The Glories of Mary
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Part the Second
Discourses on the Principle Feasts of Mary
Discourse I – Mary’s Immaculate Conception
How befitting it was that each of the Three Divine Persons should preserve Mary from Original Sin.
Great indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts with which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom he had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam—Jesus Christ—who was to repair the evil done by the first. Now, let us see how befitting it was that God, and all the three divine Persons, should thus preserve her from it; that the Father should preserve her as his daughter, the Son as his Mother, and the Holy Ghost as his Spouse.
In the first place, it was befitting that the Eternal Father should preserve Mary from the stain of original sin, because she was his daughter, and his first-born daughter, as she herself declares: I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures (“Ego ex ore Altissimi prodivi, primogenita ante omnem creaturam”—Ecclus. xxiv. 5). For this text is applied to Mary by sacred interpreters, the holy Fathers, and by the Church on the solemnity of her Conception. For whether she be the first-born inasmuch as she was predestined in the divine decrees, together with the Son, before all creatures, according to the Scotists; or the first-born of grace as the predestined Mother of the Redeemer, after the prevision of sin, according to the Thomists; nevertheless all agree in calling her the first-born of God. This being the case, it was quite becoming that Mary should never have been the slave of Lucifer, but only and always possessed by her Creator; and this she in reality was, as we are assured by herself: The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways (“Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum”—Prov. viii. 22,). Hence Denis of Alexandria rightly calls Mary “the one and only daughter of life” (“Una et sola, Filia vitae”—Ep. Contra Paul. Sam.). She is the one and only daughter of life, in contradistinction to others who, being born in sin, are daughters of death.
Besides this, it was quite becoming that the Eternal Father should create her in his grace, since he destined her to be the repairer of the lost world, and the mediatress of peace between men and God; and, as such she is looked upon and spoken of by the holy Fathers, and in particular by St. John Damascene, who thus addresses her: “O Blessed Virgin, thou wast born that thou mightest minister to the salvation of the whole world” (“In vitam prodiisti, ut orbis universi Administram te praeberes”—De Nat. B. V. s. 1). For this reason, St. Bernard says “that Noah’s ark was a type of Mary; for as, by its means, men were preserved from the deluge, so are we all saved by Mary from the shipwreck of sin: but with the difference, that in the ark few were saved, and by Mary the whole human race was rescued from death” (“Sicut per illam omnes evaserunt diluviam, sic per istam peccati naufragium; per illam paucorum facta est liberation, per istam humani generic salvation”—S. de B. M. Deip). Therefore, in a sermon found amongst the works of St. Athanasius, she is called “the new Eve, and the Mother of life” (“Nova Eva, Mater vitae”—In Annunt.); and not without reason, for the first was the Mother of death, but the most Blessed Virgin was the Mother of true life. St. Theophanius, of Nice, addressing Mary, says, “Hail, thou who hast taken away Eve’s sorrow!” (Salve, quae sustulisti tristitiam Evae”—Men. Grac. 9 Jan. Od. 8). St. Basil of Seieucia calls her the peace-maker between men and God: “Hail thou who art appointed umpire between God and men!” and St. Ephrem, the peace-maker of the whole world: “Hail, reconciler of the whole world!” (“Ave, totius orbis Conciliatrix!”—De Laud. Dei Gen).
But now, it certainly would not be becoming to choose an enemy to treat of peace with the offended person, and still less an accomplice in the crime itself. St. Gregory (Past. P. 1, c. 11) says, “that an enemy cannot undertake to appease his judge, who is at the same time the injured party; for if he did, instead of appeasinghim, he would provoke him to greater wrath.” And therefore, as Mary was to be the mediatress of peace between men and God, it was of the utmost importance that she should not herself appear as a sinner and as an enemy of God, but that she should appear in all things as a friend, and free from every stain.
Still more was it becoming that God should preserve her from original sin, for he destined her to crush the head of that infernal serpent, which, by seducing our first parents, entailed death upon all men: and this our Lord foretold: I will put enemities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head (“Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius; ipsa conteret caput tuum”—Gen. iii. 15). But if Mary was to be that valiant woman brought into the world to conquer Lucifer, certainly it was not becoming that he should first conquer her, and make her his slave; but it was reasonable that she should be preserved from all stain, and even momentary subjection to her opponent. The proud spirit endeavored to infect the most pure soul of this Virgin with his venom, as he had already infected the whole human race. But praised and ever blessed be God, who, in his infinite goodness, pre-endowed her for this purpose with such great grace, that, remaining always free from any guilt of sin, she was ever able to beat down and confound his pride, as St. Augustine, or whoever may be the author of the commentary on Genesis, says: “Since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed: for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain” (“Cum subjection originalis peccati caput sit diaboli, tale caput Maria contrivit; quia nulla peccati subjection ingressum habuit in animam Virginis, et ideo ab omni macula immunis fuit”). And St. Bonaventure more expressly says, “It was becoming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be blotted out, and by whom the devil was to be conquered, should never, even for a moment, have been under his dominion” (“Congruum erat ut Beata Virgo Maria, per quam aufertur nobis opprobrium, vinceret diabolum, ut nec ei succumberet ad modicum”—In Sent. iii. d. 3, p. 1, a. 2, q. 1).
But, above all, it principally became the Eternal Father to preserve this his daughter unspotted by Adam’s sin, as St. Bernardine of Sienna remarks, because he destined her to be the Mother of his only begotten Son: “Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before all creatures, that thou mightest beget God himself as man” (“Tu ante omnem creaturam in mente Dei praeordinata fuisti, ut Deum ipsum hominem procreares”—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 3, c. 4). If, then, for no other end, at least for the honor of his Son, who was God, it was reasonable that the Father should create Mary free from every stain. The angelic St. Thomas says, that all things that are ordained for God should be holy and free from stain: “Holiness is to be attributed to those things that are ordained for God” (“Sanctitas illis rebus attribuitur, quae in Deum ordinantur”—P. 1, q. 36, a. 1). Hence when David was planning the temple of Jerusalem, on a scale of magnificence becoming a God, he said, For a house is prepared not for man, but for God (“Nec enim homini praeparatur habitation, sed Deo”—1 Par. xxix. 1). How much more reasonable, then, is it not, to suppose that the sovereign architect, who destined Mary to be the Mother of his own Son, adorned her soul with all most precious gifts, that she might be a dwelling worthy of a God! Denis the Carthusian says, “that God, the artificer of all things, when constructing a worthy dwelling for his Son, adorned it with all attractive graces” (“Omnium Artifex, Deus, Filio suo dignum habitaculum fabricaturus, eam omnium gratificantium charismatum adornavit”—De Laud. V. l. 2, a. 2). And the Holy Church herself, in the following prayer, assures us that God prepared the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin so as to be a worthy dwelling on earth for his only-begotten Son: “Almighty and Eternal God, who, by the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, that she might become a worthy habitation for thy Son” (“Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui gloriosae Virginis Matris Mariae corpus et animam, ut dignum Filii tui habitaculum effici mereretur, Spiritu Sancto cooperante, praeparasti”).
We know that a man’s highest honor is to be born of noble parents: And the glory of children are their fathers (“Gloria filiorum patres eorum”—Prov. xvii. 6). Hence in the world the reputation of being possessed of only a small fortune, and little learning, is more easily tolerated than that of being of low birth; for, whilst a poor man may become rich by his industry, an ignorant man learned by study, it is very difficult for a person of humble origin to attain the rank of nobility; but, even should he attain it, his birth can always be made a subject of reproach to him. How, then, can we suppose that God, who could cause his Son to be born of a noble mother by preserving her from sin, would on the contrary permit him to be born of one infected by it, and thus enable Lucifer always to reproach him with the shame of having a mother who had once been his slave and the enemy of God? No, certainly, the Eternal Father did not permit this; but he well provided for the honor of his Son by preserving his Mother always immaculate, that she might be a Mother becoming such a Son. The Greek Church bears witness to this, saying, “that God, by a singular Providence, caused the most Blessed Virgin to be perfectly pure from the very frist moment of her existence, as it was fitting that she should be, who was to be the worthy Mother of Christ” (“Providentia singulari perfecit, ut Sanctissima Virgo, ab ipso vitae suae principio, tam omnino existeret pura, quam decebat illam quae Christo digna existeret”—Menol. 25 Mart).
It is a common axiom amongst theologians that no gift was ever bestowed on any creature with which the Blessed Virgin was not also enriched. St. Bernard says on this subject, “It is certainly not wrong to suppose that that which has evidently been bestowed, even only on a few, was not denied to so great a Virgin” (“Quod vel paucis mortalium constat fuisse collatum, fas certe non est suspicari tantae Virgini esse negatum”—Epist. 174). St. Thomas of Villanova says, “Nothing was ever granted to any saint which did not shine in a much higher degree in Mary from the very first moment of her existence” (“Nihil unquam alicui Sanctorum concessum est, quod non a principio vitae accumulatius perfulgeat in Maria”—De Ass. conc. 1). And as it is true that “there is an infinite difference between the Mother of God and the servants of God” (“Matris Dei et servorum Infinitum est discrimen”—De Dorm. B. M. or. 1), according to the celebrated saying of St. John Damascene, we must certainly suppose, according to the doctrine of St. Thoams, that “God conferred privileges of graces in every way greater on his Mother than on his servants” (“Quod prae omnibus aliis majora privilegia gratiae acceperit”—P. 3, q. 27, a. 1). And now admitting this, St. Anselm, the great defender of the Immaculate Mary, takes up the question and says, “Was the wisdom of God unable to form a pure dwelling, and to remove every stain of human nature from it?” (“Impotensne fuit sapientia Dei mundum sibi habitaculum condere, remota omni labe conditionis humanae?”) Perhaps God could not prepare a clean habitation for his Son by preserving it from the common contagion? “God,” continues the same saint, “could preserve angels in heaven spotless, in the midst of the devastation that surrounded them; was he, then, unable to preserve the Mother of his Son and the Queen of angels from the common fall of men?” (“Angelis aliis peccantibus, bonos a peccatis servavit; et Matrem ab aliorum peccatis exsortem servare non valuit?”—De Conc. B. M.). And I may here add, that as God could grant Eve the grace to come immaculate into the world, could he not, then, grant the same favor to Mary?
Yes indeed! God could do this, and did it; for on every account “it was becoming,” as the same St. Anselm says, “that that Virgin, on whom the Eternal Father intended to bestow his only-begotten Son, should be adorned with such purity as not only to exceed that of all men and angels, but exceeding any purity that can be conceived after that of God” (“Decens erat ut ea puritate, qua major sub Deo nequit intelligi, Virgo illa niteret, cui Deus Pater unicum Filium suum dare disponebat”—De Conc. Virg. c. 18). And St. John Damascene speaks in still clearer terms; for he says, “that our Lord had preserved the soul, together with the body of the Blessed Virgin, in that purity which became her who was to receive a God into her womb; for, as he is holy, he only reposes in holy places” (“Sic Virginis una cum corpore animam conservasset, ut eam decebat quae Deum in sinu suo exceptura erat; sanctus enim ipse cum sit, in sanctis requiescat”—De Fide Orth. L. 4, c. 15). And thus the Eternal Father could well say to his beloved daughter, As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters (“Sicut lilium inter spinas, sic Amica mea inter filias”—Cant. ii. 2). My daughter, amongst all my other daughters, thou art as a lily in the midst of thorns; for they are all stained with sin, but thou wast always immaculate, and always my beloved.
In the second place, it was becoming that the Son should preserve Mary from sin, as being his Mother. No man can choose his mother; but should such a thing ever be granted to any one, who is there who, if able to choose a queen, would wish for a slave? If able to choose a noble lady, would he wish for a servant? Or if able to choose a friend of God, would he wash for his enemy? If, then, the Son of God alone could choose a Mother according to his own heart, his liking, we must consider, as a matter of course, that he chose one becoming a God. St. Bernard says, “that the Creator of men becoming man, must have selected himself a Mother whom he knew became him” (Factor hominum, nasciturus de homine, talem sibi debuit eligere Matrem, qualem se decree sciebat”—De Laud. V. M. hom. 2). And as it was becoming that a most pure God should have a mother pure from all sin, he created her spotless. St. Bernardine of Sienna, speaking of the different degrees of sanctification, says, that “the third is that obtained by becoming the Mother of God; and that this sanctification consists in the entire removal of original sin. This is what took place in the Blessed Virgin: truly God created Mary such, both as to the eminence of her nature and the perfection of grace with which he endowed her, as became him who was to be born of her” (“Tertia fuit sanctification maternalis, et haec removet culpam originalem. Haec fuit in Beata Virgine; sane Deus talem, tam nobilitate naturae, quam perfectione gratiae, condidit matrem, qualem eam decebat habere suam majestatem”—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 1, c. 1). Here we may apply the words of the Apostle to the Hebrews: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest; holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (“Talis enim decebat ut nobis esset Pontifex, sanctus, innocens, impollutus, segregatus a peccatoribus”—Heb. vii. 26). A learned author observes that, according to St. Paul, it was fitting that our Blessed Redeemer should not only be separated from sin, but also from sinners; according to the explanation of St. Thomas, who says, “that it was necessary that he, who came to take away sins, should be separated from sinners, as to the fault under which Adam lay” (“Oportuit eum, qui peccata venerat tollere, esse a peccatoribus segregatum, quantum ad culpam cui Adam subjacuit”—P. 3, q. 4, a. 6). But how could Jesus Christ be said to be separated from sinners if he had a Mother who was a sinner?
St. Ambrose says, “that Christ chose this vessel into which he was about to descend, not of earth, but from heaven; and he consecrated it a temple of purity” (“Non de terra, sed de coelo. Vas sibi hoc, per quod descenderet, Christus elegit, et sacravit Templum pudoris”—Inst. Virg. c. 5). The saint refers to the text of St. Paul: The first man was of the earth, earthly; the second man from heaven, heavenly (“Primus homo de terra, terrenus; secundus homo de coelo, coelestis”—1 Cor. xv. 47). The saint calls the divine Mother “a heavenly vessel,” not because Mary was not earthly by nature, as heretics have dreamt, but because she was heavenly by grace; she was as superior to the angels of heaven in sanctity and purity, as it was becoming that she should be, in whose womb a king of glory was to dwell. This agrees with that which St. John the Baptis revealed to St. Bridget, saying, “It was not becoming that the King of Glory should repose otherwise than in a chosen vessel, exceeding all men and angels in purity” (“Non decuit Regem gloriae jacere, nisi in Vase purissimo et mundissimo et electissimo prae omnibus Angelis et hominibus”—Rev. 1. 1, c. 31). And to this we may add that which the Eternal Father himself said to the same saint: “Mary was a clean and an unclean vessel: clean, for she was all fair; but unclean, because she was born of sinners; though she was conceived without sin, that my Son might be born of her without sin” (“Maria fuit Vas mundum, et non mundum; mundum, quia tota pulchra, sed non mundum, quia de peccatoribus nata est, licet sine peccato concepta, ut Filius meus de ea sine peccato nasceretur”—Rev. l. 5, 4. 13, exp.). And remark these last words, “Mary was conceived without sin, that the divine Son might be born of her without sin.” Not that Jesus Christ could have contracted sin; but that he might not be reproached with even having a mother infected with it, who would consequently have been the slave of the devil.
The Holy Ghost says that the glory of a man is from the honor of his father, and a father without honor is the disgrace of the son (“Gloria enim hominis, ex honore patris ejus; et dedecus filii, pater sine honore”—Ecclus. iii. 13). “Therefore it was,” says an ancient writer, that Jesus preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death; for it would have redounded to his dishonor had that virginal flesh with which he had clothed himself become the food of worms.” For he adds, “Corruption is a disgrace of human nature; and as Jesus was not subject to it, Mary was also exempted; for the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary” (“Putredo namque humanae est opprobrium conditionis a quo cum Jesus sit alienus, natura Mariae excipitur; caro enim Jesu, caro Mariae est”). But since the corruption of her body would have been a disgrace for Jesus Christ, because he was born of her, how much greater would the disgrace have been, had he been born of a mother whose soul was once infected with the corruption of sin? For not only is it true that the flesh of Jesus is the same as that of Mary, “but,” adds the same author, “the flesh of our Savior, even after his resurrection, remained the same that he had taken from his Mother.” “The flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary; and though it was glorified by the glory of his resurrection, yet it remains the same that was taken from Mary” (“Caro Jesu, caro est Mariae; et quamvis Gloria resurrectionis fuerit magnificata, eadem tamen mansit, quae suscepta est de Maria”—Lib. de Ass. c. 5). Hence the Abbot Arnold of Chartres says, “The flesh of Mary and that of Christ are one; and therefore I consider the glory of the Son as being not so much common to, as one with, that of his Mother” (“Una est Mariae et Christi caro; Filii gloriam cum Matre non tam communem judico, quam eandem”—De Laud. B. M. V.). And now if this is true, supposing that the Blessed Virgin was conceived in sin, though the Son could not have contracted its stain, nevertheless his having united flesh to himself which was once infected with sin, a vessel of uncleanness and subject to Lucifer, would always have been a blot.
Mary was not only the Mother, but the worthy Mother of our Savior. She is called so by all the holy Fathers. St. Bernard says, “Thou alone wast found worthy to be chosen as the one in whose virginal womb the King of kings should have his first abode” (“Tu sola inventa es digna, ut in tua virginali aula Rex regum primam sibi mansionem elegeret”—Depr. Ad gl. V.). St. Thomas of Villanova says, “Before she conceived she was already fit to be the Mother of God” (“Antequam conciperet, jam idonea erat, ut esset Mater Dei”—De Nat. V. M. conc. 3). The holy Church herself attests that Mary merited to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, saying, “the Blessed Virgin, who merited to bear in her womb Christ our Lord” (“Beata Virgo, cujus sicera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum”—In Nat. D. respt. 4); and St. Thomas Aquinas, explaning these words, says, that “the Blessed Virgin is said to have merited to bear the Lord of all; not that she merited his incarnation, but that she merited, by the graces she had received, such a degree of purity and sanctity, that she could becomingly be the Mother of God” (“Beata Virgo dicitur meruisse portare Dominum omnium, non quia meruit ipsum incarnari, sed quia meruit, ex gratia sibi data, illum peritatis et sanctitatis gradum, ut congrue posset esse Mater Dei”—P. 3, q. 2, a. 11); that is to say, Mary could not merit the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, but by divine grace she merited such a degree of perfection as to render her worthy to be the Mother of God; according to what St. Augustine also writes: “Her singular sanctity, the effect of grace, merited that she alone should be judged worthy to receive a God” (“Promeruit hoc singularis sanctitas ejus et singularis gratia, qua susceptione Dei singulariter aestimata est digna”—Lib. de Ass. c. 4).
And now, supposing that Mary was worthy to be the Mother of God, “what excellency and what perfection was there that did not become her?” (“Quae autem excellentia, quae perfectio, decuit eam, ut esset idonea Mater Dei?”—De Nat. V. M. conc. 3) asks St. Thomas of Villanova. The angelic Doctor says, “that when God chooses any one for a particular dignity, he renders him fit for it;” whence he adds, “that God, having chosen Mary for his Mother, he also by his grace rendered her worthy of this highest of all dignities.” “The Blessed Virgin was divinely chosen to be the Mother of God, and therefore we cannot doubt that God had fitted her by his grace for this dignity; and we are assured of it by the angel: For thou hast found grace with God; behold thou shalt conceive (“Beata autem Virgo fuit electa divinitus, ut esset Mater Dei; et ideo non est dubitandum quin Deus, per suam gratiam, eam ad hoc idoneam reddiderit, juxta illud: ‘Invenisti gratiam apud Deum: ecce, concipies in utero et paries Filium'”—Luke i. 50). And thence the saint argues that “the Blessed Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial one. Otherwise,” he says, “she would not have been a mother worthy of Jesus Christ; for the ignominy of the Mother would also have been that of the Son, for he would have had a sinner for his mother” (“Non fuisset idonea Mater Dei, si peccasset aliquando, quia ignominia Matris ad Filium redundasset”—P. 3, q. 27, a. 4). And now if Mary, on account of a single venial sin, which does not deprive a soul of divine grace, would not have been a mother worthy of God, how much more unworthy would she have been had she contracted the guilt of original sin, which would have made her an enemy of God and a slave of the devil? And this reflection it was that made St. Augustine utter those memorable words, that, “when speaking of Mary for the honor of our Lord,” whom she merited to have for her Son, he would not entertain even the question of sin in her; “for we know,” he says, “that through him, who it is evident was without sin, and whom she merited to conceive and bring forth, she received grace to conquer all sin” (“Excepta itaque Sancta Virgine Maria, de qua, propter honorem Domini, nullam prorsus, cum de peccatis agitur, haberi volo quaestionem; unde enim scimus, quod ei plus gratiae collatum fuerit ad vincendum ex omni parte peccatum, quae concipere ac parere meruit, quem constat nullum habuisse peccatum”—De Nat. et Gratia, c. 36).
Therefore, as St. Peter Damian observes, we must consider it as certain “that the Incarnate Word chose himself a becoming Mother, and one of whom he would not have to be ashamed” (“Talem creavit eam, ut ipse digne nasci potuisset ex ea”—De Nat. D. s. 3). St. Proclus also says, “that he dwelt in a womb which he had created free from all that might be to his dishornor” (Intra viscera, quae citra ullam sui dedecoris notam creaverat habitavit”—Laudat. In S. M. or. 1). It was no shame to Jesus Christ, when he heard himself contemptuously called by the Jews the Son of Mary, meaning that he was the Son of a poor woman: Is not His Mother called Mary?” (“Nonne mater ejus dicitur Maria?”—Matt. xiii. 55) for he came into this world to give us an example of humility and patience. But, on the other hand, it would undoubtedly have been a disgrace, could he have heard the devil say, “Was not his Mother a sinner? (“Nonne mater ejus exstitit peccatrix?”) was he not born of a wicked Mother, who was once our slave?” It would even have been unbecoming had Jesus Christ been born of a woman whose body was deformed, or cripped, or possessed by devils: but how much more would it have been so, had he been born of a woman whose soul had been once deformed by sin, and in the possession of Lucifer?
Ah! indeed, God, who is wisdom itself, well knew how to prepare himself a becoming dwelling, in which to reside on earth: Wisdom hath built herself a house (“Sapientia aedificavit sibi domum”—Prov. ix 1). The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle. . . . God will help it in the morning early (Sanctificavit tabernaculum suum Altissimus . . . Adjuvabit eam Deus mane diluculo”—Ps. xiv. 5). David says that our Lord sanctified this his dwelling in the morning early; that is to say, from the beginning of her life, to render her worthy of himself; for it was not becoming that a holy God should choose himself a dwelling that was not holy: Holiness becometh Thy house (“Domum tuam decet sanctitudo”—Ps. xcii. 5). And if God declares that he will never enter a malicious soul, or dwell in a body subject to sin, for wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sin (“In malevolam animam non introibit Sapientia nec habitabit in corpore subdito peccatis”—Wisd. i. iv), how can we ever think that the Son of God chose to dwell in the soul and body of Mary, without having previously sanctified and preserved it from every stain of sin? for, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas, “the Eternal Word dwelt not only in the soul of Mary, but even in her womb” (“Dei Filius in ipsa habitavit, non solum in anima, sed etiam in utero”—P. 3, q. 27, a. 4). The holy Church sings, “Thou, O Lord, hast not disdained to dwell in the Virgin’s womb” (“Non horruisti Virginis uterum”—Hymn. Te Deum). Yes, for he would have disdained to have taken flesh in the womb of an Agnes, a Gertrude, a Teresa, because these virgins, though holy, were nevertheless for a time stained with original sin; but he did not disdain to become man in the womb of Mary, because this beloved Virgin was always pure and free from the least shadown of sin, and was never possessed by the infernal serpent. And therefore St. Augustine says, “that the Son of God never made himself a more worthy dwelling than Mary, who was never possessed by the enemy, or despoiled of her ornaments” (“Nullam digniorem domum sibi Filius Dei aedificavit quam Mariam, quae nunquam fuit ab hostibus capta, neque suis ornamentis spoliata”). On the other hand, St. Cyril of Alexandria asks, “Who ever heard of an architect who built himself a temple, and yielded up the first possession of it to his great enemy?” (“Quis unquam audivit architectum, qui sibi domum aedificavit, in ea habitare prohibitum fuisse?”—In Conc. Eph. hom. 6)
Yes, says St. Methodius, speaking on the same subject, that Lord who commanded us to honor our parents, would not do otherwise, when he became man, than observe it, by giving his Mother every grace and honor: “He who said, Honor thy father and thy mother, that he might observe his own decree, gave all grace and honor to his Mother” (“Qui dixit: ‘Honora patrem tuum et matrem,’ ut decretum a se promulgatum servaret, omnem Matri gratiam et honorem impendit”—De Sim. et Anna). Therefore the author of the book already quoted from the works of St. Augustine says, “that we must certainly believe that Jesus Christ preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death, for if he had not done so, he would not have observed the law, which, at the same time that it commands us to honor our mother, forbids us to show her disrespect” (“Sicut honorem matris praecipit, ita inhonorationem damnat”—Lib. de Ass. c. 5). But how little would Jesus have guarded his Mother’s honor, had he not preserved her from Adam’s sin! “Certainly that son would sin,” says the Augustinian Father Thomas of Strasburg, “who, having it in his power to preserve his mother from original sin, did not do so; but that which would be a sin in us,” continues the same author, “must certainly be considered unbecoming in the Son of God, who, whilst he could make his Mother immaculate, did it not.” “Ah, no,” exclaims Gerson, “since Thou, the supreme prince, choosest to have a Mother, certainly Thou owest her honor. But now if Thou didst permit her, who was to be the dwelling of all purity, to be in the abomination of original sin, certainly it would appear that that law was not well fulfilled” (“Cum tu, summus Princeps, vis habere Matrem, illi debebis honorem; nunc autem appareret illam legem non bene adimpleri, si in hujusmodi abominatione peccati aliquot tempore permitteres illam, quae esse debet habitaculum totius puritatis”—De Conc. B. V. s. 1).
“Moreover, we know,” says St. Bernardine of Sienna, “that the divine Son came into the world more to redeem Mary than all other creatures” (“Christus plus pro ipsa redimenda venit, quam pro omni alia creatura”—Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 3, c. 3). There are two means by which a person may be redeemed, as St. Augustine teaches us: the one by raising him up after having fallen, and the other by preventing him from falling” (“Duplex est redimendi modus; unus, erigendo lapsum; alter, praeveniendo jamjam lapsurum, ne cadat”—De Inc. p. 2, d. 3, s. 5); and this last means is doubtless the most honorable. “He is more honorably redeemed,” says the learned Suarez, “who is prevented from falling, than he who after falling is raised up” (“Nobilius redimitur, cui providetur ne cadat, quam ut lapsus erigatur”—P. 1, t. 8, c. 2); for thus the injury or stain is avoided which the soul always contracts by falling. This being the case, we ought certainly to believe that Mary was redeemed in the more honorable way, and the one which became the Mother of God, as St. Bonaventure remarks; ‘for it is to be belileved that the Holy Ghost, as a very special favor, redeemed and preserved her from original sin by a new kind of sanctification, and this in the very moment of her conception; not that sin was in her, but that it otherwise would have been” (“Credendum est enim quod novo sanctificationis genere, in ejus conceptionis primordio, Spiritus Sanctus eam a peccato originali, non quod infuit, sed quod infuisset redemit, atque singulari gratia praeser vavit”—De B. V. s. 2). The sermon from which this passage is taken is proved by Frassen (Scotus Academicus, de Inc. d. 3, a. 3, s. 3, q. 1, #5) to be really the work of the holy Doctor above named. On the same subject Cardinal Cusano beautifully remarks, that “others had Jesus as a liberator, but to the most Blessed Virgin he was a pre-liberator” (“Praeliberatorem enim Virgo Sancta habuit, caeteri Postliberatorem”—Excit. l. 8, Sicut lil.); meaning, that all others had a Redeemer who delivered them from sin with which they were already defiled, but that the most Blessed Virgin had a Redeemer who, because he was her Son, preserved her from ever being defiled by it.
In fine, to conclude this point in the words of Hugo of St. Victor, the tree is known by its fruits. If the Lamb was always immaculate, the Mother must also have been always immaculate: “Such the Lamb, such the Mother of the Lamb; for the tree is known by its fruit” (“Talis Agnus, quails Mater Agni; quoniam omnis arbor ex fructu suo cognoscitur”—De Verbo inc. c. 3). Hence this same Doctor salutes Mary, saying: “O worthy mother of a worthy Son;” meaning, that no other than Mary was worthy to be the mother of such a Son, and no other than Jesus was a worthy Son of such a Mother: and then he adds these words, “O fair Mother of beauty itself, O high Mother of the Most High, O Mother of God!” (“O Digna Digni! Formosa Pulchri, Excelsa Altissimi, Mater Dei!”—De Assumpt. c. 3) Let us then address this most Blessed Mother in the words of St. Illdephonsus, “Suckle, O Mary, thy Creator, give milk to him who made thee, and who made thee such that he could be made of thee” (“Lacta, maria. Creatorem tuum; lacta eum qui fecit te, qui talem fecit te, ut ipse fieret ex te”—De Nat. B. V. s. 1).
Since, then, it was becoming that the Father should preserve Mary from sin as his daughter, and the Son as his Mother, it was also becoming that the Holy Ghost should preserve her as his spouse.
St. Augustine says that “Mary was that only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God” (“Haec est quae sola meruit Mater et Sponsa vocari”—Serm. 208, E. B. app.). For St. Anselm asserts that “the divine Spirit, the love itself of the Father and the Son, came porporally into Mary, and enriching her with graces above all creatures, reposed in her and made her his Spouse, the Queen of heaven and earth” (“Ipse Spiritus Dei, ipse Amor Patris et Filii, corporaliter venit in eam, singularique gratia prae omnibus requievit in ea, et Reginam coeli et terrae fecit eam”—De Excell. Virg. c. 4). He says that he came into her corporally, that is, as to the effect: for he came to form of her immaculate body the immaculate body of Jesus Christ, as the Archangel had already predicted to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee (“Spiritus Sanctus superveniet in te”—Luke, i. 35). And therefore it is, says St. Thomas, “that Mary is called the temple of the Lord, and the sacred resting-place of the Holy Ghost: for by the operation of the Holy Ghost she became the Mother of the Incarnate Word” (“Unde dicitur Templum Domini, Sacrarium Spiritus Sancti, quia concepit ex Spiritu Sancto”—Exp. In Sal. Ang.).
And now, had an excellent artist the power to make his bride such as he could represent her, what pains would he not take to render her as beautiful as possible! Who, then, can say that the Holy Ghost did otherwise with Mary, when he could make her who was to be his spouse as beautiful as it became him that she should be? Ah no! he acted as it became him to act; for this same Lord himself declares: Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee (“Tota pulchra es, Amica mea, et macula non est in te”—Cant. iv. 7). These words, say St. Ildephonsus and St. Thomas, are properly to be understood of Mary, as Cornelius à Lapide remarks; and St. Bernardine of Sienna (Pro Fest. V. M. s. 4, a. 2, c. 2), and St. Laurence Justinian (In Net. B. V.), assert that they are to be understood precisely as applying to her Immaculate Conception; whence Blessed Raymond Jordano addresses her, saying, “Thou art all fair, O most glorious Virgin, not in part, but wholly; and no stain of mortal, venial, or original sin is in thee” (“Tota pulchra es, Virgo gloriosissima! non in parte, sed in toto; et macula peccati, sive mortalis, sive venialis, sive originalis, non est in te”—Cont. de V. M. c. 2).
The Holy Ghost signified the same thing when he called this his spouse an enclosed garden and a sealed fountain: My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (“Hortus conclusus, soror mea, Sponsa, Hortus conclusus, Fons signatus”—Cant. iv. 12). “Mary,” says St. Sophronius, “was this enclosed garden and sealed fountain, into which no guile could enter, against which no fraud of the enemy could prevail, and who always was holy in mind and body” (Haec est Hortus conclusus, Fons signatus, ad quam nulli potuerunt doli irrumpere; nec praevaluit fraus inimici, sed permansit sancta mente et corpore”—De Assumpt.). St. Bernard likewise says, addressing the Blessed Virgin, “Thou art an enclosed garden, into which the sinner’s hand has never entered to pluck its flowers” (“Hortus conclusus tu es, ad quem deflorandum manus peccatorum nunquam introivit”—Depr. ad. gl. V.).
We know that this divine Spouse loved Mary more than all the other saints and angels put together, as Father Suarez (De Inc. p. 2, d. 18, s. 4), with St. Laurence Justinian, and others, assert. He loved her from the very beginning, and exalted her in sanctity above all others, as it is expressed by David in the Psalms: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains; the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob . . . a man is born in her, and the Highest Himself hath founded her (“Fundamenta ejus in moontibus sanctis; diligit Dominus portus Sion super omnia tabernacula Jacob . . . Homo natus est in ea; et ipse fundavit eam Altissimus”—Ps. lxxxvi. 1). Words which all signify that Mary was holy from her conception. The same thing is signified by other passages addressed to her by the Holy Ghost. In Proverbs we read: Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all (“Multae filiae congregaverunt divitias: tu supergressa es universas”—Prov. xxxi. 29). If Mary has surpassed all others in the riches of grace, she must have had original justice, as Adam and the angels had it. In the Canticles we read, There are . . . young maidens without number. One is my dove, my perfect one (in the Hebrew it is my entire, my immaculate one) is but one, she is the only one of her mother (Adolescentularum non est numerus; una est columba mea, perfecta mea, una est matris suae”—Cant. vi. 7). All just souls are daughters of divine grace; but amongst these Mary was the dove without the gall of sin, the perfect one without spot in her origin, the one conceived in grace.
Hence it is that the angel, before she became the Mother of God, already found her full of grace, and thus saluted her, Hail, full of grace; on which words St. Sophronius writes, that “grace is given partially to other saints, but to the Blessed Virgin all was given” (“Bene ‘Plena,’ quia caeteris per partes praestatur, Mariae vero simul se tota infudit plenitude gratiae”—De Assumpt.). So much so, says St. Thomas, that “grace not only rendered the soul, but even the flesh of mary holy, so that this Blessed Virgin might be able to clothe the Eternal Word with it” (“Anima Beatae Virginis ita fuit plena, quod ex ea refudit gratia in carnem, ut de ipsa conciperet Deum”—Exp. In Sal. Ang.). Now all this leads us to the conclusion that Mary, from the moment of her conception, was enriched and filled with divine grace by the Holy Ghost, as Peter of Celles remarks, “the plenitude of grace was in her; for from the very moment of her conception the whole grace of the divinity overflowed upon her, by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost” (“Simul in ea collecta est gratiae plenitude, quia ab exordio suae conceptionis, aspersione Spiritus Sancti, tota Deitatis gratia est superfusa”—De Pan. c. 12). Hence St. Peter Damian says, “that the Holy Spirit was about to bear her off entirely to himself, who was chosen and preëlected by God” (“A Deo electam et praeelectam, totam eam rapturus erat sibi Spiritus Sanctus”—De Annunt.). The saint says “to bear her off,” to denote the holy velocity of the divine Spirit in being beforehand in making this Spouse his own before Lucifer should take possession of her.
I wish to conclude this discourse, which I have prolonged beyond the limits of the others, because our Congregation has this Blessed Virgin Mary, precisely under the title of her Immaculate Conception, for his principal Patroness. I say that I wish to conclude by giving in as few words as possible the reasons which make me feel certain, and which, in my opinion, ought to convince every one of the truth of so pious a belief, and which is so glorious for the divine Mother, that is, that she was free from original sin.
There are many Doctors who maintain that Mary was exempted from contracting even the debt of sin; for instance, Cardinal Galatino (De Arc. l. 7, passim.), Cardinal Cusano (Excit. l. 8, Sicut lil.), De Ponte (In Cant. l. 2, exh. 19), Salazar (Pro Imm. Conc. c. 7), Catharinus (De Pecc. Orig. c. ult.), Novarino (Umbra Virg. exc. 18), Viva (P. 8, d. 1, q. 2, a. 2), De Lugo (De Inc. d. 7, s. 3, 4), Egidio (De Imm. Conc. l. 2, q. 4, a. 5), Denis the Carthusian (De Dign. M. l. 1, a. 13), and others. And this opinion is also probable; for if it is true that the wills of all men were included in that of Adam, as being the head of all, and this opinion is maintained as probable by Gonet (Clyp. p. 2, tr. 5, d. 7, a. 2), Habert (Tr. De Vit. Et Pecc. c. 7, #1), and others, founded on the doctrine of St. Paul, contained in the fifth chapter to the Romans (Rom. v. 12). If this opinion, I say, is probable, it is also probable that Mary did not contract the debt of sin; for whilst God distinguished her from the common of men by so many graces, it ought to be piously believed that he did not include her will in that of Adam.
This opinion is only probable, and I adhere to it as being more glorious for my sovereign Lady. But I consider the opinion that Mary did not contract the sin of Adam as certain: and it is considered so, and even as proximately definable as an article of faith (as they express it), by Cardinal Everard, Duval (De Pecc. q. ult. a. 7), Raynauld (Piet. Lugd. erga V. Imm. n. 20), Lossada (Disc. Thomist. De Imm. Conc.), Viva (P. 8, d. 1, q. 2, a. 2), and many others. I omit, however, the revelations which confirm this belief, particularly those of St. Bridget, which were approved of by Cardinal Turrecremata, and by four Sovereign Pontiffs, and which are found in various parts of the sixth book of her Revelations (Rev. l. 6, c. 12, 49, 55).
But on no account can I omit the opinions of the holy Fathers on this subject, whereby to show their unanimity in conceding this privilege to the divine Mother.
St. Ambrose says, “Receive me not from Sarah, but from Mary; that it may be an uncorrupted Virgin, a Virgin free by grace from every stain of sin” (“Suscipe me non ex Sara, sed ex Maria, ut incorrupta sit Virgo, sed Virgo per gratiam ab omni integra labe peccati”—In Ps. cxviii. s. 22).
Origen, speaking of Mary, asserts that “she was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent” (“Nec serpentis venenosis afflatibus infecta est”—In Div. hom. 1).
St. Ephrem, that “she was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin” (“Immaculata et ab omni peccati labe alienissima”—Orat. Ad Deip.).
As ancient writer, in a sermon, found amongst, the words of St. Augustine, on the words “Hail, full of grace,” says, “By these words the angel shows that she was altogether (remark the word ‘altogether’) excluded from the wrath of the first sentence, and restored to the full grace of blessing” (“Ave ‘gratia plena!’ Quibus verbis ostendit ex integro iram exclusam primae sententiae, et plenam benedictionis gratiam restitutam”—Serm. 123, E. B. app.).
The author of an old work, called the Breviary of St. Jerome, affirms that “that cloud was never in darkness, but always in light” (“Nubes illa non fuit in tenebris, sed simper in luce”—Brev. In Ps. 77).
St. Cyprian, or whoever may be the author of the work on the 77th Psalm, says, “Nor did justice endure that that vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin” (“Nec sustinebat justitia ut illud Vas electionis communibus lassaretur injuriis; quoniam, plurimum a caeteris differens, natura communicabat, non culpa”—De Chr. Op. De Nat.).
St. Amphilochius, that “He who formed the first Virgin without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin” (“Qui antiquam illam virginem sine probro condidit, ipse et secundam sine nota et crimine fabricatus est”—In S. Deip. et Sim.).
St. Sophronius, that “the Virgin is therefore called immaculate, for in nothing was she corrupt” (“Virginem ideo dici immaculatam, quia in nullo corrupta est”—In Conc. Oecum. 6, act. 11).
St. Ildephonsus argues, that “it is evident that she was free from original sin” (“Constat eam ab omni originali peccato fuisse immunem”—Cont. Disp. De Virginit. M.).
St. John Damascene says, that “the serpent never had any access to this paradise” (“Ad hunc paradisum serpens adytum non habuit”—In Dorm. Deip. or. 2).
St. Peter Damian, that “the flesh of the Virgin, taken from Adam, did not admit of the stain of Adam” (“Caro Virginis, ex Adam assumpta, maculas Adae non admisit”—In Assumpt.).
St. Bruno affirms, “that Mary is that uncorrupted earth which God blessed, and was therefore free from all contagion of sin” (“Haec est incorrupta terra illa cui benedixit Dominus, ab omni propterea peccati contagione libera”—In Ps. ci).
St. Bonaventure, “that our Sovereign Lady was full of preventing grace for her sanctification; that is, preservative grace against the corruption of original sin” (“Domina nostra fuit plena gratia praeveniente in sua sanctificatione, gratis scilicet praeservativa contra foeditatem originalis culpae”—De B. V. s. 2).
St. Bernardine of Sienna argues, that “it is not to be believed that he, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest degree stained with original sin” (“Non est credendum, quod ipse Filius Dei voluerit nasci ex virgine, et sumere ejus carnem, quae esset maculate ex aliquot peccato originali”—Quadr. s. 49, p. 1).
St. Laurence Justinian affirms, “that she was prevented in blessings from her very conception” (“Ab ipsa sui conceptione, in benedictionibus est praeventa”—In Annunt.).
The Blessed Raymond Jordano, on the words, Thou hast found grace, says, “thou hast found a singular grace, O most sweet Virgin, that of preservation from original sin” (“‘Invenisti gratiam;’ invenisti, O dulcissima Virgo! gratiam coelestem; quia fuit in te ab originis labe praeservatio”—Cont. de V. M. c. 6). And many other Doctors speak in the same sense.
But, finally, there are two arguments that conclusively prove the truth of this pious belief.
The first of these is the universal concurrence of the faithful. Father Egidius, of the Presentation (De Imm. Conc. l. 3, q. 6, a. 3), assures us that all the religious Orders follow this opinion; and a modern author tells us that though there are ninety-two writers of the order of St. Dominic against it, nevertheless there are a hundred and thirty-six in favor of it, even in that religious body. But that which above all should persuade us that our pious belief is in accordance with the general sentiment of Catholics, is that we are assured of it in the celebrated bull of Alexander VII, Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, published in 1661, in which he says, “This devotion and homage towards the Mother of God was again increased and propagated, . . . so that the universities having adopted this opinion” (that is, the pious one) “already nearly all Catholics have embraced it” (“Aucta rursus et propagate fuit pietas haec et cultus erga Deiparam. . . . ita ut, accedentibus plerisque celebriorbus academiis ad hanc sententiam, jam fere omnes Catholici eam amplectantur”). And in fact this opinion is defended in the universities of the Sorbonne, Alcala, Salamanca, Coimbra, Cologne, Mentz, Naples, and many others, in which all who take their degrees are obliged to swear that they will defend the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The learned Petavius mainly rests his proofs of the truth of this doctrine on the argument taken from the general sentiment of the faithful (De Inc. l. 14, c. 2). An argument, writes the most learned bishop Julius Torni, which cannot do otherwise than convince; for, in fact, if nothing else does, the general consent of the faithful makes us certain of the sanctification of Mary in her mother’s womb, and of her Assumption, in body and soul, into heaven. Why, then, should not the same general feeling and belief, on the part of the faithful, also make us certain of her Immaculate Conception?
The second reason, and which is stronger than the first, that convinces us that Mary was exempt from original sin, is the celebration of her Immaculate Conception commanded by the universal Church. And on this subject I see, on the one hand, that the Church celebrates the first moment in which her soul was created and infused into her body: for this was declared by Alexander VII, in the above-named bull, in which he says that the Church gives the same worship to Mary in her Conception, which is given to her by those who hold the pious belief that she was conceived without original sin. On the other hand, I hold it as certain, that the Church cannot celebrate anything which is not holy, according to the doctrine of the holy Pope St. Leo (Ep. Decret. 4, c. 2), and that of the Sovereign Pontiff St. Eusebius: “In the Apostolic See the Catholic religion was always preserved spotless” (“In Sede Apostolica, extra maculam semper et Catholica servata religio”—Decr. Causa 24, q. 1, c. 1, c. In sede). All theologians, with St. Augustine (S. 310, 314, Ed. B), St. Bernard (Epist. 174), and St. Thomas, agree on this point; and the latter, to prove that Mary was sanctified before her birth, makes use of this very argument: “The Church celebrates the nativity of the Blessed Virgin; but a feast is celebrated only for a saint: therefore the Blessed Virgin was sanctified in her mother’s womb” (“Ecclesia celebrat Nativitatem Beatae Virginis; non autem celebratur festum in Ecclesia, nisi pro aliquot Sancto: ergo Beata Virgo fuit in utero sanctificara”—P. 3, q. 27, a. 1). But if it is certain, as the angelic Doctor says, that Mary was sanctified in her mother’s womb, because it is only on that supposition that the Church can celebrate her nativity, why are we not to consider it as equally certain that Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception, knowing as we do that it is in this sense that the Church herself celebrates the feast?
Finally, in confirmation of this great privilege of Mary, we may be allowed to add the well-known innumerable and prodigious graces that our Lord is daily pleased to dispense throughout the kingdom of Naples, by means of the pictures of her Immaculate Conception*. (*These effects of the divine mercy have shone forth in a no less wonderful manner in France and elsewhere, especially in 1832 and during the following years, by means of the miraculous medal of which every one has heard. Since the time when St. Alphonsus wrote this discourse and the dissertations that one may read on the same subject in his other works (Theol. Mor. L. 7, c. 2—Opera dogm. sess. 5), the devotion to “Mary conceived without sin” continued to grow throughout the Catholic world, being sustained and favored more and more by the Holy See, and by the signal marks of her heavenly protection. Finally, yielding to the multiplied solicitations of the Bishops, of the clergy, of the religious Orders, of the reigning sovereigns, and of the laity, Pope Pius IX, during the Pontifical Mass celebrated in the Basilica of the Vatican, December 8, 1854, in the presence of the bishops assembled from all parts of the world, solemnly pronounced the decree by which he defined as an article of faith, that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been protected and preserved from every stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception, in accordance with the text the Bull published the following day: Definimus doctrinam, qua tenet Bealissimam Virginam Mariam in prima instanti suae conceptionis fuisse, signulari omnipotentia Dei gratis et privilegia, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu, Salvatoris humani generic, ab omni originalis cuple labe preservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque indcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. This glorious event was hailed at Rome, as well as by the whole world, with extraordinary demonstrations of joy and gratitude. What pleasure, what delight must it have given in heaven to our saint, who during his life here below labored with so much zeal to bring about such a declaration, and who protested with an oath, as we see in the prayer that concludes this discourse, that he was ready to shed his blood in so beautiful a cause!—ED.) I could refer to many which passed, so to say, through the hands of Fathers of our own Congregation; but I will content myself with two which are truly admirable.
A woman came to a house of our little Congregation in this kingdom to let one of the Fathers know that her husband had not been to confession for many years, and the poor creature could no longer tell by what means to bring him to his duty; for if she named confession to him, he beat her. The Father told her to give him a picture of Mary Immaculate. In the evening the woman once more begged her husband to go to confession; but he as usual turned a deaf ear to her entreaties. She gave him the picture. Behold! he had scarcely received it, when he said, “Well, when will you take me to confession, for I am willing to go?” The wife, on seeing this instantaneous change, began to weep for joy. In the morning he really came to our church, and when the Father asked him how long it was since he had been to confession, he answered, “Twenty-eight years.” The Father again asked him what had induced him to come that morning. “Father,” he said, “I was obstinate; but last night my wife gave me a picture of our Blessed Lady, and in the same moment I felt my heart changed, so much so, that during the whole night every moment seemed a thousand years, so great was my desire to go to confession.” He then confessed his sins with great contrition, changed his life, and continued for a long time to go frequently to confession to the same Father.
In another place, in the diocese of Salerno, in which we were giving a mission, there was a man who bore a great hatred to another who had offended him. One of our Fathers spoke to him that he might be reconciled; but he answered: “Father, did you ever see me at the sermon? No, and for this very reason, I do not go. I know that I am damned; but nothing else will satisfy me, I must have revenge.” The Father did all that he could to convert him; but seeing that he lost his time, he said, “Here, take this picture of our Blessed Lady.” The man at first replied, “But what is the use of this picture?” But no sooner had he taken it, than, as if he had never refused to be reconciled, he said to the missionary, “Father, is anything else required besides reconciliation?—I am willing.” The following morning was fixed for it. When, however, the time came, he had again changed, and would do nothing. The Father offered him another picture, but he refused it; but at length, with great reluctance, took it, when, behold! he scarcely had possession of it than he immediately said. Now let us be quick; where is Mastrodati?” and he was instantly reconciled with him, and then went to confession.
Ah, my Immaculate Lady! I rejoice with thee on seeing thee enriched with so great purity. I thank, and, resolve always to thank, our common Creator for having preserved thee from every stain of sin; and I firmly believe this doctrine, and am prepared and swear even to lay down my life, should this be necessary, in defence of this thy so great and singular privilege of being conceived immaculate. I would that the whole world knew thee and acknowledged thee as being that beautiful “Dawn” which was always illumined with divine light; as that chosen “Ark” of salvation, free from the common shipwreck of sin; that perfect and immaculate “Dove” which thy divine Spouse declared thee to be; that “enclosed Garden” which was the delight of God; that “sealed Founain” whose waters were never troubled by an enemy; and finally, as that “white Lily,” which thou art, and who, though born in the midst of the thorns of the children of Adam, all of whom are conceived in sin, and the enemies of God, wast alone conceived pure and spotless, and in all things the beloved of thy Creator. Permit me, then, to praise thee also as thy God himself has praised thee: Thou art all fair, and there is not a spot in thee (“Tota pulchra es, Amica mea, et macula non est in te”—Cant. iv. 7). O most pure Dove, all fair, all beautiful, always the friend of God. O how beautiful art thou, my beloved! How beautiful art thou! (“Quam pulchra es, amica mea, quam pulchra es!”—Ib. 1). Ah, most sweet, most amiable, immaculate Mary, thou who art so beautiful in the eyes of thy Lord,—ah, disdain not to cast thy compassionate eyes on the wounds of my soul, loathsome as they are. Behold me, pity me, heal me. O beautiful loadstone of hearts, draw also my miserable heart to thyself. O thou, who from the first moment of thy life didst appear pure and beautiful before God, pity me, who not only was born in sin, but have again since baptism stained my soul with crimes. What grace will God ever refuse thee, who chose thee for his daughter, his Mother, and Spouse, and therefore preserved thee from every stain, and in his love preferred thee to all other creatures? I will say, in the words of St. Philip Neri, “Immaculate Virgin, thou hast to save me.” Grant that I may always remember thee; and thou, do thou never forget me. The happy day, when I shall go to behold thy beauty in Paradise, seems a thousand years off; so much do I long to praise and love thee more than I can now do, my Mother, my Queen, my beloved, most beautiful, most sweet, most pure, Immaculate Mary. Amen.