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.
"I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired, and his fruit was sweet to my palate: he brought me into the cellar of wine." (Cant, ii, 3, 4.)
THERE is not for us, in this life, an action nobler or holier than prayer. By prayer we lift up our soul toward God and enter into communication with Him, with the object of paying our homage to His Divine Majesty, of rendering to Him the worship which is His due, thanking Him for His countless benefits, imploring pardon for our sins, and in fine asking of Him those spiritual and temporal favors of which we stand in need.
In truth, one can imagine nothing more excellent than prayer. It was taught us by our divine Saviour Himself: for we read of Him that He was wont to retire alone to the mountain to pray, and that He had spent whole nights in prayer. (Luke, vi, 12.) Most of all was this so, when the time of His bitter passion was approaching, when, as we read in St. Luke's Gospel, "He prayed the longer." (Luke, xxii, 48.)
Not content with getting us the example of prayer, Onr Lord deigned also to teach us its excellence, delivering to us a formula which contains in brief all that we need ask for our spiritual and temporal welfare. This is the Lord's Prayer, indeed the best of all prayers.
O my soul, thank thy Creator for having given thee, in prayer, so efficacious a means of obtaining all thou requirest, and ask of Him the grace never to neglect so holy and helpful a practice.
After Jesus Christ, no saint taught us by his example the excellence of prayer as well as the Virgin Mary, for we may truly say that her life was an uninterrupted prayer. Where can we find words to express the fervent aspirations of her heart, when, as yet a little child, she sighed for the coming of the Messias, saying with David: "Arise, O my glory, arise, psaltery and harp!" (Ps. lxi, 9.) One may even say that Mary, by the ardor of her desires, hastened the coming of the Redeemer.
But it was especially when the Word was made flesh in her womb, that the life of the Mother of God became one constant and ardent prayer, which continued, almost unbroken, until her soul, in an ecstasy of love, burst the bonds of the fleshy and left her sacred body, to go and join her Well-Beloved in the transport of the beatific vision.
And now that Mary is united to God in glory, she does not forego her intercession for her faithful servants, who are fighting here below in the midst of all manner of dangers: together with her Son, who is "always living to make intercession for us," (Heb. vii, 25.) the Holy Virgin offers to the Eternal Father her prayers and supplications. Is it then to be wondered at, if Mary sometimes deigns to appear to her faithful servants in the attitude of prayer, thus manifesting her wish that the faithful should, as often as possible, follow her example in the use of this powerful means of sanctification?
Of all forms of prayer, the recitation of the Rosary is the easiest and, at the same time, the most efficacious. It is the cry of the child which will not leave off calling on its mother until it has obtained what it wants; it is the humble voice of the poor man, who will not leave the gate of the wealthy, until he has received a liberal alms.
To pray is good; but we must pray aright, if we would obtain the fruit of our prayers.
Our wants are indeed numberless, and consequently numberless are also the favors we may ask of God. Nevertheless, we should ask above all else for spiritual gifts; as regards temporal things we may likewise pray to Our Lord for them, but only in #o far as they help us to the possession of divine grace.
We may also pray for our neighbor; though with this difference, that when we pray for ourselves we are sure to be heard, while we have not the same certainty as regards our prayers for others.
Finally, our prayer, to obtain its effect, must be accompanied by faith, humility, confidence and perseverance. "We ought always to pray and not to faint," (Luke, xviii, 1.) says Our Lord.
Example - The conversion of a dying sinner
When St. Vincent Ferrer heard of this, he went to the bed of the dying man and tried to move him to repentance by encouraging him to hope in the divine mercy. He reminded him that Jesus Christ died for each one of us and that He, as a merciful father, receives the prodigal son into His arms; that He pardoned Zachaeus, Mary Magdalen and the Good Thief on His cross, and that even if his sins were as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea-shore, the mercy of God would never be overcome, because it is infinite and eternal.
Such words, which would have sufficed to soften the hardest of hearts, only moved this wretched sinner to further blasphemies. He gnashed his teeth, protesting that he would not seek pardon of Jesus Christ, but would die in his sins in order to displease and offend Him the more. At these words St. Vincent did not lose courage, but enlightened by an inspiration from Heaven he answered: "You must be converted, in order that the infinite mercy of God may shine forth the more in you."
Turning then to the bystanders, he commenced to recite the holy Rosary. And oh, marvellous to say! Mary who, in the words of St. Bernard, is the hope of those who despair, heard the prayer addressed to her on behalf of this unhappy man. The recital of the Rosary had hardly been completed, when that obdurate sinner was changed into another man. In the twinkling of an eye he had become as meek as a lamb, and inviting the Saint to draw near to him, he uttered the sweet Name of Mary. Then, shedding floods of tears, he confessed his sins like the Good Thief on the cross. He received the sacraments and died with every sign of an edifying conversion.
O Mary, most excellent Mistress of the spiritual life, may I learn of thee the right way to pray! Deign O Mother, to intercede for me with thy Divine Son, that I may always grow in faith, humility, confidence and perseverance, that I may reap in joy the fruit of my prayers. Amen.