You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, explains how in her Immaculate Conception, Mary began her life sinless, but always had the same capacity for sin that we do, just as Adam and Eve had such a capacity to sin prior to the Fall. That she did not sin in her life, is, I think, why she is properly proclaimed Humanity’s Sole Boast:
When we fall, we fall from a human dignity, not an angelic one; our skid may well end at a level of animal savagery, but we never “tumble down” into humanity. It was natural indeed that the Legion inside the Gerasene demoniac pleaded to be cast into swine — not because pigs are of themselves wickeder then men, but because the elevator, so to speak, was already at that floor. There is no point, then, in exploring this avenue further. I think the way out is more direct. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Whenever I hear the word ‘dialogue’, I reach for my dogma.” Let us, in the same spirit, reach for our dogma and see if it has anything to say to us.
Pope Pius IX’s Dogmatic Definition of 1854 runs thus: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved free from all stain of original sin…. ” First, it should be noticed that the grace given to the Virgin Mary was “in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ.” That is, in and of herself, she too was in need of salvation and was saved through the sacrifice of her Son, although it worked “retroactively” as it were, so as to affect her even at her conception.
A very partial analogy might be drawn with a woman afflicted from birth with a progressive terminal disease, whose own child grows up to be the scientist who discovers the cure for the disease, and so heals the mother. But let’s not push that too far. The second point, and this is the one I want to stress, is that it is original sin from which Mary was preserved at her conception. The contamination which we all inherited from Adam, namely, estrangement from God with its consequent warping of our human appetites, as well as death itself, did not touch her. The fittingness of this “singular privilege and grace” was, to my mind, well expressed by the English bishop Langdon Fox, who asked, “How could Mary be said to have been made fit to stand in the relationship of Mother to the all pure God if the Devil could claim, and claim truly that once, even if only for moment, she had been in the state of Original sin?” that is, if the devil had her in his control even briefly. Be that as it may, it should be clear that freedom from original sin does not bring with it an incapacity for actual sin. After all, Adam and Eve were both created without original sin; it was in fact their first actual sin whose effect we call “original” in their descendants.
Now the upshot, it seems to me, is this. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived her life in the state in which Adam and Eve lived before their sin. She was as capable of sin as they were; her life, to this extent like ours, was a series of choices between good and bad, self and other, God’s will and her own. her glory, for which all generations will call her blessed, is that in every instance she said, “I am your servant. Let it be done to me in accordance with your word.” She, who was full of grace, said, “Your will be done, not mine.” When she praised God because He had looked on her in her lowliness, she was not feigning humility. She was uniquely aware that it was God’s grace, and not her own merit, in virtue of which she had been set apart. And the consciousness of the gap between her humanity and God’s power was uniquely acute in her case.
C.S. Lewis remarked somewhere that we are not to imagine that Jesus had an easier time with temptation than we. In fact, he said, Jesus Christ was the only one who ever felt the full strength of temptation, because He was the only one who never gave in to it. He said by way of explanation something like this: “After all, you don’t discover the true strength of the German Army by laying down and letting it roll over you; but only by standing up to it and fighting it at every turn.” If I might extend (and correct) C.S. Lewis here, I would say that the Virgin Mary is, apart from her Son, the only one who really knew humility, since it was she who, in every instance, chose obedience, who let God’s will trump her own, who refused to be duped into trusting in her own resources.
We might illustrate what this means from the Gospel: I once heard another Jesuit talk over coffee about a homily he had to give at a summer camp for retarded children. The Gospel text on which he was to preach was the account of the Rich Young Man. Unsure how he was going to communicate the message to his congregation, this priest somewhat despairingly brought out a simple coffee cup after reading the Scripture. He said, “You see, the rich young man’s cup was already full of all the things he had, and so Jesus couldn’t give him anything; there was no room.” I still think that to be one of the most striking exegeses of that passage I’ve ever heard. And, when it is reversed, the same image can be applied to Mary. Her cup alone was genuinely empty; she alone had room only for God, for herself, no element of possessiveness or self-will, which took up the space made for God’s love. She alone was truly an earthen vessel, a repository, she whom the archangel Gabriel called “full of grace.”
Her humility, her lowliness, was not a sham. Alone of our race, she could point to her humility without an admixture of hypocrisy. The lowliness was hers; the glory was God’s. Far from being aloof from the pain of decision, she is the only one of us who ever felt the full sting. If you think I am laying it on a bit thick here, I’d invite you to try living for ten minutes genuinely unconscious of your own dignity, genuinely reliant on God. It hurts like blazes. Continue reading
The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.
One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.
Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.
GK Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse
And he saw in a little picture,
Tiny and far away,
His mother sitting in Egbert’s hall,
And a book she showed him, very small,
Where a sapphire Mary sat in stall
With a golden Christ at play.
It was wrought in the monk’s slow manner,
From silver and sanguine shell,
Where the scenes are little and terrible,
Keyholes of heaven and hell.
In the river island of Athelney,
With the river running past,
In colours of such simple creed
All things sprang at him, sun and weed,
Till the grass grew to be grass indeed
And the tree was a tree at last.
Fearfully plain the flowers grew,
Like the child’s book to read,
Or like a friend’s face seen in a glass;
He looked; and there Our Lady was,
She stood and stroked the tall live grass
As a man strokes his steed.
Her face was like an open word
When brave men speak and choose,
The very colours of her coat
Were better than good news.
She spoke not, nor turned not,
Nor any sign she cast,
Only she stood up straight and free,
Between the flowers in Athelney,
And the river running past.
One dim ancestral jewel hung
On his ruined armour grey,
He rent and cast it at her feet:
Where, after centuries, with slow feet,
Men came from hall and school and street
And found it where it lay.
“Mother of God,” the wanderer said,
“I am but a common king,
Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
To see a secret thing.
“The gates of heaven are fearful gates
Worse than the gates of hell;
Not I would break the splendours barred
Or seek to know the thing they guard,
Which is too good to tell.
“But for this earth most pitiful,
This little land I know,
If that which is for ever is,
Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
Seeing the stranger go?
“When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?”
And a voice came human but high up,
Like a cottage climbed among
The clouds; or a serf of hut and croft
That sits by his hovel fire as oft,
But hears on his old bare roof aloft
A belfry burst in song.
“The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gain,
The heaviest hind may easily
Come silently and suddenly
Upon me in a lane. Continue reading
Sandro Magister on his blog Chiesa notes that Pope Francis has a special devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots:
In it Mary is depicted untying the knots of a ribbon held out to her by an angel, which another angel is receiving from her with no more knots. The meaning is clear. The knots are all that complicates life, difficulties, sins. And Mary is the one who helps to untie them.
His doctoral thesis was abandoned at its birth, and even the thought of Romano Guardini did not leave a lasting imprint upon Bergoglio. In the interview with Pope Francis in “La Civiltà Cattolica,” in which he dedicates ample space to his authors of reference, Guardini is not there.
On display in the church, the image of Mary “desatanudos” attracted a growing number of devotees, converted sinners, and marked an unexpected growth of religious practice. To such an extent that after a few years there was a well-established tradition of a pilgrimage to the image, from all over Buenos Aires and from even farther away, on the 8th day of every month.
“I never felt myself so much an instrument in the hands of God,” Bergoglio confided to a Jesuit confrere who was his disciple, Fr. Fernando Albistur, now a professor of biblical studies at the Colegio Máximo di San Miguel in Buenos Aires.
And he is not the only one. In the same book, Fr. Juan Carlo Scannone, the most authoritative of the Argentine theologians and a former professor of the young Jesuit Bergoglio, also relates the same episode.
In Scannone’s judgment, the instance of the Blessed Mother “untier of knots” helps us to understand more deeply the “pastoral” profile of Pope Francis and his accentuated attention to the “people.” Continue reading
This year on Sunday October 13, 2013, Pope Francis will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Go here to read all about it. My parish is gathering together at noon CST on October 13 to pray the rosary at the exact same time that the Pope consecrates the world to the Mother of God. What better preparation can we have for that wonderful day than to remember today another victory of the Rosary.
On October 7, 1571 the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet. This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean. The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.
For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.
Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews: ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’ The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme: “No Heaven For Cowards”. Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle. Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship. Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet. Continue reading
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth.
Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother’s love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!
William Wordsworth Continue reading
O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them, for it is written: “The earth is my foostool”. But you carry within you the feet, the head, and the entire body of the perfect God.
If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you, for it is writen: “Heaven is My throne”, while you are God’s place of repose. If I say that the angels and archangels are great — but you are greater than them all, for the angels and the archangels serve with trembling the One Who dwells in your womb, and they dare not speak in His presence, while you speak to Him freely.
If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne, while you hold God in your hands. If we say that the serphim are great, you are greater than them all, for the seraphim cover their faces with their wings, unable to look upon the perfect glory, while you not only gaze upon His face but caress it and offer your breasts to His holy mouth. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Schubert’s Ave Maria sung by Andrea Bocelli. May is the month of Mary, something I always like to keep in mind during the month. Continue reading
The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary — by personal recommendation of Pope Leo XIII:
In a letter of September 1, 1883, mindful of the Rosary’s power to strengthen faith and foster a life of virtue, he outlined the triumphs of the Rosary in past times and admonished the faithful to dedicate the month of October to the Blessed Virgin through the daily recitation of her Rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, in order to obtain through her intercession the grace that God would console and defend His Church in her sufferings.
Beginning on September 1, 1883, with SUPREMO APOSTOLATUS OFFICIO, Pope Leo wrote a total of eleven encyclicals on the Rosary, ending with DIUTURNI TEMPORIS in 1898. (Source: Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello, Catholic.net).
The spread of the devotion of the rosary is attributed to the revelation of Mary to St. Dominic, who sought her help in battling the heresy of the Albigenses. Robert Feeney’s “St. Dominic and the Rosary” gives a detailed account,
On Labor Day it is good to recall Saint Joseph the Worker. When God decided to partake in our humanity, He could have had anyone for His foster father, and He chose a humble carpenter, a man who worked with his hands. Why?
The Bible gives us no indication that Saint Joseph was intelligent, brave or resourceful. He may have been all these things, but the Bible does not tell us. We know that he was of the House of David, but judging from all indications in the Bible he lived in humble circumstances. What made Joseph stand out to God other than the fact of his heritage?
Kindness I think, simple human kindness. This was graphically demonstrated at the very beginning when Saint Joseph first is mentioned in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 1:18 and 19:
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
1. The most bountiful God, who is almighty, the plan of whose providence rests upon wisdom and love, tempers, in the secret purpose of his own mind, the sorrows of peoples and of individual men by means of joys that he interposes in their lives from time to time, in such a way that, under different conditions and in different ways, all things may work together unto good for those who love him.
2. Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life. Thus, while the Blessed Virgin is fulfilling in the most affectionate manner her maternal duties on behalf of those redeemed by the blood of Christ, the minds and the hearts of her children are being vigorously aroused to a more assiduous consideration of her prerogatives.
Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.