“THE GLORIES OF MARY”
Saint Alphonsus Liguori
1. HAIL, HOLY QUEEN, MOTHER OF MERCY
Our confidence in Mary should be great because she is the queen of mercy
Our Mother’s great love for us
Precisely because Mary is our mother, let us see how much she loves us. Love for one’s children is a natural instinct. That is why Saint Thomas points out that God’s law commands children to love their parents, but gives no express command to parents to love their children. Saint Ambrose goes further and says that love for one’s offspring is so strong a force and one so deeply implanted by nature itself that even the wild beasts have to love their young. Explorers tell us that when tigers hear the cries of their cubs when they have been captured by hunters, they will even plunge into the sea to reach the ships on which they are.
Since the very tigers, says our loving Mother Mary, cannot forget their young ones, how can I forget to love you, my children? And should the impossible happen, that a woman should forget her child, it is impossible that I forget a soul that is my child. “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will I not forget you” (Isa 49:15).
As we have said, Mary is our mother, not according to the flesh, but through love, “I am the mother of fair love” (Prov 24:24). It is her love for us that makes her our mother and, as a certain author observes, she glories in being the mother of love. All her love is for us, her adopted children.
It is absolutely impossible to analyze the love Mary has for us creatures. Arnold of Chartres tells us that at the death of the Savior, Mary desired, with intense ardour, to die along with him for love of us. And Saint Ambrose adds that while her son was hanging on the cross, Mary offered herself to the executioners.
Consider now the reason for such love, and you will come to some understanding of how much Mary loves us.
The first reason behind the great love Mary bears to men is the great love she bears to God. According to Saint John, love of God and love of our neighbor belong to one and the same commandment: “And this command we have from God, that he who loves God, love also his brother” (1 Jn 4:21). As the one love increases, so does the other. See what the saints have done out of love for their neighbor, because they loved God so much. They gave up everything, even their lives. Read what Saint Francis Xavier did in India. To help the souls of those people and to bring them to God, he went climbing mountains and submitted to all kinds of dangers in his quest for these poor wretches who, like animals, lived in caves.
Saint Francis de Sales, to convert the heretics in the province of Chablais, risked his life for a full year as he daily crossed the streams on an ice-covered beam to reach the other side and preach to those obstinate people. Saint Paulinus gave himself up as a slave to free the son of a poor widow. Saint Fidelis persisted in going to a certain place to preach to the heretics, even though he knew it would cost him his life. It was because the saints loved God so much that they succeeded in doing so much for their neighbor.
But who ever loved God more than Mary did? At the very first moment of her life, she loved God more than all the angels and saints did in the whole course of their existence – as we shall consider at length when we treat of Mary’s virtues. Our Blessed Lady herself revealed to Sister Mary Crucified that the fire of love with which she was inflamed toward God was so great that if the heavens and the earth were put in it, they would be instantly consumed. Compared to it, the ardor of the seraphim is like a fresh, gentle breeze. Therefore, since neither angels nor saints surpass Mary in loving God, so no one, after God, loves us or can love us as much as Mary. And if we were to combine all the love that mothers bear their children, all the love of husbands for their wives, all the love of the angels and saints for their devoted clients, all this would not equal Mary’s love for a single soul.
Father Nieremberg says that the love that all mothers have ever had for their children is but a shadow in comparison with the love which Mary bears to each one of us; and he adds that she loves us more than all the angels and saints put together.
Furthermore, Mary loves us so much because Jesus himself gave us to her when he said, just before dying: “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26). He intended Saint John to represent all men, as we observed above. These were the last words her son said to her. The last mementoes our loved ones leave us at the point of death are always cherished and can never be forgotten.
Again, we are so dear to Mary because we caused her so much sorrow. Mothers generally love those children most who cause them the most labor and pain to be kept alive. We belong to this class of children. To obtain for us the life of grace, Mary had to suffer the pain of offering her own dear son to the executioners. She was content to see him die in torment before her very eyes. Through this grand sacrifice of Mary, we were born to the life of grace. Analogously, we may apply to Mary what was written of God’s love for men in delivering his own Son to death: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). Saint Bonaventure writes that it can be said of Mary: “Mary so loved us that she gave her only-begotten son.”
When did she give him? She gave him first, says Father Nieremberg, when she gave him permission to go and die. Second, when she declined to defend her son’s life before his judges when others, out of fear or hatred, failed to defend him. We can well believe that the words of so wonderful a mother would have influenced Pilate and stopped him from condemning to death a man whom he himself had recognized and declared as innocent. But no; Mary declined to say one word in favor of her son to hinder the death on which our salvation depended. Finally, she gave him to us a thousand times at the foot of the cross during the three hours she watched him die. Every moment of these three hours, as her heart overflowed with sorrow and with love for us, she constantly offered the sacrifice of her son’s life for us. So much so that Saint Anselm and Saint Antoninus maintain that, if there had been no executioners, she herself would have crucified him to obey the will of the Father who wished his Son to die for our salvation. If Abraham showed a similar courage in his willingness to sacrifice his son with his own hand, we must believe that Mary would have fulfilled God’s will with even greater courage, since she is more holy and more obedient than Abraham.
Returning to our theme, how grateful we ought to be to Mary for so great an act of love! She sacrificed her son’s life amid so much sorrow to obtain salvation for us all. God rewarded Abraham generously for his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. But how can we thank Mary enough for the life of her son, so much more holy and beloved than Abraham’s son? The only gift we can give Mary is the gift of our own love, especially since Mary loved us more than anyone else ever loved us. Saint Bonaventure says: “No one besides Mary has loved us so much as to give an only-begotten and well-beloved Son for us.”
This last reason supplies another motive why Mary loved us so dearly. She realizes the great price of the ransom her Son paid for our souls. Suppose a mother saw her beloved son ransom one of her servants at the cost of twenty years’ hard labor and imprisonment. How highly she would esteem that servant! Mary knows very well that Christ came to earth for the sole purpose of saving us poor creatures. He himself protested: “The Son of man came to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10). And to save us, he was content even to lay down his life: “becoming obedient to death” (Phil 2:8). Were Mary not to love us, she would show very little appreciation of her son’s blood, the price of our salvation. It was revealed to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary that from the time Mary entered the temple, she prayed continually that God would soon send his Son for the world’s salvation. How much more does she love us now that he has come and purchased us at so heavy a cost!
Mary loves and favors all of us because all men were redeemed by Jesus. Saint John saw Our Lady clothed with the sun (Apoc 12:1). She is clothed “with the sun” because there is nothing on earth that can be hidden from the heat of the sun: “There is no one that can hide himself from his heat” (Ps 18:7). So too there is no living being on earth without Mary’s love. The Blessed Raymond Jordano, who called himself the Unlearned, says: “From her heat, that is, from her love, no one can escape.”
Who can form any idea, asks Saint Antoninus, of the great concern that Mary has for each one of us? That is why she offers and dispenses her mercy to everyone. As our mother, she longed for the salvation of all and cooperated in the salvation of all. It is evident, says Saint Bernard, that she was solicitous for the whole human race. According to Cornelius à Lapide, some clients of Mary have adopted the very beneficial practice of begging God to grant them the graces that Mary implores for them, saying, “Lord, give me whatever the Most Blessed Virgin asks for me.” Cornelius à Lapide says this is very reasonable, since Mary desires greater favors for us than we ourselves could desire. Bernardine de Bustis says the same thing: “She is more eager to do you good and to be generous with her graces than you yourself could desire her to be.”
Saint Albert the Great applies to Mary a text from the Book of Wisdom and says that Mary forestalls those who have recourse to her by making them find her before they even look for her. Richard of Saint Victor says that the love which this good mother has for us is so great that, as soon as she is aware that we need something, she runs to help us. “She comes before she is asked.”
Now, if Mary is so good to all, even to the ungrateful and the negligent who do not love her and do not invoke her, how much more devoted will she be toward those who really love her and frequently call upon her? “She is easily found by them that seek her” (Wis 6:13). O how easy it is, says Saint Albert the Great, for those who love Mary to find her, and to find her filled with compassion and love! Our Blessed Mother protests: “Those who love me, I also love” (Prov 8:17). Though this most loving lady loves all people as her children, yet, says Saint Bernard, she knows and loves more tenderly those who love her. And these happy lovers of Mary, asserts Raymond Jordano, are not only loved by her, but are even served by her.
The Chronicles of the Order of Saint Dominic relate that one of the friars named Leonard used to recommend himself two hundred times a day to Mary, and that when he was dying he saw a most beautiful queen by his bedside. She said to him, “Leonard, do you want to die and come to my Son and me?” “Who are you?” he asked. And the queen replied, “I am the Mother of Mercy. You have prayed to me very often. Now I am coming for you. Let us go to paradise.” The Chronicle says, “And Leonard died that very day, and, we hope, followed her to the kingdom of the blessed.”
“Ah, my most sweet Mary,” exclaimed Saint John Berchmans, S.J., “happy the man that loves you. If I love Mary, I am certain of final perseverance and I shall obtain whatever I ask from God.” Therefore, this holy youth never tired of renewing his resolution and of repeating often to himself: “I will love Mary! I will love Mary!”
It is a truism that the Blessed Mother makes all her children advance in love. “She is especially amiable towards those who love her,” says Saint Ignatius the Martyr. Let them love her as did Saint Stanislaus Kostka. He loved Mary so much that when he spoke of her he made everyone who heard him love her. He coined new words and invented new titles to honor her. He never did anything without first turning to Mary and asking her blessing. When he recited the Office, said his Rosary, and recited other prayers, he did so with such affection and devotion that he seemed to be speaking with Mary face to face. When the Salve Regina was sung, his whole soul and his countenance were aglow with love. On one occasion, while he and a Jesuit companion were on their way to visit a certain shrine of Our Lady, his companion asked him how much he loved Mary. He replied, “What more can I say than that she is my mother?” The Father afterwards said that when the youth spoke these words, he uttered them with such tenderness and devotion that he seemed no longer a man, but rather an angel speaking of love for Mary.
Let them love her as Blessed Herman loved her. He called her the spouse of his love, because Mary herself had honored him with that title. Let them love her as Saint Philip Neri did. He was filled with consolation when he merely thought of Mary, and for that reason he called her his delight. Let them love her like Saint Bonaventure, who called Mary not only his lady and mother but even his heart and his soul.
Let them love her like that great lover of Mary, Saint Bernard, who called her the “ravisher of hearts.” To express his ardent love he would often say: “Have you not stolen my heart?”
Let them even call her “sweetheart,” as did Saint Bernardine of Siena. Every day, he made a visit to a shrine of Mary and protested his love for her. When someone asked him where he went each day, he replied that he went to call on his sweetheart.
Let them love her as Saint Aloysius Gonzaga loved her. He loved her so much that whenever he heard her name mentioned his heart was inflamed and even his countenance reddened with a glow that everybody could see.
Let them love her as Saint Francis Solano did, who was considered mad (but with a holy madness) for love of Mary. He would sing before her picture and play a musical instrument, and claim, like worldly troubadours, that he was serenading his queen.
Finally, let them love her as did so many of her servants who could never do enough to show their love. Father John Trexo, S.J., used to call himself the slave of Mary. He often visited her in one or the other of her churches. Then, to prove his servitude, he would drench the floor with his tears. Next, he would wipe away those tears with kisses – all because this was the house of his lady.
Another Jesuit, Father James Martinez, was honored in a special way for his devotion to Mary. On great feasts he was taken by angels to heaven to see how the feasts were observed there. He would often say: “I wish I had the hearts of all the angels and saints to love Mary as they love her! I wish I could control the lives of all men, so that I could direct them all to the love of Mary.”
Let still others love her as did Saint Bridget’s son, Charles, who claimed he had no greater consolation on earth than knowing that God loved Mary so dearly. He also maintained that he would gladly accept any suffering rather than have Mary lose even one iota of her greatness, if indeed if were possible for her to lose any. Furthermore, he said that if her glory were his, he would renounce it in her favor since she is ever so much more worthy of it.
Let them desire even to lay down their lives as proof of their love for Mary, as Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez did. Let them love Mary as did those who carved the sweet name of Mary on their breasts with sharp knives, as did Francis Binanzio, a holy religious, and Queen Radigunde, the wife of King Clothaire. Let them love her as did those who took red hot irons and imprinted her name upon their flesh, so that it would remain there clear and long, as did John Baptist Achinto and Augustine d’Espinoso of the Society of Jesus, both driven to this by the vehemence of their love.
Even though these lovers of Mary exert their best efforts to prove their affection for her, they will never succeed in loving her as much as she loves them. “I know, O Mary,” says Saint Peter Damian, “that you are most lovable and that you love us with an invincible love.” I know, my Lady, he said in effect, that you love us with a love that is unsurpassable, that cannot be topped by any other love.
On one occasion, Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., was praying before an image of Mary. His heart became inflamed with love for her and he cried out: “My dearest Mother, I know that you love me, but you do not love me as much as I love you.” Mary, offended, as it were, on a point of love, immediately answered: “What are you saying, Alphonsus? My love for you is greater than any love you could have for me. The distance between heaven and earth is not so great as the distance between your love and mine.”
Saint Bonaventure then was right in exclaiming: “Blessed are the hearts that love Mary! Blessed are those who serve her!” Yes, for Mary will never allow herself to be surpassed in love by her clients. “In this contest, she will never be worsted by us. She returns our love and always adds some new favors to past ones.” In this respect Mary imitates our most loving Redeemer. She returns to those who love her their love doubled and redoubled in favors and benefits.
With Saint Anselm, so enamored of Mary, I also exclaim: “May the love of you, O Mary, make my heart languish and my soul melt!” May my heart always burn and my soul be consumed with love for you, my dear Savior, and for you, my dear Mother Mary. Through your merits, therefore, and not because I deserve it, grant my suppliant soul a love that is worthy of you. Therefore, through your merits and not my own, O Jesus and Mary, grant my soul the grace to love you as much as you deserve. O lover of souls, you were able to love guilty men unto death. Will you then refuse love for yourself and for your mother to one who prays for it?