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.
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"I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon." (Cant, i, 4.)
NEXT to charity, there is no virtue more pleasing to God than Christian humility. This virtue, unknown to the heathen, was taught us by God Himself, when He stooped to become man for love of us. And as though such an abasement were not enough, Our Redeemer also chose to lead a life hidden and despised in the sight of men, to such an extent, that St. Paul says of Him: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross." (Phil, ii, 8.)
By this we may know how dear humility is to God, and why He often makes use of those who are of little account, but are lowly of heart, to perform great things in His Church. "When thou wert a little one in thine own eyes, wert thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel ?" (1 Kings, xv, 17.)
Admire, O my soul, the wisdom of the Most High, whose ways are so different from those of men, and who delights to choose "the foolish things of the world, that He may confound the wise, and the weak things, that He may confound the strong." (1 Cor. i, 27.)
The unexampled dignity to which Mary was raised, may aid us in forming a just idea of the excellence of the virtue of humility, for it was precisely her profound humility, joined with a super-eminent degree of grace and charity, which, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers, made the Blessed Virgin worthy to become the Mother of the Incarnate Word.
The virginity which Mary had vowed to God from infancy, had drawn upon her the loving glance of God: all the same, it was to her humility that she owed her elevation to the dignity of Mother of the Word. "By her virginity Mary was made pleasing to the Lord; by her humility she conceived the Word," says St. Bernard.
And in truth, how the humility of the Mother of God shines forth in the Annunciation! At the Angel's words, the meek Virgin is troubled, and inquires within herself what that salutation may mean. The Angel goes on: "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God; behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb; . . . and He shall be called the Son of the Most High." To these words, by which she came to know her future greatness, the humble Virgin made no other reply but this: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word." (Luke, i, 38.) And throughout her mortal life, Mary never had any other rule of conduct, neither did she ever choose anything else, but the opprobrium of the cross of Christ.
O prodigy of abasement! It is to this that we owe the accomplishment of the great mystery of our Redemption.
The Christian who would desire to please God and grow in sanctity, must endeavor, after Mary's example, to make continual progress in humility, for it is written that "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." (James, iv, 6.) For this he must in the first place acknowledge that all the gifts he may possess, either of nature or of grace, all his prerogatives of birth or social position come from the hand of God. But, in order to preserve ourselves in holy humility, we must freely submit to the dispositions of God in our regard, and be well content with the portion which He has assigned us, not seeking honors or pre-eminence, but on the contrary, receiving with resignation, if not with joy, the humiliations that may befall us.
An attentive perusal of the Holy Scripture will convince us that Mary, during the public life of Jesus, never lost an occasion of sharing in His opprobrium. Let us, then, also choose the cross of Christ and rejoice to be esteemed of little worth by men.
Ask of thy God, O my soul, to shun worldly honors and to receive with perfect submission the humiliations which it may please Him to send thee, remembering the words of the book of Proverbs: "Humility goeth before glory." (Prov. xv, 33.)
Example - Blessed Anthony of Bitetto
The unequaled humility of Our Lady who, when the Angel saluted her as Mother of God, protested herself to be the handmaid of the Lord, has excited in the Church numerous acts of heroic abnegation. A striking example of contempt for worldly honors out of love for Mary, is to be found in the life of Blessed Anthony Gia-comi, Bishop of Bitetto, a small town of Italy which also was his birthplace.
It happened that he once heard a sermon on the wonderful things done by Our Lady at Monte Senario on behalf of her Servants the Seven Holy Founders, who had retired there and whose sons lived wholly dedicated to her service. So ardent was his desire to join this holy Community, that, resigning his bishopric into the hands of the Sovereign Pontiff, he at once sought admission into this new religious family.
His request was granted; and so, in the year 1425, on the very day on which the Church celebrated the birth of the King of glory into this world, Bishop Anthony resigned the episcopal dignity and exchanged his costly robes for the black habit of the Servants of her who, by the death of her only-begotten Son, gave men spiritual birth to the life of grace.
Anthony remained at Monte Senario for about ten years, fulfilling the humblest offices, as if he had been the last Religious of the Monastery. So humble was he, that he betrayed no shadow of his former dignity, and nothing distinguished him from the simple Religious, not only during his novitiate, but also when he was made Superior of the Community.
But such humility did not go unrewarded. Our Lady, who is not to be outdone in generosity, filled him with heavenly favors and deigned to appear to him, ordering him to go to the Bishop of Vicenza, that he might commit the care of the shrine of Monte Berico to the Religious of his Order. The Bishop of Vicenza willingly granted his petition.
Later, Anthony was chosen to found the Congregation of Servites of Mantua, of which he was three times elected Vicar General. In this office he never ceased to promote love for regular observance and devotion to the Queen of heaven. In this and many other ways did Our Lady's Servant, Anthony, give proof of his fidelity in the service of the Divine Mother, for whose sake he had renounced the dignity and the goods he had on earth. 1
PrayerO Mary, the virtue of humility was so excellent in thee, that thy body, like a true house of gold, was deemed worthy to become the habitation of the only-begotten Son of the God of glory. Obtain for me, I beseech thee, that I may despise with all my heart every worldly preferment, and may only sigh after the abjection of my Crucified Jesus. Amen.
1 From the Annals of the Order of the Servants of Mary.