THE FAIREST FLOWER OF PARADISE - CONSIDERATIONS ON THE LITANY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN, ENRICHED WITH EXAMPLES DRAWN FROM THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS BY Very Rev. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O. S. M.
"For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it." (Sap., vii, 29.)
THE revolt of our first parents against the law of God marked for them the beginning of a painful and humiliating conflict of sense against reason, of the flesh against the spirit. This conflict from which no son of Adam is free, requires, on the part of the soul, continual vigilance and generous endeavors to avoid sin: "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh." (Gal. v, 17.)
The concupiscence within us is the cause of numberless venial sins. It may even become, if we do not combat it, the source of deadly falls. Our lot, then, is indeed most pitiable, and St. Paul had reason to exclaim: "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. vii, 24.) But thanks be to God, who has procured for our weakness an unfailing support, for which we must be eternally grateful to Him: this is divine grace, by which we can avoid every mortal fault, and moreover keep ourselves free from venial transgressions, if not for the whole course of our life, at least for lengthy periods. This grace is even so fruitful, that besides the strength it gives us to resist concupiscence, it also furnishes us with a potent means for increasing merit. "God," says St. Paul, "will make also with temptation issue." (l Cor. x, 13.)
Mary, having contracted no stain of original sin, was thereby free from that concupiscence which is its fruit, and which consists in the rebellion of the inferior part of the soul against the superior. She therefore felt in herself no inclination, except for what was comformable to reason and grace. Consequently, she never committed the slightest venial sin, which consists in the rebellion of our unruled passions against the law of reason. Further, by an altogether special privilege, Mary's will was so assisted by the Holy Spirit, that it was never alienated from God by mortal sin. It is therefore the privilege of our Queen to have been exempted from all stain of sin, even the slightest, during the whole course of her mortal career.
Oh, how Jesus delighted in the soul of His Holy Mother! What unutterable sweetness He experienced in her! With what transports of love He would say to her: "Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair." (Cant, i, 14.) "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee." (Cant, iv, 7.) "Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely." (Cant,vi, 8)
Be thou praised and thanked, O Lord, for having given to Thy Son Jesus Christ, a Mother so pure and holy, whose converse was for Him a never-failing source of consolation in the sorrows and pains of His mortal life, and an ample compensation for man's ingratitude.
Mary's sinlessness during her mortal life differs from the impeccability of the saints in heaven. These, by reason of the vision of the Divine Essence, which they behold face to face, are incapable of sin: whilst Mary, who was not in possession of the beatific vision, absolutely speaking, might have fallen from divine grace. But she had this advantage over the Blessed in heaven, that her sinlessness did not prevent her from acquiring merits, whilst the saints in heaven can no longer do so.
Indeed, though Mary did not feel, as we do, the temptations of the flesh, nor experience the difficulties which we encounter in performing acts of virtue, nevertheless, her merits went on continually increasing to an inconceivable extent during her whole mortal life. Merit is increased in proportion to the ardor of the will, and Mary's will was ever prompt to execute the commands of God, howsoever difficult they might be. The Holy Mother of God being without shadow of sin, and being in all her actions prompted by the most fervent charity, was able, as theology teaches, to merit for man de oongruo all that Jesus Christ, by His passion and death, merited for us de condigno.
Example - St. Juliana Falconieri
One of those souls who applied themselves especially to imitate the spotless purity of the Mother of God, was without doubt the illustrious Foundress of the Mantellate Sisters of the Servants of Mary, St. Juliana, a descendant of the powerful Falconieri family of Florence, born in the second half of the thirteenth century.
During her childhood, her whole personality breathed forth such candor and modesty, that her uncle St. Alexis, one of the Seven Holy Founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary, used to say to her mother that she had given birth to an angel rather than to a child. So great was her horror of sin, that at its bare mention she trembled from head to foot, and one day when she heard tell of some offense against God, she fell down in a swoon.
When only fourteen, she made a vow of perpetual virginity before the miraculous picture of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence. In order to keep herself always pure and spotless, she afflicted her body with disciplines and hair-shirts, so much so, that these latter became embedded in her flesh. Such virtues could not but arouse the hatred of the infernal enemy, who attacked her with all manner of fierce temptations, but the holy servant of Mary used to repeat: "My Jesus, cast me into hell, but do not permit me to offend Thee!"
So great was the sanctity of Juliana, that, as we read in the Bull of her Canonization, she did not commit any deliberate venial sin throughout her whole life. The secret of such holiness is to be found in her ardent devotion to the sorrows of Mary. Every day she recited a thousand Hail Marys before Our Lady's altar. From this devotion there grew in her heart a deep love for Jesus Crucified. She was wont to exclaim: "Let no one ever take away from me my Loved One Crucified."
No doubt it was owing to this great devotion, that Juliana merited the singular grace which crowned her life. In her last extremity, she desired to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but not being able to do this on account of an excessive weakness caused by fasting, she begged the priest at least to place the Sacred Host on a linen cloth over her heart. Her wish was complied with, and lo! as soon as the Sacred Host was placed near to that furnace of divine love, It disappeared and Juliana gave up her soul into the hands of her Lord, exclaiming: "O my Jesus!" This remarkable death took place on the nineteenth of June, 1341.
O Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer, Immaculate Virgin, temple of God, and sanctuary of the Holy Ghost, thou art the sole creature who in such a manner wast pleasing to Jesus Christ, that He associated thee in the work of our ransom. Grant me, I beseech thee, to flee sin, and never to seek anything but the good pleasure of God. Amen.