Meditations for the Month of Our Lady
By St. Alphonsus Liguori
Hope takes its rise in faith; for God enlightens us by faith to know His goodness and the promises He has made, that by this knowledge we may rise by hope to the desire of possessing Him. Mary then, having had the virtue of faith in its highest degree, had also hope in the same degree of excellence; and this made her say with David: ‘But it is good for me to adhere to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God.’ Mary was indeed that faithful spouse of the Holy Ghost of whom it was said: ‘Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning on her beloved?’ For she was always perfectly detached from earthly affections, looking upon the world as a desert, and therefore in no way relying either on creatures or on her own merits, but relying only on Divine grace, in which was all her confidence, she always advanced in the love of God.
The most holy Virgin gave a clear indication of the greatness of her confidence in God in the first place, when she saw the anxiety of her holy spouse St. Joseph. Unable to account for her wonderful pregnancy, he was troubled at the thought of leaving her: But Joseph . . . minded to put her away privately. It appeared then necessary that she should discover the hidden mystery to St. Joseph; but no, she would not herself manifest the grace she had received; she thought it better to abandon herself to Divine providence, in the full confidence that God Himself would defend her innocence and reputation. This is precisely what Cornelius à Lapide says, in his commentary on the words of the Gospel quoted above: The Blessed Virgin was unwilling to reveal this secret to Joseph, lest she might seem to boast of her gifts. She therefore resigned herself to the care of God, in the fullest confidence that He would guard her innocence and reputation. She again showed her confidence in God when she knew that the time for the birth of our Lord approached, and was yet driven even from the lodgings of the poor in Bethlehem, and obliged to bring forth in a stable: ‘ And she laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn.’ She did not then let drop a single word of complaint; but, abandoning herself to God, she trusted that He would assist her. The Divine Mother also showed how great was her confidence in Divine providence when she received notice from St. Joseph that they must fly into Egypt. On that very night she undertook so long a journey to a strange and unknown country, without provisions, without money, accompanied only by her Infant Jesus and her poor spouse: Who arose and took the Child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt. But much more did she show her confidence when she asked her Son for wine at the marriage-feast of Cana; for when she had said, They have no wine, Jesus answered her: Woman, what is it to thee and to Me? My hour is not yet come. After this answer, which seemed an evident refusal, her confidence in the Divine goodness was such that she desired the servants to do whatever her Son told them; for the favour was certain to be granted: ‘Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye.’ It indeed was so: Jesus Christ ordered the vessels to be filled with water, and changed it into wine.
Let us, then, learn from Mary to have that confidence in God which we ought always to have, but principally in the great affair of our eternal salvation: an affair in which it is true that we must cooperate; yet it is from God alone that we must hope for the grace necessary to obtain it. We must distrust our own strength, and say with the Apostle: I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.
This example is not recorded in any book, but was told me by a priest, a friend of mine, as having happened to himself. This priest was hearing confessions in a church (to compromise no one I do not mention the name of the place, though the penitent gave him leave to publish the fact), when a young man stood before him, who seemed to wish, but at the same time to fear, to go to confession. The Father, after looking at him several times, at length called him, and asked him if he wished to confess. He replied that he did; but as his confession was likely to be very long, he begged to be taken to a private room. The penitent there began by saying that he was a foreigner, and of noble birth, but who had led such a life that he did not believe it possible that God would pardon him. Besides the other innumerable shameful crimes and murders he had committed, he said, that having entirely despaired of salvation, he committed sins no longer from inclination, but expressly to outrage God, out of the hatred he bore Him. He said, amongst other things, that he wore a crucifix, and that he beat it out of disrespect, and that, that very morning, only a short time before, he had communicated sacrilegiously. And for what purpose? It was, that he might trample the sacred particle under his feet. And he had indeed already received it, and had only been prevented from executing his horrible design by the people who would have seen him. He then consigned the sacred particle in a piece of paper to the confessor. Having done this, he said, that, passing before the church, he had felt himself strongly impelled to enter it; that, unable to resist, he had done so. After entering, he was seized with great remorse of conscience, and at the same time a sort of confused and irresolute desire to confess his sins; and hence the reason for which he stood before the confessional; but while standing there, his confusion and diffidence were so great, that he endeavoured to go away; but it seemed to him as if someone held him there by force. In the meantime, he said, Father, you called me; and now I am here making my confession, and I know not how. The Father then asked him if he ever practiced any devotion during the time, meaning towards the Blessed Virgin; for such conversions only come through the powerful hands of Mary. None, Father. Devotions, indeed! I looked on myself as damned. But reflect again, said the Father. ‘Father, I did nothing,’ he repeated. But putting his hand to his breast to uncover it, he remembered that he wore the scapular of Mary’s dolors. ‘Ah, my son,’ said the confessor, dost thou not see it is our Blessed Lady who has obtained thee so extraordinary a grace? And know, he added, that to her this church is dedicated. On hearing this the young man was moved, and began to grieve, and at the same time to weep: then, continuing the confession of his sins, his compunction increased to such a degree, that with a loud sob he fell fainting at the Father’s feet. When he had been restored to consciousness, he finished his confession; and the Father with the greatest consolation absolved him, and sent him back to his own country entirely contrite, and resolved to change his life, having his full permission to preach and publish everywhere the great mercy that Mary had shown him.
Immaculate and Blessed Virgin, since thou art the universal dispenser of all Divine graces, thou art the hope of all, and my hope. I will ever thank my Lord for having granted me the grace to know thee, and for having shown me the means by which I may obtain graces and be saved. Thou art this means, O great Mother of God; for I now understand that it is principally through the merits of Jesus Christ, and then through thy intercession, that my soul must be saved. Pray then, O Mary, for me, and commend me to thy Son. Thou, far better than I do, knowest my miseries and my wants. What more can I say? Pity me; I am so miserable and ignorant, that I neither know, nor can I seek for, the graces that I stand the most in need of. My most sweet Queen and Mother, do thou seek and obtain for me from thy Son those graces which thou knowest to be the most expedient and necessary for my soul. I abandon myself entirely into thy hands, and only beg the Divine Majesty, that by the merits of my Saviour Jesus, He will grant me the graces which thou askest Him for me. Ask, ask then, O most holy Virgin, that which thou seest is best for me; thy prayers are never rejected; they are the prayers of a Mother addressed to a Son, who loves thee His Mother so much, and rejoices in doing all that thou desirest, that He may honour thee more, and at the same time show thee the great love He bears thee. Let us make an agreement, O Lady, that while I live confiding in thee, thou on thy part wilt charge thyself with my salvation. Amen.