Since the fall of Adam, the senses being rebellious to reason, chastity is of all virtues the one which is the most difficult to practice. May God be ever praised, however, who in Mary has given us a great example of this virtue. ‘With reason,’ says Richard of St. Lawrence, ‘ is Mary called the Virgin of virgins; for she, without the counsel or example of others, was the first who offered her virginity to God.’ Thus did she bring all virgins who imitate her to God, as David had already foretold: After her shall virgins be brought . . . into the temple of the King.’ Without counsel, and without example. Yes; for St. Bernard says: ‘ O Virgin, who taught thee to please God by virginity, and to lead an angel’s life on earth?
St. Jerome declared that it was his opinion that St. Joseph remained a virgin by living with Mary; for, writing against the heretic Helvidius, who denied Mary’s virginity, he says: ‘ Thou sayest that Mary did not remain a Virgin. I say, that not only she remained a Virgin, but even that Joseph preserved his virginity through Mary.’ An author says, that so much did the Blessed Virgin love this virtue, that to preserve it she would have been willing to have renounced even the dignity of Mother of God. This we may conclude from her answer to the archangel: ‘ How shall this be done, because I know not man And from the words she afterwards added: ‘ Be it done to me according to thy word’ — signifying that she gave her consent on the condition that, as the angel had assured her, she should become a Mother only by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.
St. Ambrose says, that ‘ whoever has preserved chastity is an angel, and that he who has lost it is a devil.’ Our Lord assures us that those who are chaste become angels: ‘ They shall be as the angels of God in heaven.’ But the impure become as devils, hateful in the sight of God. St. Remigius used to say that the greater part of adults are lost by this vice. Seldom, as we have already said with St. Augustine, is a victory gained over this vice. But why it is because the means by which it may be gained are seldom made use of.
These means are three, according to Bellarmine and the masters of a spiritual life: fasting, the avoidance of dangerous occasions, and prayer. By fasting is to be understood especially mortification of the eyes and of the appetite. Although our Blessed Lady was full of Divine grace, yet was she so mortified in her eyes, that, according to St. Epiphanius and St. John Damascene, she always kept them cast down, and never fixed them on any one; and they say that from her very childhood her modesty was such, that it filled every one who saw her with astonishment.
Hence St. Luke remarks, that, in going to visit St. Elizabeth, ‘ she went with haste,’ that she might be less seen in public. Philip Neri relates, that as to her food, it was revealed to a hermit named Felix, that when a baby she only took milk once a day. St. Gregory of Tours affirms, that throughout her life she fasted; and St. Bonaventure adds, ‘that Mary would never have found so much grace had she not been most moderate in her food; for grace and gluttony cannot subsist together.’ In fine, Mary was mortified in all; so that of her it was said, ‘ My hands dropped with myrrh.’
The second means is to fly the occasion of sin: ‘ He that is aware of the snares shall be secure.’ Hence St. Philip Neri says, that ‘ in the war of the senses cowards conquer;’ that is to say, those who fly from dangerous occasions. Mary fled as much as possible from the sight of men; and therefore St. Luke remarks, that in going to visit St. Elizabeth ‘ she went with haste into the hill country.’ The third means is prayer. ‘And as I knew,’ said the wise man, ‘ that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it, I went to the Lord and besought Him.’ The Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary that she acquired no virtue without effort and continual prayer. St. John Damascene says, that Mary ‘ is pure and a lover of purity.’ Hence she cannot endure those who are unchaste. But whoever has recourse to her will certainly be delivered from this vice, if he only pronounces her name with confidence.
Whilst Angela, the daughter of a king of Bohemia, was in a convent, Mary appeared to her, and an angel said: Arise, Angela, and fly to Jerusalem; for thy father wishes to give thee in marriage to the Prince of Hungary. The devout virgin immediately departed; and on her journey the Divine Mother again appeared to her, and encouraged her to continue. She was then received in Jerusalem amongst the Carmelites; and was afterwards desired by the Blessed Virgin herself to return to her own country, where she lived a holy life until her death.
St. Gregory relates that there was a young woman named Musa, who was very devout to the Mother of God, to whom, when she was in great danger of losing her innocence by the bad example of her companions, Mary appeared one day, with many Saints, and said: ‘ Musa, dost thou also wish to be one of these On her answering ‘ Yes,’ she added: ‘ Well, withdraw from thy companions, and prepare thyself; for in a month thou shalt come.’ Musa did so, and related the vision. On the thirteenth day she was at the point of death, when the most Blessed Virgin again appeared, and invited her to come. She replied, ‘ Be hold I come, O Lady,’ and sweetly expired.
Ah, my Immaculate Lady, I rejoice with thee on seeing thee enriched with so great purity. I thank, and resolve always to thank, our common Creator for having preserved thee from every stain of sin. I would that the whole world knew thee and acknowledged thee as being that beautiful ‘ Dawn’ which was always illumined with Divine light; as that chosen ‘ Ark’ of salvation, free from the common shipwreck of sin; as that ‘perfect and immaculate Dove’ which thy Divine Spouse declared thee to be; as that ‘enclosed Garden’ which was the delight of God; as that ‘ sealed Fountain’ whose waters were never troubled by an enemy; and, finally, as that ‘ white Lily’ which thou art, and who, though born in the midst of the thorns of the children of Adam, all of whom are conceived in sin, and the enemies of God, wast alone conceived pure and spotless, and in all things the beloved of thy Creator. Permit me, then, to praise thee also as thy God Himself has praised thee: ‘ Thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee.’ 0, most pure Dove, all fair, all beautiful, always the friend of God! ‘O, how beautiful art thou, my beloved! How beautiful art thou!
What grace will God ever refuse thee, who chose thee for His Daughter, His Mother, and Spouse, and therefore preserved thee from every stain, and in His love preferred thee to all other creatures? I will say in the words of St. Philip Neri: ‘ Immaculate Virgin, thou hast to save me.’ Grant that I may always remember thee; and thou, do thou never forget me. The happy day, when I shall go to be hold thy beauty in paradise, seems a thousand years off, so much do I long to praise and love thee more than I can now do, my Mother, my Queen, my beloved, most beautiful, most sweet, most pure, Immaculate Mary. Amen.