and solicitous for our welfare.
Who can ever understand the solicitude with which Mary stands before God and pleads for us? Saint Germanus says that she is never weary of defending us. This is a beautiful thought, meaning that Mary has so much pity for our miseries and so much love for us, that she is always praying for us and never relaxes her efforts on our behalf. By her prayers she defends us from evil and secures for us sufficient grace to be saved. "There is never any end to her defense."
We poor sinners would be in a bad way, indeed, if we did not have this great advocate, who is so powerful and compassionate, and at the same time "so prudent and wise, that the judge, her son," according to Richard of Saint Lawrence, "cannot condemn the guilty when she defends them." And therefore Saint John Geometra greets her by saying: "Hail, O court that puts an end to litigation!" Every single case defended by this most wise advocate is always won.
For this reason, Mary is called by Saint Bonaventure the "wise Abigail." Abigail was the woman we read about in the Second Book of Kings, who knew how to appease King David, when he was indignant with Nabal, by her beautiful entreaties. In fact, David was inspired to bless her for having prevented him, by her gracious manner, from taking vengeance on Nabal with his own hands. This is exactly what Mary does in heaven, on behalf of innumerable sinners. By her tender and affectionate prayers, she knows how to appease the divine justice, so that God himself blesses her for it and, as it were, thanks her for having prevented him from abandoning them and punishing them as they deserve.
That is why, says Saint Bernard, the Eternal Father, wishing to show all the mercy possible, besides giving us Jesus Christ, our principal advocate with him, also gave us Mary as our advocate with Jesus Christ. "There is no doubt," he says, "that Jesus Christ is the only mediator of justice between men and God. By virtue of his own merits and promises, he can and will obtain for us pardon and divine favors. But because men recognize in him the majesty of God, since he is God, and because they fear his divine majesty, it was necessary to assign us another advocate to whom we can appeal with less fear and more confidence. This advocate is Mary. We cannot find anyone more powerful with the Divine Majesty than she is, nor more merciful towards us."
If anyone, therefore, feels the slightest fear in approaching this most sweet advocate, who has nothing about her that is severe or terrible, but on the contrary is all courtesy and kindness, such fear would be an actual insult to the tender compassion of Mary, as Saint Bernard goes on to say: "Read, and read again, as often as you please, all that is said of her in the Gospels, and if you can find a single instance of severity in her story, then you may fear to approach her. But you will never find any place where this is mentioned. Therefore go to her with a joyful heart, and she will save you by her intercession."
How beautiful the exclamation which William of Paris puts into the mouth of a sinner who appeals to Mary: "O most glorious Mother of God, full of confidence I appeal to you in the miserable state to which I am reduced because of my sins! If you reject me, I remind you that you are, as it were, bound to help me, since the whole Church calls on you and proclaims you as the Mother of Mercy." He then goes on: "You, O Mother, are the one to whom God always listens, because you are so dear to him. Your great compassion never failed anyone. You have never looked down on any sinner who recommended himself to you, no matter how great his sins were. Does the whole Church err in calling you the advocate and the refuge of sinners? Never let my sins, O great Mother, keep you from fulfilling your great office of charity, by which you are at the same time our advocate and our mediatrix of peace between men and God. After your son, you are our only hope and the certain refuge of the miserable. All your grace and glory, even your dignity as Mother of God, you owe, in one sense, to sinners, for it was on their behalf that the Divine Word made you his mother."
Far be it from this Blessed Mother, who brought the source of tender compassion into the world, to think that she could ever deny mercy to any sinner who appeals to her. Since your office, O Mary, is to be the peacemaker between God and men, let your tender mercy, then, which far exceeds all my sins, move you to help me.
Be comforted, therefore, you who are afraid, I will say with Saint Thomas of Villanova. Breathe freely and have courage, O wretched sinners. This great mother, who is the mother of your God and judge, is also the advocate for the whole human race. Moreover, she is the proper person for this office, because she can do with God whatever she wills. She is all-wise, for she understands all the ways to appease him. And her solicitude is really universal, in the sense that she welcomes everybody and refuses to defend no one.
Mary is the peacemaker between sinners and God
God's grace is, of course, the greatest and most desirable treasure of every human soul. The Holy Spirit calls it an infinite treasure. By means of divine grace we are raised to the honor of being the friends of God. These are the words of the Book of Wisdom: "For to men she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God" (Wis 7:14). Therefore Jesus, our redeemer and God, did not hesitate to say to those who are in grace: "You are my friends" (Jn 15:14). O wretched sin that dissolves that friendship! "But your iniquities," says the prophet Isaiah, "have divided between you and your God" (Isa 59:2). And when hatred comes between the soul and God, the soul is changed from a friend to an enemy of God, as the Book of Wisdom puts it: "Equally odious to God are the evildoer and the evil deed" (Wis 14:9).
What must the sinner do, then, who has the misfortune to become God's enemy? He must find a mediator who will seek pardon for him and will enable him to regain God's friendship. "Be comforted, O unfortunate soul who has lost God," says Saint Bernard. "Your Lord himself has provided you with a mediator, his son Jesus, who can obtain for you everything you beg for."
But why, O God, exclaims the saint, should this merciful savior who gave his life to save us ever be thought severe? Why should men believe him terrible, who is all love? O distrustful sinners, why are you afraid? If your fear arises from having offended God, you should remember that Jesus has fastened all your sins on the cross with his own lacerated hands, and having satisfied divine justice for them by his death, has already removed them from your souls. As Saint Bernard has so beautifully expressed it: "They imagine that he is rigorous, who is all compassion; terrible, who is all love. Why do you fear, O ye of little faith? With his own hands he has fastened your sins to the cross."
But if by any chance, adds the saint, you are afraid to appeal to Jesus because the majesty of God in him overawes you, and you desire another advocate with this divine mediator, go to Mary, for she will intercede for you with her son, who will surely hear her. And then he will intercede with his Father, who can deny nothing to his Son. Saint Bernard concludes by saying: "The Blessed Mother, O my sons, is the ladder of sinners, by which they re-ascend to the height of divine grace; she is my greatest confidence, she is the whole basis for my hope."
The Holy Spirit in the Canticle of Canticles causes the Blessed Virgin to utter the following words: "I am a wall; and my breasts are as a tower, since I am become in his presence as one finding peace" (Cant 8:10). That is to say, I am the defender of those who appeal to me, and my mercy toward them is like a tower of refuge. That is why I have been appointed by my Lord the peacemaker between sinners and God. Mary, says Cardinal Hugo commenting on this text, is the great peacemaker who reconciles enemies, brings salvation to those who are lost, pardon to sinners, and mercy to those who are in despair. Hence she was called by the Divine Bridegroom: "Beautiful...as the curtains of Solomon" (Cant 1:4). Behind the curtains of David's tent, only questions of war were discussed, but in the tents of Solomon only questions of peace. Thus the Holy Spirit gives us to understand that this Mother of Mercy never treats of war and vengeance against sinners, but only of peace and pardon.
Mary was prefigured by the dove which returned to Noah and the ark with an olive-branch in its beak, as a sign of the peace which God granted to men. With this idea in mind, Saint Bonaventure addresses the Blessed Virgin: "You are the faithful dove of Noah. You were a true mediatrix between God and the world lost in a spiritual flood. By presenting yourself before God, you have obtained peace and salvation for a lost world." Mary, then, was the heavenly dove which brought to a lost world the olive branch, the sign of mercy, since she in the first place gave us Jesus Christ, who is the source of mercy, and then, by his merits, obtained all graces for us. And since by Mary, says Saint Epiphanius, heavenly peace was given to the world once and for all, so it is by her that sinners are still reconciled to God. Saint Albert pictures her saying: "I am the dove of Noah which brought the olive-branch of universal peace to the Church."
Another figure of the Blessed Virgin was the rainbow seen by Saint John, which encircled the throne of God: "And there was a rainbow round about the throne" (Apoc 4:3). Cardinal Vitalism explains the image this way: "The rainbow round the throne is Mary, who softens the judgment and sentence of God against sinners." He means that she always stands before God's tribunal and mitigates the penalties which sinners have to pay. Saint Bernardine of Siena says that God was speaking of this rainbow when he promised Noah that he would place it in the clouds as a sign of peace, so that when he looked at it he might be reminded of the covenant of eternal peace he had with man. "I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and the earth...I will look upon it and recall the perpetuai covenant" (Gen 9:13). According to the saint, Mary is this bow of eternal peace; for when God sees it he remembers the peace he promised to the earth; and then, by Mary's prayers, he forgives the crimes of sinners and confirms his peace with them.
For the same reason, Mary is also compared with the moon in the Canticle of Canticles: "As beautiful as the moon" (Cant 6:10). As Saint Bonaventure says, just as the moon is situated between heaven and earth, so Mary continually places herself between God and sinners in order to appease the Lord and to give sinners the light to return to him.
Mary's chief office, on being placed in this world, was to raise up souls that had fallen from divine grace and to reconcile them with God. "Feed your goats" (Cant 1:7) was Our Lord's command when he created her. It is well known that sinners are represented by goats, and that at the Last Judgment the just, under the figure of sheep, will be on the right hand, while the goats will be on the left. These goats, says Abbot William, are entrusted to you, O great Mother, that you may change them into sheep. And those who, because of the judgment passed on them, deserve to be on the left, will by your intercession be placed on the right. Therefore, Our Lord reveals to Saint Catherine of Siena that he had created his beloved Daughter to be a kind of alluring bait to catch men, and especially sinners, and so draw them to God. But on this subject we must not pass over the beautiful thought of William the Englishman on the above text of the Canticles. He says: "God recommended her own goats to Mary, for the Blessed Virgin does not save all sinners, but only those who serve and honor her." This is certainly true, for those who live in sin and neither honor her with any particular act of devotion nor recommend themselves to her to be freed from their sins, are certainly not Mary's goats. And at the Last Judgment they will be driven to the left along with the damned, to their eternal punishment.
There was a certain nobleman, who despaired of salvation because of his many sins. He was encouraged by a monk to appeal to the Blessed Virgin. With this intention in mind, he visited a much venerated statue in a particular church. When he entered the church and saw the statue, he felt that Mary was inviting him to throw himself at her feet and to confide in her. He knelt down and kissed her feet, and as he did so she extended her hand for him to kiss. On Mary's hand he saw written the following words: "I will deliver you from those who oppress you." As though she had said: "My son, do not despair, for I will deliver you from the sins and sorrows that weigh so heavily on you." The sinner read these consoling words and was immediately filled with such great sorrow for his sins and such an ardent love for God and his tender Mother that he expired immediately at the feet of Mary.
How many obstinate sinners this magnet of hearts draws every day to God! A magnet is what Mary called herself one day when speaking to Saint Bridget: "As the magnet attracts iron, so I attract hearts." Yes, even the most hardened hearts, in order to reconcile them with God. And we must not suppose that such prodigies are rare; they are everyday occurrences. I myself could relate many examples of this kind that have occurred in our missions, when certain sinners with hearts harder than iron have remained obdurate through all the other sermons, but when they heard the one on the mercies of Mary were immediately filled with sorrow and returned to God.
Saint Gregory says that the unicorn is so fierce an animal that no hunter can capture it. Only when it hears a virgin crying will it approach, and then without resistance allow itself to be bound by her. How many sinners there are, much more savage than the wild beasts, who flee from God, yet at the voice of the Virgin Mary approach and allow themselves to be sweetly bound to God by her!
Saint John Chrysostom used to say that another reason why the Blessed Virgin was made the Mother of God was that she might also obtain salvation for the many who, because of their evil lives, could not be saved according to the normal course of divine justice, but might be saved with the help of her sweet mercy and powerful intercession. Saint Anselm confirms this when he says that "Mary was raised to the dignity of Mother of God primarily for sinners rather than for the just, because Jesus Christ declares that he came to call not the just, but sinners." For this reason, Holy Church sings: "You do not abhor sinners, because were it not for them you would never have been worthy of such a son." For the same reason, William of Paris invokes her, saying: "O Mary, you are obliged to help sinners, because of all the gifts, graces, and high honors which are comprised in the dignity of Mother of God which you have received. You owe everything, so to say, to sinners; it is because of them that you were made worthy to have God for as a son." "Therefore," concludes Saint Anselm, "if Mary was made Mother of God because of sinners, how can I, no matter how great my sins may be, ever despair of forgiveness?"
Holy Church tells us in the oration of the Mass for the Vigil of the Assumption that "the Blessed Mother was taken from this world so that she might confidently intercede with God for the forgiveness of our sins." Hence Saint Justin calls Mary an arbitrator. "The Eternal Word uses Mary as an arbitrator." An arbitrator is a person to whom contending parties entrust their case for decision. The saint means to say that, just as Jesus is the mediator with the Eternal Father, so Mary is our mediator with Jesus.
Saint Andrew of Crete calls Mary a pledge or security for our reconciliation with God. That is, God goes about seeking for reconciliation with sinners by pardoning them; and in order that these may not be in any doubt regarding their forgiveness, he has given them Mary as a pledge or guarantee of forgiveness. The saint salutes her with this greeting: "Hail, O reconciliation between God and men!" Saint Bonaventure encourages a sinner by saying to him: "If you are afraid that God in his anger will take revenge on you because of your sins, what can you do? Go, appeal to Mary, who is the hope of sinners. And if you are afraid that she may refuse to listen to your case, be assured that she cannot do this, for God himself has imposed on her the duty of helping the hopeless."
The Abbot Adam also says: "Does any sinner need to be afraid of being lost for whom the Mother of the Judge is willing to act as mother and advocate?" And he adds: "You, O Mary, who are the Mother of Mercy, will you refuse to intercede with your Son who is the Judge, on behalf of another son who is a sinner? Will you refuse to intervene on behalf of a redeemed soul with the redeemer who died on a cross to save sinners?" No, certainly not. You will not reject him, but you will pray with the utmost affection for all who appeal to you, knowing well that "the Lord who has made your son a mediator of peace between God and man has also made you mediatrix between the Judge and the culprit."
Therefore, O sinner, says Saint Bernard, never despair. Thank God, who has not only given his Son as an advocate for you, but, to encourage you to have greater confidence has also provided you with a mediatrix who is able to obtain by her prayers whatever she wishes. Go then, appeal to Mary, and you will be saved.
7. TURN THEN, YOUR EYES OF MERCY TOWARD US
Mary is all eyes to pity and help us
Saint Epiphanius calls the Blessed Mother "many-eyed," because she is ever on the watch to help all poor creatures in this world. Once a possessed person, while being exorcised, was asked by the exorcist what Mary does. The devil in him replied: "She descends and ascends." By that he meant that Our Lady is constantly coming down from heaven to bring graces to men and going up again to obtain divine favor for our prayers. Saint Andrew of Avellino fittingly calls the Blessed Virgin the "heavenly messenger," for she is constantly carrying messages of mercy and obtaining graces for everybody, for the good and for sinners. God has his eyes on the good, according to David: "The eyes of the Lord are on the just" (Ps 33:16). But, according to Richard of Saint Lawrence, the eyes of Mary are on the good and on sinners. Her eyes are the eyes of a mother; and a mother not only keeps an eye on her child to see that it does not fall down, but when it does fall, she picks it up again.
Jesus himself revealed as much to Saint Bridget, when he one day permitted her to overhear him speaking to his mother like this: "My Mother, ask me for whatever you wish." In fact, this is what Jesus is constantly saying to Mary in heaven, delighted as he is to grant his beloved mother whatever she asks. But what does Mary ask? Saint Bridget overheard her reply: "I ask for mercy for sinners." This is as if she had said: "My Son, you have made me the Mother of Mercy, the refuge of sinners, the advocate of the miserable, and now you tell me to ask for whatever I desire. What can I desire except mercy for them? I ask for mercy for those who need it."
"And so," says Saint Bonaventure with deep feeling, "you are so full of mercy, O Mary, so anxious to help the miserable, that you seem to have no other desire, no other concern." And since nobody is more miserable than sinners, the Venerable Bede declares that Mary is always praying to her Son for them.
Saint Jerome asserts that even while Mary was living in this world, her heart was so filled with tenderness and pity for men, that no one ever suffered so much distress for his own troubles as Mary did for the troubles of others. This compassion which she felt for those in affliction was well shown at the marriage feast of Cana, which we mentioned in the preceding chapters. When the wine failed, according to Saint Bernardine of Siena, without being asked, Mary acted to save the situation. Moved to pity by the embarrassment of the bride and bridegroom, she intervened with her Son and obtained the miraculous conversion of the water into wine.
But perhaps now that Mary has been raised to the high dignity of queen of heaven, remarks Saint Peter Damian, she is inclined to forget us. Let such a thought be far from our minds, he says, for it would hardly be consistent with the great pity which reigns in the heart of Mary to forget the great misery which is ours. The proverb "High station makes one aloof" does not apply to Mary. With worldlings it is different. Once they have achieved a certain amount of prominence, many become proud and forget their friends of other days. But not Mary. She is happy to use her high position to help us all the more.
Saint Bonaventure applies to the Blessed Virgin the words which Boaz addressed to Ruth: "May the Lord bless you, my daughter! You have been even more loyal now than before" (Ruth 3:10). He then gives the reason for this, saying that, if the mercy of Mary toward the downfallen was great while she was living in this world, it is much greater now that she is reigning in heaven, where she is more aware of their miseries. And so he adds that "as the splendor of the sun surpasses that of the moon, so does the compassion of Mary, now that she is in heaven, surpass the compassion that she had for us when in the world." In conclusion, he asks: "Who is there living in the world who does not enjoy the light of the sun? And on whom does the mercy of Mary not shine?"
That is why, in the Canticle of Canticles, she is called "bright as the sun" (Cant 6:9). No one is excluded from the warmth of the sun, says Saint Bonaventure, repeating the words of the Psalmist (Ps 18:7). Saint Agnes revealed the same thing to Saint Bridget when she told her: "Our queen, now that she is united to her Son in heaven, is not going to forget her innate goodness. That is why she shows mercy to everybody, even to the worst sinners. And we may say that, just as everything on earth and in the sky is illumined and warmed by the sun, so there is not a person in the world who will not share in the light and warmth of the divine mercy through the tender love of Mary - if only he asks for that mercy."
A great sinner in the kingdom of Valencia once resolved to become a Mohammedan to escape from the arm of justice. On his way to the place of embarkation he happened to pass by a church in which the Jesuit Father Jerome Lopez was preaching on the mercy of God. Moved by the sermon, he went to confession to the same Father who asked him whether he practiced any special devotion which might be responsible for this great grace. He replied: "I simply pray to Mary every day not to abandon me."
This Jesuit priest met one day in a hospital a sinner who had not gone to confession for fifty-five years but had only practiced this little devotion: whenever he passed a picture of Mary he greeted her and asked that she would not let him die in mortal sin. He then told how one day while fighting with an enemy his sword broke. Turning to Mary, he cried out: "Now I shall be killed and eternally damned. O Mother of sinners, save me!" He had scarcely said this when he found himself, in some mysterious way, transported to a safe place. He made a general confession and died full of confidence.
Saint Bernard writes that Mary has made herself all to all and opens her merciful heart to all, that all may receive of its fullness: the slave, his freedom; the sick, health; the afflicted, comfort; the sinner, pardon; and God, glory. She does this, says Saint Bernard, so that there may be no one who does not share in her warmth. Can anyone in the world, exclaims Saint Bonaventure, refuse to love this most loving queen? She is more beautiful than the sun and sweeter than honey. She is a treasure of goodness, amiable to all and courteous to all. "I salute you, therefore," continues the enraptured saint, "O my Lady and Mother - no, even my heart and my soul! Forgive me, O Mary, if I say that I love you. Even if I am not worthy to love you, you at least are fully worthy of being loved by me."
It was revealed to Saint Gertrude that when anyone calls on Our Lady with these words: "Turn, then, O most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us," Mary cannot resist. She is forced to listen and to grant the demand of anyone who addresses her in this way.
"O great Lady," says Saint Bernard, "your measureless mercy fills the whole earth." And that is why, according to Saint Bonaventure, this loving mother has such a great desire to do good to all. She is not only offended by those who do her actual harm but she is even offended at those who do not ask her for favors and graces. So that Saint Hildebert addresses her, saying: "You teach us, O Mary, to hope for far greater graces than we deserve, because you never cease to dispense graces far beyond what we deserve."
The prophet Isaiah foretold that, along with the great work of the redemption of the human race, a throne of divine mercy was to be prepared for us poor creatures: "And a throne shall be prepared in mercy" (Isa 16:5). What is this throne? Saint Bonaventure supplies the answer: "Mary is this throne, at which all - just and sinners - find the consolations of mercy." He then adds: "For just as we have a most merciful Lord, so we also have a most merciful Lady. Our Lord is bountiful in mercy to all who call upon him, and Our Lady is bountiful in mercy to all who call upon her." As Our Lord is full of mercy, so also is Our Lady; and as the son does not know how to refuse mercy to those who call upon him, neither does his mother. Therefore, the Abbot Guerric addresses Mary thus, in the name of Jesus Christ: "My Mother, I will establish the seat of my government in you; through you I will pronounce judgments, hear prayers, and grant the graces asked of me. You have given me my human nature, and I will give you my divine nature, that is, omnipotence, by which you will be able to help save all whom you please."
One day, when Saint Gertrude was addressing to Mary the words, "Turn your eyes of mercy toward us," she saw the Blessed Virgin pointing to the eyes of her Son whom she held in her arms, and then saying: "These are my eyes - the most merciful eyes I can tum toward all who ask me for help."
A sinner was once weeping before an image of Mary, imploring her to obtain pardon for him from God, when he noticed that the Blessed Virgin turned toward the child that she held in her arms and said: "My son, shall those tears be lost?" And he understood that Jesus Christ had already forgiven him.
How is it possible then that anyone can perish who commends himself to this good mother, since her son, as God, has promised to show to all her clients as much mercy as she asks for? Our Lord allowed Saint Gertrude to hear him make this promise to his mother: "In my omnipotence, O Mother, I have granted you the reconciliation of all sinners who devoutly call upon the help of your mercy."
In view of this assurance, the Abbot Adam of Perseigne, bearing in mind the great power of Mary with God, and her great compassion for us, says, full of confidence: "O Mother of Mercy, your tender compassion is as great as your power, and you are as compassionate in forgiving as you are powerful in obtaining whatever you wish." "And when did it ever happen," he asks, "that you, who are the Mother of Mercy, did not show mercy? When was it that you, who are the Mother of Omnipotence, could not provide help? Yes, with the same ease with which you behold our misfortunes, you obtain for us whatever you will."
"Take your fill, O great queen," says the Abbot Guerric, "of the glory of your son, and out of compassion, though not for any merit of ours, graciously send us, your servants and children here below, the crumbs that fall from your table."
If the sight of our sins should ever discourage us, let us speak to the Mother of Mercy in these words of William of Paris: "O Mary, do not hold my sins against me. Bear in mind your mercy rather than my offenses. Let it never be said that my sins outbalance your mercy, which is far more powerful to obtain pardon for me than my sins are to obtain condemnation."
8. AND AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE, SHOW UNTO US THE BLESSED FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB, JESUS
Mary saves her servants from hell
It is impossible for a servant of Mary to be lost, if he faithfully honors her and recommends himself to her. This statement may appear to some, at first sight, to be exaggerated; but I beg anyone to whom this might seem to be the case to withhold judgment, and to read first what I have to say on this subject in the following pages.
When we say that it is not possible for a servant of Mary to be lost, we are not speaking, of course, of those who take advantage of their devotion to sin all the more freely. Those who disapprove of saying so much about Mary's mercy toward sinners, on the grounds that this only causes them to sin all the more, do so without cause, for such presumptuous sinners deserve punishment, not mercy, for their rash confidence. We are referring rather to those clients of Mary who, with a sincere desire to mend their ways, are faithful in honoring and recommending themselves to her. It is morally impossible, I say, for such persons to be lost. And I find that Father Crasset has also said the same thing in his book on devotion to the Blessed Virgin. So also Vega before him, in his Marian Theology, Mendoza, and other theologians. And we can see that they were not speaking at random when we examine what other saints and learned men have said on the subject. Let no one be surprised to find that many of these quotations are similar in content. I give them all in order to show how unanimous the various writers have been on the subject.
Saint Anselm says that, just as it is impossible for one to be saved who is not devoted to Mary and is therefore not protected by her, so it is impossible for one who recommends himself to her and is consequently loved by her to be lost. Saint Antoninus repeats the same idea in almost identical words: "Just as it is impossible for those from whom Mary turns her eyes of mercy to be saved, so also it is impossible for those toward whom she turns her eyes and for whom she prays not be justified and glorified." Consequently, the saint adds, the servants of Mary are necessarily saved.
Note particularly the first part of the opinions of these saints, and let those tremble who do not take seriously their devotion to Mary or who give it up out of carelessness. They say that it is impossible for those to be saved who are not protected by Mary. Others have said the same thing, such as Saint Albert, who proclaims: "All those who are not your servants, O Mary, will perish." And Saint Bonaventure: "Anyone who neglects Mary will die in his sins." In another place, he says: "Whoever does not call upon you in this life will not get to heaven." And in commenting on the Psalm Ninety-Nine, Saint Bonaventure even goes so far as to say that those from whom Mary turns her face not only will not be saved, but will have no hope of salvation. Before him, Saint Ignatius the Martyr said that it was impossible for any sinner to be saved without the help and favor of the Blessed Virgin, because those whom God does not save out of justice he saves in his infinite mercy through the intercession of Mary. Some doubt whether this passage is actually from Saint Ignatius. In any case, Father Crasset says the same idea was expressed by Saint John Chrysostom. It is also repeated by the Abbot of Celles. And it is with this meaning that Holy Church applies to Mary the words of Proverbs: "All that hate me love death" (Prov 8:36). That is, all who do not love me, love eternal death, because, as Richard of Saint Lawrence says, commenting on the words: "She is like the merchant's ship" (Prov 31:14), all those who are not on this ship shall be drowned in the sea of this world. Even the heretic Oecolampadius regarded a lack of devotion to the Mother of God a sure sign of reprobation, for he said: "Let it never be said of me that I reject Mary, for I regard it as a certain sign of a reprobate mind when one is not devoted to her."
On the other hand, Mary says: "He that hearkens to me shall not be confounded" (Ecclus 24:30). That is, he who has recourse to me and listens to what I say, shall not perish. That is why Saint Bonaventure says: "He who renders homage to you, shall be far from perdition." And Saint Hilary says that this will be the case even with one who has greatly offended God in the past: "No matter how great a sinner he may have been, if he has become devoted to Mary he shall never be lost."
It is for this reason that the devil does his utmost to make sinners lose devotion to Mary after they have lost the grace of God. When Sarah saw Isaac playing with Ismael, who was teaching him evil ways, she told Abraham to banish Ismael and his mother Agar: "Cast out this slave girl and her son" (Gen 21:10). She was not satisfied to have the son driven out of the house but also wanted the mother sent away, because she thought that otherwise he would keep coming back to the house if he saw his mother there. In the same way, the devil is not content to see a soul drive out Jesus Christ unless his mother is also banished: "Cast out this slave girl and her son." Otherwise he fears that the mother will bring back her son by her intercession. "And his fears are well grounded," says the learned Father Paciucchelli; "for he who is faithful in serving God's mother will soon get back to God himself."
Saint Ephrem is right in calling devotion to Mary the "charter of liberty," our safeguard against hell. He also calls Mary the "protector of the damned." And, rightly, for it is certain, according to Saint Bernard, that Mary lacks neither the power nor the will to save us. She does not lack the power, Saint Antoninus asserts, because it is impossible for her prayers not to be heard. Saint Bernard says that her requests can never be in vain, and that she obtains whatever she wills. She is not lacking in the will to save us, because she is our mother and desires to save us more than we do ourselves. So if this be true, how can anyone who is devoted to Mary ever perish? He may be a sinner, but if he perseveres in his intention to mend his ways and recommends himself to this good mother, she will make it her business to beg for him light to leave his wicked ways, sorrow for his sins, perseverance in virtue, and finally a good death. What mother, able to free her son from death by merely asking the judge on his behalf, would not do so? And can we imagine that Mary, the most loving mother her faithful servants could ever have, would not save her children from eternal death when she can so easily do so?
Devout reader, let us thank the Lord when we see that he has given us affection for and confidence in the Queen of Heaven, because, as Saint John Damascene says, he does not give this grace except to those whom he wishes to save. These are the beautiful words of the saint with which he rekindles his own and our hope: "O Mother of God, if I place my confidence in you I shall be saved. If I am under your protection I have nothing to fear, because the fact that I am your servant means that I possess the invincible weapons of salvation, which God gives only to those whom he wishes to save." Erasmus salutes the Blessed Virgin with these words: "Hail, O terror of hell and hope of Christians! Confidence in you is a pledge of salvation."
How enraged the devil must be when he sees a soul persevering in devotion to Our Lady! We read in the life of Father Alfonso Alvarez, who was deeply devoted to Mary, that once when he was at prayer and very much troubled by the impure temptations of the devil, Satan said to him: "Give up devotion to Mary and I shall give up tempting you."
Blosius tells us that God revealed to Saint Catherine of Siena that out of regard for his only-begotten Son whose mother she was, no sinner who devoutly recommended himself to Mary would ever become the prey of hell. Even the prophet David begged to be delivered from hell, for the sake of the love he bore for the honor of Mary: "I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of your house....Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked" (Ps 15:8-9). He says of your house, because Mary was that house which God, in becoming man, built for himself here on earth as his dwelling and resting place, as it is written in Proverbs: "Wisdom has built herself a house" (Prov 9:1). Saint Ignatius the Martyr said that no one will ever perish who has been diligently devoted to the Virgin Mother of God. And Saint Bonaventure confirms this by saying: "O Mary, those who love you enjoy peace in this life and their souls will never see eternal death." The devout Blosius assures us that it has never happened and never will happen that a humble and devoted servant of Mary will be eternally damned.
"How many would remain eternally damned or obstinate in sin," asks Thomas à Kempis, "unless the Virgin Mary interceded with her son?" It is the opinion of many theologians, especially of Saint Thomas, that sometimes Mary induces God to suspend the sentence of certain souls who die in mortal sin and enables them to return to life in order to do penance.
Serious authors cite instances when this has occurred. Among others, Flodoard, who lived in the ninth century. He tells us in his Annals of a certain deacon Adelman who was pronounced dead - yet, when he was about to be buried, he returned to life and said that he had seen the place in hell to which he had been condemned. It was by the prayers of the Blessed Virgin that he had been sent back to the world to do penance.
Surius has a similar case of a Roman citizen who had died impenitent, and for whom Mary obtained permission to come back to life and be forgiven. Moreover, Pelbart says that in his time, when the emperor Sigismund was crossing the Alps with his army, a voice was heard coming from a skeleton asking for a confessor and declaring that the Mother of God, for whom he had had a great devotion when a soldier, had obtained permission for him to live on in those bones until he had been able to confess his sins. The man made his confession and then died.
These and other examples of this type, however, must not encourage rash persons to live in sin in the hope that Mary will eventually save them from hell, even if they die in sin. Just as it would be madness for anyone to throw himself into a well in the hope that Mary would save him from death, simply because she had once saved a person in similar circumstances, so too it would be even greater madness to risk dying in sin, on the presumption that she would save him from hell. Nevertheless, these examples serve to revive our confidence when we realize that our Blessed Lady has been able to preserve from hell by her intercession even those who have died in sin, and that she can do even more in keeping those from falling into hell who turn to her in this life with a purpose of amendment and serve her faithfully.
Let us therefore say with Saint Germanus: "If you abandon us, O Mother of God, what will become of us sinners who want to amend and turn to you who are the life of Christians?" Let us listen to Saint Anselm, who says that no one for whom Mary has once prayed will ever experience eternal punishment. He says: "Those for whom you have prayed but once will not be damned." Therefore pray for us and we shall be saved from hell. When I come before the divine tribunal, who will be able to say to me that I shall not find the judge favorably disposed as long as I have you, O Mother of Mercy, to defend me? As Richard of Saint Victor says: "If I approach the judgment and have the Mother of Mercy on my side, who will say that the Judge will not be favorable to me?"
Blessed Henry Suso used to maintain that he placed his soul in Mary's hands and that, if the Judge wanted to condemn him, he wanted the sentence to be handed down by Mary. He meant by this that, if sentence of condemnation were passed on him, he was confident that it would not be carried out if the execution had to pass through the merciful hands of the Blessed Virgin. I say and hope the same for myself, O most blessed queen. I say with Saint Bonaventure: "In you, O Mary, I have hoped and I shall not be confounded forever." I have placed all my hopes in you, O Blessed Mother; therefore I confidently hope never to be lost, but to be saved, and so to praise and love you forever in heaven.
Mary helps her servants in purgatory
The servants of Mary are fortunate indeed: they enjoy her help not only here on earth, but also in purgatory, where they are assisted and consoled by her protection. In fact, because the souls there need help so desperately, since in their torments they cannot help themselves, Mary makes it her business to relieve them all the more. Saint Bernardine of Siena says that over the souls detained in that prison - all spouses of Jesus Christ - Mary exercises a certain dominion and plenitude of power, not only to relieve them, but even to deliver them from their sufferings.
Consider first the relief that she gives. In applying to her the passage of Ecclesiasticus: "I have walked in the waves of the sea" (Ecclus 24:8), Saint Bernardine adds that Mary comforts her servants by visiting and helping them in their torments, because they are her children. The pains of purgatory are called waves, according to him, because they are transitory and differ from the pains of hell which never end. And they are called of the sea, because they are very bitter. When Mary's servants are afflicted by these pains, she often comes to visit and comfort them. This is why it is important, according to Novarinus, to serve this gracious lady: because she simply cannot forget her servants as long as they are suffering in those flames. Though Mary helps all the poor souls suffering in purgatory, she obtains more indulgence and relief for those who have been devoted to her.
Our Blessed Lady said to Saint Bridget in a revelation: "I am the mother of all souls in purgatory; for, as long as they remain there, all the sufferings that they have deserved for their sins are, every hour, in some way, relieved by my prayers." The merciful mother even deigns, at times, to enter this holy prison to visit and comfort her suffering children. "I have penetrated into the bottom of the deep" (Ecclus 24:8). In these words of Ecclesiasticus, she says equivalently: "I have penetrated into the depths of purgatory, to help those holy souls." As Saint Vincent Ferrer says: "O how good is Mary to the souls in purgatory, because through her they obtain comfort and relief."
What other consolation can they have in their suffering except Mary and the relief that they receive from the Mother of Mercy? Saint Bridget one day heard Jesus say to his mother: "You are my mother, the Mother of Mercy, and the consolation of the souls in purgatory." The Blessed Virgin herself told the saint that as a poor bedridden man left to himself is refreshed by some comforting word spoken to him, so the poor souls in purgatory are consoled by merely hearing her name. The mere mention of Mary's name, a name of hope and salvation, which is frequently invoked by her children in their prison, is a great source of comfort to them. Novarinus says that when Mary hears them invoking her name, she offers her prayers to God, and instantly the suffering souls find their pains relieved.
Mary not only consoles and relieves her servants in purgatory, but she also frees them from that prison by her prayers. According to Gerson, on the day of her Assumption into heaven, purgatory was entirely emptied. And this is confirmed by Novarinus, who says that many serious authors maintain that when Mary was going to heaven, she asked as a favor from her son permission to take along with her all the souls then in purgatory. From that time on, says Gerson, Mary had the privilege of delivering her servants from the pains of purgatory. Saint Bernardine of Siena asserts positively that the Blessed Virgin has the power of delivering souls from purgatory, especially those of her servants, by her prayers and by applying her own merits to them. Novarinus is of the same opinion and says that not only are the pains of those souls lessened by the merits of Mary, but the time of their suffering is shortened by her intercession. She has only to ask, and it is done.
Saint Peter Damian mentions a certain woman named Marozia, who appeared after her death to her godmother and told her that on the feast of the Assumption she had been delivered by Mary from purgatory, together with a number of souls greater than the population of Rome. Denis the Carthusian relates something similar with regard to the feasts of Christmas and Easter, saying that on those days Mary comes down to purgatory accompanied by legions of angels and frees many souls from their torments. Novarinus also gives us to understand that this happens on every solemn feast of Our Lady.
The promise made by Mary to Pope John XXII is well known. She appeared to him and ordered him to inform all those who wore the Carmelite scapular that on the Saturday after their death she would deliver them from purgatory. According to Father Crasset, the Pope published this in a bull, which was later confirmed by Alexander V, Clement VII, Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Paul V. The latter, in 1612, declared in his bull, that "Christian people may piously believe that the Blessed Virgin will help them after death by her continual intercession, her merits, and special protection; and that on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to her, she will give special help to the souls of the brethren of the Confraternity of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel who have departed this life in a state of grace, provided that they have worn the scapular, observed the chastity of their state, and recited her Office; or, if they could not recite it, if they have observed the fasts of the Church and abstained from meat on all Wednesdays except Christmas Day." In the solemn Office of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel, we read that it is piously believed that the Blessed Virgin comforts the brethren of this Confraternity in purgatory with maternal love, and that by her intercession she soon delivers them and conducts them to their heavenly home.
Why should we not hope for the same graces and favors, if we are devoted children of this good mother? And if we serve her with very special love, why should we not also hope for the grace to enter heaven immediately after death, without even going to purgatory? This really took place in the case of Blessed Godfrey, to whom Mary sent the following message by Brother Abondo: "Tell Brother Godfrey to advance in virtue, for he will then belong to me and to my son. And when his soul leaves his body, I will not allow it to enter purgatory, but I will take it personally and offer it to my son."
If we wish to relieve the sufferings of the poor souls in purgatory by our prayers, let us do so by imploring the aid of the Blessed Virgin, and especially by offering the Rosary for them, for that gives them great relief.
Mary leads her servants to heaven
What a beautiful sign of predestination it is to be a servant of Mary! Holy Church applies to her these words of Ecclesiasticus, which are such a comfort to her servants: "In all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord" (Ecclus 24:11). Commenting on this passage, Cardinal Hugo says: "Blessed is he in whose home the Blessed Virgin finds her rest." Because she loves us, Mary endeavors to make devotion to her reign in the hearts of all. Many people either never engage in this devotion at all, or fail to persevere in it if they do. Blessed are they who both welcome it and persevere in it! "I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord." That is to say, adds the learned Paciucchelli, I shall abide in those who are the inheritance of the Lord. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is found in all who are the Lord's inheritance, that is, all who will praise him eternally in heaven.
In the passage from Ecclesiasticus above, Mary continues by saying: "He that made me, rested in my tabernacle, and he said to me: Let your dwelling be in Jacob, and your inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect" (Ecclus 24:12-13). That is to say: My Creator has deigned to rest in my bosom and wants me to dwell in the hearts of all his elect (who are prefigured by Jacob and who are my inheritance) and he has decreed that devotion to me and confidence in me shall take root in all those who are predestined.
How many saints would not be in heaven today, had Mary not brought them there by her powerful intercession! "I have caused unfailing light to rise in the heavens," says Cardinal Hugo, applying to the Blessed Virgin the words in the same chapter of Ecclesiasticus, "I have made as many eternal lights to shine in heaven as there are servants of mine." And the Cardinal adds: "Because of her intercession, there are many saints in heaven today who would not be there but for her."
Saint Bonaventure says that the gate of heaven will be open to receive all who trust in the protection of the Blessed Virgin. And with the same thought in mind, Saint Ephrem asserted that devotion to Mary unlocks the entrance to paradise. Addressing her, the devout Blosius says: "The keys and the treasures of the heavenly kingdom are entrusted to you." Hence we must constantly pray to her in the words of Saint Ambrose: "Open heaven to us, O Blessed Virgin, for you have the keys!" O Mary, open the gates of paradise to us, for you are the keeper of the keys; in fact, you are the very entrance to paradise, for Holy Church calls you the "gate of heaven."
That is why the great Mother of God is also called the "star of the sea," Ave, Maris stella. Saint Thomas, the Angelic Doctor says that Christians are guided on their way to heaven by Mary, just as sailors are guided to port by a star.
Similarly, Saint Peter Damian called her the "ladder of heaven." According to him, God came down from heaven by means of her in order that, through her, men might merit to rise from earth to heaven. You were filled with grace, says Saint Anastasius, so that you would be our road to salvation and the way to our heavenly home. With this in mind, Saint Bernard calls her the "vehicle to heaven," and Saint John Geometra greets her with the words: "Hail, resplendent chariot!" meaning that she is the means by which her servants are transported to heaven. Blessed are they who know you, O Mother of God, says Saint Bonaventure, because to know you is the path of immortal life, and to make known your virtues is the road to eternal salvation.
The Franciscan Chronicles tell how Brother Leo once saw a red ladder at the top of which Jesus was standing, and a white ladder on which Mary stood. He saw how some tried to mount the red ladder, but fell to the ground after climbing a few rungs. Again and again they tried, but each time they fell down. Then they were urged to mount the white ladder. This they did without difficulty, because the Blessed Virgin stretched out a helping hand and led them safely to paradise.
Denis the Carthusian asks: "Who will be saved, who will reign in heaven?" and immediately answers: "Those for whom this queen of mercy offers her prayers." Mary asserts this herself when she says: "By me kings reign" (Prov 8:15). By my intercession, souls will reign first on earth by conquering their passions, then eternally in heaven where, as Saint Augustine puts it, everybody is king. In short, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, Mary is mistress of paradise: there she commands as she wishes and brings in whomsoever she pleases. So he applies these words of Ecclesiasticus to her: "My power was in Jerusalem" (Ecclus 24:15), and adds: "That is, by commanding what I wish and bringing in whom I please." Because Mary is mother to the Lord of heaven, the Abbot Rupert is right in saying that she is also the First Lady of heaven: "By right, she possesses the whole kingdom of her son."
Saint Antoninus tells us that by her powerful prayers and aid the Blessed Mother has already obtained heaven for us, provided we do not put obstacles in the way. The Abbot Guerric says that whoever serves Mary and benefits from her intercession is as sure of heaven as if he were already there. Saint John Damascene assures us that to serve Mary and to belong to her court is the greatest honor we can have, and to live under her rule is even better than to reign. "The highest honor consists in serving Mary and belonging to her family, for to serve her means to reign, and to be governed by her is more than to have the power of kings." On the other hand, says the same saint, those who do not serve Mary will not be saved; because, deprived of this great mother's aid, they are abandoned and lack the help of her Son and the whole heavenly court.
May the infinite goodness of our God be forever praised, says Saint Bernard, for having given us Mary as our advocate in heaven, that she, at the same time the mother of our Judge and a mother of mercy, may be able, by her intercession, to bring to a safe conclusion the great affair of our eternal salvation. The monk James, a Doctor of the Greek Church, says that God destined Mary to be a bridge of salvation, so that we may safely pass over the stormy sea of this world and reach the happy haven of paradise. Saint Bonaventure exclaims: "Hear, O nations; all you who desire God's kingdom, serve and honor the Blessed Virgin and you shall certainly have eternal life."
Even those who have deserved hell should not despair of reaching heaven, provided they faithfully serve this queen. How many sinners, says Saint Germanus, have striven to find God through you, O Mary, and have been saved! Richard of Saint Lawrence recalls that Saint John pictured Mary as crowned with stars: "And on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Apoc 12:1); but that the Sacred Canticles, on the other hand, depict her as crowned with wild beasts, lions, and leopards: "Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; you shall be crowned...from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards" (Cant 4:8). How can this be? He replies that the wild beasts are sinners who, by the intercession of Mary, become stars of heaven, which bring more splendor to the brow of this queen of mercy than all the material stars of the sky.
We read in the life of the servant of God, Sister Seraphina of Capri, that once during the novena of the Assumption she asked Our Blessed Lady for the conversion of a thousand sinners. Afterwards she feared that she had asked too much, but Mary appeared to her, reproached her, and said: "Why fear? Do you think I am not powerful enough to obtain from my son the conversion of a thousand sinners? Look - I have already obtained this favor for you." With that, Mary led her in spirit to heaven and showed her the innumerable sinners who had deserved hell, but who through her intercession had been saved and were already enjoying eternal happiness.
It is quite true that no one can be certain in this life of his eternal salvation: "Man knows not whether he be worthy of love or hatred; but all things are kept uncertain for the time to come" (Ecclus 9:1-2). Lord, asked David, who shall be saved? "Lord, who shall dwell in your tabernacle?" (Ps 14:1). Saint Bonaventure replies: "Let us sinners follow in the footsteps of Mary and cast ourselves at her blessed feet. Let us hold on to her and not let go, until we deserve to be blessed by her." This means: O sinners, let us follow in Mary's footsteps and throw ourselves at her blessed feet; and let us not leave her until she blesses us, because her blessing assures us of paradise. "It is enough, O Mary," says Saint Anselm, "that you desire to save us, for then we must be saved." And Saint Antoninus assures us that souls protected by Mary are certainly saved.
"Behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk 1:48). Saint Ildephonsus maintains that the Blessed Virgin had every reason to predict that all generations would call her blessed because all the saints achieve eternal happiness through Mary. "You, O great Mother, are the beginning, the middle, and the end of our happiness," says Saint Methodius. She is the "beginning" because she obtains the pardon of our sins; the "middle" or means, because she obtains our perseverance in divine grace; and the "end" or goal, because she finally obtains paradise for us. "Through you," says Saint Bernard, "heaven has been opened, beli emptied, and paradise regained." In short, eternal life has been bestowed on so many miserable creatures who had deserved eternal death.
But what ought to encourage us more than anything else to be confident of salvation is the beautiful promise which Mary herself made to those who honor her, and especially to those who endeavor, by word and example, to make her known and honored by others: "They that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me, shall have life everlasting" (Ecclus 24:30-31). Fortunate then are all those who acquire favor with Mary, says Saint Bonaventure. They shall be recognized as fortunate by their companions. And fortunate all those who wear the livery of a servant of Mary, for they shall be registered in the Book of Life. What good is it then to be worried about the opinions of scholars as to whether predestination to glory precedes or follows the prevision of merits - whether we are written in the Book of Life or not? If we are true servants of Mary and obtain her protection, we shall certainly be inscribed in the Book of Life; for, as Saint John Damascene says: "God only grants devotion toward his holy mother to those whom he wants to save." This is in line with what the Lord himself revealed to Saint John: "He that overcomes...I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God" (Apoc 3:12). He then who is to conquer and be saved will bear written on his heart the name of the city of God. But who, if not Mary, is this city of God, asks Saint Gregory in his commentary on these words of David: "Glorious things are said of you, O city of God" (Ps 86:3).
We may well say here with Saint Paul: Having this seal, "the Lord knows who are his" (2 Tim 2:19). Whoever bears this seal, the seal of devotion to Mary, is recognized by God as his own. Therefore Saint Bernard wrote that "devotion to the Mother of God is the surest sign of obtaining eternal salvation."
Speaking of the Hail Mary, Blessed Alan says that whoever frequently honors the Blessed Virgin with this angelic greeting has a very good guarantee of predestination. And with regard to the daily recitation of the Rosary, he says: "If you persevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be a most probable sign of your eternal salvation." In his book on the love of Mary, Father Nieremberg says that not only are the servants of God's mother privileged and favored here on earth, but that they will be even more distinctly honored in heaven. He also says that in heaven they will wear a specially rich vesture which will enable them to be recognized as servants of the heavenly queen and as members of her court, as the book of Proverbs puts it: "All her domestics are clothed with double garments" (Prov 31:21).
Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi had a vision in which she saw all of Mary's servants on board a ship which was piloted by Mary herself and which brought them safely to port. The saint understood this vision to mean that all those who live under Mary's protection will escape from the shipwreck of sin and damnation, because they are safely guided by her to the port of paradise. Let us therefore enter this blessed ship and thus be sure of the kingdom of the blessed. For in her chant Holy Church says: "O holy Mother of God, all those who will be partakers of eternal happiness dwell in you, living under your protection."
9. O CLEMENT! O LOVING!
The clemency and compassion of Mary
Speaking of Mary's great compassion for sinners, Saint Bernard says that she is the land promised by God, the land overflowing with milk and honey. And Saint Leo asserts that Mary's mercy is so great, that she deserves to be called not only merciful but mercy itself. Considering that Mary was made Mother of God for the sake of sinners and that the office of dispensing his mercies was committed to her; and considering her great interest in all the distressed, an interest that makes her so rich in mercy that she seems to desire nothing but to help the needy, Saint Bonaventure said that when he looked at Mary, he seemed no longer to be beholding the divine justice, but only the divine mercy, of which Mary is full. These are his fervent words: "O Mary, when I behold you, I discern only divine mercy, for you were made Mother of God for the sake of the wretched and therefore the office of exercising mercy was entrusted to you. You look out for the unfortunate wherever they may be; you are armed with mercy; your only wish is to show it."
In brief, Mary's compassion is so great that, according to Abbot Guerric, her heart cannot stop even for a moment from pouring out its fruits of mercy on us. What else, exclaims Saint Bernard, can flow from the font of mercy but mercy? That is why Mary is called an olive tree: "As a fair olive tree in the plains" (Ecclus 24:19). Just as nothing but oil, the symbol of mercy, comes from the olive tree, so nothing but grace and mercy flow from the hands of Mary. And so, the Venerable Louis de Ponte says that Mary may properly be called the "mother of oil," because she is the Mother of Mercy. When we go to this good mother, therefore, for the oil of mercy, we need not be afraid that she will refuse it, as the wise virgins in the Gospel did to the foolish ones: "lest there may not be enough for us and for you" (Mt 25:9). Certainly not, because she has a superabundant supply of this oil of mercy. Saint Bonaventure says: "Mary is full of the oil of mercy." The Church calls her not merely a prudent virgin, but a most prudent one, so that, as Hugh of Saint Victor says, we may understand that Mary is so full of grace and mercy that, without lacking any herself, she can supply us all. "You are full of grace, O Blessed Virgin, and indeed so full that the whole world may draw on this overabundance of oil. For if the prudent virgins provided themselves with an extra vessel of oil for their lamps, you, O most prudent Virgin, provided yourself with an overflowing and inexhaustible vessel from which to pour out the oil of mercy and to light the lamp of everyone's soul."
But why, I ask, is this beautiful olive tree said to stand in the midst of the plains: "As a fair olive tree in the plains" (Ecclus 24:19), and not rather in the center of a garden surrounded by walls and hedges? The same Hugh of Saint Victor tells us why - "so that all may look upon her and take refuge in her"; that all may easily see her and have recourse to her, to obtain the remedy for all their ills. This beautiful thought is supported by Saint Antoninus, who says that just as anyone can go and gather fruit from an olive tree that stands in an open field, so everybody, both the just and sinners, can have recourse to Mary to obtain mercy from her. The same saint then adds: "How many sentences of condemnation for sin this most holy virgin has revoked in her mercy!" That is, by her prayers. And what surer refuge can one have, asks the devout Thomas à Kempis, than the compassionate heart of Mary? "There the poor find a home, the infirm a remedy, the afflicted relief, the doubtful counsel, and the abandoned help."
We would indeed be distressed, if we did not have this Mother of Mercy always attentive and solicitous to relieve us in our needs! "Where there is no woman, he mourns that is in want," says the Holy Spirit (Ecclus 36:27). This woman, according to Saint John Damascene, is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary; for whenever she is absent, the sick man groans. Surely this must be so, since God wishes that all graces shall be dispensed through Mary's prayers. Where they are lacking, there can be no hope of mercy, as Our Lord gave Saint Bridget to understand, when he said: "Unless Mary's prayers intervene, there can be no hope of mercy." Do we fear perhaps that Mary does not see our miseries or does not feel pity for them? No, she sees and pities them far more than we do ourselves. As Saint Antoninus says: "There is no one among the saints who can ever feel compassion for us in our miseries like this woman, the most Blessed Virgin Mary." So that, wherever she sees misery, she cannot help but hasten to our assistance with her great mercy. Richard of Saint Victor repeats the same thing, and Mendoza confirms it by saying: "Wherever you find misery, O Blessed Virgin, you pour out your mercies." Our good Mother herself protests that she will never cease to fulfill this office of mercy: "And unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him" (Ecclus 24:14). According to the commentary of Cardinal Hugo, Our Lady is really saying: "I will never cease relieving the miseries of men and praying for sinners until the end of the world," in order that they may be delivered from eternal misery and saved.
Suetonius relates that the Emperor Titus was so eager to do favors to those who asked him, that whenever he missed the opportunity of granting somebody a favor, he became sad and used to say: "I have lost a day, for I have spent it without benefiting anyone." It appears very likely that Titus uttered these words more from vanity or a desire for esteem than out of a love of charity. But if it should ever happen that our queen, Mary, were to pass a day without granting any grace, she too would have to say what Titus did, but in her case it would be from a genuine desire to serve us and because she is filled with charity. She is so eager to help us, says Bernardine of Bustis, that she is more eager to grant us graces than we are to receive them. And, therefore, he says that whenever we go to her, we always find her hands filled with mercy and generosity.
Rebecca was a figure of Mary. When Abraham's servant begged Rebecca for a drink of water, she replied that she would give him enough water not only for himself but for his camels (Gen 24:19). With this in mind, Saint Bernard devoutly tums to Mary and says: "O Mary, you are far more generous and compassionate than Rebecca; for you are not satisfied with distributing the treasures of your immense mercy only to the servants of Abraham, who are a figure of the faithful servants of God. You also give them to sinners, who are typified by the camels." As Rebecca gave more than she was asked for, so too Mary gives more than we request. The generosity of Mary, says Richard of Saint Lawrence, resembles that of her son: He always gives more than is sought. And that is why Saint Paul says: "He is rich toward all who call upon him" (Rom 10:12). This is what a devout author says to the Blessed Virgin: "O Mary, pray for me, for you will ask for the graces I need with greater devotion than I can myself; and you will obtain far more graces for me from God than I dare seek myself."
When the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus Christ and his doctrines, Saint James and Saint John asked him whether they should command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? Our Lord replied: "You do not know of what manner of spirit you are" (Lk 9:55). He meant: I am of a tender and compassionate nature and came from heaven to save, not to chastise sinners, but you wish to see them lost. What do you mean: fire, punishment? Let us hear no more about punishing, for that is not my nature.
The same in Our Lady's case. Her spirit is the same as that of her son; she is all inclined to mercy. As she said to Saint Bridget, she is called the Mother of Mercy, and it was by God's own mercy that she was made so merciful and kind. That is why Saint John saw her clothed with the sun: "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun" (Apoc 12:1). This passage inspired Saint Bernard to turn to her and say: "You, O Mary, have clothed the sun, that is, the Eternal Word, with human flesh. But he has clothed you with his power and mercy."
Our queen is so merciful and kind, continued Saint Bernard, that when a sinner, regardless of his condition, recommends himself to her, she does not question his merits, or whether he is worthy or unworthy to receive her attention; she hears and helps everybody. Mary is called "fair as the moon" (Cant 6:9), according to Saint Hildebert, because, just as the moon shines on and assists even the lowliest of earthly creatures, so Mary enlightens and assists even the most unworthy sinners. And though the moon, says another writer, receives all its light from the sun, yet it completes its task more quickly than the sun: "What the sun accomplishes in a year, the moon does in a month." For this reason, Saint Anselm says: "At times we are saved more quickly by invoking Mary's name than by invoking the name of Jesus." On this subject, Hugh of Saint Victor exhorts us, saying that "though our sins may cause us to be afraid of approaching Almighty God, because it is his infinite majesty that we have offended, we must never be afraid of going to Mary, for in her we shall find nothing to terrify us. She is truly holy, immaculate, the queen of the world and Mother of God; but she is also of our flesh, and, like us, a child of Adam."
Finally, says Saint Bernard, everything that pertains to Mary is filled with mercy and grace. Why? Because, as mother of mercy, she has become all things to all men. Because, by her abundant charity, she has made herself a debtor to the devout and to sinners and opens her compassionate heart to all, that all may receive from her fullness. Just as the devil, according to Saint Peter "goes about seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8), so, according to Bernardine de Bustis, Mary goes about seeking to impart life and to save whom she can.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that Mary's protection is greater and far more powerful than we can imagine. Saint Germanus says this. Another writer, the author of the Pomerium, asks how it is possible that the Lord, who under the Old Law was so severe in punishing, is now so merciful toward those who are guilty of even greater sins. And he answers by saying that "it is all for the love of Mary, and on account of her merits." The world would have been destroyed long ago, exclaims Saint Fulgentius, if Mary had not sustained it by her prayers! But, says Arnold of Chartres, now that we have the Son as our mediator with the Eternal Father, and the Mother as a mediator with the Son, we have full access to God and can go to him with entire confidence and hope for every good thing. "How can the Father refuse to hear the Son when the Son shows him the wounds he suffered for the sake of sinners? And how can the Son refuse to hear his Mother when she shows him her bosom and the breasts that nursed him?" Saint Peter Chrysologus says forcefully that "a gentle maiden lodged a God in her womb and now asks, as its price, peace for the world, salvation for those who are lost, and life for the dead."
How many would deserve to be condemned by the justice of the Son, exclaims the Abbot of Celles, who are saved by the mercy of the Mother! For she is God's treasure and the treasurer of all graces. Our salvation lies in her hands and depends on her. Let us, then, always turn to this compassionate mother and confidently hope for salvation through her prayers. For, according to the comforting assurance of Bernardine de Bustis, she is our salvation, our life, our hope, our counsel, our refuge, and our help. Saint Antoninus says that Mary is truly the throne of grace to which the apostle Saint Paul exhorts us to turn, in order to obtain divine mercy and all the help we need for salvation. "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16). To the throne of grace, that is, to Mary, says Saint Antoninus. And Saint Catherine of Siena does not hesitate to call Mary "the dispenser of divine mercy."
Let us conclude with the beautiful and tender exclamation of Saint Bernard on those words: "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!" He says that "she is clement and merciful to those in need, loving to those who pray to her, and sweet to those who love her; clement with the penitent, loving to those who make progress, sweet to the perfect. She is clement in delivering us from punishment, loving in bestowing graces, and sweet in giving herself to those who seek her."
10. O SWEET VIRGIN MARY!
Mary's name is sweet in life and in death
The great name of Mary did not come to her from her parents. And it was not given to her by the mind or will of man, as is the case with other names that are imposed in this world. Her name came from heaven and was given her by a divine command. This is declared to have been the case by Saint Jerome, Saint Epiphanius, Saint Antoninus, and others. "The name of Mary came from the treasure house of God," according to Richard of Saint Lawrence. "Your exalted and admirable name, O Mary, came from the treasure house of God, because all the Persons in the Blessed Trinity bestowed on you a name that is superior to every other name except that of your son." And they ennobled it with such majesty and power that whenever it was heard, all who were in heaven, on earth, or in hell, would bend their knees and reverence it. Among the many privileges which the Lord gave to the name of Mary, let us see now how sweet God made that name for the servants of this most holy mother, both in life and in death.
First, as regards the course of our life, the holy anchorite Honorius used to say that "this name of Mary is full of every kind of sweetness and divine flavor." Saint Anthony of Padua found in Mary's name the same sweetness which Saint Bernard found in that of Jesus. "Name of Jesus!" exclaimed the one. "Name of Mary!" replied the other. "Joy in the heart, honey in the mouth, and music in the ears" of those who are devoted to her. We read in the life of the Blessed Father Juvenal Ancina, Bishop of Saluzzo, that whenever he pronounced the name of Mary there came to his mouth such a remarkable sensation of sweetness that he used to lick his lips. We also read that a certain lady at Cologne told Bishop Marsilius that whenever she pronounced the name of Mary, she experienced a taste in her mouth sweeter than honey. The bishop followed the edifying practice suggested by the lady and experienced the same sweetness.
We gather from the sacred Canticles that when Our Lady was assumed into heaven the angels asked her name three times. "Who is this coming up the desert, like a column of smoke?" (Cant 3:6). Again: "Who is this that comes forth like the dawn?" (Cant 6:10). And again: "Who is this coming up from the desert, leaning upon her lover?" (Cant 8:5). "Why," asks Richard of Saint Lawrence, "do the angels ask so often for this queen's name?" His answer: "Because the name of Mary is so sweet even to the angels, they desire to hear it over and over again."
I am not speaking here of an actual sensation of sweetness, for this is not granted to everyone. What I mean is the salutary sweetness of consolation, love, joy, confidence, and reassurance, which the name of Mary usually inspires in those who pronounce it with devotion.
Speaking on this subject, the Abbot Francone says that there is no other name after that of the son, in heaven or on earth, which gives the minds of the faithful so much grace, hope, and sweetness as that of Mary, because it is so rich in every good thing. He goes on to explain that Mary's name has about it something so admirable, so sweet, and so exquisite, that when it reverberates in loving hearts, it breathes into them an odor of holy sweetness. He adds, in conclusion, that this name is so wonderful that even though it be heard a thousand times by the lovers of Mary, they always hear it again as if it were entirely new to them, and they always experience the same sweetness each time that it is pronounced.
Speaking about this sweetness, Blessed Henry Suso used to say that, when he mentioned the name of Mary, he felt so full of confidence and was inflamed with such love and joy, that between the joy and the tears with which he uttered this exquisite name, he thought his heart would leap right out of his mouth. He asserted that this sweet name was like a honeycomb melting in the recesses of his soul. This caused him to exclaim: "O most sweet name! O Mary, what must you yourself be, when the mere mention of your name causes such love and such joy!"
Turning to the Blessed Mother, Saint Bernard, inflamed with love for her, says tenderly: "O great Mary, so amiable and deserving of all praise, your name is so sweet and lovable, that no one can pronounce it without being inflamed with love of you and God. Your lovers need only to think of your sweet name and they are moved to greater love." "And if riches afford comfort to the poor because they relieve them of their miseries, how much more," says Richard of Saint Lawrence, "does your name, O Mary, comfort us. It comforts us much more than the wealth of this world. It relieves the poverty of our souls."
In short, O Mother of God, "your name is filled with divine graces and blessings," as Saint Methodius says. So much so, that your name cannot be pronounced, according to Saint Bonaventure, without bringing some grace to the one who says it devoutly. Blessed Raymond Jordano says that "no matter how hardened and skeptical a heart may be, the power of your name, if it is only pronounced, O most gracious virgin, is enough to cause such a heart to be miraculously softened. You are the one who leads sinners to the hope of pardon and grace."
According to Saint Ambrose, "your sweet name, O Mary, is a fragrant ointment that breathes forth the odor of divine grace." He then goes on to pray: "May this ointment of salvation penetrate to the innermost recesses of our souls." He means: O Mary, let us often remember to mention your name with love and confidence, because doing this is a sign that we already possess divine grace, or that we will soon recover it.
Truly, the remembrance of your name comforts the afflicted, O Mary. It recalls those who have erred to the path of salvation, and encourages sinners not to abandon themselves to despair, as Ludolph of Saxony says. Father Pelbart maintains that, just as Jesus Christ has cured the evils of the world by his five wounds, "so Mary, by her most holy name, Maria, which is composed of five letters, daily brings pardon to sinners."
That is why the sacred Canticles liken Mary's name to oil: "Your name is as oil poured out" (Cant 1:2). Commenting on this passage, Blessed Alan says that the glory of her name is compared to oil poured out, because oil heals the sick, gives off a sweet odor, and nourishes fire. In the same way, the name of Mary heals the sick, gladdens the soul, and inflames with divine love. Therefore, Richard of Saint Lawrence encourages sinners to have recourse to this great name, because it alone is enough to cure them of all their ills. He says: "There is no disease, however malignant, that does not immediately yield to the power of the name of Mary."
On the other hand, Thomas à Kempis asserts that the devils fear the queen of heaven to such an extent that, when they merely hear her name pronounced, they flee from the person who pronounces it, as from a burning fire. The Blessed Virgin revealed to Saint Bridget that there is no sinner on earth, however far from God's grace, from whom the devil will not immediately flee, if he invokes Mary's name with a determination to repent. The Blessed Virgin confirmed this on another occasion by saying that "all the devils respect and fear my name so much that, as soon as they hear it, they immediately loosen their grasp on the soul they hold captive."
Our Blessed Lady also told Saint Bridget that, as the rebel angels flee from sinners who invoke the name of Mary, so the good angels draw near to pious souls who pronounce this name.
Saint Germanus maintains that as breathing is a sign of life, so also is the frequent pronunciation of the name of Mary a sign that the life of divine grace is there, or that it will soon be present; for this powerful name is capable of obtaining help and life for the person who invokes it with devotion. "As breathing is a sign of life in the body, so the frequent repetition of your most holy name by your servants, O Mary, is not only a sign of life and strength, but it also procures and assures these benefits."
"In short," adds Richard of Saint Lawrence, "this admirable name is like a fortified tower. If the sinner takes refuge in it, he will be delivered from death; for it defends and saves even the most abandoned souls." But it is a tower of strength which not only delivers sinners from punishment, but also defends the good from the assaults of hell. The same Richard maintains that, "after the name of Jesus, there is no other in which men find such powerful assistance and salvation as in the great name of Mary." Moreover, it is well known and is a daily experience of the servants of Mary, that her powerful name affords the strength necessary to resist the temptations of the flesh. The same author in his commentary on the words of Saint Luke: "And the virgin's name was Mary" (Lk 1:27), says that the Evangelist mentions these two names together, Mary and virgin, to signify that the name of the most pure virgin should always be coupled with the virtue of chastity. And Saint Peter Chrysologus says that "the name of Mary is a symbol of chastity." He means that if anyone is in doubt whether he has sinned by consenting to thoughts against this virtue and remembers that he has invoked the name of Mary, he has a certain proof that he did not sin against chastity.
Let us therefore always profit by the splendid advice of Saint Bernard, who says: "In dangers, in perplexities, in worries, think of Mary, call on Mary. Let her name never leave your lips, let her love never leave your heart." Whenever we are in danger of forfeiting divine grace let us think of Mary and invoke her name, together with that of Jesus; for these two names always go together. Let us never permit these two most sweet and powerful names to depart either from our hearts or our lips, because these two great names will give us the strength to resist and to conquer all temptations.
Very consoling are the graces which Jesus Christ promised to those who are devoted to his mother's name, as he gave Saint Bridget to understand when he allowed her to overhear him conversing with Mary. He revealed to the saint that whoever invoked Mary's name with confidence and a firm intention to repent would receive three special graces, namely, perfect sorrow for his sins, reparation for them along with the courage to persevere, and, finally, the glory of paradise. And then our Divine Savior added: "For your words, O Mother, are so sweet and dear to me, that I cannot deny you whatever you ask."
Finally, Saint Ephrem says that Mary's name is the "key to the gates of heaven" in the hands of those who devoutly invoke it. And so it is not without reason that Saint Bonaventure addresses Mary in these words: "O salvation of all who invoke you!" By that he means, that to obtain eternal salvation and to invoke her are one and the same. And Richard of Saint Lawrence declares that "the devout invocation of her sweet and holy name leads to the acquisition of superabundant graces in this life, and a very high degree of glory in the next." "If then, O brethren," concludes Thomas à Kempis, "you desire consolation in every trial, turn to Mary, invoke her name, honor her, and recommend yourselves to her. Rejoice with Mary, weep with Mary, walk with Mary, and seek Jesus with Mary. Finally, yearn to live and die with Jesus and Mary. By doing this, you will always make progress on the path of the Lord, for Mary will always be glad to pray for you and her son will certainly hear his mother."
And so we see that the most holy name of Mary is very sweet indeed to her servants in this life, because of the very great graces that she obtains for them. But sweeter still will it be to them in their last hour, because of the tranquil and holy death she will secure for them.
Father Sertorius Caputo, S.J., exhorted all who assist the dying to pronounce the name of Mary frequently. He said that this hopeful and life-giving name, when repeated at the hour of death, is sufficient to put the devils to flight and to comfort the dying in all their sufferings.
Likewise Saint Camillus de Lellis warmly recommended to his religious that they urge the dying to invoke the names of Jesus and Mary frequently. He personally followed this practice in his care of the sick, and when he himself came to die he called upon the sacred names of Jesus and Mary with such tenderness, as we read in his biography, that he inspired all those standing about with great love. Finally, fixing his eyes on an image of Jesus and Mary, and extending his arms in the form of a cross, he expired with a look of heavenly contentment on his face. His last words in this life were an invocation of the sweet names of Jesus and Mary.
The short prayer invoking the sacred names of Jesus and Mary, says Thomas à Kempis, is easy to remember, sweet to meditate on, and at the same time powerful to protect those who use it against all the enemies of their salvation.
Happy is he, says Saint Bonaventure, who loves your sweet name, O Mother of God! Your name is so glorious and admirable, that no one who remembers it at the point of death need have any fear of the assaults of hell.
Oh, that everyone might have the good fortune to die as did Father Fulgentius of Ascoli, a Capuchin, who expired singing: "O Mary, O Mary, most beautiful of creatures, I want to die and join you!" Or as did Saint Alberic of the Cistercian Order, who died "in the very act of pronouncing the most sweet name of Mary."
Let us then, devout reader, beg God to see to it that at the hour of death the name of Mary may be the last word on our lips. This was what Saint Germanus prayed for: "May the last movement of my tongue be to pronounce the name of the Mother of God." Sweet and safe is the death accompanied and protected by this powerful name! God grants this grace only to those whom he is about to save.
O my sweet Lady and Mother, I love you very much, and because I love you, I also love your holy name. I intend and hope, with your help, always to pronounce it in this life and at death. In the tender words of Saint Bonaventure: "I ask you, O Mary, for the glory of your name, to come and greet my soul when it is leaving this world, and to take it in your arms. Do not fail, O Mary, to come then and comfort me by your presence. May you be my ladder and my way to heaven. Obtain for me the grace of forgiveness and eternal repose. O Mary, my advocate, it is your task to defend your servants and to take up their cause before the tribunal of Jesus Christ."