Virgin and Child with Four Angels, (1505) –
MARY IS ALSO OUR LIFE, BECAUSE SHE OBTAINS US PERSEVERANCE
Final perseverance is so great a gift of God, that, as it was declared by the Holy Council of Trent, it is quite gratuitous on His part, and we cannot merit it. Yet we are told by St. Augustine, that all who seek for it obtain it from God; and, according to Father Suarez, they obtain it infallibly, if only they are diligent in asking for it to the end of their lives ; for, as Bellarmine well remarks,’ That which is daily required must be asked for every day.’ Now, if it is true that all the graces that God dispenses to men pass by the hands of Mary, it will be equally true that it is only through Mary that we can hope for this greatest of all graces — perseverance. And we shall obtain it most certainly, if we always seek it with confidence through Mary. This grace she herself promises to all who serve her faith fully during life, in the following words of Ecclesiasticus, and which are applied to her by the Church, on the Feast of her Immaculate Conception: ‘They that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting.’ In order that we may be preserved in the life of grace, we require spiritual fortitude, to resist the many enemies of our salvation. Now this fortitude can be obtained only by the means of Mary, and we are assured of it in the book of Proverbs, for the Church applies the passage to this most Blessed Virgin: ‘ Strength is mine; by me kings reign’. Meaning, by the words,’ strength is mine,’ that God has bestowed this precious gift on Mary, in order that she may dispense it to her faithful clients.
O, what strength do the servants of this great Lady possess, to overcome all the assaults of hell! Mary is that tower spoken of in the sacred Canticles: ‘Thy neck is as the tower of David, which is built with bulwarks; a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the armor of valiant men.’ She is as a well-defended fortress in defense of her lovers, who in their wars have recourse to her. In her do her clients find all shields and arms, to defend themselves against hell? Truly are those souls to be pitied who abandon this defense, in ceasing their devotion to Mary, and no longer recommending themselves to her in the time of danger! If the sun ceased to rise, says St. Bernard, how could the world become other than a chaos of darkness and horror Take away the sun, and where will be the day? Take away Mary, and what will be left but the darkest night! When a soul loses devotion to Mary it is immediately enveloped in darkness, and in that darkness of which the Holy Ghost speaks in the Psalms: ‘ Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night; in it shall all the beasts of the woods go about.’ When the light of heaven ceases to shine in a soul, all is darkness, and it becomes the haunt of devils and of every sin. St. Anselm says, that ‘ if any one is disregarded and contemned by Mary, he is necessarily lost;’ and therefore we may with reason exclaim, Woe to those who are in opposition with this sun! Woe to those who despise its light! That is to say, all who despise devotion to Mary St. Francis Borgia always doubted the perseverance of those in whom he did not find particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
It was then not without reason that St. Germanus called the most Blessed Virgin the breath of Christians; for as the body cannot live without breathing, so the soul cannot live without having recourse to and recommending itself to Mary, by whose means we certainly ac quire and preserve the life of Divine grace within our souls.
Mary says in the following words of the Book of Proverbs, which are applied to her by the Church: ‘Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors,’ — as if she would say, Blessed is he that hears my voice, and is constantly attentive to apply at the door of my mercy, and seeks light and help from me. For clients who do this, Mary does her part, and obtains them the light and strength they require to abandon sin and walk in the paths of virtue. For this reason Innocent III. Beautifully calls her ‘the moon at night, the dawn at break of day, and the sun at mid-day.’ She is a moon to enlighten those who blindly wander in the night of sin, and makes them see and understand the miserable state of damnation in which they are; she is the dawn (that is, the forerunner of the sun) to those whom she has already enlightened, and makes them abandon sin and return to God, the true Sun of justice; finally, she is a sun to those who are in a state of grace, and prevents them from again falling into the precipice of sin. And therefore St. Philip Neri, in his exhortations to his penitents, used always to say: ‘My children, if you desire perseverance, be devout to our Blessed Lady.’ The Blessed John Berchmans, of the Society of Jesus, used also to say: ‘Whoever loves Mary will have perseverance,’ Truly beautiful is the reflection of the Abbot Rupert on this subject in his commentary on the parable of the prodigal son. He says, ‘ That if this dissolute youth had had a mother living, he would never have abandoned the paternal roof, or, at least, would have returned much sooner than he did;’ meaning, thereby, that a son of Mary either never abandons God, or, if he has this misfortune, by her help he soon returns. 0, did all men but love this most benign and loving Lady, had they but recourse to her always, and with out delay, in their temptations, who would fall? Who would ever be lost? He falls and is lost who has not recourse to Mary.
St Mary of Egypt (detail) 1582-87 TINTORETTO
The history of St. Mary of Egypt, in the first book of the lives of the Fathers, is well known. At the age of twelve years she fled from the house of her parents, and went to Alexandria, and there led an infamous life, and was a scandal to the whole city. After living for sixteen years in sin, she took it into her head to go to Jerusalem. At the time the Feast of the Holy Cross was being celebrated, and, moved rather by curiosity than by devotion, she determined on entering the church; but when at the door, she felt herself repelled by an invisible force. She made a second attempt, and was again unable to enter; and the same thing was repeated a third and fourth time. Finding her efforts in vain, the unfortunate creature withdrew to a corner of the porch, and there, enlightened from above, understood that it was on account of her infamous life that God had repelled her even from the church. In that moment she fortunately raised her eyes and beheld a picture of Mary. No sooner did she perceive it, than, sobbing, she exclaimed, ‘0 Mother of God, pity a poor sinner! I know that on account of my sins I deserve not that thou shouldst cast thine eyes upon me. But thou art the refuge of sinners; for the love of thy Son Jesus, help me. Permit me to enter the church, and I promise to change my life, and to go and do penance in whatever place thou pointest out to me.’ She immediately heard an internal voice, as it were that of the Blessed Virgin, replying: ‘ Since thou hast recourse to me, and wishest to change thy life, go — enter the church, it is no longer closed against thee.’ The sinner entered, adored the Cross, and wept bitterly. She then returned to the picture, and said, ‘ Lady, behold I am ready, where wilt thou that I should go to do penance?’ ‘Go,’ the Blessed Virgin replied, ‘ cross the Jordan, and thou wilt find the place of thy repose.’ She went to confession and communion, and then passed the river, and finding herself in the desert, she understood that it was in that place she should do penance for her sinful life. During the first seventeen years the assaults of the devil, by which he endeavored to make the Saint again fall into sin, were terrible. And what were her means of defense? She constantly recommended her self to Mary, and this most Blessed Virgin obtained her strength to resist during the whole of the above time, after which her combats ceased. After fifty-seven years spent in the desert, and having attained the age of eighty-seven, she was, by a disposition of providence, met by the Abbot Zosimus; to him she related the history of her life, and entreated him to return the following year, and to bring her the Holy Communion. The saintly Abbot did so, and gave her the bread of angels.
The Last Communion of Saint Mary of Egypt
She then requested that he would again return to see her. This also he did, but found her dead. Her body was encompassed by a bright light, and at her head these words were written, ‘ Bury my body here — it is that of a poor sinner, and intercede with God for me.’ A lion came and made a grave with his claws. St. Zosimus buried her, re turned to his monastery, and related the wonders of God’s mercy towards this happy sinner.
The Ascended Virgin with Ss. Gregory the Great and Benedict
(1512) – PINTURICCHIO
O compassionate Mother, most Sacred Virgin, behold at thy feet the traitor, who, by paying with ingratitude the graces received from God through thy means, has betrayed both thee and Him. But I must tell thee, 0 most blessed Lady, that my misery, far from taking away my confidence, increases it; for I see that thy compassion is great, in proportion to the greatness of my misery. Show thyself, 0 Mary, full of liberality towards me; for thus thou art towards all who invoke thy aid. All that I ask is that thou shouldst cast thine eyes of compassion on me, and pity me. If thy heart is thus far moved, it cannot do otherwise than protect me; and if thou protectest me, what can I fear? No, I fear nothing. I do not fear my sins, for thou canst provide a remedy; I do not fear devils, for thou art more powerful than the whole of hell; I do not even fear thy Son, though justly irritated against me; for at a word of thine He will be appeased. I only fear lest, in my temptations, and by my own fault, I may cease to recommend myself to thee, and thus be lost. But I now promise thee that I will always have recourse to thee; O help me to fulfill my promise. Lose not the opportunity which now presents itself of gratifying thy ardent desire to succor such poor wretches as myself. In thee, 0 Mother of God, I have unbounded confidence. From thee I hope for grace to bewail my sins as I ought, and from thee I hope for strength never again to fall into them. If I am sick, thou, 0 heavenly physician, canst heal me. If my sins have weakened me, thy help will strengthen me. 0 Mary, I hope all from thee; for thou art all-powerful with God. Amen.
TWENTY-FIFTH DAY – MONTH OF OUR LADY