THE HUMILITY OF MARY
‘Humility,’ says St. Bernard, ‘ is the foundation and guardian of virtues and with reason, for without it no other virtue can exist in a soul. Should she possess all virtues, all will depart when humility is gone. But, on the other hand, as St. Francis of Sales wrote to St. Jane de Chantal, ‘ God so loves humility, that wherever He sees it, He is immediately drawn thither.’ This beautiful and so necessary virtue was unknown in the world ; but the Son of God Himself came on earth to teach it by His own example, and willed that, in that virtue in particular, we should endeavor to imitate Him: ‘ Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.’ Mary, being the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus Christ in the practice of all virtues, was the first also in that of humility, and by it merited to be exalted above all creatures.
It was revealed to St. Matilda that the first virtue in which the Blessed Mother particularly exercised herself, from her very childhood, was that of humility. The first effect of humility of heart is a lowly opinion of ourselves. ‘ Mary had always so humble an opinion of herself, that, as it was revealed to the same St. Matilda, although she saw herself enriched with greater graces than all other creatures, she never preferred herself to any one.’
The Abbot Rupert, explaining the passage of the sacred Canticles, ‘Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, . . . with one hair of thy neck,’ says, that the humble opinion which Mary had of herself was precisely that hair of the spouse’s neck with which she wounded the heart of God. Not indeed that Mary considered herself a sinner ; for humility is truth, as St. Teresa remarks ; and Mary knew that she had never offended God. Neither was it that she did not acknowledge that she had received greater graces from God than all other creatures; for a humble heart always acknowledges the special favors of the Lord, to humble herself the more; but the Divine Mother, by the greater light where with she knew the infinite greatness and goodness of God, also knew her own nothingness, and therefore, more than all others, humbled herself.
As a beggar, when clothed with a rich garment which has been bestowed upon her, does not pride herself on it in the presence of the giver, but is rather humbled, being re minded thereby of her own poverty, so also the more Mary saw herself enriched, the more did she humble herself, remembering that all was God’s gift. Therefore St. Bernardino says, that ‘ after the Son of God, no creature in the world was so exalted as Mary, because no creature in the world ever humbled itself so much as she did.’ Moreover, it is an act of humility to conceal heavenly gifts.
Mary wished to conceal from St. Joseph the great favor whereby she had become the Mother of God, although it seemed necessary to make it known to him, if only to remove from the mind of her poor spouse any suspicions as to her virtue, which he might have entertained on seeing her pregnant, or, at least, the perplexity in which it indeed threw him; for St. Joseph, on the one hand unwilling to doubt Mary’s chastity, and on the other ignorant of the mystery, ‘ was minded to put her away privately.’ This he would have done, had not the angel revealed to him that his spouse was pregnant by the operation of the Holy Ghost.
Again, a soul which is truly humble refuses her own praise; and should praises be bestowed on her, she refers them all to God. Behold, Mary is disturbed at hearing herself praised by St. Gabriel; and when St. Elizabeth said, ‘ Blessed art thou among women . . . and whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? . . .
Blessed art thou that hast believed, Mary referred all to God, and answered in that humble Canticle, ‘ My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ as if she had said, ‘ Thou dost praise me, Elizabeth, but I praise the Lord, to whom alone honor is due. Thou wonderest that I should come to thee, and I wonder at the Divine goodness, in which alone my spirit exults:
“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” Thou praisest me, because I have believed; I praise my God because He hath been pleased to exalt my nothingness: “Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.” ‘It is also a part of humility to serve others. Mary did not refuse to go and serve Elizabeth for three months. Hence St. Bernard says : ‘Elizabeth wondered that Mary should have come to visit her ; but that which is still more admirable is, that she came not to be ministered to, but to minister.’ Those who are humble are retiring, and choose the last places; and therefore Mary, remarks St. Bernard, when her Son was preaching in a house, as it is related by St. Matthew, wishing to speak to Him, would not of her own accord enter, but ‘remained outside, and did not avail herself of her maternal authority to interrupt Him.’ For the same reason also, when she was with the Apostles awaiting the coming of the Holy Ghost, she took the lowest place, as St. Luke relates : ‘ All these were persevering with one mind in prayer, with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus.’
Not that St. Luke was ignorant of the Divine Mother’s merits, on account of which he should have named her in the first place, but because she had taken the last place amongst the Apostles and women; and therefore he described them all, as an author remarks, in the order in which they were. Hence St. Bernard says: ‘ Justly has the last become the first, who being the first of all became the last.’ In fine, those who are humble love to be contemned; therefore we do not read that Mary showed herself in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when her Son was received by the people with so much honor; but on the other hand, at the death of her Son, she did not shrink from appearing on Calvary, through fear of the dishonor which would accrue to her when it was known that she was the Mother of Him who was condemned to die an infamous death as a criminal.
The venerable Sister Paula of Foligno was given to understand, in an ecstasy, how great was the humility of our Blessed Lady; and giving an account of it to her confessor, she was so filled with astonishment at its greatness, that she could only exclaim, ‘ O, the humility of the Blessed Virgin! O, Father, the humility of the Blessed Virgin, how great was the humility of the Blessed Virgin! In the world there is no such thing as humility, not even in its lowest degree, when you see the humility of Mary.’
On another occasion our Lord showed St. Bridget two ladies. The one was all pomp and vanity. ‘ She,’ He said, ‘ is Pride; but the other one whom thou seest with her head Dent down, courteous towards all, having God alone in her mind, and considering herself as no one, is Humility: her name is Mary.’ Hereby God was pleased to make known to us that the humility of His Blessed Mother was such that she was humility itself. There can be no doubt, as St. Gregory of Nyssa remarks, that of all virtues there is perhaps none the practice of which is more difficult to our nature, corrupted as it is by sin, than that of humility. But there is no escape; we can never be true children of Mary if we are not humble.
‘If,’ says St. Bernard, ‘ thou canst not imitate the virginity of this humble Virgin, imitate her humility.’ She detests the proud, and only invites the humble to come to her: ‘ Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me.’
In one of our missions, after the sermon on Mary, which it is always customary in our congregation to preach, a very old man came to make his confession to one of the Fathers. Filled with consolation, he said: ‘ Father, our Blessed Lady has granted me a grace.’ What grace has she granted you? The confessor asked. ‘You must know, Father,’ ho replied, ‘that for five -and -thirty years I have made sacrilegious confessions; for there is a sin which I was ashamed to confess; and yet I have passed through many dangers, have many times been at the point of death; and had I then died, I should certainly have been lost ; but now our Blessed Lady has touched my heart with grace to tell it.’ This he said weeping, and shedding so many tears, that he quite excited compassion. The Father, after hearing his confession, asked him what devotion he had practiced. He replied, that on Saturdays he had never failed to abstain from milk diet, in honor of Mary, and that, on this account, the Blessed Virgin had shown him mercy. At the same time, he gave the Father leave to publish the fact.
O, immaculate and holy Virgin! O, Creature the most humble and the most “exalted before God! Thou wast so lowly in thine own eyes, but so great in the eyes of thy Lord, that He exalted thee to such a degree as to choose thee for His Mother, and then made thee Queen of heaven and earth. I therefore thank God, who so greatly has exalted thee, and rejoice in seeing thee so closely united with Him, that more cannot be granted to a pure creature. Before thee, who art so humble, though endowed with such precious gifts, I am ashamed to appear — I who am so proud in the midst of so many sins. But, miserable as I am, I will also salute thee, ‘ Hail, Mary, full of grace!’ Thou art already full of grace; impart a portion of it to me. ‘Our Lord is with thee;’ that Lord who was always with thee from the first moment of thy creation has now united Himself more closely to thee by becoming thy Son. ‘Blessed art thou amongst women.’ 0 Lady, blessed amongst all women, obtain the Divine blessing for us also. ‘And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’ O blessed plant, which hath given to the world so noble and holy a Fruit! ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God!’ 0 Mary, I acknowledge that thou art the true Mother of God; and in defense of this truth I am ready to give my life a thousand times. ‘Pray for us sinners.’ But if thou art the Mother of God, thou art also the Mother of our salvation, and of us poor sinners; since God became man to save sinners, and made thee His Mother that thy prayers might have power to save any sinner. Hasten then, 0 Mary, and pray for us, ‘ now, and at the hour of our death.’ Pray always; pray now that we live in the midst of so many temptations and dangers of losing God; but still more, pray for us at the hour of our death, when we are on the point of leaving this world, and being presented before God’s tribunal; that being saved by the merits of Jesus Christ, and by thy intercession, we may come one day, without farther danger of being lost, to salute thee and praise thee with thy Son in heaven for all eternity. Amen.