By Very Rev. C.J. O'Connell, 1914
When sin entered the world, such a blight rested upon it, that God communed no longer with man as He was wont to do. There was no fit refuge for him. All was darksome. Gloom brooded over the habitation the Creator was accustomed to visit before its defilement. In his transgression man closed his heart against his God, who could find no delight in a place defiled by sin, where He once loved to dwell.
For four thousand years, tears and lamentations marked man's pathway on earth. Deprived of God's presence, all was sorrow, and darkness covered the face of the earth. From time to time some slight hope entered into the heart of man, when, through the rifts in the clouds that overspread the world, a faint light from Heaven would come to him. At last the day dawned. From His throne, the Almighty beheld a refuge in the person of an humble virgin, where He could find once more an abode among men. He would descend in the person of His Divine Son into that refuge in which He took delight, become one of us and repair the wrong done by Adam, father of the human race. No stain of any kind could exist where He chose to find shelter. Whilst He had taken upon Himself the sins of all men, He could not associate with iniquity or seek a refuge where sin was ever known. He is one with His Heavenly Father, who is eternal holiness, to whom the very shadow of sin is repulsive.
In Mary, however, Mary full of grace, Mary most pure, most chaste, Mary immaculate, He found a suitable refuge, where He could enter without umbrage to His infinite majesty and sanctity. Midst the lilies of Mary's virginal womb the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. No sooner was Jesus the Saviour born of Mary, than the angels of God announced the glad tidings to man in the person of the shepherds out in the field tending their flocks, and bade them to go and find their Lord and God in the manger at Bethlehem. "And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in the manger. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them" (Luke II. 16-20).
Protection and salvation had come to them through Mary, and they rejoiced with exceeding great joy that their Redeemer had found a refuge where He was free from the winds and gales of sin. The Magi, wise men from the East saw His star in the heavens and journeyed to Jerusalem to find Him, but no trace of Him could be found in that far-famed city. It was only when they reached the stable at Bethlehem that they found Him through Mary. "They found the Child with Mary, His Mother, and falling down they adored Him" (Matt. II. 4). The lowly and the great find Jesus through Mary, His only secure refuge.
Man had sinned in Adam, but he sighed for the promised Redeemer who came to him under the shelter of His Virgin Mother Mary. Only those who sought Him through Mary were blessed in finding Him, while all who looked for Him not in that secure refuge were left to their wicked pernicious ways. All men need Jesus and must seek Him, for all have sinned in their first parents. Those who have strayed further away from God by sin, require all the more the saving merits of the Redeemer to be cleansed of their iniquities and be restored to His grace and friendship.
The order of things established by Divine Providence has not changed. Hence, to avoid shipwreck on the boisterous sea of life, we must turn toward the star of the sea and direct our frail bark toward that secure refuge, where we will be safe from the billows of sin. We must turn toward Mary who sheltered Jesus and who is the refuge to which all sinners may look for safety and salvation in Christ Jesus, whom they will find through Mary, the secure refuge of sinners.
God honored her in the beginning, He still honors her. He lavished His graces upon her and she faithfully responded to all of them. All who are sin-burdened and far from their true home, should, like the soldier upon the battlefield, who, wounded and bleeding, thinks of his mother, remember their Mother Mary and seek her aid. She will be their secure refuge and under her benign protection, they will find their merciful Saviour, who, like the good shepherd, will place the lost and bruised sheep upon His shoulders and return it to the flock. The very angels will rejoice because he who was lost has returned, and found through Mary, a safe refuge for all time.
Prayer of St. Anselm
Help us, O Queen of mercy, without regarding the multitude of our sins. Remember that our Creator took of thee a human body, not to condemn, but to save sinners. Hadst thou been chosen to be the Mother of God for thy own benefit alone, thou mightest then be said to have no particular interest in our salvation; but God clothed Himself in thy flesh for the sake of all mankind. Help us, therefore, and protect us. Thou knowest the need which we have of thy assistance, and we earnestly recommend ourselves to thy prayers. Pray that we may not be eternally lost, but with thee may love and serve Jesus Christ for ever."O Mary, all my hopes are placed on thee."
Mary is the Hope of Sinners
by St. Alphonsus De Liguori
In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read, that "God made two great lights; a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night." Cardinal Hugo says, that 'Christ is the greater light to rule the just, and Mary, the lesser to rule sinners.' Meaning that the sun is a figure of Jesus Christ, whose light is enjoyed by the just who live in the clear day of Divine grace; and that the moon is a figure of Mary, by whose means those who are in the night of sin are enlightened. Since Mary is this auspicious luminary, and is so for the benefit of poor sinners, should any one have been so unfortunate as to fall into the night of sin, what is he to do? Innocent III replies, 'whoever is in the night of sin let him cast his eyes on the moon, let him implore Mary.' Since he has lost the light of the sun of justice, by losing the grace of God, let him turn to the moon, and beseech Mary, and she will certainly give him light to see the misery of his state, and strength to leave it without delay. St. Methodius says, 'that by the prayers of Mary, almost innumerable sinners are converted.'
One of the titles which is the most encouraging to poor sinners, and under which the church teaches us to invoke Mary in the Litany of Loretto, is that of 'Refuge of sinners.' In Judea, in ancient times, there were cities of refuge, in which criminals, who fled there for protection, were exempt from the punishments which they had deserved. Now-a-days, these cities are not so numerous; there is but one, and that is Mary, of whom the Psalmist says, "Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God (Ps. lxxxvi, 3)" But this city differs from the ancient ones in this respect, that in the latter all kinds of criminals did not find refuge, nor was the protection extended to every class of crime; but under the mantle of Mary, all sinners, without exception, find refuge for every sin that they may have committed, provided only that they go there to seek for this protection. 'I am the city of refuge,' says St. John Damascene, in the name of our Queen 'to all who fly to me.'
And it is sufficient to have recourse to her, for whoever has the good fortune to enter this city need not speak to be saved. "Assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the fenced city, and let us be silent there (Jerem. viii, 14)," to speak in the words of the Prophet Jeremias. This city, says blessed Albert the Great, is the most holy Virgin fenced in with grace and glory. 'And let us be silent there,' that is, continues an interpreter, 'Because we dare not invoke the Lord, whom we have offended, she will invoke and ask.' For if we do not presume to ask our Lord to forgive us, it will suffice to enter this city and be silent, for Mary will speak and ask all that we require. And for this reason, a devout author exhorts all sinners to take refuge under the mantle of Mary, exclaiming, 'Fly, O Adam and Eve, and all you, their children, who have outraged God; fly, and take refuge in the bosom of this good Mother; know you not that she is our only city of refuge,' 'the only hope of sinners,' as she is also called in a sermon by an ancient writer, found in the works of Saint Augustine.
Saint Ephrem, addressing this Blessed Virgin says,'Thou art the only advocate of sinners, and of all who are unprotected.' And then he salutes her in the following words: 'Hail refuge and hospital of sinners,' true refuge, in which alone they can hope for reception and liberty. And an author remarks that this was the meaning of David when he said, "For he hath hidden me in his tabernacle (Ps. xxvi, 5)." And truly what can this tabernacle of God be unless it is Mary, who is called by Saint Germanus, 'A tabernacle made by God, in which He alone entered to accomplish the great work of the redemption of man.' Saint Basil of Selencia remarks, 'that if God granted to some who were only His servants, such power, that not only their touch, but even their shadows healed the sick, who were placed for this purpose in the public streets; how much greater power must we suppose that He has granted to her, who was not only His handmaid but His Mother.' We may indeed say, that our Lord has given us Mary as a public infirmary, in which all who are sick, poor, and destitute, can be received. But now, I ask, in hospitals erected expressly for the poor, who have the greatest claim to admission? Certainly the most infirm, and those who are in the greatest need.
And for this reason, should any one find himself devoid of merit and overwhelmed with spiritual infirmities, that is to say sin, he can thus address Mary: O Lady, thou art the refuge of the sick, poor, reject me not; for as I am the poorest and most infirm of all, I have the greatest right to be welcomed by thee. Let us then cry out with Saint Thomas of Villanova, 'O Mary, we poor sinners know no other refuge than thee, for thou art our only hope, and on thee we rely for our salvation.' Thou art our only advocate with Jesus Christ, to thee we all turn ourselves.
In the revelations of St. Bridget, Mary is called the 'Star preceding the sun,' giving us thereby to understand, that when devotion towards the Divine Mother begins to manifest itself in a soul that is in a state of sin, it is a certain mark that before long, God will enrich it with His grace. The glorious Saint Bonaventure, in order to revive the confidence of sinners in the protection of Mary, places before them the picture of a tempestuous sea, into which sinners have already fallen from the ship of Divine grace, they are already dashed about on every side, by remorse of conscience and by fear of the judgments of God; they are without light or guide, and are on the point of losing the last breath of hope, and falling into despair; then it is that our Lord, pointing out Mary to them, who is commonly called the 'Star of the Sea,' raises His voice, and says, 'O poor lost sinners, despair not: raise up your eyes, and cast them on this beautiful star; breathe again with confidence, for it will save you from this tempest, and will guide you into the port of salvation.' Saint Bernard says the same thing: 'If thou wouldst not be lost in the tempest, cast thine eyes on the Star, and invoke Mary.' And the devout Blosius declares, that 'she is the only refuge of those who have offended God, the asylum of all who are oppressed by temptation, calamity, or persecution. This Mother is all mercy, benignity, and sweetness, not only to the just, but also to despairing sinners, so that no sooner does she perceive them coming to her and seeking her help from their hearts, than she aids them, welcomes them, and obtains their pardon from her Son. She knows not how to despise any one, however unworthy he may be of mercy, and therefore denies her protection to none; she consoles all, and is no sooner called upon, than she helps whoever it may be that invokes her. She, by her sweetness, often awakens and draws sinners to her devotion who are the most at enmity with God, and the most deeply plunged in the lethargy of sin; and then, by the same means, she excites them effectually, and prepares them for grace, and thus renders them fit for the kingdom of heaven. God has created this His beloved daughter of so compassionate and sweet a disposition, that no one can fear to have recourse to her.' The pious author concludes in these words: 'It is impossible for any one to perish who attentively, and with humility, cultivates devotion towards this Divine Mother.'
In Ecclesiasticus, Mary is called a plane tree: "As a plane tree I was exalted (Eccl. xxiv. 19)." And she is so called that sinners may understand, that as the plane tree gives shelter to travellers from the heat of the sun, so does Mary invite them to take shelter under her protection from the wrath of God, justly enkindled against them. Saint Bonaventure remarks, that the prophet Isaias complained of the times in which he lived, saying, "Behold thou art angry, and we have sinned . . . there is none . . . that riseth up and taketh hold of thee (Is. lxiv, 5, 7)." And then he makes the following commentary: 'It is true, O Lord, that at that time there was none to raise up sinners, and withhold thy wrath, for Mary was not yet born;' 'before Mary,' to quote the Saint's own words, 'there was no one who could thus dare to restrain the arm of God.' But now, if God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son, and saves him.' 'And so,' continues the same Saint, 'no one can be found more fit for this office than Mary, who seizes the sword of Divine justice with her own hands to prevent it from falling upon and punishing the sinner.' Upon the same subject blessed Albert the Great says, that 'God, before the birth of Mary, complained by the mouth of the Prophet Ezechiel, that there was no one to rise up and withhold Him from chastising sinners, but that He could find no one, for this office was reserved for our Blessed Lady, who withholds His arm until He is pacified.' An ancient writer encourages sinners, saying, 'O, sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in all thy necessities; call her to thine assistance, for thou wilt always find her ready to help thee: for such is the Divine will that she should help all in every kind of necessity.' This Mother of mercy has so great a desire to save the most abandoned sinners, that she herself goes in search of them in order to help them, and if they have recourse to her she knows how to find the means to render them acceptable to God.
The Patriarch Isaae, desiring to eat of some wild animal, promised his blessing to his son Esau on his procuring this food for him; but Rebecca, who was anxious that her other son Jacob should receive the blessing, called him and said, "Go thy way to the flock, bring me two kids of the best, that I may make of them meat for thy father, such as he gladly eateth (Gen. xxvii, 9)." Saint Antoninus says, 'that Rebecca was a figure of Mary, who commands the angels to bring her sinners (meant by kids), that she may adorn them in such a way (by obtaining for them sorrow and purpose of amendment) as to render them dear and acceptable to her Lord.' And here we may well apply to our Blessed Lady the words of the Abbot Franco: 'O truly sagacious woman, who so well knew how to dress these kids, that not only they are equal to, but often superior in flavour to real venison.'
The Bessed Virgin herself revealed to Saint Bridget, 'that there is no sinner in the world, however much he may be at enmity with God, who does not return to Him and recover His grace if he has recourse to her and asks her assistance.' The same Saint Bridget one day heard Jesus Christ address His Mother, and say, that 'she would be ready to obtain the grace of God for Lucifer himself, if only he humbled himself so far as to seek her aid.' That proud spirit will never humble himself so far as to implore the protection of Mary; but if such a thing were possible, Mary would be sufficiently compassionate, and her prayers would have sufficient power to obtain both forgiveness and salvation for him from God. But that which cannot be verified with regard to the devil, is verified in the case of sinners, who have recourse to this compassionate Mother.
Noah's ark was a true figure of Mary, for, as in it all kinds of beasts were saved, so under the mantle of Mary all sinners, who by their vices and sensuality are already like beasts, find refuge: but with this difference, as a pious author remarks, that 'while the brutes that entered the ark remained brutes, the wolf remaining a wolf, and the tiger a tiger; under the mantle of Mary, on the other hand, the wolf becomes a lamb, and the tiger a dove.' One day Saint Gertrude saw Mary with her mantle open, and under it there were many wild beasts of different kinds,--leopards, lions, and bears; and she saw that not only our Blessed Lady did not drive them away, but that she welcomed and caressed them with her benign hand. The Saint understood that these wild beasts were miserable sinners, who are welcomed by Mary with sweetness and love the moment they have recourse to her.
It was then, not without reason that St.Bernard addressed the Blessed Virgin, saying, 'Thou, O Lady, dost not reject any sinner who approaches thee, however loathsome and repugnant he may be. If he asks thy assistance, thou dost not disdain to extend thy compassionate hand to him, to extricate him from the gulf of despair.' May our God be eternally blessed and thanked, O most amiable Mary, for having created thee so sweet and benign, even towards the most miserable sinners. Truly unfortunate is he who loves thee not, and who, having it in his power to obtain thy assistance, has no confidence in thee. He who has not recourse to Mary is lost; but who was ever lost that had recourse to this most Blessed Virgin?
It is related, in the sacred scriptures, that Booz allowed Ruth "to gather the ears of corn, after the reapers." St. Bonaventure says, 'that as Ruth found favour with Booz, so has Mary found favour with our Lord, and is also allowed to gather the ears of corn, after the reapers. The reapers followed by Mary are all evangelical labourers, missionaries, preachers, and confessors, who are constantly reaping souls for God. But there are some hardened and rebellious souls, which are abandoned, even by these. To Mary alone is it granted to save them, by her powerful intercession.' Truly unfortunate are they, if they do not allow themselves to be gathered, even by this sweet Lady. They will indeed be most certainly lost and accursed. But on the other hand, blessed is he who has recourse to this good Mother. 'There is not in the world,' says the devout Blosius, 'any sinner, however revolting and wicked, who is despised or rejected by Mary; she can, she wills, and she knows, how to reconcile him to her most beloved Son, if only he will seek her assistance.'
With reason then, O my most sweet Queen, did St. John Damascene salute and call thee the Hope of those who are in despair.' With reason did St. Lawrence Justinian call thee 'The hope of malefactors;' and another ancient writer, 'The only hope of sinners.' St. Ephrem calls her 'The safe harbour of all sailing on the sea of this world.' This last-named Saint also calls her 'The consolation of those who are in despair.' With reason, finally, does St. Bonaventure exhort even the desperate not to despair; and full of joy and tenderness towards his most deal Mother, he lovingly exclaims: 'And who, O Lady, can be without confidence in thee, since thou assistest even those who are in despair; and I doubt not that whenever we have recourse to thee, we shall obtain all that we desire. Let him then, who is without hope, hope in thee.' St. Antoninus relates, that there was a sinner at enmity with God, who had a vision, in which he found himself before the dread tribunal; the devil accused him, and Mary defended him. The enemy produced the catalogue of his sins; it was thrown into the scales of Divine justice, and weighed far more than all his good works. But then his great Advocate, extending her sweet hand, placed it on the balance, and so caused it to turn in favour of her client; giving him thereby to understand, that she would obtain his pardon, if he changed his life; and this he did after the vision, and was entirely converted.
Blessed John Herold, who out of humility called himself the Disciple, relates, that there was a married man, who lived at enmity with God. His wife, who was a virtuous woman, being unable to engage him to give up sin, begged him, in the wretched state in which he was, to practise at least the devotion of saluting our Blessed Lady with a 'Hail Mary,' each time that he might pass before her picture. He began to do so. One night this wretched man was on his way to commit a crime, when he perceived a light at a distance: he drew near to see what it was, and found that it was a lamp, burning before a devout picture of Mary, holding the child Jesus in her arms. He at once, according to custom, said the 'Hail Mary.' In the same moment, he beheld the Divine Infant covered with wounds, from which fresh blood was streaming. Terrified, and at the same time, moved to compassion, at this sight, he reflected that it was he, who, by his sins, had thus wounded his Redeemer. He burst into tears, but the Divine infant turned his back to him. Filled with shame, he appealed to the most Blessed Virgin, saying: 'Mother of Mercy, thy Son rejects me: I can find no advocate more compassionate and more powerful than thee, for thou art His Mother; my Queen, do thou help me, and intercede for me.' The Divine Mother, speaking from the picture, replied: 'You sinners call me Mother of Mercy, but, at the same time, you cease not to make me a Mother of Sorrows, by crucifying my Son afresh, and renewing my sorrows.' But as Mary can never let any one leave her feet disconsolate, she began to implore her Son to pardon this miserable wretch. Jesus continued to show himself unwilling to do so. The most Blessed Virgin, seeing this, placed him in the niche, and, prostrating herself before him, said: 'My Son, I will not leave thy feet until thou hast pardoned this sinner.' 'My Mother,' then said Jesus, 'I can deny thee nothing; thou willest that he should be forgiven; for love of thee I pardon him; make him come and kiss my wounds.' The sinner, sobbing and weeping, did so, and, as he kissed them, the wounds were healed. Jesus then embraced him, as a mark of forgiveness, and he changed his life, which, from that time, was one of holiness; and he always preserved the most tender love and gratitude towards this Blessed Virgin, who had obtained him so great a grace.
O most pure Virgin Mary, I worship thy most holy heart which was the delight and resting-place of God, thy heart overflowing with humility, purity, and Divine love. I, an unhappy sinner, approach thee with a heart all loathsome and wounded. O compassionate Mother, disdain me not on this account; let such a sight rather move thee to greater tenderness, and excite thee to help me. Do not stay to seek virtues or merit in me before assisting me. I am lost, and the only thing I merit is hell. See only my confidence in thee and the purpose I have to amend. Consider all that Jesus has done and suffered for me, and then abandon me if thou canst. I offer thee all the pains of His life; the cold that He endured in the stable; His journey into Egypt; the blood which He shed; the poverty, sweats, sorrows, and death that He endured for me; and this in thy presence. For the love of Jesus take charge of my salvation. Ah my Mother, I will not and cannot fear that thou wilt reject me, now that I have recourse to thee and ask thy help. Did I fear this, I should be offering an outrage to thy mercy, which goes in quest of the wretched, in order to help them. O Lady, deny not thy compassion to one to whom Jesus has not denied His blood. But the merits of this blood will not be applied to me unless thou recommendest me to God. Through thee do I hope for salvation. I ask not for riches, honours, or earthly goods. I seek only the grace of God, love towards thy Son, the accomplishment of His will, and His heavenly kingdom, that I may love Him eternally. Is it possible that thou wilt not hear me? No: for already thou hast granted my prayer, as I hope; already thou prayest for me; already thou obtainest me the graces that I ask; already thou takest me under thy protection: my Mother, abandon me not. Never, never cease to pray for me until thou seest me safe in heaven at thy feet, blessing and thanking thee for ever. Amen.