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CHAPTER II.

 Vita, Dulcedo.

OUR LIFE, OUR SWEETNESS.

I.

MARY, OUR LIFE, OUR SWEETNESS.

Mary is our life, because she obtains for us the Pardon of our Sins.

To understand why the holy Church makes us call Mary our life, we must know, that as the soul gives life to the body, so does divine grace give life to the soul; for a soul without grace has the name of being alive but is in truth dead, as it was said of one in the Apocalypse, Thou hast the name of being alive, and thou art dead ("Nomen habes quod vivas, et mortuus es"—Apoc. iii. 1).  Mary, then, in obtaining this grace for sinners by her intercession, thus restores them to life.

            See how the Church makes her speak, applying to her the following words of Proverbs: They that in the morning early watch for me shall find me ("Qui mane vigilant ad me, invenient me"—Prov. viii. 17).  They who are diligent in having recourse to me in the morning, that is, as soon as they can, will most certainly find me.  In the Septuagint the words shall find me are rendered shall find grace.  So that to have recourse to Mary is the same thing as to find the grace of God.  A little further on she says, He that shall find me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord ("Qui me invenerit, inveniet vitam, et hauriet salutem a Domino").    "Listen," exclaims St. Bonaventure on these words, "listen, all you who desire the kingdom of God: honor the most Blessed Virgin Mary, and you will find life and eternal salvation" ("Audite qui ingredi cupitis regnum Dei: Virginem Mariam honorate, et invenietis vitam et salutem perpetuam"—Psalt. B. V. ps. 48).

            St. Bernardine of Sienna says, that if God did not destroy man after his first sin, it was on account of his singular love for this holy Virgin, who was destined to be born of this race.  And the saint adds, "that he has no doubt but that all the mercies granted by God under the old dispensation were granted only in consideration of this most Blessed Lady" ("Omnes indulgentias factas in Veteri Testamento non ambigo Deum fecisse propter hujus benedictae Puelae reverentiam et amorem"—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 5, c. 2).

            Hence St. Bernard was right in exhorting us "to seek for grace, and to seek it by Mary" ("Inventrix gratiae."—In Adv. D. s. 2); meaning, that if we have had the misfortune to lose the grace of God, we should seek to recover it, but we should do so through Mary; for though we may have lost it, she has found it; and hence the saint calls her "the finder of grace" ("Inventrix gratiae."—In Adv. D. s. 2).  The angel Gabriel expressly declared this for our consolation, when he saluted the Blessed Virgin saying, Fear not, Mary, thou hast found grace ("Ne timeas, Maria: invenisti enim gratiam."—Luke, 1. 30).  But if Mary had never been deprived of grace, how could the archangel say that she had then found it?  A thing may be found by a person who did not previously possess it; but we are told by the same archangel that the Blessed Virgin was always with God, always in grace, nay, full of grace.  Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee ("Ave, gratia plena!  Dominus tecum").  Since Mary, then, did not find grace for herself, she being always full of it, for whom did she find it?  Cardinal Hugo, in his commentary on the above text, replies that she found it for sinners who had lost it.  "Let sinners, then," says this devout write, "who by their crimes have lost grace, address themselves to the Blessed Virgin, for with her they will surely find it; let them humbly salute her, and say with confidence, "Lady, that which has been found must be restored to him who has lost it; restore us, therefore, our property which thou hast found" ("Currant igitur peccatores ad Virginem, qui gratiam amiserunt peccando, et eam invenient apud ipsam; secure dicant: Redde nobis rem nostrum, quam invenisti").  On this subject, Richard of St. Laurence concludes, "that if we hope to recover the grace of God, we must go to Mary, who has found it, and finds it always" ("Cupientes invenire gratiam, quaeramus inventricem gratiae, quae, quia simper invenit, frustrari non poterit."—De Laud. V. 1. 2, p. 5).  And as she always was and always will be dear to God, if we have recourse to her, we shall certainly succeed.

            Again, Mary says, in the eighth chapter of the sacred Canticles, that God has placed her in the world to be our defence: I am a wall: and my breasts are as a tower ("Ego murus, et ubera mea sicut turris, ex quo facta sum coram eo quasi pacem reperiens"—Cant. viii. 10).  And she is truly made a mediatress of peace between sinners and God; Since I am become in His presence as one finding peace.  On these words St. Bernard encourages sinners, saying, "Go to this Mother of Mercy, and show her the wounds which thy sins have left on thy soul; then will she certainly entreat her Son, by the breast that gave him suck, to pardon thee all.  And this divine Son, who loves her so tenderly, will most certainly grant her petition" ("Vade ad Matrem misericordiae, et ostende illi tuorum plagas peccatorum, et illa ostendet pro te ubera; exaudiet utique Matrem Filius").  In this sense it is that the holy Church, in her almost daily prayer, calls upon us to beg our Lord to grant us the powerful help of the intercession of Mary to rise from our sins: "Grant Thy help to our weakness, O most merciful God; and that we, who are mindful of the holy Mother of God, may by the help of her intercession rise from our iniquities" ("Concede, misericors Deus, fragilitati nostrae praesidium; ut qui sanctae Dei Genitricis memoriam agimus, intercessionis ejus auxilio a nostris iniquitatibus resurgamus").

            With reason, then, does St. Laurence Justinian call her "the hope of malefactors" ("Delinquentium spes"—S. de Nat. V. M.); since she alone is the one who obtains them pardon from God.  With reason does St. Bernard call her "the sinners' ladder" ("Peccatorum scala"—De Aquad); since she, the most compassionate Queen, extending her hand to them, draws them from an abyss of sin, and enables them to ascend to God.  With reason does an ancient writer call her "the only hope of sinners;" for by her help alone can we hope for the remission of our sins ("Tu es spes unica peccatorum, quia per te speramus veniam omnium delictorum"—Serm. 194, E. B. app.).       

            St. John Chrysostom also says "that sinners receive pardon by the intercession of Mary alone" ("Per hanc peccatorum veniam consequimur").  And therefore the saint, in the name of all sinners, thus addresses her: "Hail, Mother of God and of us all, 'heaven,' where God dwells, 'throne,' from which our Lord dispenses all grace, 'fair daughter, Virgin, honor, glory and firmament of our Church,' assiduously pray to Jesus that in the day of judgment we may find mercy through thee, and receive the reward prepared by God for those who love him" ("Ave igitur, Mater, Coelum, Thronus, Ecclesiae nostrae decus; assidue precare Jesum, ut per te misericordiam invenire in die judicii, et, quae reposita sunt iis, qui diligent Deum, bona consequi possimus"—Off. B. M. lect. 6).

With reason, finally, is Mary called, in the words of the sacred Canticles, the dawn; Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising?" ("Quae est ista, quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgenus?"—Cant. vi. 9).  Yes, says Pope Innocent III; "for as the dawn is the end of night, and the beginning of day, well may the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was the end of vices, be called the dawn of day" ("Cum aurora sit finis noctis et origo diei, merito per auroram designator Virgo Maria, quae fuit finis vitiorum"—In Assumpt. s. 2).  When devotion towards Mary begins in a soul, it produces the same effect that the birth of this most Holy Virgin produces in the world.  It puts an end to the night of sin, and leads the soul into the path of virtue.  Therefore, St. Germanus says, "O Mother of God, thy protection never ceases, thy intercession is life, and thy patronage never fails" (In Dorm. B. V. s. 2).  And in a sermon the same saint says, that to pronounce the name of Mary with affection is a sign of life in the soul, or at least, that life will soon return there.

We read in the Gospel of St. Luke, that Mary said, Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" ("Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generations"—Luke, 1. 48).  "Yes, my Lady," exclaims St. Bernard, "all generations shall call thee blessed, for thou has begotten life and glory for all generations of men" ("Ex hoc Beatam te dicent omnes generations, quae omnibus generationibus vitam et gloriam genuisti"—In Pentec.).  For this cause all men shall call thee blessed, for all thy servants obtain through thee the life of grace and eternal glory.  "In thee do sinners find pardon, and the just perseverance and eternal life" ("In te justi gratiam, peccatores veniam, invenerunt in aeternum"—In Pentec. s. 2).  "Distrust not, O sinner," says the devout Bernardine de Bustis, "even if thou has committed all possible sins: go with confidence to this most glorious Lady, and thou wilt find her hands filled with mercy and bounty."  And, he adds, for "she desires more to thee good than thou canst desire to receive favors from her" ("O peccator! non diffidas, etiamsi commisisti omnia peccata, sed secure ad istam gloriosissimam Dominam recurras; invenies enim eam in minibus plenam misericordia et largitate.  Plus enim desiderat ipsa facere tibi bonum, et largiri gratiam, quam tu accipere concupiscas"—Marial. p. 2, s. 5)

St. Andrew of Crete calls Mary the pledge of divine mercy ("Fidejussio divinarum reconciliationum, quae dato pignore fit"—In Dorm. B. V. s. 3); meaning that, when sinners have recourse to Mary, that they may be reconciled with God, he assures them of pardon and gives them a pledge of it; and this pledge is Mary, whom he has bestowed upon us for our advocate, and by whose intercession (by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ) God forgives all who have recourse to her.  St. Bridget heard an angel say, that the holy Prophets rejoiced in knowing that God, by the humility and purity of Mary, was to be reconciled with sinners, and to receive those who had offended him to favor.  "They exulted, foreknowing that our Lord himself would be appeased by thy humility, and the purity of thy life, O Mary, thou super-effulgent star, and that he would be reconciled with those who had provoked his wrath" ("Exsultabant autem praenoscentes, quod ipse Dominus, ex tua humilitate, et vitae puritate, o Maria, stella praefulgida! placaretur, et quod reciperet eos in suam gratiam, qui ipsum ad iracundiam provocaverant"—Serm. Ang. c. 9).

No sinner, having recourse to the compassion of Mary, should fear being rejected; for she is the Mother of Mercy, and as such desires to save the most miserable.  Mary is that happy ark, says St. Bernard, "in which those who take refuge will never suffer the shipwreck of eternal perdition" ("Arca in qua naufragium evadimus"—S. de B. V. M. Deip.).  At the time of the deluge even brutes were saved in Noah's Ark.  Under the mantle of Mary even sinners obtain salvation.  St. Gertrude once saw Mary with her mantle extended, and under it many wild beasts—lions, bears, and tigers—had taken refuge (Insin. l. 4, c. 50).  And she remarked that Mary not only did not reject, but even welcomed and caressed them with the greatest tenderness.  The saint understood hereby that the most abandoned sinners who have recourse to Mary are not only not rejected, but that they are welcomed and saved by her from eternal death.  Let us, then, enter this ark, let us take refuge under the mantle of Mary, and she most certainly will not reject us, but will secure our salvation.

 

EXAMPLE

Father Bovio (Es. E. Mir. p. 1, es. 2) relates that there was a wicked woman, named, Ellen, who entered a church, and by chance heard a sermon on the Rosary.  On leaving the church she purchased a set of beads, but wore them concealed, as she did not wish it to be known that she had them.  She began to recite them, and though she did so without devotion, our most Blessed Lady poured such sweetness and consolation into her soul during the whole time, that she could not cease repeating the Hail Marys.  At last she was filled with such a horror for her wicked life, that she could no longer find repose, and was obliged to go to confession.  She accomplished this duty with such contrition that the priest was filled with astonishment.  After her confession, she went to the foot of an altar of the most Blessed Virgin, and there, as a thanksgiving to her advocate, said the Rosary.  The divine mother then addressed her from the image in the following words: "Ellen, thou has already too much offended God and me; from this moment change your life, and I will bestow a large share of my graces upon thee."  The poor sinner, in the deepest confusion, replied: "Ah! most Holy Virgin, it is true that hitherto I have been a wicked sinner; but thou canst do all, help me; on my part I abandon myself to thee, and will spend the remainder of my life in doing penance for my sins."  With the assistance of Mary, she distributed all her goods among the poor, and began a life of rigorous mortification.  She was tormented with dreadful temptations, but constantly recommended herself to the Mother of God, and thus was always victorious.  She was favored with many extraordinary graces, with visions, revelations, and even the gift of prophecy.  Finally, before her death, which was announced to her by Mary some days before it took place, the most Blessed Virgin came herself, with her divine Son, to visit her; and when she expired, her soul was seen flying towards heaven in the form of a beautiful dove.

 

Prayer

Behold, O Mother of my God, my only hope, Mary, behold at thy feet a miserable sinner, who asks thee for mercy.  Thou art proclaimed and called by the whole Church, and by all the faithful, the refuge of sinners.  Thou art consequently my refuge; thou hast to save me.  I will say with William of Paris, Thou knowest, most sweet Mother of God, how much thy Blessed Son desires our salvation ("Tu . . . enim, dulcissima Dei Mater, nosti quantum placeat benedicto Filio tuo salus nostra"—Rhθt. Div. c. 18).  Thou knowest all that Jesus Christ endured for this end.  I present thee, O my Mother, the sufferings of Jesus: the cold that he endured in the stable, his journey into Egypt, his toils, his sweat, the blood that he shed, the anguish which caused his death on the cross, and of which thou wast thyself a witness.  O, show that thou lovest thy beloved Son, and by this love I implore thee to assist me.  Extend thy hand to a poor creature who has fallen, and asks thy help.  Were I a saint, I would not need seek thy mercy: but because I am a sinner, I fly to thee, who art the Mother of Mercies.  I know that thy compassionate heart finds its consolation in assisting the miserable, when thou canst do so, and dost not find them obstinate.  Console, then, thy compassionate heart, and console me this day; for now thou hast the opportunity of saving a poor creature condemned to hell; and thou canst do so, for I will not be obstinate.  I abandon myself into thy hands, only tell me what thou wouldst have me do, and obtain for me strength to execute it, for I am resolved to do all that depends on me to recover the divine grace.  I take refuge under thy mantle.  Jesus wills that I should have recourse to thee, in order not only that his blood may save me, but also that thy prayers may assist me in this great work; for thy glory, and for his own, since thou art his Mother.  He sends me to thee, that thou mayst help me.  O Mary, see, I have recourse to thee; in thee do I confide.  Thou prayest for so many others, pray also for me; say only a word.  Tell our Lord that thou willest my salvation, and God will certainly save me.  Say that I am thine, and then I have obtained all that I ask, all that I desire.

II.

Mary is also our Life, because she obtains for us Perseverance.

Final perseverance is so great a gift of God, that (as it was declared by the Holy Council of Trent) it is quite gratuitous on his part, and we cannot merit it.  Yet we are told by St. Augustine, that all who seek for it obtain it from God; and, according to Father Suarez, they obtain it infallibly, if only they are diligent in asking for it to the end of their lives.  For, as Bellarmin well remarks, "that which is daily required must be asked for every day" ("Quotidie petenda est, ut quotidie obtineatur").  Now, if it is true (and I hold it as certain, according to the now generally received opinion, and which I shall prove in the fourth chapter of this work) that all the graces that God dispenses to men pass through the hands of Mary, it will be equally true that it is only through Mary that we can hope for this greatest of all graces,—perseverance.  And we shall obtain it most certainly, if we always seek it with confidence through Mary.  This grace she herself promises to all who serve her faithfully during life, in the following words of Ecclesiasticus; and which are applied to her by the Church (Off. Imm. Conc.), on the Feast of her Immaculate Conception; They that work by me shall not sin.  They that explain me shall have life everlasting ("Qui operantur in me, non peccabunt; qui elucidant me, vitam aeternam habebunt"—Ecclus. xxiv. 30)

            In order that we may be preserved in the life of grace, we require spiritual fortitude to resist the many enemies of our salvation.  Now this fortitude can be obtained only by the means of Mary, and we are assured of it in the book of Proverbs, for the Church applies the passage to this most Blessed Virgin.  Strength is mine; by me kings reign ("Mea est fortitudeo; per me reges regnant"—Prov. viii. 14.—Off. B.V.); meaning, by the words "strength is mine," that God has bestowed this precious gift on Mary, in order that she may dispense it to her faithful clients.  And by the words, By me kings reign, she signifies that by her means her servants reign over and command their senses and passions, and thus become worthy to reign eternally in heaven.  Oh, what strength do the servants of this great Lady possess, to overcome all the assaults of hell!  Mary is that tower spoken of in the sacred Canticles:  Thy neck is as the tower of David, which is built with bulwarks; a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the armor of valiant men ("Sicut turris David collum tuum, quae aedificata est cum propugnaculis: mille clypei pendent ex ea, omnis armature fortium"—Cant. iv. 4).  She is as a well-defended fortress in defence of her lovers, who in their wars have recourse to her.  In her do her clients find all shields and arms, to defend themselves against hell.

            And for the same reason the most Blessed Virgin is called a plane-tree in the words of Ecclesiasticus: As a plant-tree by the water in the streets was I exalted ("Quasi platanaus exaltata sum juxta aquas in plateis"—Ecclus. xxiv. 19).  Cardinal Hugo explains them, and says that the "plane-tree has leaves like shields" ("Platanus habet folia scutis similia"), to show how Mary defends all who take refuge with her.  Blessed Amedeus gives another explanation, and says that this holy Virgin is called a plane-tree, because, as the plane shelters travelers under its branches from the heat of the sun and from the rain, so do men find refuge under the mantle of Mary from the ardor of their passions and from the fury of temptation ("Virgo ramorum extensione se ubique expandit, ut filios Adae ab aestu, et a turbine, et a pluvial, umbra desiderabili protegeret"—De Laud. B. V. hom. 8).  Truly are those souls to be pitied who abandon this defence, in ceasing their devotion to Mary, and no longer recommending themselves to her in the time of danger.  If the sun ceased to rise, says St. Bernard, how could the world become other than a chaos of darkness and horror?  And applying his question to Mary, he repeats it.  "Take away the sun, and where will be the day?  Take away Mary, and what will be left but the darkest night?" ("Tolle corpus hoc solare, ubi dies?  Tolle Mariam, quid nisi tenebrae relinquentur?"—De Aquoed)    When a soul loses devotion to Mary, it is immediately enveloped in darkness, and in that darkness of which the Holy Ghost speaks in the Psalms:  Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night; in it shall all the beasts of the woods go about ("Posuisti tenebras, et facta est nox; in ipsa pertransibutn omnes bestiae silvae"—Ps. ciii. 20).  When the light of heaven ceases to shine in a soul, all is darkness, and it becomes the haunt of devils and of every sin.  St. Anselm says, that "if any one is disregarded and condemned by Mary, he is necessarily lost," and therefore we may with reason exclaim, "Woe to those who are in opposition to this sun?" ("Vae eis qui Solem istum aversantur!")  Woe to those who despise its light! that is to say, all who despise devotion to Mary.     

            St. Francis Borgia always doubted the perseverance of those in whom he did not find particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  On one occasion he questioned some novices as to the saints towards whom they had special devotion, and perceiving some who had it not towards Mary, he instantly warned the Master of novices, and desired him to keep a more attentive watch over these unfortunate young men, who all, as he had feared, lost their vocation and renounced the religious state.

            It was, then, not without reason that St. Germanus called the most Blessed Virgin the breath of Christians; for as the body cannot live without breathing, so the soul cannot live without having recourse to and recommending itself to Mary, by whose means we certainly acquire and preserve the life of divine grace within our souls.  But I will quote the saint's own words: "As breathing is not only a sign but even a cause of life, so the name of Mary, which is constantly found on the lips of God's servants, both proves that they are truly alive, and at the same time causes and preserves their life, and gives them every succor" ("Sic respiration non solum est signum vitae, sed etiam causa; sic Mariae nomen, quod in servorum Dei ore versatur, simul argumentum est quod vere vivunt, simul etiam hanc vitam efficit et conservat, omnemque eis opem impertitur"—De Zona Deip.).

            Blessed Allan was one day assaulted by a violent temptation, and was on the point of yielding, for he had not recommended himself to Mary, when the most Blessed Virgin appeared to him; and in order that another time he might remember to invoke her aid, she gave him a blow, saying, "If thou hadst recommended thyself to me, thou wouldst not have, run into such danger."

            On the other hand, Mary says in the following words of the Book of Proverbs, which are applied to her by the Church: Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors ("Beatus homo qui audit me, et qui vigilat ad fores meas quotidie, et observat ad postes ostii mei"—Prov. viii. 34.—Off. B. V.),—as if she would say, Blessed is he that hearts my voice and is constantly attentive to apply at the door of my mercy, and seeks light and help from me.  For clients who do this, Mary does her part, and obtains them the light and strength they require to abandon sin and walk in the paths of virtue.  For this reason Innocent III. Beautifully calls her "the moon at night, the dawn at break of day, and the sun at mid-day" ("Luna lucet in nocte, aurora in diluculo, sol in die"—In Assumpt. s. 2).  She is a moon to enlighten those who blindly wander in the night of sin, and makes them see and understand the miserable state of damnation in which they are; she is the dawn (that is, the forerunner of the sun) to those whom she has already enlightened, and makes them abandon sin and return to God, the true sun of justice; finally, she is a sun to those who are in a state of grace, and prevents them from again falling into the precipice of sin.

            Learned writers apply the following words of Ecclesiasticus to Mary: Her bands are a healthful binding ("Vincula illius alligatura salutaris"—Ecclus. vi. 31).  "Why bands?" asks St. Laurence Justinian, "except it be that she binds her servants, and thus prevents them from straying into the paths of vice" ("'Vincula illius,' id est, exempla et servitia quibus ligamur, ne discurramus per campos licentiate"—De Laud B. M. l. 2, p. 3).  And truly this is the reason for which Mary binds her servants.  St. Bonaventure also, in his commentary on the words of Ecclesiasticus, frequently used in the office of Mary, My abode is in the full assembly of saints ("In plenitudine sanctorum detention mea"—Ecclus. xxiv. 16), says that Mary not only has her abode in the full assembly of saints, but also preserves them from falling, keeps a constant watch over their virtue, that it may not fail, and restrains the evil spirits from injuring them.  Not only has she her abode in the full assembly of the saints, but she keeps the saints there, by preserving their merits that they may not lose them, by restraining the devils from injuring them, and by withholding the arm of her Son from falling on sinners ("Ipsa quoque, non solum in plenitudine sanctorum detinetur, sed etiam in plenitudine sanctos detinet, ne eorum plenitude minuatur; detinet nimirum virtutes, ne fugianti; detinet merita, ne pereant; detinet daemons, ne noceant"—Spec B. V. M. lect. 7)

            In the Book of Proverbs we are told that all Mary's clients are clothed with double garments.  For all her domestics are clothed with double garments ("Omnes enim domestici ejus vestiti sunt duplicibus"—Prov. xxxi. 21).  Cornelius ΰ Lapide explains what this double clothing is: he says that it "consists in her adorning her faithful servants with the virtues of her Son and with her own" ("Duplici veste ipsa ornate sibi devotos, quia tam Christi quam suis virtutibus eos induit"); and thus clothed they persevere in virtue.

            Therefore St. Philip Neri, in his exhortations to his penitents, used always to say: "My children, if you desire perseverance, be devout to our Blessed Lady."  The Venerable John Berchmans, of the Society of Jesus, used also to say: "Whoever loves Mary will have perseverance."  Truly beautiful is the reflection of the Abbot Rupert on this subject in his commentary on the parable of the prodigal son.  He says, "That if this dissolute youth had had a mother living, he would never have abandoned the paternal roof, or at least would have returned much sooner than he did" ("Si Prodigus Filius viventem matrem habuisset, vel a paterna domo nunquam discessisset, vel forte citius rediisset"); meaning thereby that a son of Mary either never abandons God, or, if he has this misfortune, by her help he soon returns.

            O, did all men but love this most benign and loving Lady, had they but recourse to her always, and without delay, in their temptations, who would fall? who would ever be lost?  He falls and is lost who has not recourse to Mary.  St. Laurence Justinian applies to Mary the words of Ecclesiasticus, I have walked in the waves of the sea ("In fluctibus maris ambulavi"—Ecclus. xxiv. 8): and makes her say, "I walk with my servants in the midst of the tempests to which they are constantly exposed, to assist and preserve them from falling into sin" ("Cum familiaribus meis, ut ipsos eriperem a naufragio peccatorum"—De Laud. B. M. l. 2, p. 1).

            Bernardine de Bustis relates that a bird was taught to say "Hail, Mary!"  A hawk was on the point of seizing it, when the bird cried out "Hail, Mary!"  In an instant the hawk fell dead.  God intended to show thereby that if even an irrational creature was preserved by calling on Mary, how much more would those who are prompt in calling on her when assaulted by devils, be delivered from them.  We, says St. Thomas of Villanova, need only, when tempted by the devil, imitate little chickens, which, as soon as they perceive the approach of a bird of prey, run under the wings of their mother for protection.  This is exactly what we should do whenever we are assaulted by temptation: we should not stay to reason with it, but immediately fly and place ourselves under the mantle of Mary.  I will, however, quote the saint's own words addressed to Mary: "As chickens when they see a kite soaring above, run and find refuge under the wings of the hen, so are we preserved under the shadow of thy wings" ("Sicut pulli, volitantibus desuper milvis, ad gallinae alas occurrunt. ita nos sub velamento alarum tuarum abscondimur"—De Nat. V. conc. 3).  "And Thou," he continues, "who art our Lady and Mother, hast to defend us; for, after God, we have no other refuge than thee, who art our only hope and our protectress, towards thee we all turn our eyes with confidence" ("Nescimus aliud refugium nisi te; tu sola es unica Spes nostra; tu sola Patrona nostra, ad quam omnes aspicimus"—De Nat. V. con. 3)

            Let us then conclude in the words of St. Bernard: "O man, whoever thou art, understand that in this world thou art tossed about on a stormy and tempestuous sea, rather than walking on solid ground; remember that if thou wouldst avoid being drowned, thou must never turn thine eyes from the brightness of this star, but keep them fixed on it, and call on Mary.  In dangers, in straits, in doubts, remember Mary, invoke Mary" ("O quisquis te intelligis in hujus saeculi profluvio magis inter procellas et tempestates fluctuare, quam per terram ambulare!  ne avertas oculos a fulgore hujus Sideris, si non vis obrtui procellis.  Respice stellam, voca Mariam.  In periculis, in angustiis, in rebus dubiis Mariam cogita, Mariam invoca"—De Laude. V. M. hom. 2).  Yes, in dangers of sinning, when molested by temptations, when doubtful as to how you should act, remember that Mary can help you; and call upon her, and she will instantly succor you.  "Let not her name leave thy lips, let it be ever in thy heart."  Your hearts should never lose confidence in her holy name, nor should your lips ever cease to invoke it.  "Following her, thou wilt certainly not go astray."  O, so, if we follow Mary, we shall never err from the paths of salvation.  "Imploring her, thou wilt not despair."  Each time that we invoke her aid, we shall be inspired with perfect confidence.  "If she supports thee, thou canst not fall;"  "if she protects thee thou has nothing to fear, for thou canst not be lost:"  "with her for thy guide, thou wilt not be weary; for thy salvation will be worked out with ease."  "If she is propitious, thou wilt gain the port" ("Non recedat ab ore, non recedat a corde.  Ipsam sequens, non devias; ipsam rogans, non desperas.  Ipsa tenente, non corruis; ipsa protegente, non metuis; ipsa duce, non fatigaris; ipsa propitia, pervenis"—De Laud V. M. hom. 2).  If Mary undertakes our defence, we are certain of gaining the kingdom of heaven.  This do, and thou shalt live ("Sic fac, et vives"—Luke x. 28).      

 

EXAMPLE

The history of St. Mary of Egypt, in the first book of the lives of the Fathers, is well known.  At the age of twelve years she fled from the house of her parents, went to Alexandria, where she led an infamous life, and was a scandal to the whole city.  After living for sixteen years in sin, she took it into her head to go to Jerusalem.  At the time the feast of the holy cross was being celebrated, and, moved rather by curiosity than by devotion, she determined on entering the church; but when at the door, she felt herself repelled by an invisible force.  She made a second attempt, and was again unable to enter; and the same thing was repeated a third and a fourth time.  Finding her efforts in vain, the unfortunate creature withdrew to a corner of the porch, and there, enlightened from above, understood that it was on account of her infamous life that God had repelled her even from the church.  In that moment she fortunately raised her eyes and beheld a picture of Mary.  No sooner did she perceive it, than, sobbing, she exclaimed, "O Mother of God, pity a poor sinner!  I know that on account of my sins I deserve not that thou shouldst cast thine eyes upon me.  But thou art the refuge of sinners; for the love of thy Son Jesus, help me.  Permit me to enter the church, and I promise to change my life, to go and do penance in whatever place thou pointest out to me."  She immediately heard an internal voice, as it were that of the Blessed Virgin, replying: "Since thou has recourse to me, and wishest to change thy life, go—enter the church, it is no longer closed against thee."  The sinner entered, adored the cross, and wept bitterly.  She then returned to the picture, and said, "Lady, behold I am ready.  Where wilt thou that I should go to do penance?"  "Go," the Blessed Virgin replied, "cross the Jordan, and thou wilt find the place of thy repose."  She went to confession and Communion, and then passed the river, and finding herself in the desert, she understood that it was in that place she should do penance for her sinful life.  During the first seventeen years the assaults of the devil, by which he endeavored to make the saint again fall into sin, were terrible.  And what were her means of defence?  She constantly recommended herself to Mary, and this most Blessed Virgin obtained for her strength to resist during the whole of this time, after which her combats ceased.  After fifty-seven years spent in the desert, and having attained the age of eighty-seven years she was by a disposition of Providence met by the Abbot Zosimus; to him she related the history of her life, and entreated him to return the following year, and to bring her the holy Communion.  The saintly Abbot did so, and gave her the bread of angels.  She then requested that he would again return to see her.  This also he did, but he found her dead.  Her body was encompassed by a bright light, and at her head these words were written, "Bury my body here—it is that of a poor sinner, and intercede with God for me."  A lion came and made a grave with his claws.  St. Zosimus buried her, returned to his monastery, and related the wonders of God's mercy towards this happy sinner.

 

Prayer

O compassionate Mother, most sacred Virgin, behold at thy feet the traitor, who, by paying with ingratitude the graces received from God through thy means, has betrayed both thee and him.  But I must tell thee, O most blessed Lady, that my misery, far from taking away my confidence, increases it; for I see that thy compassion is great in proportion to the greatness of my misery.  Show thyself, O Mary, full of liberality towards me: for thus thou art towards all who invoke thy aid.  All that I ask is that thou shouldst cast thine eyes of compassion on me, and pity me.  If thy heart is thus far moved, it cannot do otherwise than protect me: and if thou protectest me, what can I fear?  No, I fear nothing; I do not fear my sins, for thou canst provide a remedy; I do not fear devils, for thou art more powerful than the whole of hell; I do not even fear thy Son, though justly irritated against me, for at a word of thine he will be appeased.  I only fear lest, in my temptations, and by my own fault, I may cease to recommend myself to thee, and thus be lost.  But I now promise thee that I will always have recourse to thee; O, help me to fulfill my promise.  Lose not the opportunity which now presents itself of gratifying thy ardent desire to succor such poor wretches as myself.  In thee, O Mother of God, I have unbounded confidence.  From thee I hope for grace to bewail my sins as I ought, and from thee I hope for strength never again to fall into them.  If I am sick, thou, O heavenly physician, canst heal me.  If my sins have weakened me, thy help will strengthen me.  O Mary, I hope all from thee; for thou art all-powerful with God.  Amen.

  

III.

Mary our Sweetness; she renders Death sweet to her Clients.

He that is a friend loveth at all times; and a brother is proved in distress ("Omni tempore diligit, qui amicus est; et frater in angustiis comprobatur"—Prov. xvii. 17), says the Book of Proverbs.  We can never know our friends and relatives in the time of prosperity; it is only in the time of adversity that we see them in their true colors.  People of the world never abandon a friend as long as he is in prosperity; but should misfortunes overtake him, and more particularly should he be at the point of death, they immediately forsake him.  Mary does not act thus with her clients.  In their afflictions, and more particularly in the sorrows of death, the greatest that can be endured in this world, this good Lady and Mother not only does not abandon her faithful servants, but as, during our exile, she is our life, so also is she, at our last hour, our sweetness, by obtaining for us a calm and happy death.  For from the day on which Mary had the privilege and sorrow of being present at the death of Jesus her Son, who was the head of all the predestined, it became her privilege to assist also at their deaths.  And for this reason the holy Church teaches us to beg this most Blessed Virgin to assist us, especially at the moment of death: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death! ("Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae").

            O how great are the sufferings of the dying!  They suffer from remorse of conscience on account of past sins, from fear of the approaching judgment, and from the uncertainty of their eternal salvation.  Then it is that hell arms itself, and spares no efforts to gain the soul which is on the point of entering eternity; for it knows that only a short time remains in which to gain it, and that if it then loses it, it has lost it forever.  The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time ("Descendit diabolus ad vos, habens iram magnam, sciens quod modicum tempus habet"—Apoc. xii. 12).  And for this reason the enemy of our salvation, whose charge it was to tempt the soul during life, does not choose at death to be alone, but calls others to his assistance, according to the prophet Isaias: Their houses shall be filled with serpents ("Replebuntur domus eorum draconibus"—Is. xiii. 21).  And indeed they are so; for when a person is at the point of death, the whole place in which he is, is filled with devils, who all unite to make him lose his soul.

            It is related of St. Andrew Avellino, that ten thousand devils came to tempt him at his death.  The conflict that he had in his agony with the powers of hell was so terrible that all the good religious who assisted him trembled.  They saw the saint's face swelled to such a degree from agitation, that it became quite black, every limb trembled and was contorted; his eyes shed a torrent of tears, his head shook violently; all gave evidence of the terrible assault he was enduring on the part of his infernal foes.  All wept with compassion, and redoubled their prayers, and at the same time trembled with fear on seeing a saint die thus.  They were, however, consoled at seeing, that often, as if seeking for help, the saint turned his eyes towards a devout picture of Mary; for they remembered that during life he had often said that at death Mary would be his refuge.  At length God was pleased to put an end to the contest by granting him a glorious victory; for the contortions of his body ceased, his face resumed its original size and color, and the saint, with his eyes tranquilly fixed on the picture, made a devout inclination to Mary (who it is believed then appeared to him), as if in the act of thanking her, and with a heavenly smile on his countenance tranquilly breathed forth his blessed soul into the arms of Mary.  At the same moment, a Capuchiness, who was in her agoy, turning to the nuns who surrounded her, said, "Recite a Hail Mary; for a saint has just expired."

            Ah, how quickly do the rebellious spirits fly from the presence of this queen!  If at the hour of death we have only the protection of Mary, what need we fear from all our infernal enemies?  David, fearing the horrors of death, encouraged himself by placing his reliance on the death of the coming Redeemer and on the intercession of the Virgin Mother.  For though, he says, I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death . . . thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me ("Et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis . . . virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt"—Ps. xxii. 4).  Cardinal Hugo, explaining these words of the royal prophet, says that the staff signifies the cross, and the rod is the intercession of Mary; for she is the rod foretold by the prophet Isaias: And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root ("Egredietur virga de radice Jesse, et flos de radice ejus ascendet"—Is. xi. 1).  "This divine Mother," says St. Peter Damian, "is that powerful rod with which the violence of the infernal enemies is conquered" ("Haec est virga illa, qua retunduntur impetus adversantium daemoniorum"—S. de Assumpt.).  And therefore does St. Antoninus encourage us, saying, "If Mary is for us, who shall be against us?" ("Si Maria pro nobis, quis contra nos?")

            When Father Emanuel Padia, of the Society of Jesus, was at the point of death, Mary appeared to him, and to console him she said: "See at length the hour is come when the angels congratulate thee, and exclaim: O happy labors, O mortifications well requited!  And in the same moment an army of demons was seen taking its flight, and crying out in despair: Alas! we can do nought, for she who is without stain defends him."  In like manner, Father Gaspar Haywood was assaulted by devils at his death, and greatly tempted against faith; he immediately recommended himself to the most Blessed Virgin, and was heard to exclaim, "I thank thee, Mary, for thou has come to my aid" (Menol. 28 Apr.—9 Jan.).

            St. Bonaventure tells us that Mary sends without delay the prince of the heavenly court, St. Michael, with all the angels, to defend her dying servants against the temptations of the devils, and to receive the souls of all who in a special manner, and perseveringly have recommended themselves to her.  The saint, addressing our Blessed Lady, says, "Michael, the leader and prince of the heavenly army, with all the administering spirits, obeys thy commands, O Virgin, and defends and receives the souls of the faithful who have particularly recommended themselves to thee, O Lady, day and night" ("Michael, dux et princes militiae coelestis, cum omnibus spiritibus administratoriis, tuis, Virgo, paret praeceptis, in defendendis in corpore et suscipiendis de corpore animabus fidelium, specialiter tibi, Domina, die ac nocte se commendantium"—Spec. B. V. lect. 3).

            The prophet Isaias tells us that when a man is on the point of leaving the world, hell is opened and sends forth its most terrible demons, both to tempt the soul before it leaves the body, and also to accuse it when presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ for judgment.  The prophet says, Hell below was in an uproar to meet thee at thy coming; it stirred up the giants for thee ("Infernus subter conturbatus est in occursum adventus tui; suscitabit tibi gigantes"—Is. xiv. 9).  But Richard of St. Laurence remakrs that when the soul is defended by Mary, the devils dare not even accuse it, knowing that the judge never condemned, and never will condemn, a soul protected by his august Mother.  He asks, "Who would dare accuse one who is patronized by the Mother of Him who is to judge?" (Quis apud Filium accusare audeat, cui viderit Matrem patrocinantem?"—De Laud V. l. 2, p. 1)  Mary not only assists her beloved servants at death and encourages them, but she herself accompanies them to the tribunal-seat of God.            

            As St. Jerome says, writing to the virgin Eustochia, "What a day of joy will that be for thee, when Mary the Mother of our Lord, accompanied by choirs of virgins, will go to meet thee" ("Qualis erit illa dies, quum tibi Maria, Mater Domini, choris occurret comitata virgineis?"—De Cust. Virg.).  The Blessed Virgin assured St. Bridget of this; for, speaking of her devout clients at the point of death, she said, "Then will I, their dear Lady and Mother, fly to them, that they may have consolation and refreshment" ("Ideo, ego carissima domina eorum et Mater, occurram eis in morte, ut etiam in ipsa morte consolationem et refrigerium habeant"—Rev. l. 1, c. 29).  St. Vincent Ferrer says, that not only does the most Blessed Virgin console and refresh them, but that "she receives the souls of the dying ("Beata Virgo animas morientium suscipit").  This loving Queen takes them under her mantle, and thus presents them to the judge, her Son, and most certainly obtains their salvation.  This really happened to Charles, the son of St. Bridget (Rev. l. 7, c. 13), who died in the army, far from his mother.  She feared much for his salvation on account of the dangers to which young men are exposed in a military career; but the Blessed Virgin revealed to her that he was saved on account of his love for her, and that in consequence she herself had assisted him at death, and had suggested to him the acts that should be made at that terrible moment.  At the same time the saint saw Jesus on his throne, and the devil bringing two accusations against the most Blessed Virgin: the first was, that Mary had prevented him from tempting Charles at the moment of death; and the second was that this Blessed Virgin had herself presented his soul to the judge, and so saved it without even giving him the opportunity of exposing the grounds on which he claimed it.  She then saw the judge drive the devil away, and Charles's soul carried to heaven.

            Ecclesiasticus says, that her bands are a healthful binding ("Vincula illus, alligatura salutaris"—Ecclus. vi. 31), and that in the latter end thou shalt find rest in her ("In novissimis invenies requiem in ea"—Ibid. 29).  O, you are indeed fortunate, my brother, if at death you are bound with the sweet chains of the love of the Mother of God!  These chains are chains of salvation; they are chains that will insure your eternal salvation, and will make you enjoy in death that blessed peace which will be the beginning of your eternal peace and rest.  Father Binetti, in his book on the perfections of our blessed Lord, says, "that having attended the death-bed of a great lover of Mary, he heard him, before expiring, utter these words: 'O my Father, would that you could know the happiness that I now enjoy from having served the most holy Mother of God; I cannot tell you the joy that I now experience'" (Chef-d'oeuvre de D. p. 3, ch. 6).  Father Suarez (in consequence of his devotion to Mary, which was such that he used to say that he would willingly exchange all his learning for the merit of a single "Hail Mary") died with such peace and joy, that in that moment he said, "I could not have thought that death was so sweet" ("Non putabam tam dulce esse mori"); meaning, that he could never have imagined that it was possible, if he had not then experienced it, that he could have found such sweetness in death.

            You, devout reader, will, without doubt, experience the same joy and contentment in death, if you can then remember that you have loved this good mother, who cannot be otherwise than faithful to her children who have been faithful in serving and honoring her, by their visits, rosaries, and fasts, and still more by frequently thanking and praising her, and often recommending themselves to her powerful protection.  Nor will this consolation be withheld, even if you have been for a time a sinner, provided that, from this day, you are careful to live well, and to serve this most gracious and benign Lady.  In your gains, and in the temptations to despair which the devil will send you, she will console you, and even come herself to assist you in your last moments.

            Such also will be your death, beloved reader, if you are faithful to Mary.  Though you may have hitherto offended God, she will procure you a sweet and happy death.  And if by chance at that moment you are greatly alarmed and lose confidence at the sight of your sins, she will come and encourage you, as she did Adolphus, Count of Alsace, who abandoned the world, and embraced the Order of St. Francis.  In the Chronicles of that Order, we are told that he had a tender devotion to the Mother of God; and that when he was at the point of death, his former life and the rigors of divine justice presented themselves before his mind, and caused him to tremble at the thought of death, and fear for his eternal salvation.  Scarecely had these thoughts entered his mind, when Mary (who is always active when her servants are in pain), accompanied by many saints, presented herself before the dying man, and encouraged him with words of the greatest tenderness, saying: "My own beloved Adolph, thou art mine, thou hast given thyself to me, and now why thou fear death so much?"  On hearing these words, the servant of Mary was instantly relieved, fear was banished from his soul, and he expired in the midst of the greatest peace and joy (Auriemma, Aff. Scamb. p. 2, c. 8).

            Let us then be of good heart, though we be sinners, and feel certain that Mary will come and assist us at death, and comfort and console us with her presence, provided only that we serve her with love during the remainder of the time that we have to be in this world.  Our Queen, one day addressing St. Matilda, promised that she would assist all her clients at death, who, during their lives, had faithfully served her.  "I, as a most tender Mother, will faithfully be present at the death of all who piously serve me, and will console and protect them" ("Ego omnibus, qui mihi pie et sancta deserviunt, volo in morte fidelissime tamquam mater piissima, adesse, eosque consolari ac protegere"—Apud Blos. Concl. An. fid. C. 12).  O God, what a consolation will it be at that last moment of our lives, when our eternal lot has so soon to be decided, to see the Queen of Heaven assisting and consoling us with the assurance of her protection.

            Besides the cases already given in which we have seen Mary assisting her dying servants, there are innumerable others recorded in different works.  This favor was granted to St. Clare; to St. Felix, of the Order of Capuchins; to St. Clare of Montefalco; to St. Teresa; to St. Peter of Alcantara.  But, for our common consolation, I will relate the following: Father Crasset (Vιr. Dιv. p. 1, tr. 1, q. 11) tells us, that Mary of Oignies saw the Blessed Virgin at the pillow of a devout widow of Willenbroc, who was ill with a violent fever.  Mary stood by her side, consoling her, and cooling her with a fan.  Let us close this subject with another example, in which we shall see how great is the tenderness of this good Mother towards her children at death.  

 

EXAMPLE

Of St. John of God, who was tenderly devoted to Mary, it is related that he fully expected that she would visit him on his deathbed; but not seeing her arrive, he was afflicted, and perhaps even complained.  But when his last hour had come, the divine Mother appeared, and gently reproving him for his little confidence, addressed him in the following tender words, which may well encourage all servants of Mary: "John, it is not in me to forsake my clients at such a moment."  As though she had said: "John, of what wast thou thinking?  Didst thou imagine that I had abandoned thee?  And dost thou not know that I never abandon my clients at the hour of death?  If I did not come sooner, it was that thy time was not yet come; but now that it is come, behold me here to take thee; let us go to Heaven."  Shortly afterwards the saint expired, and fled to that blessed kingdom, there to thank his most loving Queen for all eternity.

"Haec est hora qua devotis meis famulis deesse nunquam soleo."—Boll. 8 Mart. Vit. 2, c. 8.)

 

Prayer

O my most sweet Mother, how shall I die, poor sinner that I am?  Even now the thought of that important moment when I must expire, and appear before the judgment seat of God, and the remembrance that I have myself so often written my condemnation by consenting to sin, makes me tremble.  I am confounded, and fear much for my eternal salvation.  O Mary, in the blood of Jesus, and in thy intercession, is all my hope.  Thou art the Queen of Heaven, the mistress of the universe; in short, thou art the Mother of God.  Thou art great, but thy greatness does not prevent, nay even it inclines thee to greater compassion towards us in our miseries.  Worldly friends, when raised to dignity, disdain to notice their former friends who may have fallen into distress.  Thy noble and loving heart does not act thus, for the greater the miseries it beholds, the greater are its efforts to relieve.  Thou, when called upon, dost immediately assist; nay more, thou dost anticipate our prayers by thy favors; thou consolest us in our afflictions; thou dissipatest the storms by which we are tossed about; thou overcomest all enemies; thou, in fine, never losest an occasion to promote our welfare.  May that divine hand which has united in thee such majesty and such tenderness, such greatness and so much love, be forever blessed!  I thank my Lord for it, and congratulate myself in having so great an advantage; for truly in thy felicity do I place my own, and I consider thy lot as mine.  O comfortress of the afflicted, console a poor creature who recommends himself to thee.  The remorse of a conscience overburdened with sin fills me with affliction.  I am in doubt as to whether I have sufficiently grieved for them.  I see that all my actions are sullied and defective; hell awaits my death in order to accuse me; the outraged justice of God demands satisfaction.  My Mother, what will become of me?  If thou dost not help me, I am lost.  What sayest thou, wilt thou assist me?  O compassionate Virgin, console me; obtain for me true sorrow for my sins; obtain for me strength to amend, and to be faithful to God during the rest of my life.  And finally, when I am in the last agonies of death, O Mary, my hope, abandon me not; then, more than ever, help and encourage me, that I may not despair at the sight of my sins, which the evil one will then place before me.  My Lady, forgive my temerity; come thyself to comfort me with thy presence in that last struggle.  This favor thou hast granted to many, grant it also to me.  If my boldness is great, thy goodness is greater; for it goes in search of the most miserable to console them.  On this I rely.  For thy eternal glory, let it be said that thou hast snatched a wretched creature from hell, to which he was already condemned, and that thou hast led him to thy kingdom.  O yes, sweet Mother, I hope to have the consolation of remaining always at thy feet, in heaven, thanking and blessing and loving thee eternally.  O Mary, I shall expect thee at my last hour; deprive me not of this consolation.  Fiat, fiat.  Amen, amen.  

 


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