The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
MARY THE HOPE OF SINNERS.
AFTER God had created the earth he created two lights, the greater and the less: the sun to give light by day, and the moon to give light by night. The sun, says Cardinal Hugo, was the type of Jesus Christ, in whose light the just re joice who live in the daylight of divine grace; but the moon was the type of Mary, by whom sinners are enlightened, who are living in the night of sin. Mary, then, being the moon, so propitious to miserable sinners, if any unhappy person, says Innocent III. finds that he has fallen into this night of sin, what must he do? Since he has lost the light of the sun, by loosing divine grace, let him turn to the moon, let him pray to Mary, and she will give him light to know the misery of his condition, and strength to come forth from it. St. Methodius says that by the prayers of Mary innumerable sinners are continually converted!
One of the titles by which the holy Church teaches us to invoke the divine mother, and which most encourages poor sinners, is the title of "Refuge of Sinners," with which we invoke her in the Litanies. There were anciently, in Judea, cities of refuge; and criminals, who sought protection in them, were free from the penalty of their offences. Now, there are not so many cities of refuge, but instead of these there is one only, Mary; of whom it was spoken: Glorious things are said of thee, oh city of God Gloriosa dieta sunt de te civitas Dei. But with this difference, that not all criminals could find refuge in those ancient cities, nor for all sorts of crime ; but under the mantle of Mary all offenders may find protection, what ever crimes they have committed. It is sufficient for any one to have recourse to her for protection. "I am the city of refuge for all those who flee to me," as St. John of Damascus says, speaking in her name.
It is enough that we have recourse to her. He who has been so happy as to enter this city need not speak in order to secure his safety. "Assemble yourselves and let us enter into the fenced city, and let us be silent there." This fenced city, as the blessed Albertus Magnus explains it, is the holy Virgin, whose defence is grace and glory. "Let us be silent there," according to the gloss: "since we may not dare supplicate the Lord for pardon, it is enough that we enter into the city and are silent, for then Mary will speak and will pray for us." Whence a devout writer exhorts all sinners to seek shelter under the mantle of Mary, saying: Fly, oh Adam, oh Eve, and ye their children, who have offended God; fly and take refuge in the bosom of this good mother. Do you not know that she is the only city of refuge, and the only hope of sinners? As St. Augustine has called her, The only hope of sinners: "Unica spes peccatorum."
Hence St. Ephrem says: Thou art the only advocate of sinners, and of those who are depriv ed of every help; and he thus salutes her: Hail! refuge and retreat of sinners, to whom alone they can flee with confidence. And this is what David intended to express, says a certain author, when he said: "He hath protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle." And what is this tabernacle, if not Mary? As St. Germanus calls her, a tabernacle made by God, in which none but God has entered, in order to complete the great mysteries of human redemption. On this subject the great Father St. Basil says: The Lord has given us Mary as a public hospital where all the infirm are poor, and destitute of every other help, may assemble: "Aperuit nobis Deus publicum valetudinarium." Now, in hospitals established expressly for the reception of the poor, I would ask, who have the first claim to be received, if not the poorest and most infirm?
Wherefore, let him who finds himself not miserable, because most destitute of merit, and most afflicted by the maladies of the soul, namely, sins, say to Mary: Oh Lady, thou art the refuge to the infirm; do not reject me, for, because I am the poorest and most infirm of all, I have the greater claim upon thee to receive me. Let us say with St. Thomas of Villanova: Oh Mary, we poor sinners know no refuge but thee. Thou art our only hope; to thee we intrust our salvation. Thou art the only advocate with Jesus Christ; to to thee we all have recourse!
In the Revelations of St. Bridget, Mary is called the star going before the sun: "Sidus vadens ante solem." By which we are to un derstand, that when devotion to the divine mother first dawns in a sinful soul, it is a certain sign that God will soon come to enrich her with his grace. The glorious St. Bonaventure, in order to revive in the hearts of sinners confidence in the protection of Mary, represents to us the sea in a tempest, in which sinners who have fallen from the bark of divine grace, tossed about by remorse of conscience, and by the fear of divine justice, without light and without a guide, have almost lost the breath of hope, and are nearly sinking in despair; at this critical moment the saint, pointing to Mary, who is commonly called "The star of the sea," raises his voice and exclaims: Oh poor, lost sinners, do not despair, lift your eyes to that beautiful star, take courage and trust, for she will guide you out of the tempest, and bring you to the port of safety.
St. Bernard has said the same thing: If you would not be overwhelmed in the tempest, turn to this star, and call Mary to thy aid. The devout Blosius also says that she is the only refuge for those who have offended God: the asylum of all those who are tempted and afflicted. This mother of mercy is all kindness and all sweetness, not only with the just, but also with sinners and those who are in despair; so that when she beholds them turning towards her, and sees that they are with sincerity seeking her help, she at once welcomes them, aids them, and obtains their pardon from her Son, She neglects none, however unworthy they may be, and refuses to none her protection; she consoles all; and no sooner do they call upon her, than she hastens to their help. With her gentleness she often wins their devotion, and raises those pinners who are most averse to God, and who are the most deeply plunged in the lethargy of their vices that she may dispose them to receive divine grace, and at last render themselves worthy of eternal glory. God has created this his beloved daughter with a disposition so kind and compassionate, that no one can hesitate to have recourse to her intercession. The devout writer concludes with saying: It is not possible that any one can be lost, who with exactness and humility practises devotion to this divine mother.
She is called a plane-tree: As a plane-tree was I exalted: Quasi platauus exaltata sum." Sinners may understand by this, that as the planetree gives a shelter to travellers, where they may take refuge from the heat of the sun, thus Mary, when she sees the anger of divine justice kindled against them, invites them to resort to the shelter of her protection. St. Bonaventure re marks that Isaias, in his day lamented, aud said, " Behold, thou art angry and we have sinned there is none that riseth up and taketh hold of thee;" because Mary was not yet born into the woiid. But now, if God is offended with any sinner, and Mary undertakes to protect him, she restrains the Son from punishing him, and saves him. Also, continues St. Bonaventure, no one can be found more fit than Mary to place her hand upon the sword of divine justice, that it may not descend upon the head of the sinner." Richard of St. Laurence expresses the same thought, when he says: God lamented, before the birth of Mary, that there was no one to restrain him from punishing the sinner; but Mary being born, she appeases him.
St. Basil encourages sinners with the same thought, and says: Oh sinner, be not timid, but in all thy necessities flee to Mary, invoke her aid, and thou wilt always find her ready to assist thee, for it is the divine will that she should aid all men in all their necessities. This mother of mercy has such a desire to save the most abandoned sinners, that she even goes to seek them; and if they have recourse to her, she will surely find a method of rendering them dear to God.
Isaac baing desirous to eat the flesh of some venison, promised to give his benediction in exchange for it to Esau; but Rebecca wishing that her other son Jacob should receive this benediction, ordered him to bring her two kids, for she would prepare the food that Isaac loved. Go thy way to the flock, bring me two kids." St. Antoninus says that Rebecca was the type of Mary, who says to the angels, Bring me sinners (who are typified by the kids), that I may prepare them in such a manner (by obtaining for them sorrow and good resolutions) as to render them dear and acceptable to my Lord. The Abbot Francone, pursuing the same thought, says, that Mary so well understands how to prepare these kids, that they not only equal, but sometimes even surpass the flavor of venison.
The blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget, that no sinner in the world is so great an enemy to God, that if he has recourse to her and invokes her aid, does not return to God and is not restored to his favor, And the same St. Bridget heard one day Jesus Christ saying to his mother, that she could obtain the divine favor even for lucifer, if he would humble himself so far as to ask her help. That proud spirit would never stoop to implore the protection of Mary, but if such a thing could happen, Mary would take pity upon him, and the power of her prayers would obtain from God his pardon and salvation. But what cannot happen to the devil may well happen to sinners who seek the help of this mother of mercy.
Noe's ark also prefigured Mary; because as in that all the animal creation found refuge, so under the mantle of Mary all sinners find protection, who have made themselves like the brutes by their vices and sensuality. With this difference, however, says a certain author: The brutes entered into the ark and remained brutes still; the wolf remained a wolf, the tiger a tiger. But under the mantle of Mary the wolf becomes a lamb, the tiger a dove. St Gertrude once saw Mary with her mantle outspread, and under it wild beasts of various kinds, leopards, lions, and bears; and the Virgin not only did not drive them from her but with her hand kindly received them and caressed The saint understood that these wild beasts were miserable sinners who when they take refuge with Mary are received by her with sweetness and love.
Justly, then, did St. Bernard say to the Virgin: Oh Lady, thou dost abhor no sinner, howerer abandoned mud vile he may be, when he has recourse to theeif he asks thy help, thou wilt condescend to extend thy kind hand to draw him from the depths of despair. Oh ever blessed and thanked be our God, oh most amiable Mary, who made thee so merciful and kind towards the most miserable sinners. Oh, wretched are those who do not love thee, and who, having it in their power to seek help of thee, do not trust in thee! He who does not implore the aid of Mary is lost: but who has ever been lost that had recourse to her?
It is related in Scripture that Boez permitted the woman named Ruth to glean the ears that the reapers dropped and left behind them: "Colligebat spicas post terga metentium." St. Bonaventnre adds, that as Ruth found favor in the eyes of Boez, so Mary has found favor in the eyes of the Lord, and is permitted to glean after the reapers. The reapers are the apostolic laborers, missionaries, preachers, and confessors, who toil through the day to gather and win souls to God. But there are some rebellion and obdurate souls who are left behind even by these reapers, and it is granted to Mary alone by her powerful intercession to save these abandoned ears. But unhappy are those who do not yield themselves to this sweet Lady! for they will be entirely lost and accursed! Blessed, on the other hand, are those who have recourse to this good mother! There is no sinner in the world, says the devout Blosius, so lost and sunk in sin, that Mary would abhor him and reject him. Ah, if such would seek her aid, this good mother could and would reconcile them to her Son, and obtain for them pardon.
"With reason, then, oh my sweetest queen, does St. John of Damascus salute thee and call thee: "The hope of the despairing." Justly does St. Laurence Justinian name thee: "The hope of evil-doers." St. Augustine: "The only refuge of sinners." St. Ephrem: "The secure haven for the shipwrecked. " The same saint calls thee even by another appellation : "The protectress of the condemned." Finally, St. Bernard, with reason, exhorts the desperate not to despair ; whence, full of joy and tenderness towards this his most dear mother, he asks her lovingly: Oh Lady, who would not trust in thee, if thou dost thus relieve even the despairing? I do not doubt in the least, he adds, that if we always applied to thee we should obtain what we wish. In thee, then, let the despairing hope. If St. Antoninus relates that a sinner finding himself in disgrace before God, imagined himself standing before the tribunal of Jesus Christ: the devil was accusing him and Mary defending him. The enemy presented against this poor criminal the catalogue of his offences, which, placed in the balance of divine justice far outweighed his good works; but what then did his great advocate do? She extended her kind hand and placed it in the other scale; it descended in favor of her suppliant, and thus it was given him to understand, that she would ob tain his pardon if he would change his life; and, indeed, after that vision he was converted and changed his life.
The blessed John Erolto, who, through humility, called himself the disciple, relates, that there was once a married man who lived in disgrace in the sight of God. His wife, a virtuous woman, not being able to induce him to abandon his vicious courses, entreated him that at least, while he was in so miserable a condition, he would offer this devotion to the mother of God, namely, to say a "Hail Mary" every time he passed before her altar. He accordingly began to practise this devotion. One night, when he was about to commit a sin, he saw a light, and, on closer observation, perceived that it was a lamp burning before a holy image of the blessed Virgin, who held the infant Jesus in her arms. He said a "Hail Mary," as usual; but what did he see? He saw the infant covered with wounds, and fresh blood flowing from them. Both terrified and moved in his feelings, he remembered that he himself too had wounded his Redeemer by his sins, and began to weep, but he observed that the child turned away from him. In deep confusion, he had recourse to the most holy Virgin, saying: "Mother of mercy, thy Son rejects me; I can find no advocate more kind and more powerful than thou, who art his mother ; my queen, aid me, and pray to him in my behalf." The divine mother answered him from that image: "You sinners call me mother of mercy, but yet you do not cease to make me mother of misery, renewing the passion of my Son, and my dolors." But because Mary never sends away disconsolate those who cast themselves at her feet, she began to entreat her Son that he would pardon that miserable sinner. Jesus continued to show himself un willing to grant such a pardon, but the holy Virgin, placing the infant in the niche, prostrated herself before him, saying: "My Son, I will not leave thy feet until thou hast pardoned this sinner." "My Mother," answered Jesus, "I can deny thee nothing; dost thou wish for his pardon ? for love of thee I will pardon him. Let him come and kiss my wounds." The sinner approached, weeping bitterly, and as he kissed the wounds of the infant, they were healed. Then Jesus embraced him as a sign of pardon. He changed his conduct, led a holy life, and was ever full of love to the blessed Virgin, who had obtained for him so great a favor.
I venerate, oh most pure Virgin Mary, thy most sacred heart, which was the delight and repose of God; a heart filled with humility, purity, and divine love. I, an unhappy sinner, come to thee with a heart filled with uncleanness and wounds. Oh mother of mercy, do not on this account despise me, but let it excite thee to a greater compassion, and come to my help. Do not look for virtue or merits in me before thou grantest me thy aid; I am lost, and only merit hell. Look at nothing, I pray thee, but the confidence I have in thee, and the desire I cherish of amending my life. Look at what Jesus has done and suffered for me, and then abandon me if thou canst. I offer to thee all the afflictions of his life, the cold that he suffered in the stable, his journey to Egypt, the blood that he shed, his poverty, toil, sweat, and sadness, the death he endured in thy presence, for love of me; and, for the love of Jesus, promise to save me. Ah, my mother, I will not and I cannot fear that thou wilt cast me from thee, when I flee to thee and implore thy help. To fear this, would be unjust to thy mercy, which seeks the miserable to relieve them. Oh Lady, do not refuse thy compassion to him to whom Jesus has not refused his blood; but the merits of this blood will not be applied to me, if thou dost not recommend me to God, From thee I hope salvation. I do not ask of thee riches, honors, or the other goods of earth; I only ask of thee the grace of God, love for thy Son, the fulfilment of his will, and paradise, where I may love him eternally. Is it possible that thou wilt not hear me ? No, already thou dost hear me, as I hope ; already thou art praying for me, already thou art procuring me the favors I ask, al ready thou art receiving me under thy protection. My mother, do not leave me; continue, continue to pray for me, until thou seest me safe in heaven at thy feet, to bless and thank thee through all eternity. Amen.