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 the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty, and the image of His goodness" (Wisd. vii, 26.)
AS WE come to the knowledge of natural truth by the intellectual power of our soul, so the Holy Ghost imparts to us, by the gift of understanding, a kind of comprehension and penetration, though imperfect, of the mysteries of the supernatural life. This gift differs from the virtue of faith. By faith we firmly adhere to the truths of revelation, without comprehending them; the gift of understanding, on the other hand, imparts to us a kind of intellectual comprehension of these same truths, as far as our present condition will permit.
It does not belong to the gift of understanding to enlighten us as to those truths which do not concern our salvation. God in His wisdom sometimes keeps these things hidden from us, to preserve our souls in humility. But as regards the truths of our holy Faith, the gift of understanding gives us a sort of intuition, whereby the mysteries of the kingdom of God appear to us in all their beauty. It partially raises the veil which envelops the Inspired Writings, opening up to us an insight into the sublime truths of revelation. It is thus that Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, gave to His apostles the intelligence of the Sacred Scriptures: "Then He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." (Luke, xxiv, 45.)
Let us praise and thank the Spirit of God for deigning to become our soul's instructor, granting us an intelligence of those truths which have reference to the life of the soul, as it is written : "They shall all be taught of God." (John, vi, 45.)
The Holy Spirit having been pleased to choose Mary for His well-beloved Spouse, He also adorned her with the precious gift of understanding, in order that, enlightened as she was by faith touching the mysteries of the spiritual life, she might further receive an ever-increasing illumination. Thus did He introduce her more and more into the knowledge of supernatural truths, and especially into the mystery of the Incarnation, wherein she herself was to play so conspicuous a part.
That extraordinary light broke in more wonderfully on Mary's soul, at the moment when, having given her consent to the accomplishment of this mystery, she merited to conceive in her womb the Word of God. She then clearly saw the vastness of the divine plan and the final end of the Incarnation, as we gather from the noble and exalted words with which she replied to the salutation of her cousin Elizabeth.
Later on, when the day of the Presentation in the Temple arrived, and the holy old man Simeon, taking in his arms the Divine Child, announced to Mary that a sword of sorrow would pierce her own immaculate heart, the Mother of God comprehended, in one glance, as far as a creature could do so, the whole scheme of the Redemption. She thoroughly realized that if Jesus was to be the butt of contradiction, she too must suffer with Him for the ransom of the human race, and must drain with Him the cup of bitterness. Prom that time forward, Mary had no other sentiment but the sentiment of Jesus Christ Himself, according to the words of St. Paul (Cor. ii, 16): "But we have a sense of Christ."
If we come to consider the abyss of imprudence and thoughtlessness into which they fall who are deprived of faith and have no guide but the spirit of darkness, we shall easily perceive how necessary the gift of understanding is for the individual as well as for society at large. In fact, what are the wicked about, unless it be to rush headlong to ruin? "They are a nation without counsel, and without wisdom. Oh, that they would be wise, and would understand, and would provide for their last end!" (Deut. xxxii, 28, 29.)
Unfortunately, how many Christians do we see nowadays, in whom the gift of understanding is lacking, if not in substance, at least, as regards its effects! They possess but a confused, barren and indifferent apprehension of revealed truth. Their faith is so weak, that the flimsiest sophisms, woven by the spirit of falsehood, are enough to shake and sometimes to overturn their belief. Consequently, these nominal Christians see nothing in the opprobrium of the cross but shame and folly, and the persecutions to which the Church is subjected are to them a stumbling-block.
Example - St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas, justly called the Angel of the Schools or the Angelic Doctor, gave great promise from his earliest years of a remarkable devotion toward our blessed Lady. He was still being carried in the arms of his nurse, when one day, holding in his hand a card on which was written the Angelical Salutation, he clasped it lovingly to his breast. When his mother took it from him by force, Thomas would not keep quiet until it was restored to him, and then placing it in his mouth he swallowed it. Such were the tokens of his future devotion to our blessed Lady, which indeed was to become, as it were, a burning fire in the heart of the Saint.
While still a youth, he was received into the Order of the Friars Preachers. But his worldly brothers, dissatisfied with his decision, immediately began to persecute him, trying by every means in their power to withdraw him from his holy purpose. They confined him in a tower and strove to make him fall into grievous sin. They felt that thus Thomas would quickly lose his religious vocation. But the Saintly youth exclaimed: "My Jesus and thou, most holy Virgin, Mother of my Saviour, permit me not to be a prey to sin." And thus he obtained, through the intercession of Mary, a singular victory over the world and its concupiscence. He then cast himself on his knees and with tears in his eyes gave thanks to God, who had helped him to triumph over his enemies. While he was praying, he was rapt in ecstasy, and beheld an angel descending from heaven and placing a girdle about his loins.
Throughout his whole life Thomas was no longer subject to any motion of concupiscence. He could raise his mind unhampered to the contemplation of heavenly things. Moreover, he acquired a knowledge of theology which he possessed in an eminent degree and which merited for him the title of "Doctor of the Church." And for all this he was greatly indebted to his devotion to our blessed Lady.
O Mary, whose intellect was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to comprehend more clearly than the angels the mysteries of the kingdom of God, obtain for me, I beseech thee, from the same Spirit, an increase of the gift of understanding, and grant that not only my reason may be illumined to understand supernatural truths, but also that my heart may be ready to accomplish in all things the will of thy Son. Amen.