Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
"Let us love one another, for charity is of God." —I. St. John iv. 7.
"Mary, rising up in those days," says the Evangelist St. Luke, " went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judea. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth."
What powerful reason, what important business thus draws Mary from her retirement? The house of Nazareth had become still more dear to her, since God had deigned to come down to it. Possessing in herself Him who was at once her God and her Son, her mind and heart absorbed in the contemplation of so great a mystery, she loved better than ever to remain in solitude, thanking with all the powers of her soul the God upon whom she had so often called in her youth, and who had vouchsafed to choose her to bring salvation to the world. How comes it, then, that she goes forth to-day ?
When the angel announced to Mary the mystery which was about to be accomplished in her, he spoke these words to her, " And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren." Mary remembered these words, and her generous heart, so humble amid her own joy, rejoiced at the blessing accorded by the Lord to her kinswoman. She rose up, therefore, and went with haste into the hill country, where Elizabeth lived.
Who, then, was this Elizabeth, and who was Zachary, whose house was deemed pure enough to receive the Mother of the thrice holy God ? Let us again open the Gospel of St Luke. (i. 5-25.) " There was, in the days of Herod the King of Judea, a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth. And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly-office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord, and all the multitude of the people was praying without at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary, seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him; but the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John; and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his . mother's womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people. And Zachary said to the angel: Whereby shall I know this ? for I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. And the angel, answering, said to him: I am Gabriel, who stand before God; and am sent to speak to thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. And behold, thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time. And the people was waiting for Zachary; and they wondered that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out he could not speak to them, and they understood that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he made signs to them, and remained dumb. And it came to pass after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months, saying: Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein He hath had regard to take away my reproach among men."
Such, then, were the righteous people whom Mary went to visit. The angel Gabriel had solemnly announced to her the miracle by which God had bestowed a son upon their old age, and had even given this to her as a sign and proof of the miracle of the Incarnation. And now, as soon as the Divine Word had become Incarnate in her womb, she hastened towards the dwelling of Elizabeth, that the Mother of Jesus might visit the mother of St. John the Baptist. The birth of this child was to come before the birth of the Infant God, because it was he who was one day to bear the glorious name of the Forerunner of Christ ; it was he of whom the prophet said, " A voice of one crying in the wilderness : Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths." He was to be the first to believe in Jesus Christ, the first to suffer and to die for Him. These mysteries, however, were as yet hidden from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to fulfil the Divine purposes she had only to follow that generous instinct, so powerful in her soul, so powerful still in all holy souls, the instinct of charity. Do we well understand all that this word means ?
It gathers into one all holy affections, all sacrifices. It is that most excellent of all virtues, without which, St. Paul says, even one who should have all other virtues would "become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, making the sound of virtue without having the foundation. "Dearly beloved," says the great Evangelist St. John to his disciples, "let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is charity .....
God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him." (I St. John iv. 7, 8,16.) Thus we see that those souls who are most united to God through sanctity, are also most united to men through charity. Those who love God above all things, love their neighbour as themselves for the love of God. All the holy affections of earth come from heaven. They are reflected in a pure soul as we see the stars which shine in the skies reflected in a transparent piece of water by our side; and as these bright stars have but one Creator, so all these pure affections which shine in our souls have hut one centre, God, Who is pure love, "Who is Charity. In Him are united holy family affections, pious friendships, generous sacrifices, brotherly feelings towards all men, as being, like ourselves, God's children, compassion for their sufferings, and sympathy with their joys. Mary is the most holy of creatures. How easy it is to shew that she was also the most charitable 1 How often in her holy life do we see charity in every shape ! Let us first seek it in this painful journey undertaken to visit her cousin St. Elizabeth.
Sometimes we make to ourselves a stern and gloomy picture of our holy religion, we fear God more than we love Him, and, like little children who call upon their mother when they suffer, we stretch out our hands, with tears in our eyes, to our Mother who is in heaven. But why should we consecrate to her our sorrowful days alone? Has she no smiles for our joys as well as comfort for our griefs ? See how she leaves her beloved solitude: she rose up and went with haste. Her cousin is happy. The Lord has delivered her from the reproach she had suffered among men. Mary, the child given to St. Anne in her old age understands the joy of Elizabeth : she hastens to her aged kinswoman; she comes to rejoice with her, to offer her services, to add to her joy the blessing of her own friendship.
Some pious authors have thought that gratitude was joined to Mary's love for her friend, and that Zachary was one of the priests who had taught her as a child in the temple, had protected her youth, and had chosen her spouse. Gratitude is one of the forms of charity, for charity means affection, and what is more just than to love those who have done us good? See how prompt and devoted is the gratitude of Mary's generous heart, the sanctuary of all love!
"The Blessed Virgin left Nazareth," says St. Bonaventure; " the difficulty and length of the road did not delay her. She hastens because she does not wish to expose herself too long to notice. Consider how the Queen of Heaven travels: on foot, alone with her spouse, without means of conveyance. She is not surrounded by a retinue of courtiers and guards, she is not accompanied by a number of ladies of honour, or servants. She is escorted by poverty, by humility, and by the honourable assemblage of all virtues. Her Lord is also with her, attended by a numerous escort of honour, very different from the vain pomp of this world."
What a wonderful train attends this lowly maiden, walking over the rough mountain path, leaning on the arm of the humble Joseph 1 O wonderful train, which God has put within the reach of each one of His children! There are times in life when we feel ourselves to be very poor, very unhappy, and very much abandoned. Let us then think of the train that waited on Mary. Is holy poverty of spirit and heart our companion ? Are our steps followed by humility, purity, and the noble company of all virtues? If our conscience can render us this testimony, let us raise our heads and take courage. Listen once more to what St. Bonaventure says: "The Lord is with her, bringing with Him all graces and all blessings." Courage, then, and if we can say with truth that we seek them, we may be sure that God Himself is with us, and may continue to walk on with confidence.
Let us remember, above all, that this train of honour accompanies us every time that, following Mary's footsteps, we go to perform a mission of charity. I have just said that we find this virtue in many different shapes in the life of our holy Mother. In ours also it ought to be found under the most different forms; what is necessary is, that in one way or another it should be everywhere. Let us practice in our families, let us carry out into the world, this devoted affection, this sympathetic consoling ministering friendship, of which the Blessed Virgin sets us the example, in setting off without delay as soon as St. Elizabeth had need of her; this reverence for age, from which she does not think herself exempted by her dignity of Mother of God, this gratitude for past services which calls her to the side of the protectors of her youth. What blessings would be found at the domestic hearth, what ease in all human relations, what softening of painful jars, if charity was always present, like oil to a wheel, making it turn quickly, noiselessly, and with ease. The reason that it is so often wanting in family life and in society is, that even good people know and understand it not. For instance, it is confounded with alms-deeds, which is, in truth, hut one of its forms. People say, "I cannot afford to give in charity." This is rarely the case, hut grant that it is so, does this prevent the practice of charity? Would God, Who has so many times said that poverty is holy, have put the most beautiful of the virtues out of the reach of the poor? It would be a kind of blasphemy to say so. Charity is more in the heart than in the purse. The rich can and ought to be charitable to the poor. The poor also can and ought to be charitable to the rich, like Mary, the spouse of the poor carpenter Joseph, to her cousin, the wife of Zachary. The great secret is to love, whoever we may be, our brethren, whoever they may be. Love your equals, you will make them happier and better, for charity is infectious, and your example will teach them. If they are happy, rejoice with them without inquiring whether their happiness is greater than yours. If they are unhappy, dry their tears as you would wish them to dry yours. If they are poorer than you are, seek in your hearts the means of helping them, and you will find it; if you are the poorest, suffer without bitterness in charity with your brethren, and, above all, with Jesus Christ, Who has suffered so much for you, and you will find a treasure in your misery.
Have charity in your hearts, and you will practice charity. Our business is to love: God will take care of the rest, and will never let a sincere good will lie useless. We are the children of a God who is charity itself, and we know in what manner He has proved it to the world. To save the wretches whom His justice had condemned, he became man and died. This is an act of charity worthy of our God. He continues this work of our salvation every day by supporting, directing and pardoning us; and if, contemplating such miracles, we fall prostrate on the earth, crying out that we should never be able to imitate such high charity, here is the gentle Virgin Mary showing us, as in a spotless mirror, the charity which comes from God, and throwing her humility like a veil over His dazzling light.
She shews us divine charity applied to human things which we can imitate, whether it be in this touching history of the visitation, or in her life at Nazareth, poor amongst the poor, or at Cana of Galilee, when her intercession obtains the first miracle from her Son, until this charity, doubling in strength as she pours it out upon all around, at last ascends Mount Calvary, where the Mother of the Saviour of the world unites herself to God in offering her Son for the salvation of man.
All sacrifices, I repeat once more, come from the same source. The charity of God is the inextinguishable flame at which are en-kindled all those which have enlightened, warmed, and vivified the world, from the charity of the Blessed Virgin, of the martyrs and heroes of the Gospel, down to that of every holy soul who, in the humility of an obscure life, loves God with all his strength, and his neighbour for the love of Him. The merit of a work consists, not in the splendour it sheds around, nor in the noise it makes, but in the love which inspires it; and there are actions, very humble and mean in the sight of man, which, at the day of judgment we shall see placed by the side of the noblest and most holy, because they will have contributed, by the charily which inspired them, and by the charily which they will have left in a suffering heart, to the great work of God, the salvation of souls.
Let it, therefore, never be said, that charity is only possible to those of our brethren to whom God has given the material means of alms-giving. They would do but little good if they did not give, with their money, their time, their intelligence, their sacrifices, and their affection. This is the vital principle of alms-deeds, and in order to make fruitful any money which is given, it must come from charitable hands. Do we not all, even the poorest amongst us, possess that which constitutes the virtue, and, so to speak, the soul of alms-deeds, namely, intelligence, affection, and self-sacrifice ? We may not have much time, but if we never waste it, we shall have enough to comfort the poor, our relations, friends, and brethren. Those who have little, let them give little, so that they give willingly. There are lines when a smile, a sympathising word, or a friendly counsel, are better alms than money, which may not be in our power to give. Sometimes, even charity multiplies the loaves, as Jesus did of old. Our meal will not be greatly diminished, because the orphan has shared it with our children.
Mary and Joseph were as poor as the poorest among us, yet no doubt the village of Nazareth was filled with their acts of kindness. Can we imagine anything more pleasant for a poor sick person than to see at his bedside the sympathizing face of Mary, or to hear her sweet voice speaking of heaven? Let us picture to ourselves our Divine Mother nursing the aged and little children, mending their poor garments with her own hands, comforting the sorrowful, having a kind word for each, and making more holy all who look upon her; and St. Joseph, so venerable and gentle, encouraging virtue by his example, and exhorting to the practice of it by his counsel. No one ever approached the house at Nazareth without carrying away a richer alms than if he had visited the palace of a king.
"What Joseph and Mary did at Nazareth we can all do. Happy, a thousand times happy is the village in which charity reigns, in which it is practised in different forms by high and low, the same love being in the hearts of all, in which its influence banishes bitter words, jealousies, and angry feelings, where true brotherhood prevails, where evil is put to shame and good encouraged, and of which may be said with truth what was formerly said by the pagans of the first disciples of Jesus Christ: " It is a people of brothers." We have hitherto spoken of the charity of the Blessed Virgin during her earthly life, but we cannot fail to remember with joy that the reign of charity still lasts. The Mother of our Redeemer, like Himself, is now more full of charity than ever before. Still does she practise among us those ministries of charity to which she was always so much devoted. She visits us as of old, sympathetic in joy and helpful in sorrow or want. When we are abandoned she shews us her love, when we toil she helps us, when we are sick she comes to our bedside, and whispers holy words to our hearts. When we are gathered round her feet in her chapel she is in the midst of us, and offers to her Divine Son every holy motion of our hearts. Mary comes to visit us, let us, therefore, be always ready to receive her. Let there be nothing m our dwellings or in our souls to offend her eyes, and that our holy Mother may be pleased with us, let us love and practise charity, of which, after her Divine Son, she is the most perfect model.
O Mary, whom the Church calls the House of Gold, the sanctuary of charity, obtain for us this holy charity, that it may at once soothe and rouse our souls, that it may make us gentle to our brethren, and may excite us to devote ourselves to serve them for the love of God. Make us feel deeply both their joys and their troubles, that we may go to them as thou didst go to St. Elizabeth, and that we may know, like thee, how to cheer and console them. O Mother of Mercy, bring often to our memory thy holy and generous poverty, that we may know the source of true charity, and may love others as we wish to be loved.
Often to think of the Blessed Virgin comforting the poor at Nazareth, and visiting her cousin, to rejoice with her, and to nurse her in her sufferings. Every time a work of charity presents itself, to ask ourselves, what would Mary have done?