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The Blessed Virgin Mary

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


FOUR thousand years had elapsed since the fall of our first parents, and the promise of a Saviour was about to be fulfilled. And as the dawn precedes the day, so Mary, the mother of the Saviour, preceded the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and her Son.

At that time there lived at Nazareth, in Galilee, a pious married couple, Joachim and Anne. Although they passed blameless and holy lives, they had a heavy cross to bear, in the rejection by God for twenty years of their ardent supplications to be blessed with children. Who can conceive the anxiety of this holy couple, who count the tears they shed, the sighs they breathed before the throne of the Giver of all gifts? For we must remember that in their day it was considered by all to be the greatest disgrace for married people to be childless. Anne therefore humbled herself like her namesake, the mother of Samuel the prophet, who had also bewailed her barrenness before the Lord with bitter tears, and sighed for relief from the disgrace of sterility. The memory of the mother of Samuel and of her trials had a soothing influence on both St. Joachim and St. Anne. "Let us," said the latter, " like the mother of Samuel, go up to the Temple and pray before the face of the Lord. Who knows but He will be pleased to hear our supplications."

With renewed confidence, Joachim, at the suggestion of his spouse, accompanied her to Jerusalem. But, alas! here they were to meet with a severe trial. Just as Joachim was approaching the Temple, one of the chief priests came toward him with a look of reproof and con-tempt, and rebuked him severely, saying: "How canst thou presume, childless and undeserving man as thou art, to offer sacrifice to God? Depart immediately, lest thy sacrifice should bring down God's wrath ' upon thy head." Put to shame before all the people, Joachim withdrew quietly, without a murmur of complaint, and when alone burst into a flood of tears; then, completely overpowered by grief and mortification, arose, and crossing over Mount Olivet, by way of Bethania, retired into the desert to his flocks and herds, where he remained five months in prayer and fasting. During this time Anne remained in sorrow at home, where she was compelled to listen to the aspersions of her maid-servant concerning her childlessness. But at last the sacrifice of their humble and afflicted hearts was found perfect: the Almighty was pleased to send an angel to His sorrowful servants with words of comfort, and they saw the hour when they had cause to sing of God's infinite mercy and compassion.

Whilst Joachim was in the desert near Mount Hermon, praying to God, and while Anne, at home in Nazareth, was pleading before the throne of Heaven for deliverance from her reproach, the prayers of both were heard. Suddenly au angel of the Lord stood before Anne, and ad-dressing her said: "Your tears and prayers have been laid at the feet of the Most High, as well as the supplications of your husband Joachim, and God has sent me to comfort you. And this is the message that I bring: To-morrow, at break of day, arise and go to Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice in the Temple. There you will meet your husband, for he has received a similar message and will be in the Temple. You will see him at the golden gate, and your sacrifice will be accepted. You must understand that your sterility had been decreed by God, in order that the world might know that your child is a gift from God. For it will come to pass that you shall conceive the blessing of the promise, and will bring forth a holy child destined to be the mother of Him for whom all nations are waiting. You shall name the child as it shall be revealed to you."

A flood of inexpressible joy was thus let in upon the heart of the God-fearing woman; and raising her eyes she found that the angel had vanished, but on the wall opposite stood written in large and shining letters the word MARY.

Everything foretold by the angel came to pass. St. Anne, on reaching the golden gate of the Temple, met her husband, St. Joachim, who, in accordance with his instructions from the angel, had come to the city prepared to offer sacrifice. How happy the meeting after such a painful separation! How full of gratitude their hearts, as they bent their steps together toward their now bright and happy home at Nazareth, discoursing about the goodness of God!

In the course of time St. Anne gave birth to a daughter, whom she called Mary, as the angel had commanded. This child, destined from all eternity to become the mother of the Son of God, was, in view of His merits, preserved from the stain of original sin from the very first instant of her conception. Thus was verified the ancient promise : " She shall crush thy head " (Gen. iii. i5), spoken by God in paradise to the devil, who appeared in the shape of a serpent, and induced our first parents to commit sin. Mary, by escaping the taint thus brought upon the whole human race, being conceived immaculate, trampled Satan and sin under foot. She crushed the devil's haughty head.

On what day did this great event Mary's birth occur? An ancient legend informs us that there was once a holy and aged hermit, a devout servant of the Blessed Virgin, who used to hear on a certain day of each year, on the 8th of September, the most delicious strains of music floating through the air. So thrilling and sweet were the tones that he felt they must be the voices of angels, the melodies of a heavenly choir. Having besought his guardian angel to tell him the meaning of these joyful strains, he was given to under-stand that on that day Mary, the glorious Queen of heaven, was born on earth; that therefore the angels and saints united in chanting the praises of the Blessed Virgin in memory of the event; and that tones of triumphant music resounded through the spacious dome of heaven in order to render homage and honor to her who had been raised above the angels and archangels, and beyond the cherubim and seraphim.

Tradition teaches us that on the night of Mary's birth the apartment of St. Anne was illumined with a dazzling light of such power and brilliancy, that the attendants became alarmed and feared to open their eyes to look upon the favored mother and her blessed infant; whilst angel voices in joyful tones saluted the aurora of the coming King of day, the future mother of the Redeemer. When the attendants of St. Anne had recovered from their amazement, they greeted the child, and summoned the happy father, St. Joachim. Oh, what an ecstasy of de-light! With trembling hands he receives his daughter, presents her first to God, then presses her to his bosom, and with tears of humble gratitude impresses a fervent kiss upon her sacred lips.

At an early age Mary was taken to the Temple, there to be educated with other young Jewish maidens. Obedient to a divine inspiration, she vowed herself there to God as a virgin. Yet, according to Jewish law and custom, she was espoused and promised to a man named Joseph, of her own tribe and family.

After her return from the Temple, when one day kneeling in prayer in her chamber, behold she saw, under a human form, Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, appear to her. The angel said to her: "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women!" When she saw him, and heard his words, she "was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke i. 29-33.)

Mary then understood that he spoke of the expected Saviour. Whatever fear she had speedily passed before the soothing words of her heavenly visitor, and she simply asked : " How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (Ibid. 34.) "And the angel answering said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Ibid. 35.) And the angel gave her a sign : " Behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also bath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren; because no word shall be impossible with God." (Ibid. 36-37.)

Mary's answer is the ideal of dignified humility and meek and reverent innocence : "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word." (Ibid. 3$.) "And the angel departed from her."

What best to do in a position so mysterious may well have troubled Mary's heart. The angel had told her that her relative Elizabeth had also been favored of God, and she now determined to go to her kinswoman. Elizabeth dwelt with her husband, the priest Zachary, in the mountains of Judea, in a village called Karem, now Mn Karim. What were the thoughts of Mary in her solitary journey, with such a secret in her heart? She probably went on foot, for it was the custom of her people, and, moreover, she was poor. Her meeting with Elizabeth was naturally marked with deep emotion. It is told at length by St. Luke:

" And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb: and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished, that were spoken to thee by the Lord." (Luke i. 41-45.)

Greeted by Elizabeth as the mother of her Lord, Mary gives word to her sentiments in that inspired canticle of joy : " My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit bath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He that is mighty bath done great things to me: and holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him. He bath showed might in His arm; He bath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He bath sent away empty. He bath received Israel His servant, being mindful of his mercy. He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever." (Luke i. 46-55.)

The abode of Mary at Karem, in the house of Zachary, lasted for three months. It was one long prayer, one uninterrupted confidence in and adoration of the designs of God, and the religious expectation of their fulfilment. After the quiet days with Elizabeth, a trial awaited her. The signs of her condition were evident. It was not clear how God would preserve her virginal honor before men, and in the eyes of her spouse. Although this thought must have occurred to Mary, that which would have been anguish to an ordinary soul could not trouble the serenity of her who had said: " Behold the hand-maid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word."

Meanwhile Joseph, who had not been told the mystery of the secret which Mary kept in her reserved humility, saw her state. Appearances seemed to indicate that she was unfaithful, but respect for her virtue forbade suspicion. Unable to guess the impenetrable designs of God, he hesitated. Then he resolved on a course which seemed to him the best way out of the difficulty: he made up his mind to put her away privately. In the midst of his doubt and anguish, at the moment when he was about to do what he believed to be right, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in his sleep, saying:

" Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife : for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. i. 20-22.) Joseph awoke and rose, and without hesitation obeyed the word of God. Apart from Mary and him no one suspected that their marriage was intended to prepare the cradle of the Messias, and to give Him and His mother the support of a man who should be, according to the law, the husband of the one and the father of the other. Joseph and Mary lived as brother and sister, according to the discreet but explicit expression of the gospel: " And he knew her not." (Matt. i. 25.)

It is interesting to know how ancient tradition describes Mary. She was in all things serious and earnest, we are told, spoke little, and only that which was to the purpose; she was very gentle, and showed respect and honor to all. She was of medium height, though some say she was rather above it. She spoke to all with prudent frankness, soberly, without confusion, and always pleasantly. She had a fair complexion, blonde hair, and bright hazel eyes. Her eyebrows were arched and dark, her nose well proportioned, her lips ruddy, and full of kindness when she spoke. Her face was long rather than round, and her hands and. fingers were finely shaped. She had no pride, hit was simple, and wholly free from deceit. Without being prudish, she was far from forward. In her clothes,-which she made herself, she was content with simple, natural colors.

Joseph understood his relation to Mary and her expected child. He felt himself the guardian of her virginity, and of the childhood of Him who should be born of her. Noble and gentle, this simple workman was to have the glory of passing among men as the father of Jesus. He was to remain a model of self-denial, devotion, and fidelity. His name was to be united forever to the two most beloved names on earth those of Jesus and Mary.

We praise and adore Thee, O divine Providence, for the admirable wisdom with which Thou bringest about. Thy designs, and leadest Thy elect to their proper destiny. Many things often appear to us as forever hidden in impenetrable mystery, and to be opposed to our intelligence, but in the lives of Thy saints we discover a guarantee that Thy fatherly kindness and divine wisdom guide to their best interests those who love Thee. Oh, let this beautiful and comforting faith become practical in our case, when Thou demandest hard and great sacrifices from us, and Thy hand doth strike us harshly in the dark hour of trial and affliction.

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