Mary the most perfect image of the most perfect conformity with and resignation to the will of God.
Preached on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Quinimmo, beati qui audiunt verbum Dei, et custodiunt illud. Luke xi. 28.
"Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it."
Happy beyond all doubt is she to whom in preference to all mortals was granted the great honor and favor of bearing Jesus, the Son of God, for nine months in her womb, and bringing Him forth for the salvation of the world; therefore with good reason did that woman in the gospel of today say to Our Lord: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee.”
But, according to the testimony of Christ, he alone is really blessed who hears the word of God, and keeps it; that is, as I have explained on another occasion, who knows the will of God, and fulfils it in all circumstances with contented heart; for of such a one Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother,"1 no matter who he may be; that is, I will hold him in as great esteem as if he were My own brother, or sister, or mother.
But, my dear brethren, is Mary, then, excluded by those words, so as to be less esteemed by Christ? Not at all. But He wished to show the chief reason why Mary is the most happy of all; for she is most dear to Him, not so much because she is His Mother, but rather because amongst all men on earth and angels in heaven there was none found who so well knew the will of God, and fulfilled it so readily, as she did.
And so it is in reality; from her earliest years, when as a child three years old she offered herself in the temple to the perpetual service of the Lord, her will was united completely, in the most perfect manner, with the divine will, as I shall now show.
Plan of Discourse.
Mary is the most perfect image of the most perfect conformity with and resignation to the will of God. Such is the whole subject of this panegyric.
Most Blessed Virgin! profit enough shall we have from it if we only endeavor to follow thee even afar off in the practice of this virtue. Obtain for us the grace to do so from thy divine Son, through the hands of our holy angels, that we, too, may be in the number of those of whom thy dear Son has said: “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”
Mary did the will of God most perfectly in all things.
That the Blessed Virgin during her whole life was of all mere creatures the most perfect model of conformity with the divine will, namely, that in every circumstance she fulfilled the known will of God in the most perfect manner: that is so clear that we need not spend much time in examining the question or proving it; for it is certain that Mary, the holiest of all the saints, never acted against the will of God, even by the least venial sin or the least imperfection.
Nay, as theologians say, on account of the great light and knowledge with which that illustrious soul was endowed by God, on account of the superabundance of graces by which she was strengthened, on account of the intensity of the love of God which inflamed her above all the seraphim, it was for her a moral impossibility to do anything which she might suspect as being even remotely contrary to the divine will. Hence it is a damnable error of heretics to affirm that the Blessed Virgin committed any faults, that she had to repent of them and confess them to the apostle St. John. No, she was never capable of receiving the sacrament of penance, for she never did anything that she could be sorry or do penance for.
Moreover, she was always in conformity with the will of God: when the Incarnation was accounced to her.
Today I wish to speak only of the complete conformity and resignation of her will to the will of God. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word;” such was the expression by which she gave herself entirely to divine will and pleasure. And what power this offering of herself had! For then that truth was fulfilled: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” So that two most wonderful, and, for us mortals, most beneficial mysteries - the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world - were the effects of Mary's resignation to the will of God.
But we shall not dwell long on this; otherwise you might in thought object, and say: What wonder is it that she should agree to cooperate in such a beneficent ordination of the Almighty? It was an easy thing for her to agree to become the Mother of God; there was not a virgin or woman of her time who would not have gladly accepted the same honor. We have far more bitter morsels to swallow, that Divine Providence has prepared for us; and it is a far more difficult matter to accept them and be resigned to them readily and willingly. True, my dear brethren; but after all, had the Mother of God no hardship to suffer, in bearing which she showed the conformity of her will with that of God? Let us consider her life, although the least part of it is known to us.
When Joseph was thinking of putting her away.
Was it not hard for her to see how Joseph, her spouse, knowing her to be pregnant, and not understanding the cause, had determined on abandoning her, a fact that could not have been concealed from her, for she must have remarked his agitation? One word from her would have sufficed to set matters right, if she had been willing to reveal the divine mysteries; but she did not wish to give so much consideration to herself; she left all to the arrangement of Providence. “Be it done,” she doubtless said to herself; happen what may, as long as the will of God be done; let Joseph think of me what he pleases; let him leave me, if such is the will of God.
But, most holy Virgin! if Joseph had really carried out his intention of abandoning thee, what would have been the result? Thou shouldst have been regarded by all decent people as a dishonored woman, a guilty adulteress, and wouldst have lost thy good name! No matter; let it be so, if such is the will of God! And, according to the law, which was not unknown to thee, thou shouldst probably have been stoned to death publicly! “Be it done!” I am a handmaid of the Lord, ready for all He may decree for me; let the will of God be done in me; I resign myself to His decrees, and give my self into His hands, come of it what may!
When her Son was born in the stable.
Was it not a hard thing for that tender virgin, in the depth of winter, to set out on that weary journey to Bethlehem; and, when she arrived in that town, to be shut out of all the inns, and be forced to seek shelter in a stable in the open field, or, as others maintain, in a cave of wild beasts, where there was neither fire nor hearth, bed nor bedding; and there she had to dwell for some time? Consider how disagreeable it is for a traveller who has lost his way to be obliged to take shelter in the hut of a poor peasant, where he cannot find, even for money, a piece of good bread or a drink of fresh water. And yet his discomfort lasts but one night. How, then, must it have been with that poor virgin under the circumstances? And yet the one thought, It is the will of God, was more than enough to make her endure it all with joy of heart, and to force her to say: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to His holy will!
When she had to fly with Him to Egypt.
Was it not a hard thing for her, later on, to learn that even this wretched shelter was not to be granted to her only-begotten, most beloved, and divine Son, and that Herod sought Him out to put Him to death? Thus she was obliged to set out in the middle of the night with her child, and, ignorant as she was of the road, to go away into the strange land of Egypt, where she could not hope to find a soul who knew her; where the inhabitants were all idolaters, who served the devil, and from whom, nevertheless, she would be forced to ask for some corner for shelter. Nor did she know how long she would have to remain there, or how she was to return.
What would you think, my dear brethren, if a mother were thus banished from her native town with her little ones, and sent, I will not say into Turkey, among the infidels, but into another Christian, Catholic country, where she is utterly unknown, and has not a foot of ground she can call her own? Would it not be a great thing for her to imitate the resignation of Mary, and to submit to her fate with full conformity to the divine will?
When He was made to suffer and die so cruelly.
But all we have hitherto seen is nothing compared to the trial that Divine Providence caused the Blessed Virgin to endure when she was obliged to look on at the passion and death of her Son. Who can describe the anguish that then tortured her motherly heart!
The Prophet Jeremias compares it to the salt sea: “Great as the sea is thy destruction."2 The aged Simeon calls it a sharp sword, which should even pierce her soul, as he prophesied to her in the temple: “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce”3
Nor could it be otherwise; for if we must judge of the compassion and pity in one who loves by the greatness of the love and the knowledge of the pain suffered by the loved one, as experience teaches, and as all who truly love well know (we do not feel troubled at the sorrows of another if we have no affection for him; and our trouble is in proportion to our love; nor does the affliction of another cause us any grief if we know not of it; and the clearer our knowledge of that affliction, the greater is our grief thereat), then, indeed, the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin must have been incomparably and incomprehensibly great. For who can understand the greatness of her love! All motherly affection must yield to hers in intensity; no mother can ever love her child as this Mother loved her divine Son; for there can never be a more beautiful or amiable child than Jesus, nor a better or more tender-hearted mother than Mary. What grief, then, must have arisen out of that love on account of the almost infinite sufferings of such a son!
She knew of and saw all this.
If she had known nothing of those sufferings, or had but a doubtful, uncertain knowledge of them, then fear and trouble would not have transfixed her heart with such great pain. But great as her love was, equally clear was her knowledge of what, how, when, and at whose hands her dearest Son was so cruelly tortured.
She herself had seen with her own eyes, and heard how they dragged Him along, bound with ropes and chains like a murderer or robber, in a most unmerciful manner, through the public streets, urging Him on with blows; how He was given over to the wantonness of the rabble for a whole night, who out of diabolical malice blindfolded Him, tore out His hair, spat upon Him, and gave Him one buffet in the face after another.
Judge, my dear brethren, if you can, of her anguish when she heard, or, we may say, felt in herself, the cruel stripes inflicted on Him, which mangled and tore her own flesh and blood, that is, the most tender body of her Son, for such a long time; imagine you behold that almost infinitely loving Mother, standing in the court of Pilate's house, looking at her own Son streaming with blood, crowned with thorns, His whole body one wound, clothed with miserable rags, no longer bearing the aspect of a human being, and exhibited as a spectacle to the people from an elevated place, and presented to them by Pilate with the words: “Behold the Man !” in the hope of moving the embittered Jews to mercy.
Sorrowful Virgin! Suffering Mother! What were thy feelings on the occasion? Behold the Man! Dost thou still know who He is? Behold the Man! Is He thy Son? Anguish! And what more will they do to Him? Hear the ungrateful people crying out into thy ears: “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” See how sentence is pronounced on Him, and He is given over to the death of the cross!
When He was crucified.
Humanly speaking, the Blessed Virgin must have lost consciousness, and died with grief, had not the mighty hand of God preserved her for greater sufferings. These we can form some idea of, if we accompany her in spirit as she goes with the multitude of people to see the end. For a mother, and such a mother, to see her son, and such a son, so cruelly treated, that even the rocks and stones were rent with pity; to see Him carrying His own cross, and falling down exhausted under the weight of it; to see Him bound hand and foot, and fastened with coarse nails to the cross; and not to be able to help Him! To see her Son hanging on the gibbet, mocked at and blasphemed, and not to be able to whisper a word of consolation to Him! To hear Him complain of thirst, and to be able to offer Him nothing but her salt tears, and that, too, from a distance! To hear the last words with which He said adieu to her, with bleeding lips and glassy eyes, giving her over and recommending her to another! To see the only consolation of her eyes, closing His, and giving up the ghost, and finally lying in her lap as a mangled corpse!
Sorrow, let him who can understand thee! Holy Virgin, Mother of Sorrows, well art thou called the Queen of Martyrs, for all that thy divine Son suffered in His body thou didst suffer in thy soul, and to such a degree that St. Bernard does not hesitate to say: “So great was the sorrow of the Virgin, that if it were divided among all creatures they would die at once."4
All of which pain Mary suffered with complete resignation.
But how did Mary bear this incomprehensible martyrdom? Afflicted souls, turn your eyes to her in all attacks of adversity that the divine decree sends you! From her you may learn how to bear them, and to resign your will to them! Although she had never merited the least suffering, never had the least share in original sin, and had always been the most innocent and holy among all mere creatures; yet she accepted her trials with humble and most ready acquiescence to the will of God, always repeating in her heart her favorite words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word!” My sorrow is vast as the sea; my sufferings more bitter than death; a sword has pierced my soul; be it done to me, Lord, according to Thy will! If my Son wishes to drink the bitter chalice, I am no better than He, and therefore I do not wish to have my share of it taken from me.
With the utmost weakness and patience.
She suffered with the utmost patience and meekness, nay, with the desire of feeling more and more the sufferings of her Son. In similar circumstances, if their children were being led out to death, other mothers would have concealed themselves at home; either through shame, if they belonged to a respectable family, or through excessive grief, and would have found it impossible to be present at the execution of their children.
This we see in many cases: if there is question of opening a small ulcer, or otherwise operating on a child, the mother runs out of the room at the first appearance of the doctor, so as not to add to her sorrow by witnessing the pain suffered by her child.
Mary, on the contrary, did not wish to spare herself so far; she stood in the midst of the torturers who treated her Son so cruelly; she followed Him as He was dragged along the streets; she went with Him to the summit of the mountain, and kept at His side when He came to the place of execution: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother,"5 as St. John says. She did not turn her eyes away from Him, and considered attentively all His wounds, that she might thus have in her soul a livelier image of the sufferings of her Son. Many other mothers, if obliged to be present at such a spectacle, would either lose consciousness, or fill the place with their moans and lamentations, tearing their hair and giving every sign of despair.
How a mother weeps and wails if her little child dies suddenly, although she has more reason to rejoice, since she knows that the little one is in heaven!
But “there stood by the cross of Jesus Mary, His Mother,” immovable; except her tears and silent sighs, there was in her no sign of murmuring, no inordinate movement, no loud wail of sorrow; she was completely wrapped up in her sentiments of love and compassion for her Son. And for that reason those painters make a great mistake who represent her as falling into a faint in the arms of St. John at the foot of the cross; the Evangelist tells us the contrary: she stood, and did not fall down. Many other mothers, if they could avenge their child in no other manner, would have assailed the executioners with reproaches, revilings, and curses. We see that to be the case if the father sometimes wishes to chastise his child, even when the little one deserves it; the mother at once begins to shout and cry louder than the child himself; do you mean to kill the child? she says; do you want to put an end to him?
How did Mary act towards the murderers and torturers of her Son? Did she call on the eternal Father to punish those cruel, wicked, and ungrateful men with a sudden death? No; she rather prayed with her Son: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."6 Nay, says St. Antoninus, the Blessed Virgin was so united with the will of God in the sufferings of her Son that, if the heavenly Father had required it for the redemption, and given her but a sign of His pleasure to that effect, she herself would have been ready, as Abraham was with his son Isaac, to set to work with her own hands, and although to her great grief, nail her Son to the cross, and sacrifice Him.
What do you think of it now, my dear brethren? Was not that a bitter morsel that Divine Providence gave her to swallow? Could it well have been more bitter? And therefore could she have given greater proof of her conformity with the will of God?
This conformity she showed after the death of her Son until the end of her life.
Why, then, should we inquire into the later life of the Blessed Virgin? There is no doubt that it was hard for her to see Jesus, her Son, ascending into heaven with the great multitude of the elect, among whom was the soul of St. Joseph, her spouse, and for her to be obliged to part from Him and to remain in the world. It must have been very hard, I say, when we consider all the circumstances of the case. Her burning love for her Son and ardent desire to be always with Him, coupled with the necessity of being separated from Him for such a long time, must have been very hard for a soul that had such a clear knowledge of God as the Blessed Virgin possessed; and the pain she felt must have been much greater than we poor mortals can imagine; it is a pain similar to that which makes the souls in purgatory suffer so much. To be left behind in the world, the vale of tears, which is only a land of misery, to where the children of Adam are banished for a time to pay the debt contracted by sin, a debt in which Mary had not the slightest share; to be still banished from heaven, which she had merited countless times from the first moment of her conception, and that for so many years; for the Mother of God (if it be true, as authors say, that she was seventy years old) must have lived twenty-five years on earth after the death of her Son; that, I repeat, must have been hard indeed!
How did not the apostle Paul sigh and moan: “I am straitened … having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ."7 “Unhappy man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"8 And how other pious souls sighed in the words of David to depart soon for the heavenly country: “When shall I come and appear before the face of God?"9
Is it likely, then, that this holy virgin, who was filled with ardent charity, should feel less of a desire to come to her God? Could not Christ have taken her with Him at once in His ascension? Could not Mary have asked that favor of her Son, either to accompany Him at once, or to go to Him soon after His departure from this world? And if she had made such a request, can we imagine that such a son would have denied it to such a mother? But she had learned from her Son to pray in another fashion: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;” “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt."10 If I have to remain banished still longer in this vale of tears, be it done to me according to thy word; I do not wish to be released unless when and as it may please Thee, my God !
And thus puts our spirit of discontent to shame.
O Mary, most perfect model of conformity with and resignation to the will of God, how we must feel ashamed when we consider thee!
Thou, the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of the Most High, the holiest and most innocent of all the angels and men that God has created, thou didst resign thyself to the divine will in such hard and bitter trials; and we poor sinners, who know that we have deserved all the chastisements of the world, nay, the eternal fire of hell, for our sins, we try to persuade ourselves that a great wrong is done us if the hand of God chooses to try us with a cross!
Thou, the Gate of heaven, hast not been able to enter heaven without suffering, and suffering grievously; nor hast thou wished to enter otherwise; and we, the children of reprobation, dare to imagine that we can enter the same heaven on a path strewn with roses, without feeling any thorns!
Thou hast borne thy grievous trials with ready resignation of thy will to Divine Providence, and hast suffered patiently till death; we often cannot and will not submit to a slight contradiction, and murmur at and complain of it, as if we were innocence itself!
Thou couldst, if thou hadst wished, have freed thyself from much suffering, and have done it by one word, yet, without a syllable of opposition, thou hast allowed the divine will to rule and order thee as it pleased; and we are not willing for the sake of God and heaven to bear patiently the sufferings that we know we cannot avoid with all our efforts!
Ah, how unlike such a mother we, her children, are!
Prayer to Mary to obtain conformity with the will of God.
What else, then, have we to do but by humble and daily prayer to beg of her to obtain this necessary virtue for us? Oh, beseech, then, thy divine Son to grant us true conformity of our will with His, that in all things we may do what God wills, when He wills, as He wills, because He wills; so that in all circumstances and events, be they sweet or sour, we may, after thy example, satisfied with the divine ordinance, think and say: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word. Behold in me a servant of the Lord; may His holy will be done in me! May the will of God be done in me in health and sickness, in joy and sorrow, in good fortune and adversity, in wealth and poverty, in life and death, on earth and in heaven! Thy will be done, O Lord, in and by me, as Mary, the Mother of Thy Son, always fulfilled it!
Quicumque fecerit voluntatem Patris mei qui in coelis est, ipse meus frater, et soror, et mater est. Matt. xii. 50. ↩︎
Magna est velut mare contritio tua. - Lam. ii. 13 ↩︎
Tuam ipsius animam pertransibit gladius. - Luke ii. 35. ↩︎
Tantus fuit dolor Virginis, quod si in omnes creaturas divideretur, omnes subito interirent. ↩︎
Stabant juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus. - John xix. 25. ↩︎
Pater, dimitte illis, non enim sciunt quid faciunt. - Luke xxiii. 34 ↩︎
Coarctor … desiderium habens dissolvi, et esse cum Christo. - Philipp. i. 3 ↩︎
Infelix ego homo! Quis me liberabit de corpore mortis hujus ? - Rom. vii. 34. ↩︎
Quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem Dei ? - Ps. xli. 3. ↩︎
Non sicut ego volo, sed sicut tu. - Matt. xxvi. 39. ↩︎