MONTH OF MARY
By St. Alphonsus Liguori
Doctor of the Catholic Church
As the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of holy love and hope, so also is she the Mother of faith: ‘I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope,’ And with reason is she so, says St. Ireneus, for ‘the evil done by Eve’s incredulity was remedied by Mary’s faith.’ This is confirmed by Tertullian, who says, that because Eve, contrary to the assurance she had received from God, believed the serpent, she brought death into the world; but our Queen, because she believed the angel when he said that she, remaining a Virgin, would become the Mother of God, brought salvation into the world. For St. Augustine says, that when Mary consented to the incarnation of the Eternal Word, by means of her faith she opened heaven to men. Father Suarez says, that the most holy Virgin had more faith than all men and angels. She saw her Son in the crib of Bethlehem, and believed Him the Creator of the world. She saw Him fly from Herod, and yet believed Him the King of kings. She saw Him born, and believed Him eternal. She saw Him poor and in need of food, and believed Him to be Lord of the universe. She saw Him lying on straw, and believed Him omnipotent. She observed that He did not speak, and she believed Him in finite wisdom. She heard Him weep, and believed Him the joy of paradise. In fine, she saw Him in death, despised and crucified, and although faith wavered in others, Mary remained firm in the belief that He was God. On these words of the Gospel, ‘There stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother,’ St. Antoninus says: Mary stood supported by her faith, which she retained firm, in the Divinity of Christ. Hence blessed Albert the Great assures us, that ‘Mary then exercised perfect faith; for even when the disciples were doubting, she did not doubt.’ Therefore Mary merited, by her great faith, to become ‘the light of all the faithful,’ as St. Methodius calls her, the ‘Queen of the true faith,’ as she is called by St. Cyril of Alexandria. The holy Church herself attributes to the merits of Mary’s faith the destruction of all heresies: ‘Rejoice, Virgin Mary; for thou alone hast destroyed all heresies throughout the world!’ St. Thomas of Villanova, explaining the words of the Holy Ghost, ‘Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse . . . with one of thy eyes’ says that ‘these eyes denoted Mary’s faith, by which she greatly pleased the Son of God.’
St. Ildephonsus exhorts us to imitate Mary’s faith. But how can we do so? Faith, at the same time that it is a gift, is also a virtue. It is a gift of God, inasmuch as it is a light infused by Him into our souls; and a virtue, inasmuch as the soul has to exercise itself in the practice of it. Hence faith is not only to be the rule of our belief, but also that of our actions; therefore St. Gregory says, ‘He truly believes who puts what he believes in practice.’ And St. Augustine: ‘Thou sayest, I believe; do what thou sayest, and it is faith.’ This is to have a lively faith, to live according to our belief: ‘My just man liveth by faith.’ Thus did the Blessed Virgin live very differently from those who do not live in accordance with what they believe, and whose faith is dead, as St. James declares: ‘Faith without works is dead.’ Diogenes sought for a man on earth; but God, amongst the many faithful, seems to seek for a Christian; for few there are who have good works; the greater part have only the name of Christian. To such as these should be applied the words once addressed by Alexander to a cowardly soldier who was also named Alexander: ‘Either change thy name or change thy conduct.’ But, as Father Avila used to say, ‘It would be better to shut up these poor creatures as madmen, believing, as they do, that an eternity of happiness is prepared for those who lead good lives, and an eternity of misery for those who lead bad ones, and who yet live as if they believed nothing.’ St. Augustine therefore exhorts us to see things with the eyes of Christians — that is to say, with eyes which look at all in the light of faith; for, as St. Teresa often said, all sins come from a want of faith.
St. Stanislaus Kostka, who was wholly dedicated to the love of Mary, happened, on the 1st of August 1568, to hear a sermon from the blessed Peter Canisius, in which he exhorted the novices of the society with great earnestness to live each month as if it were to be the last of their lives, and the one during which they were to be presented before the tribunal of God. After the sermon, St. Stanislaus told his companions that that advice had been for him, in an especial manner, the voice of God; for that he was to die in the course of that very month. It is evident, from what followed, that he said this either because God had expressly revealed it to him, or at least because He gave him a certain internal presentiment of it. Four days afterwards the blessed youth went with Father Emanuel to St. Mary Major’s. The conversation fell on the approaching Feast of the Assumption, and the Saint said: ‘ Father, I believe that on that day a new paradise is seen in paradise, as the glory of the Mother of God, crowned Queen of heaven, and seated so near to our Lord, above all the choirs of angels, is seen. And if — as I firmly believe it to be — -this festival is renewed every year, I hope to see the next.’ The glorious martyr St. Lawrence had fallen by lot to St. Stanislaus as his patron for that month, it being customary in the society thus to draw them. It is said that he wrote a letter to his Mother Mary, in which he begged her to obtain him the favour to be present at her next festival in heaven. On the Feast of St. Lawrence he received the Holy Communion, and afterwards entreated the Saint to present his letter to the Divine Mother, and to support his petition with his intercession, that the most Blessed Virgin might graciously accept and grant it. Towards the close of that very day he was seized with fever; and though the attack was slight, he considered that certainly he had obtained the favour asked for. This indeed he joyfully expressed, and with a smiling countenance, on going to bed, said: ‘From this bed I shall never rise again.’ And speaking to Father Claudius Aquaviva, he added: ‘Father, I believe that St. Lawrence has already obtained me the favour from Mary, to be in heaven on the feast of her Assumption. ‘No one, however, took much notice of his words. On the vigil of the feast his illness still seemed of little consequence; but the Saint assured a brother that he should die that night. ‘O, brother,’ the other answered, ‘ it would be a greater miracle to die of so slight an illness than to be cured.’ Nevertheless, in the afternoon he fell into a deathlike swoon; a cold sweat came over him, and he lost all his strength. The superior hastened to him j and Stanislaus entreated him to have him laid on the bare floor, that he might die as a penitent. To satisfy him, this was granted. He was laid on a thin mattress on the ground. He then made his confession; and in the midst of the tears of all present received the Viaticum. I say of the tears of all present; for when the Divine Sacrament was brought into the room, his eyes brightened up with celestial joy, and his whole countenance was inflamed with holy love, so that he seemed like a seraph. He also received Extreme Unction, and in the meanwhile did nothing but constantly raise his eyes to heaven, and lovingly press to his heart an image of Mary. A Father asked him to what purpose he kept a rosary in his hand, since he could not use it. He replied: ‘It is a consolation to me; for it is something belonging to my Mother.’ ‘O, how much greater will your consolation be, added the Father, ‘when you shortly see her, and kiss her hands in heaven!’ On hearing this, the Saint, with his countenance all on fire, raised his hands, to express his desire soon to be in her presence. His dear Mother then appeared to him, as he himself told those who surrounded him; and shortly afterwards, at the dawn of day, on the 15th of August, with his eyes fixed on heaven, he expired like a saint, without the slightest struggle; so much so, that it was only on presenting him the image of the Blessed Virgin, and seeing that he made no movement towards it, that it was perceived that he was already gone to kiss the feet of his beloved Queen in paradise.
O, most sweet Lady and our Mother, thou hast already left the earth and reached thy kingdom, where, as Queen, thou art enthroned above all the choirs of angels, as the Church sings: ‘She is exalted above the choirs of angels in the celestial kingdom.’ But we know that thou in thy greatness hast never forgotten us miserable creatures; and that by being exalted to such great glory, thou hast never lost compassion for us poor children of Adam; nay, even that it is increased in thee. From the high throne, then, to which thou art exalted, turn, O Mary, thy compassionate eyes upon us, and pity us. Remember also, that in leaving this world thou didst promise not to forget us. Look at us and succour us. See in the midst of what tempests and dangers we constantly are, and shall be until the end of our lives. Obtain us holy perseverance in the Divine friendship, that we may finally quit this life in God’s grace; and thus we also shall one day come to kiss thy feet in paradise, and unite with the blessed Spirits in praising thee, and singing thy glories as thou deservest. Amen.