The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
ON THE PRESENTATION OF MARY
The offering which Mary made of herself to God was prompt, without delay; entire, without reserve.
THERE never has been, and there never will be, any offering of a pure creature greater and more perfect than that which Mary made to God, being yet only a child of three years, when she presented herself in the temple to offer him, not spices, nor calves, nor talents of gold, but her whole self as a perfect holocaust, consecrating herself as a perpetual victim in his honor. Well did she understand the voice of God, which even then called her to dedicate herself wholly to his love, with these words: Arise, make haste, my love, and come: "Surge, propera, amica mea, et veni." And therefore her Lord would have her from thenceforth forget her country, her parents, and every thing, to attend to nothing but to love arid please him: "Hearken, oh daughter, and see and incline thy ear; and forget thy people and thy father s house." And she at once obeyed promptly the divine voice. Let us consider, then, how acceptable to God was this offering which Mary made of herself, as she presented herself promptly and entirely to him; promptly without delay; entirely with out reserve; these are the two points.
First Point. Mary offered herself to God promptly. From the first moment when this heavenly infant was sanctified in the womb of her mother (which was at the first moment of her immaculate conception), she received the perfect use of reason, that she might from thenceforth begin to merit, as the Doctors universally agree; and one of them, Father Suarez, says, that as the most perfect mode by which God sanctifies a soul is its sanctification by its own merits, as St. Thomas teaches, so it is to be believed that the blessed Virgin has been thus sanctified. And if this privilege was granted to the angels and to Adam, as the angelic Doctor says, much more should we believe that it was granted to the divine mother, on whom we cannot doubt that God, having deigned to make her his mother, conferred greater gifts than on all other creatures, as the same Doctor teaches. From her he received his human nature, hence before all others she must have obtained from Christ the fulness of grace; for, being mother, as Father Suarez says, she has a certain peculiar right to all the gifts of her Son. And as, by the hypostatic union, Jesus must of right have the fulness of all graces; thus by the divine maternity, it was meet that Jesus should confer on Mary, as a natural debt, greater graces than those bestowed on all the other saints and angels.
Thus, from the beginning of her life, Mary knew God, and knew him so well, that no tongue, as the angel declared to St. Bridget, shall suffice to tell how the intellect of the holy Virgin clearly saw God in the first moment she knew him. And even in that first moment of light by which she was illuminated, she offered herself wholly to her Lord, dedicating herself entirely to his love and glory, as the angel continued to say to St. Bridget: "At once our queen resolved to sacrifice her will to God, with all her love, for the whole time of her life; and no one can understand how completely her will Bubmitted itself then to embrace all things pleasing to him."
Yet, when the immaculate infant understood afterwards that her holy parents, Joachim and Anna, had promised to God, even by a vow, various authors relate, that if he should grant them a child, it should be consecrated to his service in the temple; for it was an ancient custom of the Jews to place their children in cells which were near the temple, that there they might be properly educated, as we learn from Baronius, Nicephorus, Cedrenus, and Suarez, as also from Josephus, the Jewish historian, St. John Damascene, St. Gregory of Nicomedia, St. Anselm, and St. Ambrose. As it is also clearly seen in Macchabees, where, speaking of Heliodorus, who wished to enter the temple by force in order to take from it the treasures de posited there, it is said: "Because the place was like to come into contempt .... the virgins that were shut up hastened to Onias." When Mary knew of this vow, as I have before said, she wished solemnly to offer and conseciate herself to God, by presenting herself in the temple, as Germanus asserts, and also St. Epiphanius, who says, that when she was hardly three years old she was presented in the temple, at an age when children have the greatest desire for the assistance of their parents, and need it the most. She was even the first to entreat her parents earnestly that they would take her to the temple, to fulfil their promise; and her holy mother, Anna, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, did not delay to bring her there, and offer her to God.
And behold, Joachim and Anna, generously sacrificing to God what was dearest to them on earth, set out from Nazareth, carrying by turns, in their arms, their beloved little daughter, who could not walk so great a distance as was that from Nazareth to Jerusalem, a journey, as several authors assert, of eighty miles. They thus went on their way, accompanied by only a few of their relations, but by hosts of angels, as St. George of Nicomedia asserts, who attended and ministered to the immaculate Virgin, as she went to dedicate herself to the Divine Majesty. How beautiful are thy steps, oh prince s daughter! "Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui, filia principis!" Oh, how beautiful, how pleasing to God, as the angels sung, are thy steps, as thou goest to offer thyself to him, oh great and chosen daughter of our common Lord! God himself on that day, says Bernardino de Bustis, celebrated a great feast with the whole celestial court, when he beheld his spouse conducted to the temple. For he never saw a creature more holy and more beloved offering herself to him. Go, then, said St. Germanus, Archbishop of Constantinople, go, oh queen of the world, oh mother of God, go joyfully to the house of the Lord, to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit that will make thee mother of the eternal Worid.
When the holy company had arrived at the temple, the eager child turned to her parents, kneeling kissed their hands, and asked for their benediction; and then, without turning back, she ascended the fifteen steps of the temple, as Ariaa Montanus relates upon the authority of Josephus, the Jewish historian, and presented herself to the priest, who, according to St. Germanus, was Zachary; then, taking leave of the world, and renouncing all the goods which it promises to its followers, she offered and consecrated herself to her Creator.
At the time of the deluge, the raven which was sent by Noe from the ark remained to feed upon the bodies of the dead, but the dove with out stopping to rest her foot, returned quickly to the ark: She returned to him into the ark: "Reversa est ad eum in arcam." Many who are sent by God into this world, unhappily stop to feed on earthly things. Not so Mary, our celestial dove; she knew that God should be our only good, our only hope, our only love; she knew that the world is full of dangers, and that he who the soonest leaves it, is freest from its snares; therefore she sought promptly to flee from it in her tenderest years, and seclude herself in the sacred retirement of the temple, where she could better hear the voice of God, and better honor and love him. And thus the holy Virgin, from the beginning of her life, rendered herself dear and acceptable to her Lord, as the holy Church makes her say: Rejoice with me, all ye who love the Lord, for when I was little I pleased the Most High." For this reason she was compared to the moon; for as the moon completes her course more quickly than the other planets, so Mary attained perfection sooner than all the saints, by giving herself promptly to God without delay; and entirely without reierve. And now let us pass to the second point, upon which we shall have much to say.
Point Second. The enlightened infant well knew that God does not accept a divided heart, but wishes it entirely consecrated to his love, according to the precept he has given: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart." Hence, from the first moment of her existence, she began to love God with all her strength, and gave herself wholly to him. But her most holy soul awaited with earnest desire the time when she could in reality consecrate herself entirely, and with a public solemnity, to God. Let us consider, then, with how great a fervor the loving Virgin, seeing herself actually inclosed in that holy place, first prostrated herself to kiss that ground as the house of the Lord, then adored his infinite majesty, and thanked him for the favor she had received of being brought so early to inhabit his house. Then she offered herself entirely to God; entirely, without reserving any thing. She offered to him all her powers and all her senses, her whole mind and her whole heart, her whole soul and her whole body, for it was then, as we are told, that to please God, she made the vow of virginity. A vow, according to Rupert the Abbot, that Mary was the first to make; "Votum virginitatis prima emisit." And she offered herself without limitation of time, as Bernardine de Bustis asserts: Mary offered and dedicated herself to the perpetual service of God. Since she had then the intention of dedicating her whole life to the service of his Divine Majesty in the temple, if it should so please God; and of never quitting that sacred place, Oh, with what affection must she have exclaimed: My beloved to me, and I to him: "Dilectus metis mihi, et ego illi." I for him, as Cardinal Hugo remarks, will wholly live and will wholly die: "Ego illi tota vivam, et tota moriar." My Lord and my God, she said, I have come hither only to please thee, and to give thee all the hon or I can; here I will live wholly for thee and die for thee, if it so please thee; accept the sacrifice which this thy poor servant makes to thee, and help me to be faithful to thee.
And here let us consider how holy was the life that Mary led in the temple, where, like the rising morn, "Quasi aurora consurgens," increasing always in perfection, as the dawn increases in light; who can describe how, from day to day, in her more brightly shone her virtues; charity, modesty, humility, silence, mortification, meekness? This fair olive-tree, planted in the house of God, as St. John Damascene says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became the habitation of all the virtues. The same saint says in another place: The countenance of the Virgin was modest, her mind humble, her words kind, proceeding from a recollected heart. And he elsewhere asserts: The Virgin withdrew her thoughts from all earthly things, embracing all the virtues. Thus, then, by the practice of perfection, she made so great progress in a short time, as to merit being made a temple worthy of God.
St. Anselm, also, speaking of the life of the holy Virgin in the temple, says: Mary was docile, spoke little, was always composed, never laughed, was never distracted. She persevered in prayer, in the reading of the Holy Scripture, in fasting, and all virtuous works. St. Jerome goes more into detail, and tells us how Mary's life was ordered: From early in the morning till nine o clock she remained in prayer; from nine to three she was engaged in labor; at three she resumed her prayers, until the angel, as usual brought her food. She was the most constant in vigils, the most exact in obedience to the divine law, the most profound in humility, and the most perfect in every virtue. No one ever saw her angry; all her words were so full of sweet ness, that when she spoke it always appeared that God was with her.
The divine mother herself revealed to St. Elizabeth, a Benedictine nun, in the convent of Sconaugia, as we read in St. Bonaventure, that when she was left in the temple by her parents, she resolved on having God alone for father, and often thought what she could do to please him. She determined, moreover, to consecrate to him her virginity, and to possess nothing in the world, giving her entire will to God. She also told her that above all the divine precepts to be observed, she placed before her eyes the precept, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and that she went in the middle of the night to pray the Lord before the altar of the temple, that he would grant her the grace to observe the commandments, and to see the mother of the Redeemer born while she lived, praying him that he would preserve her eyes to see her, her tongue to praise her, her hands and feet to serve her, and her knees to adore in her arms, his divine Son. St. Elizabeth, on hearing this, said to her: "But, my Lady, were you not full of grace and virtue?" and Mary answered her: "Know that I esteemed myself the most vile, and unworthy of divine grace; therefore I prayed thus for grace and virtues." And, finally, that she might persuade us of the absolute necessity we are all under, of asking from God the graces that we need, she added: "Do you think that I obtained grace and virtue without effort? Know that I received no grace from God without great effort, constant prayer, ardent desire, and many tears and penances."
But above all, we should consider the revelations made to St. Bridget, of the virtues and exercises practised by the blessed Virgin in her childhood, in these words: "Even from an infant Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, and as she increased in age, she increased also in grace. Even from that time she resolved to love God with all her heart, so that he should never be offended by her actions or her words, and for this reason all the goods of earth were despised by her. She gave all she could to the poor. In her food she was so temperate that she only took what was absolutely necessary to support life. Discovering then from the sacred Scriptures, that this God was to be born from a virgin to redeem the world, her spirit was so kindled with divine love that she desired and thought only of God; and taking pleasure only in God, shunned the conversation even of her parents, that they might not hinder her from thinking on God. And more than all did she desire that the coming of the Messiah might be in her day, that she might be the servant to that happy Virgin who merited to be his mother. Thus the revelation made to St. Bridget.
Ah, for love of this exalted child the Redeemer hastened his coming into the world, for whilst she through her humility did not esteem herself worthy of being the servant of the divine mother, she was herself chosen for this mother, and by the odor of her virtues and her powerful prayers, she drew into her virginal womb the divine Son. Hence was Mary called the turtle by her divine spouse: The voice of the turtle is heard in our land: "Vox turturis audita est in terra nostra." Not only because she, like the turtle, always loved solitude, living in this world as in a desert, but also because, like the turtle who makes the fields mournful with its sad notex Mary was always mourning in the temple over the miseries of the lost world, and asking from God, the Redeemer of the world. Oh, with how much greater affection and fervor than the prophets did she repeat to God in the temple their supplications and sighs, that he might send the Redeemer; "Send forth, oh Lord, the Lamb, the ruler of the earth." "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just." "Oh, that thou wouldst rend the hea vens and wouldst come down."
In a word, it was an object of delight to God to see this young Virgin always ascending to a higher perfection, like a pillar of smoke, rich in the odors of all virtues, as the Holy Spirit exactly describes her in the sacred Canticles: "Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?" This holy child, says Sophronius, was in truth the garden of delights of the Lord, for he found there flowers of every kind, and all the odors of the virtues. This St. John Chrysostom affirms, that God chose Mary for his mother on earth, because he found not on the earth a more perfect and more holy Virgin than Mary, neither a place more worthy for him to dwell in than her sacred womb; as St. Bernard also says: On the earth there was no more worthy place than the womb of the Virgin. St. Antoninus asserts that the blessed Virgin, in order to be elected and predestined to the dignity of mother of God, must have possessed a perfection so great and consummate, that it should surpass the perfection of all other creatures.
As then the holy young child Mary, presented and offered herself in the temple promptly and entirely, so let us, at this day, without delay and without reserve, present ourselves to Mary, and entreat her to offer us to God, who will not refuse us when he sees us offered by the hand of her who was the living temple of the Holy Spirit, the delight of her Lord, and the chosen mother of the Eternal Word. And let us place a great hope in this exalted and most gracious Lady, who rewards with so much love the devotions that are offered to her by her servants, as may be seen by the following example.
We read in the life of Sister Domenica of Paradise, written by Father Ignatius of Niente, a Dominican, that in a village called Paradise, near Florence, this little girl was born of poor parents. From her infancy she practised devotion to the divine mother. She fasted every day of the week in her honor, and on Saturday she distributed to the poor the food of which she had deprived herself; and every Saturday she went into the garden, or into the neighboring fields, and there gathered all the flowers she could find, and placed them before a statue of the holy Virgin with the infant Jesus in her arms, which she had in her house. But let us see now with what favors our most grateful Lady compensated this her servant, for the homage she paid her. As she stood one Sunday at the window, when she was about ten years of age, she saw in the street a woman with a beautiful countenance, accompanied by a little child, and they both extended their hands as if to ask alms. She went for some bread, and, behold, before she could open the door, they stood beside her, and she saw wounds on the hands, feet, and breast of the child. Then she said to the woman: Who has wounded this child?" "It was love," answered the mother. Domenica, charmed by his beauty and modesty, asked him if his wounds pained him; but he only answered with a smile. As they were standing near the images of Jesus and of Mary, the mother said to Domenica: "Tell me, little girl, what makes you crown these images with flowers?" She answered: "The love I have for Jesus and Mary makes me do it." "And how much do you love them?" "I love them as much as I can." "And how much can you love them?" "As much as they will help me." "Continue, then," said the mother, "continue to love them, for they will richly return your love in paradise."
Then the little girl perceived a celestial odor coming forth from those wounds, and she asked the mother with what ointment she had anointed them, and if that ointment could be purchased? "It is purchased," answered she, "with faith and works." Domenica then offered them the bread. The mother said: "The food of this my Son is love; tell him that you love Jesus and he will be satisfied." The child at mention of this word love, began to show great signs of joy, and turning to the little girl, he asked her how much she loved Jesus. She answered that she loved him so much, that day and night she was always thinking of him, and desired nothing else but to please him as much as she could. "Well," answered he, "love him; and love will teach you what you must do to satisfy him. The odor then increasing which came from those wounds, Domenica exclaimed: "Oh God, this odor makes me die of love; if the odor of a child is so sweet what must be the odor of paradise?" But behold the scene was changed; the mother appeared robed as a queen, and surrounded with light, and the child resplendent as a sun of beauty. He took those flowers and strewed them on her head. She at once saw that these persons were Jesus arid Mary, and prostrated herself in adoration before them. And thus ended the vision. Domenica afterwards took the Dominican habit, and died in the year 1553, with the reputation of a saint.
Oh beloved of God! most amiable child Mary! oh, that like thee, who didst present thyself in the temple, and at once and wholly didst consecrate thyself the glory and love of thy God, I might offer to thee to-day the first years of my life, and dedicate myself entirely to thy service, oh my most holy and sweet Lady! But it is now too late, for, unhappily, I have lost so many years in serving the world and my caprices, as it were entirely forgetful of thee and of God. Alas for the time in which I did not love thee! But it is better to commence late than at all. Behold, oh Mary, to-day I present my self to thee, and offer myself entirely to thy service, for the longer or shorter time that remains for me to live on the earth; and with thee I renounce all creatures, and dedicate myself entirely to the love of my Creator. I consecrata to thee, then, oh queen, my mind, that I may always think of the love that thou dost merit, my tongue to praise thee, and my heart to love thee. Accept, oh most holy Virgin, the offering which the most miserable sinner presents to thee; accept it, I pray thee, for the sake of that consolation which filled thy heart when in the temple thou gavest thyself to God. And if late I begin to serve thee, it is right that I should make good the time lost by redoubling my devotion and my love. Aid my weakness, oh mother of mercy, with thy powerful intercession, and obtain for me perseverance and strength to be faithful to thee until death; that always serving thee in this life, I may come to praise thee eternally in paradise.