The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
MARY IS AGAIN OUR LIFE, BECAUSE SHE OBTAINS FOR US PERSEVERANCE.
FINAL perseverance is a divine gift so great, that, as the holy Council of Trent has declared, it is a wholly gratuitous gift and one that can not be merited by us. But, as St. Augustine teaches us, all those obtain perseverance from God who ask it of him; and as Father Suarez says, they infallibly obtain it if they are diligent to the end of life in praying for it; because, as Cardinal Bellarmine writes: This perseverance is daily to be sought, that it may be daily obtained Now, if it is true, which I consider certain, according to the present very general opinion, as I shall presently demonstrate in chap. 5th if it is true that all the graces which are bestowed on us by God pass through the hands of Mary, it must also be true that only through Mary can we hope for and obtain this great gift of perseverance. And we certainly shall obtain it, if, with confidence, we always ask it of Mary. She herself promises this grace to all those who serve her faitlifully in this life. "They that work by me shall not sin; they that explain me shall have life everlasting:" which words the holy Church puts into the mouth of Mary on the Feast of her Conception.
In order that we may be preserved in the life of divine grace, spiritual strength is necessary to resist all the enemies of our salvation. Now, this strength can only be obtained by means of Mary: Mine is this strength, says Mary: "Mea est fortitude." God has intrusted this gift to my hand, that I may bestow it on my devoted servants. "By me kings reign:" "Per me reges regnant." By me my servants reign, and rule their senses and their passions, and thus make themselves worthy of reigning eternally in heaven. Oh, what strength have the servants of this great Lady to conquer all the temptations of hell! Mary is that tower spoken, of in the holy Canticles: "Thy neck is as the tower of David, which is bailt with bulwarks a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the armor of valiant men." She is like a strong tower of defence for her lovers, who take refuge with her in the day of battle; in her all her devoted servants find shields and weapons of every kind to defend themselves against the powers of hell.
For this reason, the most holy Virgin is called a plane-tree: "As a plane-tree by the water in the streets was I exalted." This passage is explained by Cardinal Hugo, who tells us that the plane-tree has leaves like shields. And by this is explained the defence that Mary affords those who take refuge with her. The blessed Amadeus gives another explanation, and says that she is called a plane-tree, because, as the plane-tree, with its shade, protects the traveller from the heat of the sun and from the rain, so, under the mantle of Mary, men find shelter front the heat of their passions and the fury of temptations.
Unfortunate are those souls who withdraw from this shelter, neglect their devotion to Mary, and tail to recommend themselves to her in trial. If the sun should no more rise upon the world, says St. Bernard, what would the world become but a chaos of darkness and horror? If a soul loses her devotion to Mary, she will immediately be full of darkness, and that darkness of which the Holy Ghost says: "Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night; in it shall the beasts of the woods go about." When the divine light does not shine in a soul it is night, and it will become a den of all sins and demons. Woe to those, as St. Anselm says, who turn away from the light of this sun; that is, who neglect devotion to Mary. St. Francis Borgia, with reason, feared for the perseverance of those in whom he did not find a special devotion to the blessed Virgin. When once he asked some nov ices to what saint they had the most devotion, and found that some of them were not especially devoted to Mary, he warned the master to watch more carefully these unfortunate persons; and it happened that they all lost their vocation and quitted religion.
St. Germanus justly called the most holy Virgin the breath of Christians; because, as the body cannot live without breathing, so the soul can not live without having recourse and commending itself to Mary, through whose means the life of divine grace is obtained for us and preserved in us. As respiration is not only the sign, but also the cause of life, so is the name of Mary, when it is spoken by the servants of God, not only proves that they are living, but procures and maintains this life, and obtains for them every aid. The blessed Alan us, when once assailed by a strong temptation, was on the point of being lost because he omitted to recommend himself to Mary; but the blessed Virgin appeared to him, and, to warn him against such neglect in future, gave him a blow on the ear, and said to him: "If thou hadst commended thyself to me, thou wouldst not have been exposed to this peril.
On the other hand: "Blessed is the man," says Mary, that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors." Mary will certainly be ready to obtain light and strength for those faithful servants, that they may abandon their vices and walk in the paths of virtue. Hence is she, as Innocent III. beautifully expresses it: The moon by night, the dawn of the morning, and the sun toy day. The moon, to him who is groping in the night of sin, to give him light to see his wretched state of condemnation; the dawn, the fore runner of the sun, to him who is enlightened, that he may come forth from sin and return to divine grace; and the sun, to him who is in grace, that he may not again fall into any precipice.
Theologians apply to Mary these words of Ecclesiasticus: "Her bands are a healthful binding." Wherefore are they called bands, asks St. Lawrence Justinian, unless because she binds her servants, that they may not wander in forbidden fields? St. Bonaventure explains in a similar manner the words of the office of Mary: My abode is in the full assembly of saints." He says that Mary is not only established in the fulness of the saints, but that she also upholds the saints, that they may not fall away; she sustains their virtue that it may not waver, and prevents the demons from doing them harm.
It is said that "all her domestics are clothed with double garments." Cornelius a Lapide thus describes this double garment: It is a double garment, because she clothes her servants with the virtues of her Son, as well as with her own; and, thus clothed, they will preserve holy perseverance. For this reason, St. Philip Neri always admonished his penitents by saying to them: My children, if you desire perseverance, be devout to Mary. The venerable brother John Berchmans, of the Company of Jesus, also said: He who loves Mary, shall have perseverance. The reflection which Rupert the abbot makes upon the prodigal son is very beautiful. If the mother of this prodigal son had been living, he would either never have left his father's house or would have returned much sooner. And by this lie wished to say, that he who is a child of Mary, either never departs from God, or if for his misfortune he departs, by means of Mary he quickly returns.
Oh, if all men loved this most kind and loving Lady, and in temptations always and immediately had recourse to her, who would fall? Who would be lost ? He falls and is lost who does not flee to Mary. St. Lawrence Justinian applies to Mary these words of Ecclesiasticus: "I have walked in the waves of the sea;" and makes her to say: I walked with my servants in the midst of the tempests to which they are exposed, to assist them, and prevent them from falling into the precipice of sin.
Father Bernardine de Bustis relates that a hawk darted upon a bird which had been taught to say Ave Maria; the bird said Ave Maria, and the hawk fell dead. By this our Lord wished to show us, that if an irrational bird was saved from destruction by invoking Mary, how much more surely will he be prevented from falling into the power of evil spirits, who is mindful to invoke Mary in his temptations. Nothing remains to be done, says St. Thomas of Villanova, when the devil comes to tempt us, but, like the chickens when the kite appears, to run quickly under the shelter of the wings of our mother. Let us, then, at the approach of the temptations which assail us, without stopping to parley with them, place ourselves at once under the protection of Mary. And then, the saint goes on to say, our Lady and mother must defend us; for, after God, we have no refuge but thee, who art our only hope, and the only protectress in whom we may confide.
Let us, then, conclude with the words of St. Bernard; Oh man, whoever thou art, thou knowcst that in this miserable life thou art rather tossing on the tempestuous waves, among dangers and tempests, than walking upon the earth; if thou wouldst not sink, keep thy eye fixed on this star, namely, Mary. Look at the star, invoke Mary. When in danger of sinning, when tormented by temptations, when doubts disturb thee, remember that Mary can aid thee, and instantly call upon her. May her powerful name never depart from the confidence of thy heart, nor from the invocation of thy lips. If thou wilt follow Mary, thou shalt never wander from the path of safety. Commend thyself always to her, and thou shalt not despair. If she upholds thee, thou shalt not fall. If she protects thee, thou need not fear ruin. If she guides thee, thou shalt be saved without difficulty. In a word, if Mary undertakes to defend thee, thou shalt cer tainly arrive at the kingdom of the blessed. Thus do, and thou shalt live.
In the celebrated history of St. Mary of Egypt, which we find in the first volume of the Lives of the Fathers, we read that, at twelve years of age she fled from her parents, and went to Alexan dria, where she led an infamous life, and became the scandal of the city. After sixteen years spent in sin,she wandered off to Jerusalem; when , on the festival of the Holy Cross, she was led to enter the church, more from curiosity than devotion. On the threshold she was thrust back, as if by some invisible power; she attempted a second time to enter, and again was repelled, and a third and a fourth time the same thing happened. The wretched creature withdrew then into a corner of the portico, and there she was interiorly enlightened, and saw that God had refused her entrance into the church on account of her wicked life. By chance she raised her eyes, and saw a picture of Mary which was painted in the vestibule. She turned to it, weeping, and said: "Oh mother of God, have pity on this poor sinner! I know that, on account of my sins, I do not deserve that thou shouldst regard me; but thou art the refuge of sinners: for the love of Jesus, thy Son, help me. Obtain for me that I may enter the church, for I desire to change my life, and go and do penance wherever thou shalt direct." Then she heard an interior voice, as if the blessed Virgin answered her: "Come, since thou hast invoked me, and wishest to change thy life, enter the church, for the door will no longer be closed against thee." The sinner en tered, adored the cross, and wept. She returned to the picture: Oh Lady," she said, "I am ready; where shall I retire to do penance?" "Go," said the Virgin, " beyond the Jordan, and thou wilt find the place of thy repose." She made her confession, received holy communion, passed the river, reached the desert, and understood that there was her place of penance. During the first seventeen years that she lived in the desert, the evil spirits fiercely assailed her, to make her fall again. What did she then do? She recommended herself to Mary, and Mary obtained for her strength to resist for seventeen years, after which the conflict ceased. Finally, after fiftyseven years spent in the desert, in the eightyseventh of her age, through Divine Providence, she was found by the abbot St. Zosimus. To him she related the story of her whole life, and begged him to return there the following year, and bring her holy communion. The holy abbot returned, and gave her communion. Then she implored him again to do the same thing. He returned the second time, and found her dead, her body surrounded with light, and at her head these words written in the sand: "Bury in this place the body of me, a miserable sinner, and pray God for me." A lion came and dug her grave, the abbot buried her, and, returning to the monastery, he related the wonders of divine mercy towards this happy penitent.
Oh mother of mercy! holy Virgin! behold at thy feet the traitor, who, returning ingratitude for the favors received through thee from God has betrayed thee and God. But, oh my Lady! know that my misery does not destroy, but increases my confidence in thee, because I see that my misery increases thy compassion for me. Show, oh Mary! that thou art the same to me as thou art to all those who invoke thee, full of grace and mercy. It is enough for me that thou regardest me with compassion). If in thy heart thou hast pity for me, thou wilt not cease to protect me; and if thou dost protect me, what should I fear? No, I fear nothing; I fear not my sins, for thou canst remedy their evil consequences; nor the demons, for thou art more powerful than hell; nor thy Son who is justly angry with me, for at one word of thine he will be appeased. I only fear that through negligence I may fail to implore thy protection in my temptations, and that this may cause my ruin. But I promise thee to-day, I will always have recourse to thee. Help me to keep this resolution. Behold the opportunity thou hast of satisfying thy desire to relieve so miserable a reature as I am.
Oh mother of God, I have great confidence in thee. From thee I expect the grace to do just penance for my sins, and fiom thee I hope the strength never more to fall back into them. If I am sick, thou canst heal me, oh heavenly physician. If my sins have made me weak, thy help can make me strong. Oh Mary, I hope everything from thee, for thou hast all power with God.