When Freedom and Love were One .

When Freedom and Love Were One:
The Annunciation
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952



The modern age, which gives primacy to sex, justifies promiscuity and divorce on the grounds that love is by its nature free — which, indeed, it is. All love is free love, in a certain sense. To be devoid of love is of the essence of Hell. Scripture tells us: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). The ideal life is fulfilled — not in subjection to an absolute law but in the discriminating response of an educated affection.


The formula that love is free is right. The interpretation of this can often be wrong. Those husbands who leave one wife for another may justify their infidelity on the grounds that "one must be free to live his own life." No one is ever selfish or voluptuous without covering up his demands with a similar parade of ideals. Behind many contemporary affirmations of the freedom of love is a false rationalization, for although love involves freedom, not all freedom involves love. I cannot love unless I am free, but, because I am free, still I may not love as I please. A man can have freedom without love — for example, he who violates another is free in his action when there is no one around to restrain him — yet he certainly has no love. A robber is free to ransack a house when the owners are away, but it is absurd to say that he loves the owners because he is free to steal. The purest liberty is that which is given, not that which is taken.
 

What many moderns mean by freedom in love is freedom from something without being free for anything. True love wants to be free from something for something. A young man wants to be free from the parental yoke — that he may love someone besides his parents and thus prolong his life. Freedom of love is, therefore, inseparable from service, from altruism and goodness. The press wants freedom from restraint in order to be free to express truth; a man wants to be free from political tyranny in order to work out his own prosperity for him here below and for his destiny in the life hereafter. Love demands freedom from one thing in order to place itself freely at the service of another. When a man falls in love, he seeks the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another. When a man falls in love with God, he immediately goes out in search of a neighbor. But to be utterly free from all restraint, a man would have to be alone; but then he would have no one to love. This is precisely the ideal of Sartre, who says: "Others are hell." The basis of his philosophy is that anything restraining the ego is nothing. But every other man, and every other thing, restrains the ego — therefore, they are nothing. Truly, indeed, if a man sets out to be free in the sense of living life only on his own terms, he finds himself in the nihilism of hell. Sartre forgets that to fall in love means to fall into something, and that something is responsibility. Thus, the same love that demands freedom to exercise itself also seeks the curbs to limit it. The liberty of love, therefore, is not license. Freedom implies not just a mere choice but also responsibility for choice.


There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is "Freedom is the right to do whatever I please." This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor's chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor's mattress with used razor blades — but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone's doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, "Freedom is the right to do whatever you must." This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: "A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation." So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.


The true concept of freedom is "Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought," and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.


In order to escape the implications of freedom (namely, its involvement in responsibility), there are those who would deny individual freedom either communally (as do the Communists) or biologically (as do some Freudians). Any civilization that denies free will is, generally, a civilization that is already disgusted with the choices of its freedom, because it has brought unhappiness upon itself. Those who make the theoretical denial of free will are those who, in practice, confuse freedom by identifying it with license. One will never find a professor who denies freedom of the will who does not also have something in his life for which he wishes to shake off responsibility. He disowns the evil by disowning that which made evil possible, namely, free will. On the golf course, such deniers of freedom blame the golf clubs but never themselves. The excuse is like the perennial one of the little boy who broke the vase: "Someone pushed me." That is, he was forced. When he grows up, he becomes a professor, but instead of saying: "I was pushed," he says: "The concatenation of social, economic, and environmental factors, so weighted down with the collective psychic heritage of our animal and evolutionary origin, produced in me what psychologists called a compulsive Id." These same professors who deny freedom of the will are the ones who sign their names to petitions to free Communists in the name of freedom, after they have already abused the privilege of American freedom.


The beauty of this universe is that practically all gifts are conditioned by freedom. There is no law that a young man should give the gift of a ring to the young lady to whom he is engaged. The one word in the English language that proves the close connection between gifts and freedom is "thanks." As Chesterton said: "If man were not free, he could never say, 'Thank you for the mustard'."


Freedom is ours really to give away because of something we love. Everyone in the world who is free wants freedom first of all as a means: he wants freedom in order to give it away. Almost everyone actually gives freedom away. Some give their freedom of thinking away to public opinion, to moods, to fashions, and to the anonymity of "they say" and thus become the willing slaves of the passing hour. Others give their freedom to alcohol and to sex and thus experience in their lives the words of Scripture: "He who commits sin is the slave of sin." Others give up their freedom in love to another person. This is a higher form of surrender and is the sweet slavery of love of which Our Savior spoke: "My yoke is sweet and my burden light." The young man who courts a young woman is practically saying to her: "I want to be your slave all the days of my life, and that will be my highest and greatest freedom." The young woman courted might say to the young man: "You say you love me, but how do I know? Have you courted the other 458,623 young eligible ladies in this city?" If the young man knew his metaphysics and philosophy well, he would answer: "In a certain sense, yes, for by the mere fact that I love you, I reject them. The very love that makes me choose you also makes me spurn them -- and that will be for life."


Love therefore is not only an affirmation; it is also a rejection. The mere fact that John loves Mary with his whole heart means that he does not love Ruth with any part of it. Every protestation of love is a limitation of a wrong kind of free love. Love, here, is the curbing of the freedom understood as license, and yet it is the enjoyment of perfect freedom -— for all that one wants in life is to love that person. True love always imposes restrictions on itself -— for the sake of others -— whether it be the Saint who detaches himself from the world in order more readily to adhere to Christ or the husband who detaches himself from former acquaintances to belong more readily to the spouse of his choice. True love, by its nature, is uncompromising; it is the freeing of self from selfishness and egotism. Real love uses freedom to attach itself unchangeably to another. St. Augustine has said: "Love God, and then do whatever you please." By this he meant that if you love God, you will never do anything to wound Him. In married love, likewise, there is perfect freedom, and yet one limitation that preserves that love, and that is the refusal to hurt the beloved. There is no moment more sacred in freedom than that when the ability to love others is suspended and checked by the interest one has in the pledged one of his heart; there then arises a moment when one abandons the seizure and the capture for the pleasure of contemplating it and when the need to possess and devour disappears in the joy of seeing another live.


And an interesting insight into love is this -— that, to just the extent that we reject love, we lose our gifts. No refugee from Russia sends a gift back to a dictator; God's gifts, too, are dependent on our love. Adam and Eve could have passed on to posterity extraordinary gifts of body and soul had they but loved. They were not forced to love; they were not asked to say, "I love," because words can be empty; they were merely asked to make an act of choice between what is God's and what is not God's, between the choices symbolized in the alternatives of the garden and the tree. If they had had no freedom, they would have turned to God as the sunflower does to the sun; but, being free, they could reject the whole for the part, the garden for the tree, the future joy for the immediate pleasure. The result was that mankind lost those gifts that God would have passed on to it, had it only been true in love.


What concerns us now is the restoration of these gifts through another act of freedom. God could have restored man to himself by simply forgiving man's sin, but then there would have been mercy without justice. The problem confronting man was something like that which confronts an orchestra leader. The score is written and given to an excellent director. The musicians, well skilled in their art, are free to follow the director or to rebel against him. Suppose that one of the musicians decides to hit a wrong note. The director might do either of two things: either he might ignore the mistake, or he might strike his baton and order the measure to be replayed. It would make little difference, for that note has already gone winging into space, and since time cannot be reversed, the discord goes on and on through the universe, even to the end of time. Is there any possible way by which this voluntary disharmony can be stopped? Certainly not by anyone in time. It could be corrected on condition that someone would reach out from eternity, would seize that note in time and arrest it in its mad flight. But would it still not be a discord? No, it could be made the first note in a new symphony and thus be made harmonious!


When our first parents were created, God gave them a conscience, a moral law, and an original justice. They were not compelled to follow Him as the director of the symphony of creation. Yet they chose to rebel, and that sour note of original revolution was passed on to humanity, through human generation. How could that original disorder be stopped? It could be arrested in the same way as the sour note, by having eternity come into time and lay hold of a man by force, compelling him to enter into a new order where the original gifts would be restored and harmony would be the law. But this would not be God's way, for it would mean the destruction of human freedom. God could lay hold of a note, but He could not lay hold of a man by force without abusing the greatest gift that He gave to man -— namely, freedom, which alone makes love possible.

Now we come to the greatest act of freedom the world has ever known — the reversal of that free act which the Head of humanity performed in Paradise when he chose non-God against God. It was the moment in which that unfortunate choice was reversed, when God in His Mercy willed to remake man and to give him a fresh start in a new birth of freedom under God. God could have made a perfect man to start humanity out of dust as He had done in the beginning. He could have made the new man start the new humanity from nothing as He had done in making the world. And He could have done it without consulting humanity, but this would have been the invasion of human privilege. God would not take a man out of the world of freedom without the free act of a free being. God's way with man is not dictatorship, but cooperation. If He would redeem humanity, it would be with human consent and not against it. God could destroy evil, but only at the cost of human freedom, and that would be too high a price to pay for the destruction of dictatorship on earth — to have a dictator in Heaven. Before remaking humanity, God willed to consult with humanity, so that there would be no destruction of human dignity; the particular person whom He consulted was a woman. In the beginning, it was man who was asked to ratify the gift; this time it is a woman. The mystery of the Incarnation is very simply that of God's asking a woman freely to give Him a human nature. In so many words, through the Angel, He was saying: "Will you make Me a man?" As from the first Adam came the first Eve, so now, in the rebirth of man's dignity, the new Adam will come from the new Eve. And in Mary's free consent we have the only human nature that was ever born in perfect liberty.

The story of this rebirth of freedom is told in the Gospel of St. Luke (1:26—35):
When the sixth month came, God sent the Angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt betrothed to a man of David's lineage; His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name was Mary. Into her presence the Angel came, and said, "Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women." She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, And cast about in her mind, what she was to make of such a greeting. Then the Angel said to her, "Mary, do not be afraid; Thou hast found favor in the sight of God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son and shalt call him Jesus. He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; The Lord will give him the throne of his father, David, And He shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; His Kingdom shall never have an end." But Mary said to the Angel, "How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?" And the Angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee and the Power of the most High will overshadow thee.

Thus the holy thing which is to be born of thee shall be known for the Son of God."
The Angel Gabriel, as God's spokesman, here asks Mary if she will freely give the Son of God a human nature, that He may also be the Son of man. A creature was asked by the Creator if she would freely cooperate with God's plan to take humanity out of the mire and to let him be ravished totally by God. Mary at first is troubled as to how she can give God a manhood, since she is still a virgin. The Angel settles the problem by telling her that God Himself, through His Spirit, will work that miracle within her.

But from our point of view there seems to be another difficulty. Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother and was even prepared for that honor by being preserved free from the primal sin that had infected all humanity. If she were so prepared, would she be free to accept or to reject, and would her answer be the full fruit of her free will? The answer is that her redemption was already completed but that she had not yet accepted or ratified it. It was, in a way, something like our dilemma. We are baptized as infants, and our bodies become temples of God, as our souls have been filled with infused virtues. We become not just creatures made by God but partakers in Divine nature. All this is done in Baptism before our freedom blossoms, the Church standing responsible for our spiritual birth as our parents did for our physical birth. Later on, however, we ratify that original endowment by the free acts of our moral lives — by receiving the Sacraments, by prayers, and by sacrifices. So, too, Mary's redemption was completed — as our Baptism was completed — but she had not yet accepted, ratified, or confirmed it before she gave her consent to the Angel. She was planned for a role in the drama of redemption by God, as a child is planned for a musical career by his physical parents, but it was not fulfilled until this moment. The Holy Trinity never possesses a creature without the consent of his will. When, therefore, Mary had heard how this was to take place, she uttered words that are the greatest pledge of liberty and the greatest charter of freedom the world has ever heard: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." As in Eden there took place the first espousals of man and woman, so, in her, there took place the first espousals of God and man, eternity and time, omnipotence and bonds. In answer to the question "Will you give me a man?" the marriage ceremony of love becomes bathed with new depths of freedom: "I will." And the Word was conceived in her.

Here, then, is freedom of religion;  God respects human freedom by refusing to invade humanity and to establish a beachhead in time without the free consent of one of His creatures. Freedom of conscience is also involved: before Mary could claim as her own the great gifts of God, she had to ratify those gifts by an act of will in the Annunciation. And there is the freedom of a total abandonment to God: our free will is the only thing that is really our own. Our health, our wealth, our power — all these God can take from us. But our freedom he leaves to us, even in hell. Because freedom is our own, it is the only perfect gift that we can make to God. And yet here a creature totally, yet freely, surrendered her will, so that one might say that it was not a matter of Mary's will doing the will of her Son but of Mary's will being lost in that of her Son. Later on in His life he would say: "If the Son of Man makes you free, you will be free indeed." If this be so, then no one has ever been more free than this belle of Liberty, the lady who sang the Magnificat.

But there is another freedom revealed through Mary. In human marriage there is something personal and also something impersonal or racial. What is personal and free is love, because love is always for a unique person; thus, jealousy is the guardian of monogamy. What is impersonal and automatic is sex, since its operation is to some extent outside human control. Love belongs to man; sex belongs to God, for the effects of it are beyond our determination. Whenever a mother gives birth to a babe, she freely wills the act of love that made her and her husband two in one flesh. But there is also the unknown, the free element in their love, namely, the decision whether a child will be born of the union — whether it will be a boy or a girl and the exact time of birth and even the moment of its conception are lost in some unknown night of love. We are thus accepted by our parents rather than willed by them — except indirectly.

But with Mary there was perfect freedom. Her Divine Son was not accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. He was willed. There was no element of chance; nothing was impersonal, for He was fully willed in mind and in body. How is this true? He was willed in mind, because, when the Angel explained the miracle, Mary said: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Then he was willed in Body for now, not in some past obscure night; conception took place as in the full effulgence of the brightness of the morn does the Divine Spirit of Love begin weaving the garment of flesh for the Eternal Word. The time was deliberately chosen; the consent was voluntary; the physical cooperation was free. It was the only birth in all the world that was truly willed and, therefore, truly free.

Every birth partakes of the nature of the plant kingdom, in that the flower has its roots on the earth, although its blossoms open to the heavens. In generation, the body comes from parents who are of the earth; the soul comes from God, Who is in Heaven. In Mary, there was hardly any earth at all except herself; all was Heaven. The other love that conceived within her was the Holy Spirit; the Person born of her was the Eternal Word -— the union of the Godhead and manhood was through the mysterious alchemy of the Trinity. She alone was of earth, and yet she, too, seemed more of Heaven.

Other mothers know that a new life beats within them, through the pulsations within the body. Mary knew that Divine Life beat within her, through her soul in communion with an Angel. Other mothers become conscious of motherhood through physical changes; Mary knew through the message of an Angel and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that comes from the body is as free as that which comes from the mind: there are mothers who yearn for children, but they have to wait upon processes subject to nature. In Mary alone a Child waited not on nature but on her acceptance of the Divine will. All she had to say was Fiat,  and she conceived. This is what all birth would have been without sin-— a matter of human wills uniting themselves with the Divine will and, through the union of bodies, sharing in the creation of new life through the usual processes of human generation. The Virgin Birth is, therefore, synonymous with Birth in Freedom.

Mary! — we poor creatures of earth are stumbling over our freedoms, fumbling over our choices. Millions of us are seeking to give up their freedom — some by repudiating it, because of the burden of their guilt — some, by surrendering it to the moods and fashions of the time -— others, by absorption into Communism, where there is only one will, which is the dictator's, and where the only love is hate and revolution!

We speak much of freedom today, Mary, because we are losing it — just as we speak most of health when we are sick. Thou art the Mistress of Freedom because thou didst undo the false freedom that makes men slaves to their passions by pronouncing the word God Himself said when He made light and again when thy Son redeemed the world — Fiat! Or, be it done unto me according to God's will. As the "no" of Eve proves that the creature was made by love and is therefore free, so thy Fiat  proves that the Creature was made for love as well. Teach us, then, that there is no freedom except in doing, out of love, what thou didst do in the Annunciation, namely, saying Yes to what Jesus asks.


The modern age, which gives primacy to sex, justifies promiscuity and divorce on the grounds that love is by its nature free — which, indeed, it is. All love is free love, in a certain sense. To be devoid of love is of the essence of Hell. Scripture tells us: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). The ideal life is fulfilled — not in subjection to an absolute law but in the discriminating response of an educated affection.


The formula that love is free is right. The interpretation of this can often be wrong. Those husbands who leave one wife for another may justify their infidelity on the grounds that "one must be free to live his own life." No one is ever selfish or voluptuous without covering up his demands with a similar parade of ideals. Behind many contemporary affirmations of the freedom of love is a false rationalization, for although love involves freedom, not all freedom involves love. I cannot love unless I am free, but, because I am free, still I may not love as I please. A man can have freedom without love — for example, he who violates another is free in his action when there is no one around to restrain him — yet he certainly has no love. A robber is free to ransack a house when the owners are away, but it is absurd to say that he loves the owners because he is free to steal. The purest liberty is that which is given, not that which is taken.
 

What many moderns mean by freedom in love is freedom from something without being free for anything. True love wants to be free from something for something. A young man wants to be free from the parental yoke — that he may love someone besides his parents and thus prolong his life. Freedom of love is, therefore, inseparable from service, from altruism and goodness. The press wants freedom from restraint in order to be free to express truth; a man wants to be free from political tyranny in order to work out his own prosperity for him here below and for his destiny in the life hereafter. Love demands freedom from one thing in order to place itself freely at the service of another. When a man falls in love, he seeks the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another. When a man falls in love with God, he immediately goes out in search of a neighbor. But to be utterly free from all restraint, a man would have to be alone; but then he would have no one to love. This is precisely the ideal of Sartre, who says: "Others are hell." The basis of his philosophy is that anything restraining the ego is nothing. But every other man, and every other thing, restrains the ego — therefore, they are nothing. Truly, indeed, if a man sets out to be free in the sense of living life only on his own terms, he finds himself in the nihilism of hell. Sartre forgets that to fall in love means to fall into something, and that something is responsibility. Thus, the same love that demands freedom to exercise itself also seeks the curbs to limit it. The liberty of love, therefore, is not license. Freedom implies not just a mere choice but also responsibility for choice.


There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is "Freedom is the right to do whatever I please." This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor's chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor's mattress with used razor blades — but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone's doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, "Freedom is the right to do whatever you must." This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: "A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation." So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.


The true concept of freedom is "Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought," and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.


In order to escape the implications of freedom (namely, its involvement in responsibility), there are those who would deny individual freedom either communally (as do the Communists) or biologically (as do some Freudians). Any civilization that denies free will is, generally, a civilization that is already disgusted with the choices of its freedom, because it has brought unhappiness upon itself. Those who make the theoretical denial of free will are those who, in practice, confuse freedom by identifying it with license. One will never find a professor who denies freedom of the will who does not also have something in his life for which he wishes to shake off responsibility. He disowns the evil by disowning that which made evil possible, namely, free will. On the golf course, such deniers of freedom blame the golf clubs but never themselves. The excuse is like the perennial one of the little boy who broke the vase: "Someone pushed me." That is, he was forced. When he grows up, he becomes a professor, but instead of saying: "I was pushed," he says: "The concatenation of social, economic, and environmental factors, so weighted down with the collective psychic heritage of our animal and evolutionary origin, produced in me what psychologists called a compulsive Id." These same professors who deny freedom of the will are the ones who sign their names to petitions to free Communists in the name of freedom, after they have already abused the privilege of American freedom.


The beauty of this universe is that practically all gifts are conditioned by freedom. There is no law that a young man should give the gift of a ring to the young lady to whom he is engaged. The one word in the English language that proves the close connection between gifts and freedom is "thanks." As Chesterton said: "If man were not free, he could never say, 'Thank you for the mustard'."


Freedom is ours really to give away because of something we love. Everyone in the world who is free wants freedom first of all as a means: he wants freedom in order to give it away. Almost everyone actually gives freedom away. Some give their freedom of thinking away to public opinion, to moods, to fashions, and to the anonymity of "they say" and thus become the willing slaves of the passing hour. Others give their freedom to alcohol and to sex and thus experience in their lives the words of Scripture: "He who commits sin is the slave of sin." Others give up their freedom in love to another person. This is a higher form of surrender and is the sweet slavery of love of which Our Savior spoke: "My yoke is sweet and my burden light." The young man who courts a young woman is practically saying to her: "I want to be your slave all the days of my life, and that will be my highest and greatest freedom." The young woman courted might say to the young man: "You say you love me, but how do I know? Have you courted the other 458,623 young eligible ladies in this city?" If the young man knew his metaphysics and philosophy well, he would answer: "In a certain sense, yes, for by the mere fact that I love you, I reject them. The very love that makes me choose you also makes me spurn them -- and that will be for life."


Love therefore is not only an affirmation; it is also a rejection. The mere fact that John loves Mary with his whole heart means that he does not love Ruth with any part of it. Every protestation of love is a limitation of a wrong kind of free love. Love, here, is the curbing of the freedom understood as license, and yet it is the enjoyment of perfect freedom -— for all that one wants in life is to love that person. True love always imposes restrictions on itself -— for the sake of others -— whether it be the Saint who detaches himself from the world in order more readily to adhere to Christ or the husband who detaches himself from former acquaintances to belong more readily to the spouse of his choice. True love, by its nature, is uncompromising; it is the freeing of self from selfishness and egotism. Real love uses freedom to attach itself unchangeably to another. St. Augustine has said: "Love God, and then do whatever you please." By this he meant that if you love God, you will never do anything to wound Him. In married love, likewise, there is perfect freedom, and yet one limitation that preserves that love, and that is the refusal to hurt the beloved. There is no moment more sacred in freedom than that when the ability to love others is suspended and checked by the interest one has in the pledged one of his heart; there then arises a moment when one abandons the seizure and the capture for the pleasure of contemplating it and when the need to possess and devour disappears in the joy of seeing another live.


And an interesting insight into love is this -— that, to just the extent that we reject love, we lose our gifts. No refugee from Russia sends a gift back to a dictator; God's gifts, too, are dependent on our love. Adam and Eve could have passed on to posterity extraordinary gifts of body and soul had they but loved. They were not forced to love; they were not asked to say, "I love," because words can be empty; they were merely asked to make an act of choice between what is God's and what is not God's, between the choices symbolized in the alternatives of the garden and the tree. If they had had no freedom, they would have turned to God as the sunflower does to the sun; but, being free, they could reject the whole for the part, the garden for the tree, the future joy for the immediate pleasure. The result was that mankind lost those gifts that God would have passed on to it, had it only been true in love.


What concerns us now is the restoration of these gifts through another act of freedom. God could have restored man to himself by simply forgiving man's sin, but then there would have been mercy without justice. The problem confronting man was something like that which confronts an orchestra leader. The score is written and given to an excellent director. The musicians, well skilled in their art, are free to follow the director or to rebel against him. Suppose that one of the musicians decides to hit a wrong note. The director might do either of two things: either he might ignore the mistake, or he might strike his baton and order the measure to be replayed. It would make little difference, for that note has already gone winging into space, and since time cannot be reversed, the discord goes on and on through the universe, even to the end of time. Is there any possible way by which this voluntary disharmony can be stopped? Certainly not by anyone in time. It could be corrected on condition that someone would reach out from eternity, would seize that note in time and arrest it in its mad flight. But would it still not be a discord? No, it could be made the first note in a new symphony and thus be made harmonious!


When our first parents were created, God gave them a conscience, a moral law, and an original justice. They were not compelled to follow Him as the director of the symphony of creation. Yet they chose to rebel, and that sour note of original revolution was passed on to humanity, through human generation. How could that original disorder be stopped? It could be arrested in the same way as the sour note, by having eternity come into time and lay hold of a man by force, compelling him to enter into a new order where the original gifts would be restored and harmony would be the law. But this would not be God's way, for it would mean the destruction of human freedom. God could lay hold of a note, but He could not lay hold of a man by force without abusing the greatest gift that He gave to man -— namely, freedom, which alone makes love possible.

Now we come to the greatest act of freedom the world has ever known — the reversal of that free act which the Head of humanity performed in Paradise when he chose non-God against God. It was the moment in which that unfortunate choice was reversed, when God in His Mercy willed to remake man and to give him a fresh start in a new birth of freedom under God. God could have made a perfect man to start humanity out of dust as He had done in the beginning. He could have made the new man start the new humanity from nothing as He had done in making the world. And He could have done it without consulting humanity, but this would have been the invasion of human privilege. God would not take a man out of the world of freedom without the free act of a free being. God's way with man is not dictatorship, but cooperation. If He would redeem humanity, it would be with human consent and not against it. God could destroy evil, but only at the cost of human freedom, and that would be too high a price to pay for the destruction of dictatorship on earth — to have a dictator in Heaven. Before remaking humanity, God willed to consult with humanity, so that there would be no destruction of human dignity; the particular person whom He consulted was a woman. In the beginning, it was man who was asked to ratify the gift; this time it is a woman. The mystery of the Incarnation is very simply that of God's asking a woman freely to give Him a human nature. In so many words, through the Angel, He was saying: "Will you make Me a man?" As from the first Adam came the first Eve, so now, in the rebirth of man's dignity, the new Adam will come from the new Eve. And in Mary's free consent we have the only human nature that was ever born in perfect liberty.

The story of this rebirth of freedom is told in the Gospel of St. Luke (1:26—35):
When the sixth month came, God sent the Angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt betrothed to a man of David's lineage; His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name was Mary. Into her presence the Angel came, and said, "Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women." She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, And cast about in her mind, what she was to make of such a greeting. Then the Angel said to her, "Mary, do not be afraid; Thou hast found favor in the sight of God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son and shalt call him Jesus. He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; The Lord will give him the throne of his father, David, And He shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; His Kingdom shall never have an end." But Mary said to the Angel, "How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?" And the Angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee and the Power of the most High will overshadow thee.

Thus the holy thing which is to be born of thee shall be known for the Son of God."
The Angel Gabriel, as God's spokesman, here asks Mary if she will freely give the Son of God a human nature, that He may also be the Son of man. A creature was asked by the Creator if she would freely cooperate with God's plan to take humanity out of the mire and to let him be ravished totally by God. Mary at first is troubled as to how she can give God a manhood, since she is still a virgin. The Angel settles the problem by telling her that God Himself, through His Spirit, will work that miracle within her.

But from our point of view there seems to be another difficulty. Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother and was even prepared for that honor by being preserved free from the primal sin that had infected all humanity. If she were so prepared, would she be free to accept or to reject, and would her answer be the full fruit of her free will? The answer is that her redemption was already completed but that she had not yet accepted or ratified it. It was, in a way, something like our dilemma. We are baptized as infants, and our bodies become temples of God, as our souls have been filled with infused virtues. We become not just creatures made by God but partakers in Divine nature. All this is done in Baptism before our freedom blossoms, the Church standing responsible for our spiritual birth as our parents did for our physical birth. Later on, however, we ratify that original endowment by the free acts of our moral lives — by receiving the Sacraments, by prayers, and by sacrifices. So, too, Mary's redemption was completed — as our Baptism was completed — but she had not yet accepted, ratified, or confirmed it before she gave her consent to the Angel. She was planned for a role in the drama of redemption by God, as a child is planned for a musical career by his physical parents, but it was not fulfilled until this moment. The Holy Trinity never possesses a creature without the consent of his will. When, therefore, Mary had heard how this was to take place, she uttered words that are the greatest pledge of liberty and the greatest charter of freedom the world has ever heard: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." As in Eden there took place the first espousals of man and woman, so, in her, there took place the first espousals of God and man, eternity and time, omnipotence and bonds. In answer to the question "Will you give me a man?" the marriage ceremony of love becomes bathed with new depths of freedom: "I will." And the Word was conceived in her.

Here, then, is freedom of religion;  God respects human freedom by refusing to invade humanity and to establish a beachhead in time without the free consent of one of His creatures. Freedom of conscience is also involved: before Mary could claim as her own the great gifts of God, she had to ratify those gifts by an act of will in the Annunciation. And there is the freedom of a total abandonment to God: our free will is the only thing that is really our own. Our health, our wealth, our power — all these God can take from us. But our freedom he leaves to us, even in hell. Because freedom is our own, it is the only perfect gift that we can make to God. And yet here a creature totally, yet freely, surrendered her will, so that one might say that it was not a matter of Mary's will doing the will of her Son but of Mary's will being lost in that of her Son. Later on in His life he would say: "If the Son of Man makes you free, you will be free indeed." If this be so, then no one has ever been more free than this belle of Liberty, the lady who sang the Magnificat.

But there is another freedom revealed through Mary. In human marriage there is something personal and also something impersonal or racial. What is personal and free is love, because love is always for a unique person; thus, jealousy is the guardian of monogamy. What is impersonal and automatic is sex, since its operation is to some extent outside human control. Love belongs to man; sex belongs to God, for the effects of it are beyond our determination. Whenever a mother gives birth to a babe, she freely wills the act of love that made her and her husband two in one flesh. But there is also the unknown, the free element in their love, namely, the decision whether a child will be born of the union — whether it will be a boy or a girl and the exact time of birth and even the moment of its conception are lost in some unknown night of love. We are thus accepted by our parents rather than willed by them — except indirectly.

But with Mary there was perfect freedom. Her Divine Son was not accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. He was willed. There was no element of chance; nothing was impersonal, for He was fully willed in mind and in body. How is this true? He was willed in mind, because, when the Angel explained the miracle, Mary said: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Then he was willed in Body for now, not in some past obscure night; conception took place as in the full effulgence of the brightness of the morn does the Divine Spirit of Love begin weaving the garment of flesh for the Eternal Word. The time was deliberately chosen; the consent was voluntary; the physical cooperation was free. It was the only birth in all the world that was truly willed and, therefore, truly free.

Every birth partakes of the nature of the plant kingdom, in that the flower has its roots on the earth, although its blossoms open to the heavens. In generation, the body comes from parents who are of the earth; the soul comes from God, Who is in Heaven. In Mary, there was hardly any earth at all except herself; all was Heaven. The other love that conceived within her was the Holy Spirit; the Person born of her was the Eternal Word -— the union of the Godhead and manhood was through the mysterious alchemy of the Trinity. She alone was of earth, and yet she, too, seemed more of Heaven.

Other mothers know that a new life beats within them, through the pulsations within the body. Mary knew that Divine Life beat within her, through her soul in communion with an Angel. Other mothers become conscious of motherhood through physical changes; Mary knew through the message of an Angel and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that comes from the body is as free as that which comes from the mind: there are mothers who yearn for children, but they have to wait upon processes subject to nature. In Mary alone a Child waited not on nature but on her acceptance of the Divine will. All she had to say was Fiat,  and she conceived. This is what all birth would have been without sin-— a matter of human wills uniting themselves with the Divine will and, through the union of bodies, sharing in the creation of new life through the usual processes of human generation. The Virgin Birth is, therefore, synonymous with Birth in Freedom.

Mary! — we poor creatures of earth are stumbling over our freedoms, fumbling over our choices. Millions of us are seeking to give up their freedom — some by repudiating it, because of the burden of their guilt — some, by surrendering it to the moods and fashions of the time -— others, by absorption into Communism, where there is only one will, which is the dictator's, and where the only love is hate and revolution!

We speak much of freedom today, Mary, because we are losing it — just as we speak most of health when we are sick. Thou art the Mistress of Freedom because thou didst undo the false freedom that makes men slaves to their passions by pronouncing the word God Himself said when He made light and again when thy Son redeemed the world — Fiat! Or, be it done unto me according to God's will. As the "no" of Eve proves that the creature was made by love and is therefore free, so thy Fiat  proves that the Creature was made for love as well. Teach us, then, that there is no freedom except in doing, out of love, what thou didst do in the Annunciation, namely, saying Yes to what Jesus asks.


Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be "love at first sight" is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream. Plato, sensing this, said that all knowledge is recollection from a previous existence. This is not true as he states it, but it is true if one understands it to mean that we already have an ideal in us -— one which is made by our thinking, our habits, our experiences, and our desires. Otherwise how would we know immediately, on seeing persons or things, that we loved them? Before meeting certain people we already have a pattern and mold of what we like and what we do not like, certain persons fit into that pattern, others do not.

When we hear music for the first time, we either like or dislike it. We judge it by the music we already have heard in our own hearts. Jittery minds, which cannot long repose in one object of thought or in continuity of an ideal, love music which is distracting, excited, and jittery. Calm minds like calm music: the heart has its own secret melody, and one day when the score is played the heart answers, "This is it." So it is with love. A tiny architect works inside the human heart drawing sketches of the ideal love from the people it sees, from the books it reads, from its hopes and daydreams, in the fond hope that the eye may one day see the ideal and the hand touch it. Life becomes satisfying the moment the dream is seen walking, and the person appears as the incarnation of all that one loves. The liking is instantaneous -— because, actually, it has been there waiting for a long time. Some go through life without ever meeting what they call their ideal.  This could be very disappointing, if the ideal never really existed. ut the absolute ideal of every heart does exist, and it is God. All human love is an invitation into the Eternal. Some find the Ideal in substance without passing through the shadow.

God, too, has within Himself blueprints of everything in the universe. As the architect has in his mind a plan of the house before the house is built, so God has in His Mind an archetypal idea of every flower, bird, tree, springtime, and melody. There never was a brush touched to canvas nor a chisel to marble without some great pre-existing idea. So, too, every atom and every rose is realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity. All creatures below man correspond to the pattern God has in His Mind. A tree is truly a tree because it corresponds to God's idea of a tree. A rose is a rose because its is God's idea of a rose wrapped up in chemicals and tints and life. But it is not so with persons. God has to have two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be. He has the model, and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music and the way we play it. God has to have these two pictures because in each and every one of us there is some disproportion and want of conformity between the original plan and the way we have worked it out. The image is blurred; the print is faded. For one thing, our personality is not complete in time; we need a renewed body. Then, too, our sins diminish our personality; our evil acts daub the canvas the Master Hand designed. Like unhatched eggs, some of us refuse to be warmed by the Divine Love, which is so necessary for incubation to a higher level. We are in constant need of repairs; our free acts do not coincide with the law of our being; we fall short of all God wants us to be. St. Paul tells us that we were predestined, before the foundations of the world were laid, to become the sons of God. But some of us will not fulfill that hope.

There is, actually, only one person in all humanity of whom God has one picture and in whom there is a perfect conformity between what He wanted her to be and what she is, and that is His Own Mother. Most of us are a minus sign, in the sense that we do not fulfill the high hopes the Heavenly Father has for us. But Mary is the equal sign. The Ideal that God had of her, that she is, and in the flesh. The model and the copy are perfect; she is all that was foreseen, planned, and dreamed. The melody of her life is played just as it was written. Mary was thought, conceived, and planned as the equal sign between ideal and history, thought and reality, hope and realization.

That is why, through the centuries, Christian liturgy has applied to her the words of the Book of Proverbs. Because she is what God wanted us all to be, she speaks of herself as the Eternal blueprint in the Mind of God, the one whom God loved before she was a creature. She is even pictured as being with Him not only at creation but also before creation. She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers -— she is the world's first love.

"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything, from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived; neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth. He had not yet made the earth, or the rivers, or the poles of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was present; when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths; when He established the sky above and poised the fountains of waters; when He compassed the sea with its bounds and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits; when He balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. Now, therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me and that watcheth daily at my gates and waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me shall find life and shall have salvation from the Lord" (Prov 8:22-35).

But God not only thought of her in eternity; He also had her in mind at the beginning of time. In the beginning of history, when the human race fell through the solicitation of a woman, God spoke to the Devil and said, "I will establish a feud between thee and the woman, between thy offspring and hers; she is to crush thy head, while thou dost lie in wait at her heels" (Gen. 3:15). God was saying that, if it was by a woman that man fell, it would be through a woman that God would be revenged. Whoever His Mother would be, she would certainly be blessed among women, and because God Himself chose her, He would see to it that all generations would call her blessed.

When God willed to become Man, He had to decide on the time of His coming, the country in which He would be born, the city in which He would be raised, the people, the race, the political and economic systems that would surround Him, the language He would speak, and the psychological attitudes with which He would come in contact as the Lord of History and the Savior of the World.

All these details would depend entirely on one factor: the woman who would be His Mother. To choose a mother is to choose a social position, a language, a city, an environment, a crisis, and a destiny.

His Mother was not like ours, whom we accepted as something historically fixed, which we could not change; He was born of a Mother whom He chose before He was born. It is the only instance in history where both the Son willed the Mother and the Mother willed the Son. And this is what the Creed means when it says "born of the Virgin Mary." She was called by God as Aaron was, and Our Lord was born not just of her flesh but also by her consent.

Before taking unto Himself a human nature, He consulted with the Woman, to ask her if she would give Him a man. The Manhood of Jesus was not stolen from humanity, as Prometheus stole fire from heaven; it was given as a gift.

The first man, Adam, was made from the slime of the earth. The first woman was made from a man in an ecstasy. The new Adam, Christ, comes from the new Eve, Mary, in an ecstasy of prayer and love of God and the fullness of freedom.

We should not be surprised that she is spoken of as a thought by God before the world was made. When Whistler painted the picture of his mother, did he not have the image of her in his mind before he ever gathered his colors on his palette? If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived -— one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise? When Whistler was complimented on the portrait of his mother, he said, "You know how it is; one tries to make one's Mummy just as nice as he can." When God became Man, He too, I believe, would make His Mother as nice as He could -— and that would make her a perfect Mother.

God never does anything without exceeding preparation. The two great masterpieces of God are Creation of man and Re-creation or Redemption of man. Creation was made for unfallen men; His Mystical Body, for fallen men. Before making man, God made a garden of delights -— as God alone knows how to make a garden beautiful. In that Paradise of Creation there were celebrated the first nuptials of man and woman. But man willed not to have blessings, except according to his lower nature. Not only did he lose his happiness; he even wounded his own mind and will. Then God planned the remaking or redeeming of man. But before doing so, he would make another Garden. This new one would be not of earth but of flesh; it would be a Garden over whose portals the name of sin would never be written -— a Garden in which there would grow no weeds of rebellion to choke the growth of the flowers of grace -— a Garden from which there would flow four rivers of redemption to the four corners of the earth -— a Garden so pure that the Heavenly Father would not blush at sending His Own Son into it -— and this "flesh-girt Paradise to be gardened by the Adam new" was Our Blessed Mother.

As Eden was the Paradise of Creation, Mary is the Paradise of the Incarnation, and in her as a Garden were celebrated the first nuptials of God and man. The closer one gets to fire, the greater the heat; the closer one is to God, the greater the purity. But since no one was ever closer to God than the woman whose human portals He threw open to walk this earth, then no one could have been more pure than she.

A garden bower in flower
Grew waiting for God's hand:
Where no man ever trod,
This was the Gate of God.
The first bower was red -—
Her lips which "welcome" said.
The second bower was blue -—
Her eyes that let God through.
The third bower was white -—
Her soul in God's sight.
Three bowers of love
Now Christ from Heaven above.

-— LAWRENCE HOUSMAN

This special purity of hers we call the Immaculate Conception. It is not the Virgin Birth. The word "immaculate" is taken from two Latin words meaning "not stained." "Conception" means that, at the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Mother in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, and in virtue of the anticipated merits of the Redemption of her Son, was preserved free from the stains of Original Sin.

I never could see why anyone in this day and age should object to the Immaculate Conception; all modern pagans believe that they are immaculately conceived. If there is no Original Sin, then everyone is immaculately conceived. Why do they shrink from allowing to Mary what they attribute to themselves? The doctrine of Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception are mutually exclusive. If Mary alone is the Immaculate Conception, then the rest of us must have Original Sin.

The Immaculate Conception does not imply that Mary needed no Redemption. She needed it as much as you and I do. She was redeemed in advance, by way of prevention, in both body and soul, in the first instant of conception. We receive the fruits of redemption in our soul at Baptism. The whole human race needs redemption. But Mary was de-solidarized and separated from that sin -— laden humanity as a result of the merits of Our Lord's Cross being offered to her at the moment of her conception. If we exempted her from the need of redemption, we would also have to exempt her from membership in humanity. The Immaculate Conception, therefore, in no way implies that she needed no redemption. She did! Mary is the first effect of redemption, in the sense that it was applied to her at the moment of her conception and to us in another and diminished fashion only after our birth.

She had this privilege, not for her sake, but for His sake. That is why those who do not believe in the Divinity of Christ can see no reason for the special privilege accorded to Mary. If I did not believe in the Divinity of Our Lord -— which God avert -— I should see nothing but nonsense in any special reverence given to Mary above the other women on earth! But if she is the Mother of God, Who became Man, then she is unique, and then she stands out as the new Eve of Humanity -— as He is the new Adam.

There had to be some such creature as Mary -— otherwise God would have found no one in whom He could fittingly have taken His human origin. An honest politician seeking civic reforms looks about for honest assistants. The Son of God beginning a new creation searched for some of that Goodness which existed before sin took over. There would have been, in some minds, a doubt about the Power of God if He had not shown a special favor to the woman who was to be His Mother. Certainly what God gave to Eve, He would not refuse to His Own Mother.

Suppose that God in making over man did not also make over woman into a new Eve! What a howl of protest would have gone up! Christianity would have been denounced as are all male religions. Women would then have searched for a female religion! It would have been argued that woman was always the slave of man and even God intended her to be such, since He refused to make the new Eve as He made the new Adam.

Had there been no Immaculate Conception, then Christ would have been said to be less beautiful, for He would have taken His Body from one who was not humanly perfect! There ought to be an infinite separation between God and sin, but there would not have been if there was not one Woman who could crush the cobra's head.

If you were an artist, would you allow someone to prepare your canvas with daubs? Then why should God be expected to act differently when He prepares to unite to Himself a human nature like ours, in all things, save sin? But having lifted up one woman by preserving her from sin, and then having her freely ratify that gift at the Annunciation, God gave hope to our disturbed, neurotic, gauche, and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on the human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father. One look at her, and we know that a human who is not good can become better; one prayer to her, and we know that, because she is without sin, we can become less sinful.

And that brings us back to the beginning. We have said that everyone carries within his heart a blueprint of his ideal love. The best of human loves, no matter how devoted they be, must end -— nd there is nothing perfect that ends. If there be anyone of whom it is possible to say, "This is the last embrace," then there is no perfect love. Hence some, ignoring the Divine, may try to have a multiplicity of loves make up for the ideal love; but this is like saying that to render a musical masterpiece one must play a dozen different violins.

Every man who pursues a maid, every maid who yearns to be courted, every bond of friendship in the universe, seeks a love that is not just her love or his love but something that overflows both her and him that is called "our love." Everyone is in love with an ideal love, a love that is so far beyond sex that sex is forgotten. We all love something more than we love. When that overflow ceases, love stops. As the poet puts it: "I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." That ideal love we see beyond all creature-love, to which we instinctively turn when flesh-love fails, is the same ideal that God had in His Heart from all eternity -— the Lady whom He calls "Mother." She is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman -— whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants to be when she looks at herself. She is the woman whom every man marries in ideal when he takes a spouse; she is hidden as an ideal in the discontent of every woman with the carnal aggressiveness of man; she is the secret desire every woman has to be honored and fostered; she is the way every woman wants to command respect and love because of the beauty of her goodness of body and soul. And this blueprint love, whom God loved before the world was made, this Dream Woman before women were, is the one of whom every heart can say in its depth of depths: "She is the woman I love!"


The modern age, which gives primacy to sex, justifies promiscuity and divorce on the grounds that love is by its nature free — which, indeed, it is. All love is free love, in a certain sense. To be devoid of love is of the essence of Hell. Scripture tells us: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). The ideal life is fulfilled — not in subjection to an absolute law but in the discriminating response of an educated affection.


The formula that love is free is right. The interpretation of this can often be wrong. Those husbands who leave one wife for another may justify their infidelity on the grounds that "one must be free to live his own life." No one is ever selfish or voluptuous without covering up his demands with a similar parade of ideals. Behind many contemporary affirmations of the freedom of love is a false rationalization, for although love involves freedom, not all freedom involves love. I cannot love unless I am free, but, because I am free, still I may not love as I please. A man can have freedom without love — for example, he who violates another is free in his action when there is no one around to restrain him — yet he certainly has no love. A robber is free to ransack a house when the owners are away, but it is absurd to say that he loves the owners because he is free to steal. The purest liberty is that which is given, not that which is taken.
 

What many moderns mean by freedom in love is freedom from something without being free for anything. True love wants to be free from something for something. A young man wants to be free from the parental yoke — that he may love someone besides his parents and thus prolong his life. Freedom of love is, therefore, inseparable from service, from altruism and goodness. The press wants freedom from restraint in order to be free to express truth; a man wants to be free from political tyranny in order to work out his own prosperity for him here below and for his destiny in the life hereafter. Love demands freedom from one thing in order to place itself freely at the service of another. When a man falls in love, he seeks the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another. When a man falls in love with God, he immediately goes out in search of a neighbor. But to be utterly free from all restraint, a man would have to be alone; but then he would have no one to love. This is precisely the ideal of Sartre, who says: "Others are hell." The basis of his philosophy is that anything restraining the ego is nothing. But every other man, and every other thing, restrains the ego — therefore, they are nothing. Truly, indeed, if a man sets out to be free in the sense of living life only on his own terms, he finds himself in the nihilism of hell. Sartre forgets that to fall in love means to fall into something, and that something is responsibility. Thus, the same love that demands freedom to exercise itself also seeks the curbs to limit it. The liberty of love, therefore, is not license. Freedom implies not just a mere choice but also responsibility for choice.


There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is "Freedom is the right to do whatever I please." This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor's chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor's mattress with used razor blades — but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone's doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, "Freedom is the right to do whatever you must." This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: "A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation." So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.


The true concept of freedom is "Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought," and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.


In order to escape the implications of freedom (namely, its involvement in responsibility), there are those who would deny individual freedom either communally (as do the Communists) or biologically (as do some Freudians). Any civilization that denies free will is, generally, a civilization that is already disgusted with the choices of its freedom, because it has brought unhappiness upon itself. Those who make the theoretical denial of free will are those who, in practice, confuse freedom by identifying it with license. One will never find a professor who denies freedom of the will who does not also have something in his life for which he wishes to shake off responsibility. He disowns the evil by disowning that which made evil possible, namely, free will. On the golf course, such deniers of freedom blame the golf clubs but never themselves. The excuse is like the perennial one of the little boy who broke the vase: "Someone pushed me." That is, he was forced. When he grows up, he becomes a professor, but instead of saying: "I was pushed," he says: "The concatenation of social, economic, and environmental factors, so weighted down with the collective psychic heritage of our animal and evolutionary origin, produced in me what psychologists called a compulsive Id." These same professors who deny freedom of the will are the ones who sign their names to petitions to free Communists in the name of freedom, after they have already abused the privilege of American freedom.


The beauty of this universe is that practically all gifts are conditioned by freedom. There is no law that a young man should give the gift of a ring to the young lady to whom he is engaged. The one word in the English language that proves the close connection between gifts and freedom is "thanks." As Chesterton said: "If man were not free, he could never say, 'Thank you for the mustard'."


Freedom is ours really to give away because of something we love. Everyone in the world who is free wants freedom first of all as a means: he wants freedom in order to give it away. Almost everyone actually gives freedom away. Some give their freedom of thinking away to public opinion, to moods, to fashions, and to the anonymity of "they say" and thus become the willing slaves of the passing hour. Others give their freedom to alcohol and to sex and thus experience in their lives the words of Scripture: "He who commits sin is the slave of sin." Others give up their freedom in love to another person. This is a higher form of surrender and is the sweet slavery of love of which Our Savior spoke: "My yoke is sweet and my burden light." The young man who courts a young woman is practically saying to her: "I want to be your slave all the days of my life, and that will be my highest and greatest freedom." The young woman courted might say to the young man: "You say you love me, but how do I know? Have you courted the other 458,623 young eligible ladies in this city?" If the young man knew his metaphysics and philosophy well, he would answer: "In a certain sense, yes, for by the mere fact that I love you, I reject them. The very love that makes me choose you also makes me spurn them -- and that will be for life."


Love therefore is not only an affirmation; it is also a rejection. The mere fact that John loves Mary with his whole heart means that he does not love Ruth with any part of it. Every protestation of love is a limitation of a wrong kind of free love. Love, here, is the curbing of the freedom understood as license, and yet it is the enjoyment of perfect freedom -— for all that one wants in life is to love that person. True love always imposes restrictions on itself -— for the sake of others -— whether it be the Saint who detaches himself from the world in order more readily to adhere to Christ or the husband who detaches himself from former acquaintances to belong more readily to the spouse of his choice. True love, by its nature, is uncompromising; it is the freeing of self from selfishness and egotism. Real love uses freedom to attach itself unchangeably to another. St. Augustine has said: "Love God, and then do whatever you please." By this he meant that if you love God, you will never do anything to wound Him. In married love, likewise, there is perfect freedom, and yet one limitation that preserves that love, and that is the refusal to hurt the beloved. There is no moment more sacred in freedom than that when the ability to love others is suspended and checked by the interest one has in the pledged one of his heart; there then arises a moment when one abandons the seizure and the capture for the pleasure of contemplating it and when the need to possess and devour disappears in the joy of seeing another live.


And an interesting insight into love is this -— that, to just the extent that we reject love, we lose our gifts. No refugee from Russia sends a gift back to a dictator; God's gifts, too, are dependent on our love. Adam and Eve could have passed on to posterity extraordinary gifts of body and soul had they but loved. They were not forced to love; they were not asked to say, "I love," because words can be empty; they were merely asked to make an act of choice between what is God's and what is not God's, between the choices symbolized in the alternatives of the garden and the tree. If they had had no freedom, they would have turned to God as the sunflower does to the sun; but, being free, they could reject the whole for the part, the garden for the tree, the future joy for the immediate pleasure. The result was that mankind lost those gifts that God would have passed on to it, had it only been true in love.


What concerns us now is the restoration of these gifts through another act of freedom. God could have restored man to himself by simply forgiving man's sin, but then there would have been mercy without justice. The problem confronting man was something like that which confronts an orchestra leader. The score is written and given to an excellent director. The musicians, well skilled in their art, are free to follow the director or to rebel against him. Suppose that one of the musicians decides to hit a wrong note. The director might do either of two things: either he might ignore the mistake, or he might strike his baton and order the measure to be replayed. It would make little difference, for that note has already gone winging into space, and since time cannot be reversed, the discord goes on and on through the universe, even to the end of time. Is there any possible way by which this voluntary disharmony can be stopped? Certainly not by anyone in time. It could be corrected on condition that someone would reach out from eternity, would seize that note in time and arrest it in its mad flight. But would it still not be a discord? No, it could be made the first note in a new symphony and thus be made harmonious!


When our first parents were created, God gave them a conscience, a moral law, and an original justice. They were not compelled to follow Him as the director of the symphony of creation. Yet they chose to rebel, and that sour note of original revolution was passed on to humanity, through human generation. How could that original disorder be stopped? It could be arrested in the same way as the sour note, by having eternity come into time and lay hold of a man by force, compelling him to enter into a new order where the original gifts would be restored and harmony would be the law. But this would not be God's way, for it would mean the destruction of human freedom. God could lay hold of a note, but He could not lay hold of a man by force without abusing the greatest gift that He gave to man -— namely, freedom, which alone makes love possible.

Now we come to the greatest act of freedom the world has ever known — the reversal of that free act which the Head of humanity performed in Paradise when he chose non-God against God. It was the moment in which that unfortunate choice was reversed, when God in His Mercy willed to remake man and to give him a fresh start in a new birth of freedom under God. God could have made a perfect man to start humanity out of dust as He had done in the beginning. He could have made the new man start the new humanity from nothing as He had done in making the world. And He could have done it without consulting humanity, but this would have been the invasion of human privilege. God would not take a man out of the world of freedom without the free act of a free being. God's way with man is not dictatorship, but cooperation. If He would redeem humanity, it would be with human consent and not against it. God could destroy evil, but only at the cost of human freedom, and that would be too high a price to pay for the destruction of dictatorship on earth — to have a dictator in Heaven. Before remaking humanity, God willed to consult with humanity, so that there would be no destruction of human dignity; the particular person whom He consulted was a woman. In the beginning, it was man who was asked to ratify the gift; this time it is a woman. The mystery of the Incarnation is very simply that of God's asking a woman freely to give Him a human nature. In so many words, through the Angel, He was saying: "Will you make Me a man?" As from the first Adam came the first Eve, so now, in the rebirth of man's dignity, the new Adam will come from the new Eve. And in Mary's free consent we have the only human nature that was ever born in perfect liberty.

The story of this rebirth of freedom is told in the Gospel of St. Luke (1:26—35):
When the sixth month came, God sent the Angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt betrothed to a man of David's lineage; His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name was Mary. Into her presence the Angel came, and said, "Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women." She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, And cast about in her mind, what she was to make of such a greeting. Then the Angel said to her, "Mary, do not be afraid; Thou hast found favor in the sight of God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son and shalt call him Jesus. He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; The Lord will give him the throne of his father, David, And He shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; His Kingdom shall never have an end." But Mary said to the Angel, "How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?" And the Angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee and the Power of the most High will overshadow thee.

Thus the holy thing which is to be born of thee shall be known for the Son of God."
The Angel Gabriel, as God's spokesman, here asks Mary if she will freely give the Son of God a human nature, that He may also be the Son of man. A creature was asked by the Creator if she would freely cooperate with God's plan to take humanity out of the mire and to let him be ravished totally by God. Mary at first is troubled as to how she can give God a manhood, since she is still a virgin. The Angel settles the problem by telling her that God Himself, through His Spirit, will work that miracle within her.

But from our point of view there seems to be another difficulty. Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother and was even prepared for that honor by being preserved free from the primal sin that had infected all humanity. If she were so prepared, would she be free to accept or to reject, and would her answer be the full fruit of her free will? The answer is that her redemption was already completed but that she had not yet accepted or ratified it. It was, in a way, something like our dilemma. We are baptized as infants, and our bodies become temples of God, as our souls have been filled with infused virtues. We become not just creatures made by God but partakers in Divine nature. All this is done in Baptism before our freedom blossoms, the Church standing responsible for our spiritual birth as our parents did for our physical birth. Later on, however, we ratify that original endowment by the free acts of our moral lives — by receiving the Sacraments, by prayers, and by sacrifices. So, too, Mary's redemption was completed — as our Baptism was completed — but she had not yet accepted, ratified, or confirmed it before she gave her consent to the Angel. She was planned for a role in the drama of redemption by God, as a child is planned for a musical career by his physical parents, but it was not fulfilled until this moment. The Holy Trinity never possesses a creature without the consent of his will. When, therefore, Mary had heard how this was to take place, she uttered words that are the greatest pledge of liberty and the greatest charter of freedom the world has ever heard: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." As in Eden there took place the first espousals of man and woman, so, in her, there took place the first espousals of God and man, eternity and time, omnipotence and bonds. In answer to the question "Will you give me a man?" the marriage ceremony of love becomes bathed with new depths of freedom: "I will." And the Word was conceived in her.

Here, then, is freedom of religion;  God respects human freedom by refusing to invade humanity and to establish a beachhead in time without the free consent of one of His creatures. Freedom of conscience is also involved: before Mary could claim as her own the great gifts of God, she had to ratify those gifts by an act of will in the Annunciation. And there is the freedom of a total abandonment to God: our free will is the only thing that is really our own. Our health, our wealth, our power — all these God can take from us. But our freedom he leaves to us, even in hell. Because freedom is our own, it is the only perfect gift that we can make to God. And yet here a creature totally, yet freely, surrendered her will, so that one might say that it was not a matter of Mary's will doing the will of her Son but of Mary's will being lost in that of her Son. Later on in His life he would say: "If the Son of Man makes you free, you will be free indeed." If this be so, then no one has ever been more free than this belle of Liberty, the lady who sang the Magnificat.

But there is another freedom revealed through Mary. In human marriage there is something personal and also something impersonal or racial. What is personal and free is love, because love is always for a unique person; thus, jealousy is the guardian of monogamy. What is impersonal and automatic is sex, since its operation is to some extent outside human control. Love belongs to man; sex belongs to God, for the effects of it are beyond our determination. Whenever a mother gives birth to a babe, she freely wills the act of love that made her and her husband two in one flesh. But there is also the unknown, the free element in their love, namely, the decision whether a child will be born of the union — whether it will be a boy or a girl and the exact time of birth and even the moment of its conception are lost in some unknown night of love. We are thus accepted by our parents rather than willed by them — except indirectly.

But with Mary there was perfect freedom. Her Divine Son was not accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. He was willed. There was no element of chance; nothing was impersonal, for He was fully willed in mind and in body. How is this true? He was willed in mind, because, when the Angel explained the miracle, Mary said: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Then he was willed in Body for now, not in some past obscure night; conception took place as in the full effulgence of the brightness of the morn does the Divine Spirit of Love begin weaving the garment of flesh for the Eternal Word. The time was deliberately chosen; the consent was voluntary; the physical cooperation was free. It was the only birth in all the world that was truly willed and, therefore, truly free.

Every birth partakes of the nature of the plant kingdom, in that the flower has its roots on the earth, although its blossoms open to the heavens. In generation, the body comes from parents who are of the earth; the soul comes from God, Who is in Heaven. In Mary, there was hardly any earth at all except herself; all was Heaven. The other love that conceived within her was the Holy Spirit; the Person born of her was the Eternal Word -— the union of the Godhead and manhood was through the mysterious alchemy of the Trinity. She alone was of earth, and yet she, too, seemed more of Heaven.

Other mothers know that a new life beats within them, through the pulsations within the body. Mary knew that Divine Life beat within her, through her soul in communion with an Angel. Other mothers become conscious of motherhood through physical changes; Mary knew through the message of an Angel and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that comes from the body is as free as that which comes from the mind: there are mothers who yearn for children, but they have to wait upon processes subject to nature. In Mary alone a Child waited not on nature but on her acceptance of the Divine will. All she had to say was Fiat,  and she conceived. This is what all birth would have been without sin-— a matter of human wills uniting themselves with the Divine will and, through the union of bodies, sharing in the creation of new life through the usual processes of human generation. The Virgin Birth is, therefore, synonymous with Birth in Freedom.

Mary! — we poor creatures of earth are stumbling over our freedoms, fumbling over our choices. Millions of us are seeking to give up their freedom — some by repudiating it, because of the burden of their guilt — some, by surrendering it to the moods and fashions of the time -— others, by absorption into Communism, where there is only one will, which is the dictator's, and where the only love is hate and revolution!

We speak much of freedom today, Mary, because we are losing it — just as we speak most of health when we are sick. Thou art the Mistress of Freedom because thou didst undo the false freedom that makes men slaves to their passions by pronouncing the word God Himself said when He made light and again when thy Son redeemed the world — Fiat! Or, be it done unto me according to God's will. As the "no" of Eve proves that the creature was made by love and is therefore free, so thy Fiat  proves that the Creature was made for love as well. Teach us, then, that there is no freedom except in doing, out of love, what thou didst do in the Annunciation, namely, saying Yes to what Jesus asks.


The Song of the Woman: the Visitation
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952


 


One of the most beautiful moments in history was that when pregnancy met pregnancy --— when child bearers became the first heralds of the King of Kings. All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child. From that day to this, Christians have ever been the defenders of the family and the love of generation. If we ever sat down to write out what we would expect the Infinite God to do, certainly the last thing we would expect would be to see Him imprisoned in a carnal ciborium for nine months; and the next to last thing we would expect is that the "greatest man ever born of woman," while yet in his mother's womb, would salute the yet imprisoned God-Man. But this is precisely what took place in the Visitation.

At the Annunciation the Archangel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was about to become the mother of John the Baptist. Mary was then a young girl, but her cousin was "advanced in years," that is, quite beyond the normal age of conceiving. "See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month, to prove that nothing is impossible with God. And Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word.' And with that the Angel left her" (Lk. 1:36-38).

The birth of Christ is without regard to man; the birth of John the Baptist is without regard to age! "Nothing is impossible with God." The Scripture continues the story:
"In the days that followed, Mary rose up and went with all haste to a city of Juda, in the hill country where Zachary dwelt; and entering in she gave Elizabeth greeting. No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit; so that she cried out with a loud voice, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment" (Lk. 1:39-45).

Mary "went with all haste"; she is always in a hurry to do good. With deliberate speed she becomes the first nurse of Christian civilization. The woman hastens to meet a woman. They serve best their neighbor who bear the Christ within their hearts and souls. Bearing in herself the Secret of Salvation, Mary journeys five days from Nazareth to the city of Hebron, where, according to tradition, rested the ashes of the founders of the people of God: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The terraced fields of Juda
pregnant with seed
called out to her
as she passed,
praising the Child
she was yet to bear;
invoking His Blessing
on their expectancy. (1)

"She gave Elizabeth greeting"; springtime served the autumn. She, who is to bear Him Who will say: "I came not to be ministered unto but to minister," now ministers unto her cousin, who bears only His trumpet and His voice in the wilderness. Nothing so provokes the service of the needy as the consciousness of one's own unworthiness when visited by the grace of God. The handmaid of the Lord becomes the handmaid of Elizabeth.

On hearing the woman's greeting, the child whom Elizabeth bore within her "leaped in her womb." The Old Testament is here meeting the New Testament; the shadows dissolve with joy before the substance. All the longings and expectations of thousands of years as to Him Who would be the Savior are now fulfilled in this one ecstatic moment when John the Baptist greets Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Mary is present at three births: at the birth of John the Baptist, at the birth of her own Divine Son, and at the "birth" of John the Evangelist, at the foot of the Cross, as the Master saluted him: "Behold thy mother!" Mary, the Woman, presided at the three great moments of life: at a birth on the occasion of the Visitation, at a marriage at the Marriage Feast of Cana, and at a Death, or surrender of Life, at the Crucifixion of her Divine Son. [Bishop Sheen and St. Alphonsus interpret the second chapter of Luke differently in which it reads that Mary remained for about three months with her cousin then departed for her own house; then St. Luke records that Elizabeth bore her son. St. Alphonsus is taking it literally in time sequence and Fulton Sheen reads it not sequentially but poetically or stylistically. --- The Web Master.]

"The child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit." A Pentecost came before Pentecost. The physical body of Christ within Mary now fills John the Baptist with the Spirit of Christ; thirty-three years later the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church, will be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Mary, too, will be, in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. John is sanctified by Jesus. So Jesus is not as John --— not man alone, but God as well.

The second part of the second most beautiful prayer in the world, the Hail Mary, is now about to be written; the first part was spoken by an Angel: "Hail (Mary) full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women" (Lk. 1:28).

Now Elizabeth adds the second part in a "loud voice"; "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)." Old age is here not jealous of youth or privilege, for Elizabeth makes the first public proclamation --— that Mary is the Mother of God: "How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?" She learned it less from Mary's lips than from the Spirit of God nestling over her womb. Mary received the Spirit of God through an Angel; Elizabeth was the first to receive it through Mary.
 
Cousin-nurse at birth, Mother-nurse at death. There is nothing Mary has that is for herself alone --— not even her Son. Before He is born, her Son belongs to others. No sooner does she have the Divine Host within herself than she rises from the Communion rail of Nazareth to visit the aged and to make her young. Elizabeth would never live to see her son lose his head to the dancing stepdaughter of Herod, but Mary would live and die at once in seeing her Son taste death, that death might be no more. ... Elizabeth, describing how the God-Man hidden within Mary worked on her soul and the new life within her old body, exclaimed: "Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment" (Lk. 1:44, 45). Eve had believed the serpent; Elizabeth now praises Mary for blotting out the ruin of Eve by believing in God.

But no sooner did an unborn child leap with joy in a prison house of flesh than a song leaped with joy to Mary's lips. To sing a song is to possess one's soul. Maria, the sister of Moses, sang after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Deborah sang after the defeat of the Canaanites. Wherever liberty is, there the free sing. Elizabeth's husband sang the Benedictus to usher in the New Order, for Our Lord came "not to destroy the law but to fulfill it." Yet only as a Mirror, in whom Elizabeth sees reflected the unborn Emmanuel, does Mary glow with the song of those future days when He alone shall be the Light of the World. Mary smiles through tears of joy, and she makes rainbow of a song. At least until the Birth, the Woman shall have mirth. After those nine months He, Who is sheathed within her flesh, would say: "I come not to bring peace, but the sword" (Mt. 10:34).
 
The Magnificat is the hymn of a mother with a Child Who is at once the "Ancient of Days." Like a great artist, who has finished a painting in a few months, Mary could say: "In how short a time, and yet it is my life," so the song sprang from Mary's lips like a jet in a few seconds —-- and yet she was a lifetime in composing it.

She gathered up the soul melodies of her people --— a song of David, a song above all which Hannah sang centuries before at the door of the tabernacle of Shiloh, when she brought her infant son Samuel, "to lend him to the Lord as long as He liveth" (1 Sam. 1:28). But Mary makes their words and her own refer not to the past but to the future, when the Law of Fear will give way to the Law of Love, and when another life, another kingdom, will arise in a towering flight of sanctity and praise.

"My soul magnifies the Lord: My spirit has found joy in God, Who is my Savior." The faces of women had been veiled for centuries, and the faces of men were veiled, too, in the sense that men hid themselves from God. But now that the veil of sin is lifted, the Woman stands upright and looks at the face of God to praise Him. When the Divine enters into the human, then the soul thinks less of asking than of loving Him. The lover seeks no favors from the beloved; Mary has no petitions but only praise. As the soul becomes detached from things and is conscious of itself and of its destiny, it knows itself only in God. The egotist magnifies himself, but Mary magnifies the Lord. The carnal think first of body, and the mediocre think of God as an afterthought. In Mary nothing takes precedence over Him Who is God the Creator, the Lord of history, and the Savior of mankind.

When our friends praise us for our deeds, we thank them for their kindness. When Elizabeth extols Mary, Mary glorifies her God. Mary receives praise as a mirror receives light: she stores it not, nor even acknowledges it, but makes it pass from her to God to Whom is due all praise, all honor and thanksgiving. The shortened form of this song is: "Thank God." Her whole personality is to be at the service of her God. Too often do men praise God with our tongues, while our hearts are far from Him. "Words go up, but thoughts remain below." But it was the soul and spirit of Mary, and not her lips, that overflowed in words, because the secret of Love within had already burst its bonds.

Why magnify God, Who cannot become less by subtraction through our atheism or greater by the addition of our praise? It is true --— not in Himself does God change stature through our recognition, any more than, because a simpleton mocks the beauty of a Raphael, the painting loses its beauty. But, in us, God is capable of increase and decrease as we are lovers or sinners. As our ego inflates, the need of God seems to be less; as our ego deflates, the need of God appears in its true hunger.

The love of God is reflected in the soul of the just, as the light of the sun is magnified by a mirror. So Mary's Son is the Sun, for she is the moon. She is the nest —-- He the Fledgling Who will fly to a higher Tree and will then call her home. She calls Him her Lord or Savior, even though she is preserved free from the stain of Original Sin, for it is due entirely to the merits of the Passion and Death of her Divine Son. In herself she is nothing, and she has nothing. He is everything! Because He has looked graciously upon the lowliness of His handmaid —-- because He Who is Mighty, He whose name is Holy, has wrought these wonders for me.

The proud end in despair, and the last act of despair is suicide or the taking of one's life, which is no longer bearable. The humble are necessarily the joyful, for where there is no pride, there can be no self-centeredness, which makes joy impossible.

Mary's song has this double note; her spirit rejoices because God has looked down on her lowliness. A box that is filled with sand cannot be filled with gold; a soul that is bursting with its own ego can never be filled with God. There is no limit on God's part to His possession of a soul; it is the soul alone that can limit His welcome, as a window curtain limits the light. The more empty the soul is of self, the greater the room in it for God. The larger the emptiness of a nest, the bigger the bird that can be housed therein. There is an intrinsic relation between the humility of Mary and the Incarnation of the Son of God within. She whom the heavens could not contain now tabernacles the King of the Heavens Himself. The Most High looks on the lowliness of His handmaid.
 
Mary's self-emptying, alone, would not have been enough, had not He Who is her God, her Lord and Savior, "humbled Himself." Though the cup be empty, it cannot hold the ocean. People are like sponges. As each sponge can hold only so much water and then reaches a point of saturation, so every person can hold only so much of honor. After the saturation point is reached, instead of the man's wearing the purple, the purple wears the man. It is always after the honor is accepted that the recipient moans in false humility: "Lord, I am not worthy."

But here, after the honor is received, Mary, instead of standing on her privilege, becomes a servant-nurse of her aged cousin and, in the midst of that service, sings a song in which she calls herself the Lord's handmaid --— or better still the bondwoman of God, a slave who is simply His property and one who has no personal will except His own. Selflessness is shown as the true self. "There was no room in the inn" because the inn was filled. There was room in the stable because there were no egos there —-- only an ox and an ass.
God looked over the world for an empty heart —-- but not a lonely heart —-- a heart that was empty like a flute on which He might pipe a tune --— not lonely like an empty abyss, which is filled by death. And the emptiest heart He could find was the heart of a Lady. Since there was no self there, He filled it with His very Self.

"Behold, from this day forward, all generations will count me blessed." These are miraculous words. How can we explain them, except by the Divinity of her Son? How could this country girl, coming from the despised village of Nazareth and wrapped in anonymity by Judean mountains, foresee in future generations how painters like Michelangelo and Raphael, poets like Sedulius, Cynewulf, Jacopone da Todi, Chaucer, Thompson, and Wordsworth, theologians like Ephrem, Bonaventure, and Aquinas, the obscure of little villages, and the learned and the great would pour out their praise of her in an unending stream, as the world's first love, and say of their impoverished rhymes:
And men looked up at the woman made for the morning
When the stars were young,
For whom, more rude than a beggar's rhyme in the gutter,
These songs are sung.

Her Son will later give the law explaining her immortal remembrance: "He that humbleth himself, shall be exalted." Humility before God is compensated for by glory before men. Mary had taken the vow of virginity and, seemingly, thus prevented her beauty from passing on to other generations. And yet now —-- through the power of God —-- she sees herself as the mother of countless generations without ever ceasing to be a virgin. All generations who lost the favor of God by eating the forbidden fruit will now exalt her, because through her they enter once again into the possession of the Tree of Life. Within three months Mary has had her eight Beatitudes:
1. "Blessed art thou because full of grace," said the Archangel Gabriel.
2. "Blessed art thou for thou shalt conceive in thy womb the Son of the Most High, God."
3. "Blessed art thou, Virgin Mother, for 'the Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.'"
4. "Blessed art thou for doing God's will: 'Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.'"
5. "Blessed art thou for believing," said Elizabeth.
6. "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)," added Elizabeth.
7. "Blessed art thou among women."
8. "Blessed art thou, for the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment."
Lowliness and exaltation are one in her: lowliness because, judging herself to be unworthy of being the Mother of Our Lord, she took the vow of virginity; exalted because God, looking upon what Mary believed was her nothingness, once more created a world out of "nothing."

Blessedness is happiness. Mary had everything that could make a person truly happy. For to be happy, three things are required: to have everything one wants, to have it united in one person who is loved with all the ardor of one's soul, and to know that this is possessed without sin. Mary had all three.

If her Divine Son had not intended that His Mother should be honored where He is adored, He would never have permitted these prophetic words of hers to have had fulfillment. He would have nudged the hands of the artists at their canvas, would have stopped the lips of the poets, and would have frozen our fingers as we told our beads.

How quickly the great men and women are forgotten, and how few of their names are remembered at all! A guidebook is necessary for us to identify the dead in Westminster Abbey; few are the citizens who know their world war heroes, after whom the streets were named. But here in Mary is a young girl, obscure and unknown, in an outpost of the Roman Empire; she who affirms that the law of forgetfulness will be suspended in her favor, and she prophesies it before a single Gospel has been written, before the Son of God has seen the light of day in the flesh.
He has mercy upon those who fear Him, from generation to generation; He has done valiantly with the strength of His arm driving the proud astray in the conceit of their hearts; He has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty handed; He has protected His servant Israel, keeping His merciful design in remembrance, according to the promise which He made to our forefathers, Abraham and his posterity for ever more.

This part of the Magnificat is the most revolutionary document ever written, a thousand times more revolutionary than anything Karl Marx wrote. In relation to the preceding verses, it is suggestive to compare Mary's Revolution with the Revolution of Marx and Communism.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION
Mary

Mary begins with the soul and God. "My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit has found joy in God Who is my Savior." The whole universe revolves around these two realities: the soul aspiring to an infinity of happiness, which God alone can supply. Marx

Marx ended the first of his books with the words: "I hate all the gods." For Communism there is only matter endowed with its own inner contradiction, which begets movement. Since there is only matter, there is no soul. The belief that each man has value "is founded," said Marx, "on the Christian illusion that every man has a soul."

There is no God, because a belief in God alienates man from himself and makes him subject to someone outside self. There is not God, but man. "Religion is the Opium of the people."
 

THE FUTURE OF REVOLUTION
Mary

"All generations will count me blessed." She will be an exception to the law of forgetfulness, because the Lord of History has willed that she be venerated through the centuries. History is providentially determined. The progress and fall of civilizations depend on the moral ordering of human life. Peace is the tranquility of order, and order implies justice to God and neighbor. Peace fails when each man seeks his own and forgets the love of God and neighbor.  Marx

History is dialectically determined. It is not God or the way men live that decides the progress and decay of civilization but a law of class conflict that continues until Communism takes over and classes no longer exist. The future is determined by matter. The present generation and all the past can look to a remote future where they will dance on the graves of their ancestors. Certain classes are destined to be the funeral pyre to light future generations, lifting clenched fists over the corpse of Lenin . 

FEAR AND REVOLUTION
Mary

"He has mercy on those who fear Him, from generation to generation." Fear is here understood as filial, that is, a shrinking from hurting one who is loved. Such is the fear a son has for a devoted father and the fear a Christian has of Christ. Fear is here related to love.  Marx

Communism is founded not on filial but on servile fear, the kind of fear a slave has for a tyrant, a worker has for a dictator. The fear begotten by the revolution is a compulsion neurosis, born not of love but of power. A revolution that destroys filial fear of God always ends in the creation of servile fear of man.
 

TECHNIQUE OF REVOLUTION

Both Mary and Marx advocate the exaltation of the poor, the dethroning of the proud, the emptying of the rich in favor of the socially disinherited, but they differ in their technique.

Mary

Violence is necessary. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence." But the violence must be against self, against its selfishness, greed, lust, and pride.  The sword that strikes must be thrust inward to rid oneself of all that would make one despise neighbor.

The transfer of wealth, which makes for the prosperity of the poor, is inspired by an inner charity that loves God and neighbor.

Man has nothing to lose but the chains of sin, which darkens his intellect and weakens his will. By throwing off sin through the merits of Christ, man becomes a child of God, an heir of Heaven, enjoying inner peace in this life and even amid its trials, and an ultimate and final ecstasy of love in Heaven.  Marx

Violence is necessary. But the violence must be against neighbor, against those who own, who believe in God and in democracy. Egotism must be disguised as social justice.
The sword that strikes must be thrust outward to rid society of all that would despise a revolution based on hate.
The transfer of wealth takes place through "violent confiscation" and the shifting of booty and loot from one man's pocket to another.

Man has nothing to lose but the chains that bind him to God and to property. Thanks, then, to atheism and socialism, man will be restored to himself as the true god. 
 
It is remarkable how Mary begins her Magnificat with her personal experiences and soon passes on to identify herself with the whole human race. She looks ahead and sees what the effect of the birth of her Son will be to the world, how it will improve the whole condition of human life, how it will free the oppressed, feed the hungry, and assist the helpless. And when she said these words, her Son was not yet born --— although one would think, from the joy of the song, that He was already in her arms. She is singing here a song of pure faith about something certain to happen because God will make it come true, not predicting the mere revolution of blind material forces.

There is an intrinsic antagonism between her revolution and any other, because hers is based on the true psychology of human nature. Hers is based on the existence of an immense want, so serious and so imperative that every honest heart must crave for its satisfaction. Happy are they who experience, within themselves, the expelling of pride and egotism, and in whom spiritual hunger is fed --— who discover, before it is too late, that they are poor, and naked, and blind, and who seek to clothe themselves with the raiment of grace that her Son brings.


(1) Calvin Le Compte, I Sing of a Maiden (Macmillan, 1949).


When Did the Belief in the Virgin Birth Begin?
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952

In the study of law one of the most important subjects is evidence. One of the reasons why so few have arrived at a truth in which they believe absolutely is that they have forgotten the importance of proof. Evidence is one of the important divisions of theology. No belief can be accepted without proof or a "motive of credibility." One might say that the greatest skeptics are the Christians, for they will not believe in the Resurrection until they see the crucified and dead Man arise from the grave by the Power of God Himself. One could take any doctrine of Christianity as an example of proof and of evidence, but we will take one that the modern world has rejected for the last three hundred years (after believing in it for the first sixteen hundred years), namely, the virgin birth of Jesus from His Mother, Mary, who is a virgin.

Before adducing our evidence, it is important to realize that the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, does not derive her belief from the Scriptures alone. This will come as a surprise to those who, whenever they hear of a particular Christian teaching, ask: "Is it in the Bible?" The Church was spread throughout the entire Roman Empire before a single book of the New Testament was written. There were already many Martyrs in the Church before there were either Gospels or Epistles. An authoritative and recognized ministry was carrying on the Lord's work at His command, speaking in His name as witnesses of what they had seen, before anyone decided to write a single line of the New Testament.

To the early followers of Our Lord, and to us, the authority of the Apostles was equal to the authority of Christ, in the sense that it was the continuation of His teaching. Our Lord said: "He that heareth you, heareth Me." The Apostles first taught and then later on, two --— and only two —-- of the Twelve left a Gospel. To His Apostles, Our Lord said: "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world" (Mt. 28:19, 20). And again He said: "As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you" (Jn. 20:21). The Apostles were the nucleus of the Church, the new Israel, the first visible manifestation of Christ's Mystical Body. That is why on Pentecost they chose one out of the community of 120 to take the place of Judas. The successor had to be an eyewitness of the Gospel events; that was the absolute condition of being an Apostle. The Church was an organic body of cohesion, the source of unity and authority, with Peter presiding because he was Divinely appointed. It would still be almost twenty-five years before the first of the Gospels would be written; hence those who isolate a single text from the Bible from this Apostolic tradition, or study it apart from it, are living and thinking in a vacuum. The Gospels need tradition as the lungs need air, and as the eyes light, and as the plants the earth! The Good Book was second, and not first. When finally the Gospels were written, they were the mere secretarial reports of what was already believed.

Pick up the Gospel of Luke, which was written sometime before the year 67, and read the opening lines: "For as much as many have taken hand to set forth in order, a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us: According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word: It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the verity of those words in which thou hast been instructed" (Lk. 1:1-4). Luke did not write to Theophilus to tell him something brand new about someone who died over thirty-four years before. Theophilus, like every other member of the Apostolic Church in the Roman Empire, already knew about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, about the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. It is similar to this. If we pick up a history book that tells us that in 1914 World War I began, it does not create that belief in us, it just confirms what we already know. So, too, the Gospels set down in a more systematic way what was already believed. If we had lived in the first twenty-five years of the Church, how would we have answered this question: "How can I know what I am to believe?" We could not have said, "I will look in the Bible." For there was no New Testament Bible then. We would have believed what the Apostolic Church was teaching, and, until the invention of printing, it would have been difficult for any of us to have made ourselves so-called infallible private interpreters of the book.

Never once did Our Lord tell these witnesses of His to write. He Himself wrote only once in His life, and that was on the sand. But He did tell them to preach in His name and to be witnesses to Him to the end of the earth, until the consummation of time. Hence those who take this or that text out of the Bible to prove something are isolating it from the historical atmosphere in which it arose and from the word of mouth that passed Christ's truth. If there are three persons in a room, there are also in it six legs and six arms --— but they never create a problem because they are related to the physical organism. But if we found one arm outside the door, it would be a tremendous problem, because it is isolated from the organic whole. So it is with certain Christian truths that are isolated from the whole —-- for example, the doctrine of penance if it is isolated from Original Sin. It is only in the light of the circle of truth that the segments of the circle have a meaning.

When finally the Gospels were written, they recorded a tradition; they did not create it. It was already there. After a while men had decided to put in writing this living tradition and voice, which explains the beginning of the Gospel of Luke: "That thou mayest know the verity of those words in which thou hast been instructed." The Gospels did not start the Church; the Church started the Gospels. The Church did not come out of the Gospels; the Gospels came out of the Church.
 
The Church preceded the New Testament, not the New Testament the Church. First there was not a Constitution of the United States, and then Americans, who in the light of that Constitution decided to form a government and a nation. The Founding Fathers preceded the Foundation; so the Mystical Body of Christ preceded the reports written later by inspired secretaries. And incidentally, how do we know the Bible is inspired? It does not say so! Matthew does not conclude his Gospel saying: "Be sure to read Mark; he is inspired, too." Furthermore, the Bible is not a book. It is a collection of seventy-two books in all. It is worth opening a Bible to see if we have them all and have not been cheated. These widely scattered books cannot bear witness to their own inspiration. It is only by something outside the Bible that we know it is inspired. We will not go into that point now, but it is worth looking into.

A second fact to be remembered is that this Mystical Body of Christ has a memory, as we have a memory. If our physical life extends back forty-five years, we can remember two world wars. We speak of them as a living witness, not from the books written but from having lived through them, and maybe through having fought in them. We may later on have read the books about these two world wars. Yet they are not the beginning of our knowledge but only a recalling or a deepening of what we already knew. In like manner, Our Lord is the Head of the new humanity, the new fellowship, or the spiritual organism that St. Paul calls His Mystical Body. To this Mystical Body Christ is associated, first in His Apostles, and then in all who believed in Him throughout the centuries. This Body, too, has a memory, reaching back to Christ. It knows that the Resurrection is true because she, the Church, was there. The cells of our body change every seven years, but we are the same personality. The cells of the Mystical Body, which we are, too, may change every fifty or sixty years; yet it is still Christ that lives in that Body.
 
The Church knows that Christ rose from the dead and that the Spirit descended on the Apostles on Pentecost because the Church was there from the beginning. The Church has a memory of over nineteen hundred years, and this memory is called tradition. The Apostles' Creed, which was an accepted formula in the Church around the year 100 and which summed up the Apostles' teaching, is as follows:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right Hand of God, the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Note the words "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary." The truths expressed in the Creed were essential for entrance into the Church. Everyone who was Baptized early into Christ's Mystical Body believed in each of these truths. The Virgin Birth was as much an accepted Truth as the Resurrection in the first Christian centuries.
 
There is not one single quotation of the Gospels in the Creed. The early members of the Church were recording the early Christian tradition, of which the Gospels were only the literary expression. There are also several volumes of writings from within the first hundred years of the life of Our Lord; for example, the writing of St. Clement, one of the successors of St. Peter, who wrote in the year 92; and also Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, one of the successors of John the Evangelist; and Irenaeus, who names the twelve bishops of Rome; and Ignatius of Antioch, who said that he wanted to be "ground like wheat between the jaws of lions to be a living bread for His Savior."

Many of these writers do not quote the Gospels. We have fifteen hundred lines from Clement, and yet only two texts of his are from the New Testament; he was recording the Christian beliefs, accepted by the witnesses of Christ. Polycarp quotes the Gospel only three times, for he lived on familiar terms with many who had seen Our Lord, and he wrote what he knew and had learned from the Apostles. Ignatius of Antioch (who lived within seventy years of the life of Our Lord) wrote: "Our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived of the Holy Spirit… and was truly born of a virgin."
 
There is a double evidence from which we can draw, to learn true Christian teaching: one is the revealed Word of God in the Scriptures --— the other is the continuous teaching of the Church from the very beginning, that is, her living memory. Just as lawyers, in proving a point, use not only the bare statement of law but also the way the courts have understood and interpreted that law, so too, the Scriptures are not a dead letter but are living and breathing in the beautiful context of a spiritual fellowship.
 
In the year 108, there were still many living who had been boys when Our Lord was crucified --— who as young men saw and conversed with the Apostles before they were Martyred —-- and who, in scattered parts of the Roman Empire, were already familiar with the Christian tradition passed on through the Church. Some of the other Apostles were not Martyred until later --— John did not die until the year 100. Some of these early writers were closer to John and other Apostles than we are to World War I. And this much is certain: if the Apostles, who lived with Our Lord and who heard Him speak on the open hills and in the temple --— who listened to Him preach on the Kingdom of God forty days after His Resurrection --— did not teach the Virgin Birth, no one else would have taught it. It was too unusual an idea for men to make up; it would have been ordinarily too difficult for acceptance if it had not come from Christ Himself!

The one man who might be most inclined to doubt the historical fact of the Virgin Birth on natural grounds (because he was a physician) was the second Evangelist, St. Luke. And yet he tells us the most about it. From the beginning Our Lord had many enemies. Certain aspects of His teaching were denied by heretics, but there was one teaching that no early heretic denied, and that was that He was born of a Virgin. One would think that this should have been the doctrine first attacked, but the Virgin Birth was accepted by believers and early heretics alike. It would have been silly to try to convince anyone of the Virgin Birth if he did not already believe in the Divinity of Christ; that is why, probably, it would have been unwise for Mary to speak of it until after the Resurrection, although Joseph, Elizabeth, and probably John the Baptist already knew of it --— and, need we say, the Son of God Himself, Who brought it all to pass.

"One-texters" say that the Bible speaks of Our Lord as having brethren; therefore, they conclude, He was not born of a Virgin. But this claim can be answered. When a preacher in a pulpit addresses his congregation, "My dear brethren," it does not mean that everyone in the Church has the same mother. Secondly, the word "brother" is used in Sacred Scripture in the wide sense, to cover not only one's relatives but also one's friends; for example, Abraham calls Lot his brother: "Pray let us have no strife between us two, between my shepherds and thine; are we not brethren?" (Gen. 13:8). But Lot was not his brother. Thirdly, several who are mentioned as brothers of Christ, such as James and Joseph, are indicated elsewhere as the sons of another Mary, the sister of the mother of Jesus and wife of Cleophas! "And meanwhile ' his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen, had taken their stand beside the Cross of Jesus" (Jn. 19:25). Fourthly, James, who is particularly mentioned as the brother of Jesus: "But I did not see any of the other Apostles, except James, the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19), is regularly named, in the enumeration of the Apostles, as the son of another father, Alphaeus (Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18; Lk. 6:15).

The so-called brethren of Our Lord are nowhere mentioned in the Scripture as the sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary. Our Blessed Lord Himself used the term "brethren" in a large sense. "For one is your Master; and all you are brethren" (Mt. 23:8). "And stretching forth His hand towards His Disciples He said: 'Behold ... my brethren' " (Mt. 12:49). Nowhere in Scripture is it said that Joseph had begotten brothers and sisters of Jesus, as nowhere does it say that Mary had other children besides her Divine Son.

The Gospel of St. John assumes the Virgin Birth. We humans can be born twice: once of our parents and once of the Holy Spirit, given to us by Our Lord in Baptism. This is what Our Lord meant when He told the old man Nicodemus that he must be born again, the first birth being of the flesh, the second of the spirit. What makes us Christian is this second birth through Baptism. But notice how it relates to the Virgin Birth of Our Lord. St. John, in the beginning of his Gospel, says that Our Lord gave us the "power to become the Sons of God." Then he tells us that this happens by a birth. But he immediately distinguishes, saying that it is not like a human birth, because there is in it neither blood, nor sex, nor human will, but solely the power of God. This statement of St. John assumes a common knowledge of the Virgin Birth. But how could any Christian understand such a birth, if it had not already happened? No one who at the end of the first century read the beginning of the Gospel of St. John was amazed that he should speak of a new generation without sex. For by this time, the whole Christian world knew that that is how Christianity had come into being. The Virgin Birth is God's idea, not man's. No one would have thought of it, if it had never happened. Pagan religions have no idea of it; their myths are of the union of gods with women, who bore children following a sexual union. All the love stories of Zeus and the other gods were of this anthropomorphic character. Nothing could be further from the truth than to represent these births as "virgin births."

St. Paul also implies the Virgin Birth of Christ by the use of a different word for "birth." Speaking of the earthly origin of the Son of God, he writes: "That Gospel, promised long ago by means of His prophets in the holy Scriptures, tells us of his Son, descended, in respect of his human birth, from the line of David, but, in respect of the sanctified spirit that was His, marked out miraculously as the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead; Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:14). "Then God sent out his Son on a mission to us. He took birth from a woman, took birth as a subject of the law, so as to ransom those who were subject to the law, and make us sons by adoption" (Gal. 4:4-5). "He dispossessed Himself, and took the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and presenting Himself to us in human form" (Phil. 2:7). Whenever St. Paul describes the early incarnation of Our Lord, he never uses the ordinary word to describe birth, which word is used in every other New Testament passage: namely, the verb gennao. But in the four instances where he touches on the temporal beginnings of the Son of God, he uses an entirely different word, genemenos, which comes from an entirely different verb, ginomai.

Never once does he employ the word gennao of Our Lord and His Mother, the word meaning "to be born," which is used throughout the New Testament; but when he speaks of the coming of Our Lord, he uses a form of the verb ginomai which means "to come into existence," "to become." In one passage (Gal. 4:23, 24, 29) he uses the verb "to be born" three times, to describe the birth of Ishmael and Jacob, but refuses to use it in the same chapter and context for the birth of Christ. The New Testament thirty-three times speaks of the birth of a child, and in each instance uses the word gennao, but it is never once used by St. Paul to describe the birth of Christ. St. Paul absolutely avoids saying Our Lord was born in the usual way. Our Lord was born into the human family; He was not born of it. God formed Adam, the first man, without the seed of a man, so why should we shrink from the thought that the new Adam would also be formed without the seed of a man? As Adam was made of the earth, into which God breathed a living soul, so the body of Christ was formed in the flesh of Mary by the Holy Spirit. So firmly rooted was the Virgin Birth in Christian tradition that none of the early apologists ever had to defend the Virgin Birth. It was believed in even by heretics, as surely as the Crucifixion, because it stood on the same footing as a historical fact.
 
There are two birth stories in the Gospel: those of Jesus and of John the Baptist. But notice the different stress in each story. The Gospel story of John the Baptist centers on the father, Zachary. The Gospel story of the birth of Jesus centers on the mother, Mary. In each instance, there were difficulties from the scientific point of view. Zachary was an old man, and his wife had long since passed the age of bearing children. "And Zachary said to the Angel: 'By what sign am I to be assured of this? I am an old man now, and my wife is far advanced in age’ " (Lk. 1:18). "But Mary said to the Angel, 'How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?’ " (Lk. 1:34). Mary was a Virgin with the vow of virginity. The power of God had to operate in both cases, with Zachary doubting, and Mary accepting. For his doubt, Zachary was made dumb for a time.

No one ever makes a fuss against Zachary and Elizabeth bearing "the greatest man ever born of woman," but some do fuss about the Virgin Birth. This is not because of the human difficulties, for to God these are surmountable. The real reason for incredulity is that the attack on the Virgin Birth is a subtle attack on the Divinity of Christ. He who believes that Our Lord is true God and true man never is troubled with the Virgin Birth.


No mother whose son has won distinction for himself, either in a profession or in the field of battle, believes that the respect paid her for being his mother detracts from the honor or dignity that is paid her son. Why, then, do some minds think that any reverence paid to the Mother of Jesus detracts from His Power and Divinity? We know the false rejoinder of those who say that Catholics "adore" Mary or make her a "goddess," but that is a lie. Since no reader of these pages would be guilty of such nonsense, it shall be ignored.

Where do this coldness, forgetfulness, and, at the least, indifference to the Blessed Mother start? From a failure to realize that her Son, Jesus, is the Eternal Son of God. The moment I put Our Divine Lord on the same level with Julius Caesar or Karl Marx, with Buddha or Charles Darwin, that is, as a mere man among men, then the thought of special reverence to His Mother as different from our mothers becomes positively repellent. Each famous man has his mother, too. Each person can say: "I have my mother, and mine is as good as or better than yours." That is why little is written of the mothers of any great men —-- because each mother was considered the best mother by her son. No one mother of a mortal is entitled to more love than any other mother. Therefore no sons and daughters should be required to single out someone else's mother as the Mother of mothers.

Our Lord described John the Baptist as "the greatest man ever born of woman." Suppose that a cult were started to honor his mother, Elizabeth, as superior to any other mother? Who among us would not rebel against it as excessive? Everything the critics would say of such exaggeration would be well taken, for the simple reason that John the Baptist is only a man. If Our Lord is just another man, or another ethical reformer, or another sociologist, then we share, even with the most bigoted, the resentment against thinking that the Mother of Jesus is different from any other mother.

The Fourth Commandment says: "Honor thy father and thy mother." It says nothing about honoring Gandhi's mother or Napoleon's father. But the Commandment to honor our fathers does not preclude adoring the Heavenly Father. If the Heavenly Father sends His Divine Son to this earth, then the Commandment to honor our earthly mothers does not preclude venerating the Mother of the Son of God.

If Mary were only the mother of another man, then she could not also be our mother, because the ties of the flesh are too exclusive. Flesh allows only one mother. The step between a mother and a stepmother is long, and few there are who can make it. But Spirit allows another mother. Since Mary is the Mother of God, then she can be the Mother of everyone whom Christ redeemed.

The key to understanding Mary is this: We do not start with Mary. We start with Christ, the Son of the Living God! The less we think of Him, the less we think of her; the more we think of Him, the more we think of her; the more we adore His Divinity, the more we venerate her Motherhood; the less we adore His Divinity, the less reason we have for respecting her. We could even resent hearing her name, if we had become so perverse as not to believe in Christ the Son of God. Never will it be found that anyone who really loves Our Lord as a Divine Savior dislikes Mary. Those who dislike any devotion to Mary are those who deny His Divinity or find fault with Our Lord because of what He says about hell, divorce, and judgment.

It is on account of Our Divine Lord that Mary receives special attention, and not on account of herself. Left to herself, her motherhood would dissolve into humanity. But when seen in the light of His Divinity, she becomes unique. Our Lord is God Who became man. Never before or since did Eternity become time in a woman, nor did Omnipotence take on the bonds of flesh in a maid. It is her Son who makes her motherhood different.

A Catholic boy from a parochial school was telling a university professor who lived next door about the Blessed Mother. The professor scoffed at the boy, saying: "But there is no difference between her and my mother." The boy answered: "That's what you say, but there's a heck of a lot of difference between the sons."

That is the answer. It is because Our Lord is so different from other sons that we set His Mother apart from all mothers. Because He had an Eternal Generation in the bosom of the Father as the Son of God and a temporal generation in the womb of Mary as the Son of Man, His coming created a new set of relationships. She is not a private person; all other mothers are. We did not make her different; we found her different. We did not choose Mary; He did.

But why was there a Virgin Birth? Because Christ is the Son of God, we cannot be as indifferent to the circumstances of His birth as we would be to the birth of the butcher or the baker. If Mary told the Apostles after Pentecost about His virgin birth, it must have made a difference; if the Apostles put it in their Creed and teaching, it must have made a difference. Once Christ is accepted as the Son of God, there is immediate interest not only in His prehistory, which John describes in the Prologue of his Gospel, but also in His history and particularly in His birth.

Is the Virgin Birth fitting and becoming? The challenge to our faith in the Virgin Birth is not related by anyone (except in the Jewish Talmud) to sinfulness on Mary's part. The challenge concerns the physical possibility of a miraculous process of life. By keeping His Mother absolutely stainless, He has prevented the doubts about His Divine Paternity from being such that they would wound her heart, her womanly heart. It is impossible for us to imagine or feel, even to a slight degree, the vast ocean of love of Christ for His Mother. Yet if even we were faced with the problem of keeping the miasmic breath of scandal from our own mothers, what would we not do? And is it therefore hard to believe that the omnipotent Son of God would do all in His power to protect His Own Mother? With this in mind, there are many conclusions apparent.

No great triumphant leader makes his entrance into the city over dust --- covered roads when he could come on a flower-strewn avenue. Had Infinite Purity chosen any other port of entrance into humanity but that of human purity, it would have created a tremendous difficulty --— namely, how could He be sinless if He was born of sin-laden humanity? If a brush dipped in black becomes black, and if cloth takes on the color of the dye, would not He, in the eyes of the world, have also partaken of the guilt in which all humanity shared? If He came to this earth through the wheat field of moral weakness, He certainly would have some chaff hanging on the garment of His human nature.

Putting the problem in another way: How could God become man and yet be a sinless man and the Head of the new Humanity? First of all, He had to be a perfect man in order to act in our name, to plead our defense, and to pay our debt. If I am arrested for speeding, you cannot walk into the courtroom and say: "Judge, forget it, I will take the blame." If I am drowning, I cannot save anyone else who is drowning. Unless Our Lord is outside the sin-current of humanity, He cannot be Our Savior. "If the blind lead the blind, then both fall into the pit," said Our Lord. If He was to be the new Adam, the new Head of Humanity, the Founder of a new corporation or Mystical Body of regenerated humanity, as Adam was the head of fallen humanity, then He also had to be different from all other men. He had to be absolutely perfect, sinless, the Holy of Holies, all that God ever conceived man to be.

Such is the problem: How could God become man and yet be sinless man without Original Sin? How, in the language of St. Paul, could He "be like unto us in all things save sin"? How could He be a man, by being born of a woman? He could be a sinless man by being born of a virgin. The first statement is obvious: that He is born of a woman, then He shares in our humanity. But how would being born of a virgin make Him free from Original Sin?

Now, it must never be thought that the Incarnation would have been impossible without the Virgin Birth. Rash, indeed, would be the human mind to dictate to Almighty God the methods that He should use in coming to this earth. But once the Virgin Birth is revealed, then it is proper for us to inquire into its fitness, as we are now doing. The Virgin Birth is important because of its bearing upon the solidarity of the human race in guilt. The human race became incorporated to the first Adam by being born of the flesh; incorporation to the new Adam, Christ, is by being born of the spirit, or through a virgin birth. Thanks to it, we see how Our Blessed Lord entered into the sinful race from the outside. Therefore, upon Him the curse did not rest, save as He freely bore it for those whom He redeemed by His blood. Nowhere do the New Testament writers argue from the Virgin Birth to the Godhead of the Virgin-born. Rather do they argue from it His sinless humanity.

To sum up: in order that Jesus Christ might be a descendant of Adam, he had to be born of a daughter of Adam. But the process of generation and birth of any individual is invisible. The only way to show that this process in the birth of Christ was miraculous was to have its invisible workings develop in a woman agreed by all to be incapable of having experienced the process --— a virgin. Joseph, the just man, stood for all humanity when in his heart he questioned the fidelity of Mary. More than any other person he knew how cruel it was to place that doubt even in the face of the most incontrovertible evidence. He witnessed to Mary's immaculate life and her amiability even before her Son was born. His doubt was settled by Heaven itself. St. Joseph, more than any other human being on this earth, had a right to know the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. And just as any husband is the prime witness of the fidelity of his wife, so, too, is Joseph in the case of Mary, his espoused; his testimony establishes for all men her virginity and the miraculous nature of the generation and birth of her Son.

As Father Joseph Tennant points out, there is a type of this miraculous birth in the story of Abraham and Sara. When they journeyed down to Egypt, Abraham asked Sara to say that she was his sister rather than his wife, lest the Egyptians kill him. The Pharaoh took her into his household. How long she lived with the Egyptian King is not indicated, but some space of time, and the Pharaoh and his household were punished with a sickness because of it. He finally dismissed both Abraham and Sara from his palace. There is no expression of divine wrath reported in this case. But after God had promised that Sara would bear a son whose father would be Abraham, it was important that there be no doubt in Abraham's mind or in anybody else's about the paternity of Sara's son. Some time after the promise, in Gerara, there was danger that the King, Abimelech, would take her into his harem. With shameful cowardice Abraham permitted it to be done. (He was punished for this when God ordered him to sacrifice Isaac.) But God intervened immediately by appearing to Abimelech at night and threatening to wipe out his whole kingdom if he dared to touch Sara. "And Abimelech forthwith rising up in the night. . . called for Abraham and said to him, 'What hast thou done to us?'" It was not enough merely to have protected Sara. Abraham had to know from the lips of Abimelech himself that Sara was untouched, just as Joseph did in the case of Mary. And thus Isaac, the first of the "children of promise" (Gal. 4:28) and of the miraculous seed of Abraham, was born.

Mary was not sinless because she was a virgin, but the best sign of her sinlessness was her virginity. Just as the Gospels prove the humble humanity of Christ by naming among his ancestors Lamech, the boastful murderer; Abraham, the coward; Jacob, the liar; Judas, the adulterer; Ruth, the pagan; David, the murderer and adulterer; and many idolatrous kings, showing that He was like to us in all things except sin, so, too, the same Gospels disassociate Mary from all sin in order to show her to be as much as possible "in the image and likeness of God." Mary was of the house of David, but Christ's relationship to that line is not given through Mary, but through Joseph, His foster father. And it had to be that the Mother of God was sinless in order that we might more easily believe that she had flung before the face of the world woman's greatest challenge to sin —-- the vow of virginity —-- and kept it and made it bear divine fruit.

We do not believe that Jesus is God because He was born of a virgin mother, as the Apostles and Evangelists did not believe it for that reason alone. We believe in the Divinity of Christ because of the evidence of the Resurrection, the marvel of the Gospel portrait, the growth of the Church, the miracles and prophecies of Christ, the consonance of His doctrine with the aspirations of the human heart. The Virgin Birth is rather related to the manhood of Christ and His separateness from the sin that affected all men who are born of the union of man and woman. Far from treating the Virgin Birth as the dazzling mark of Divinity, the Te Deum regards it as Our Lord's sublime condescension to the lowly conditions of humanity:

When thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man: Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.

The Virgin Birth is the safeguard of the sinlessness of the human nature that Our Blessed Lord assumed. The only salvation that is given to men on this earth is in the name of Him Who as God Himself entered the ranks of sinful men. That no one should ever deny He was a man, He was born like the rest of men from the womb of a woman —-- a fact that so scandalized Marcion that he said: "A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes is not the kind of a God that I will adore."

In the Incarnation, God the Son initiates the process of the re-creation of His own earlier and disordered creation by the method of clothing Himself with those very elements within it that had fallen into disarray. For the first time since the Fall of Man, a completely perfected unit of humanity is created in the world. This humanity is united substantially to the very Person of the Son of God.

What do all denials of the Virgin Birth testify? Generally, to the subtle attempt to pull down the new order of humanity and the race of the second Adam into the unredeemed world of the old Adam. If a human father supplied the human nature of Christ, then Christ is not the new Adam. The Virgin Birth keeps the Divine initiative of Redemption to God Himself. If the initiation of the new order is given to man, then it is taken from God. Without the Virgin Birth, Our Lord would be entangled in a sinful humanity. With it, He is incarnate in humanity without its sin. By getting rid of the Virgin Birth, one seeks to get rid of the Divine initiative within the race of the new Adam. The early heretics doubted the humanity of Our Lord, and so they denied that He had a human mother. Modern agnostics doubt the true Divinity, so they add a human father to His parentage.

There is never any danger that men will think too much of Mary; the danger is that they will think too little of Christ. Coldness toward Mary is a consequence of indifference to Christ. Any objection to calling her the "Mother of God" is fundamentally an objection to the Deity of Christ. The consecrated term Theotokos, "Mother of God," has ever since 432 been the touchstone of the Christian Faith. It was not that the Church then had the intention of expanding Mariology; it was rather that she was concerned with Christological orthodoxy. As John of Damascus said: "This name contains the whole mystery of the Incarnation." Once Christ is diminished, humanized, naturalized, there is no longer any use for the term "Mother of God." It implies a twofold generation of the Divine Word: one eternal in the bosom of the Father, the other temporal in the womb of Mary. Mary therefore did not bear a "mere man" but the "true God." No new person came into the world when Mary opened the portals of the flesh, but the Eternal Son of God was made man. All that came into being was a new nature, or a human nature to a Person Who existed from all eternity. It was the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Theanthropos, or God-Man, and Theotokos, or Mother of God, go together and fall together.

It will be discovered that so-called Christians who think they believe in the Divinity of Christ but do not believe in Mary as the Mother of God fall generally into four ancient heresies. They are Adoptionists, who believe that Christ was a mere man but after birth was adopted by God as His Son. Or they are Nestorians, who held that Mary gave birth to a man who had only a close union with Divinity. Or they are Eutychians, who denied the human nature of Christ and hence made Mary merely an instrument in a theophany. Or they are Docetists, holding that Christ's nature was only a phantom or an appearance. Those who are offended at reverence paid Mary, if they will analyze their thoughts, will discover that they are holding a Docetist or some similar ancient error. Even if they profess the Divinity of Christ in His earthly existence, such people shrink from affirming that His human nature is glorified with Him at the right hand of the Father, where He makes intercession for us. As some no longer think of Christ as God, so some no longer think of Christ as glorified Man. If He is no longer Man, then Mary is no longer His Mother. But if He is still Man, the relation of Mary to Him extends beyond Bethlehem and Calvary even to His Mystical Body the Church. No one, therefore, who thinks logically about Christ can understand such a question as: "Why do you speak so often of His Mother?"

The Virgin Birth, indeed, was a new type of generation. As our mind begets a thought without in any way destroying the mind, so Mary begot the Word within herself without in any way affecting her virginity. There are various ways of generating, but the three principal ways are carnal, intellectual, and Divine. The carnal is sexual, whether it be in animals or in humans. Second is the generation of a thought within the mind. I take the idea of "fortitude." That thought, or word (for it is a word even before I pronounce it), does not exist in the outside world. It has neither weight, nor color, nor longitude. Whence came it, then? It was begotten by the chaste generation of the mind. This intellectual generation is really a feeble image of the spiritual order of the Eternal Generation of the Son by the Father. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." God thinks a thought or a Word. But God does not think many thoughts or words. He thinks only one Word, which reaches to the abyss of all that is known or can be known. That Word is the perfect image of Himself as the Thinker. Because it has been eternally generated, God the Thinker is called the Father, as the principle of generation, and the Word is called the Son as the term of generation.

God willed that there be another kind of generation that would be neither wholly intellectual nor wholly carnal but, in the order of flesh, would reflect His eternal generation in time. God willed to take on a human nature like our own through a virgin, while conserving the virginity of His Mother, and showing precisely that He is the Word of God. As our mind does not alter or destroy itself in the begetting of a thought, so neither does the virginal body of Our Blessed Mother go through any alteration in begetting Him, as the Son of God made man. The Word of God willed that His generation in the order of the flesh and in time be elevated with as close a resemblance as possible to His Heavenly generation.

Christ is a Mediator between God and humanity; Mary is the Mediatrix between Christ and us. Our Lord is a Mediator between God and man. A mediator is like a bridge that unites two opposite banks of a river, except that here the bridge is between Heaven and earth. As you cannot touch the ceiling without a stepladder acting as a mediator, so sinful man could not in justice reach God, except by One Who mediated and was both God and man. As man, He could act in our name, take on our sins; as one of us, He redeems us on the Cross and gives us new life in His Resurrection. But as God, His words, miracles, and death have an infinite value, and therefore He restores more than we lost. God became man without ceasing to be either God or man and therefore is our Mediator, Our Savior, Our Divine Lord.

As we study His Divine life, seeing Him as the first refugee persecuted by a cruel government, working as a carpenter, teaching, and redeeming, we know that it all began when He took on our human nature and became man. If He had never taken on our human flesh, we would never have heard His Sermon on the Mount or have seen Him forgive those who dug His hands and feet with nails on the Cross. But the Woman gave Our Lord His human nature. He asked her to give Him a human life —-- to give Him hands with which to bless children, feet with which to go in search of stray sheep, eyes with which to weep over dead friends, and a body with which to suffer --— that He might give us a rebirth in freedom and love.

It was through her that He became the bridge between the Divine and the human. If we take her away, then either God does not become man, or He that is born of her is a man and not God. Without her we would no longer have Our Lord! If we have a box in which we keep our money, we know that one thing we must always give attention to is the key; we never think that the key is the money, but we know that without the key we cannot get our money. Our Blessed Mother is like the key. Without her we can never get to Our Lord, because He came through her. She is not to be compared to Our Lord, for she is a creature and He is a Creator. But if we lose her, we cannot get to Him. That is why we pay so much attention to her; without her we could never understand how that bridge was built between Heaven and earth.

It may be objected: "Our Lord is enough for me. I have no need of her." But He needed her, whether we do or not. And, what is more important, Our Blessed Lord gave us His Mother as our Mother. On that Friday men call Good, when He was unfurled upon the Cross as the banner of salvation, He looked down to the two most precious creatures He had on earth: His Mother and His beloved disciple John. The night before, at the Last Supper, He had made His last Will and Testament, giving us that which on dying no man was ever able to give, namely, Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Thus He would be with us, as He said, "all days unto the consummation of the world." Now in the darkening shadows of Calvary, He adds a codicil to His will. There beneath the Cross, not prostrate, as the Gospel notes, "stood" His Mother. As a Son, He thought of His Mother; as a Savior, He thought of us. So He gave to us His Mother: "Behold thy mother."

At last we see illumined the Gospel's description of His birth, namely, that Mary "brought forth her first born and laid him in a manger." Her first born. St. Paul calls Him the "first born of all creatures." Does that mean that she was to have other children? Most certainly! But not according to the flesh, for Jesus was Her only Son. But she was to have other children by the spirit. Of these John is the first, born at the foot of the Cross, maybe Peter is the second, James, the third, and all of us the millionth and millionth of children. She gave birth in joy to Christ, Who redeemed us, then she gave birth in sorrow to us, whom Christ redeemed! Not by a mere figure of speech, not by a metaphor, but in virtue of Baptism did we become children of Mary and brothers of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Just as we do not shrink from the thought of God giving us His Father, so that we can pray: "Our Father," so neither do we rebel when He gives us His Mother, so that we can pray: "Our Mother." Thus the Fall of man is undone through another Tree, the Cross; Adam through another Adam, Christ; and Eve through the new Eve, Mary.

Born of the Virgin Mary: this is a true statement not only of Christ but also of every Christian, although in a lesser way. Every man is born of woman in the flesh as a member of the race of Adam. He is also born of the Woman in the Spirit if he is of the redeemed race of Christ. As she formed Jesus in her body, so she forms Jesus in our souls. In this one Woman are virginity and motherhood united, as if God willed to show us that both are necessary for the world. Things separated in other creatures are united in her. The Mother is the protector of the virgin, and the Virgin is also the inspiration of motherhood.

One cannot go to a statue of a mother holding a babe, hack away the mother, and expect to have the babe. Touch her and you spoil him. All other world religions are lost in myth and legend except Christianity. Christ is cut off from all the gods of paganism because He is tied to woman and to history. "Born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate." Coventry Patmore rightly calls Mary "Our only Savior from an abstract Christ." It is easier to understand the meek and humble heart of Christ by looking at His Mother. She holds all the great Truths of Christianity together, as a piece of wood holds a kite. Children wrap the string of a kite around a stick and release the string as the kite climbs to the heavens. Mary is like that piece of wood. Around her we wrap all the precious strings of the great Truths of our holy Faith —-- for example, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the Church. No matter how far we get above the earth, as the kite may, we always have need of Mary to hold the doctrines of the Creed together. If we threw away the stick, we would no longer have the kite; if we threw away Mary, we would never have Our Lord. He would be lost in the Heavens, like our runaway kite, and that would be terrible, indeed, for us on earth.

Mary does not prevent our honoring Our Lord. Nothing is more cruel than to say that she takes souls away from Christ. That could mean that Our Lord chose a mother who is selfish, He Who is Love itself. If she kept us from her Son, we would disown her! But is not she, who is the Mother of Jesus, good enough for us sinners? We would never have had Our Divine Lord if He had not chosen her.

We pray to the Heavenly Father, "Give us this day our daily bread." Though we ask God for our daily bread, we do not hate the farmer and the baker who help prepare it. Neither does the mother who gives the bread to her child dispense with the Heavenly Provider. If the only charge Our Lord has against us on Judgment Day is that we loved His Mother —-- then we shall be very happy!

As our love does not start with Mary, so neither does it stop with Mary. Mary is a window through which our humanity first catches a glimpse of Divinity on earth. Or perhaps she is more like a magnifying glass; she intensifies our love of her Son and makes our prayers more bright and burning.

God, Who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would be only a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing. With Him, she is the Mother of Men. On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet while we await the sunrise.

The Virgin Mother
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952


A woman can be a virgin in one of three ways: first, because she never had a chance to marry. This could be involuntary virginity (if she rebelled against her maidenhood), or it could be voluntary and meritorious (if she accepted it as God's Holy Will). No one is saved because of virginity alone --- of the ten virgins in the Gospel, five were foolish women. There are virgins in Hell, but there is no one in Hell who is humble. A woman can be a virgin a second way --- because she decided not to marry. This can be for social or economic reasons and, therefore, may have no religious value, but it can also be meritorious, if it is done for a religious motive --- for example, the better to serve a sick member of a family, or to dedicate oneself to neighbor for the love of God. Thirdly, a woman can be a virgin because she made a vow or a promise to God to keep herself pure for His sake although she has a hundred chances to marry.
 
Mary was a virgin in the third way. She fell in love at a very early age, and it was with God --- one of those beautiful loves where the first love is the last love, and the last love is Eternal Love. She must have been very wise, as well as good as a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, to have made such a choice. This alone made her very different from other women, who were anxious to bear children. When a married woman did not have children in that time, it was considered sometimes, but wrongly, that God was angry with her.

When Our Lady took the vow of virginity, she made herself "queer" to some people, for there will always be some material-minded people who cannot understand why some souls really love God. The Blessed Mother had a better chance than most women to become the Mother of Cod; for the Bible said that Our Lord would be born of the House of David, the great king who lived a thousand years before. And Mary belonged to that royal family. Without doubt Mary knew the prophecy of Isaias which some had forgotten, namely, that the Messias would be born of a Virgin. But it is more likely, from what she said later, that she considered herself too lowly for such dignity and took the vow in the hope that, through her sacrifice and prayer, the coming of the Messias might be hastened.

How do we know that Mary took a vow? We know it from her answer to the Angel Gabriel. Out from the great white throne of light came the Angel to this beautiful girl kneeling in prayer. This visit of the Angel to Mary is called the Annunciation because it announced the first really good news the earth had heard in centuries. Yesterday's news was about the fall of a man through a woman; today's news is about the regeneration of man through a woman.

An Angel salutes a woman! This would be a perversion of Heaven's order, worse than men's worshipping animals, unless Mary had been destined by God to be even greater than the Angels --- aye, their very Queen! And so the Angel, who was accustomed to be honored by men, now honors the Woman.

This Ambassador of God gives no order, but salutes her: "Hail, full of grace." "Hail" is our English translation for the Greek Chaire and probably is the equivalent of the old Aramaic formula Shalom, which meant "Rejoice" or "Peace be to you." "Full of grace," the rare word in the Greek of the Gospel, signifies either "most gracious" or "full of virtue." It was almost like a proper noun in which God's Emissary affirms that she is the object of His Divine Pleasure.
 
It was less the flashing visit of the Heavenly Messenger which troubled the humble maid, than the startling greeting and the unexpected tone of Divine praise. A short time later when she would visit her cousin, Elizabeth, she would be asked: "How is it that the Mother of my God should come to me?" But now it is Mary's turn to ask: "Why should the Angel of my God come to me?" The Angel hastens to assure her of the reason of the visit. She is to fulfill within herself that which the prophet Isaias had announced seven centuries before:

"A Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and His Name shall be called 'Emmanuel' (God with us)." (Isaias 7:14.) Making clear allusion to that prophecy, the Angel says: "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son; and thou shalt call His name, Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever." (Luke 1:30-33.)

God was choosing her, not just because she was a Virgin, but because of her humility. Later Mary herself declared this as the reason: "He looked upon the lowliness of his handmaid," (Luke 1:48.) So Mary was troubled. Nothing troubles a humble soul like praise, and here the praise comes from an Angel of God.

This great honor created a problem for Mary who had vowed to give her body as well as her soul to God. Therefore she could never be a mother. As she put it: "I know not man. I have willed not to know man."

The Bible never speaks of marriage in terms of sex, but as "knowledge," for example, "Joseph knew not Mary." (Matt, 1:19.) "Adam knew Eve and she conceived." (Gen, 4:1,) The reason it does this is in order to show how close a husband and wife should be: they are intended by God to be as close as your mind and that thing which you know. For example, you know that two plus two equals four, and you cannot think of anything coming between your mind and that. Your right arm is not united to your body so closely as anything which you know is united to your mind.

So Mary says: "How shall this be, seeing I know not man?" Mary did not say: "I will never marry, therefore, I cannot become the Mother of Jesus." That would have been disobedient to the Angel who asked her to become the Mother of Jesus. Neither did she say: "I do not want a husband, but let the Will of God be fulfilled," for that would have been untrue to herself and her vow. Mary merely wanted to be enlightened concerning her duty. The problem was not her virginity. She was familiar enough with the prophecy of Isaias to know that God would be born of a virgin. Mary's only concern was, that since up to this point in history motherhood and virginity had been irreconcilable, how will God arrange it? Her objection to the Virgin Birth was on the basis of science. The solution certainly cannot be natural; therefore it must be supernatural. God can do it. but how? Long before modern biology put a query to the Virgin Birth, Mary asked the scientific "How?" The Angel answers that, in her case, birth will come without human love, but not without Divine Love, for the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Who is the Love of God, will descend into her, and He that will be born of her will be "the Son of God."

Mary saw at once that this allowed her to keep her vow. All she wanted, anyway, was to love God. At this moment, when the Spirit of Love ravished her soul, so that she conceived the Christ within, there must have come to her the fulfillment of those ecstatic ravishments that creatures seek in the flesh but which they never quite attain. The flesh in its peaks of love when it becomes united to other flesh falls back upon itself with satiety, but here in this union of human love with Divine Love there is no throwback to self, but only the sheer delight of the ecstasy of the spirit. In flesh-love the ecstasy is first in the body and then indirectly in the soul. In this Spirit-love, it was Mary's soul that was first ravished and, then, not by human love but by God. The love of God would so inflame her heart, her body, her soul that when Jesus was born the world could truly say of Him: "This is a Child of Love."

Being told how Divine Love will supplant human love, and how she can be a Mother while remaining a Virgin in the great mystery of generation, Mary now gives her consent: "Be it done unto me according to thy word," that is, as God in His Wisdom wills it, so do I. And at that moment the Word was conceived in her: "The Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us," Before the Fall, it was woman who came from man in the ecstasy of sleep. Now it is man who comes from a woman in the ecstasy of the Spirit.

One of the most beautiful lessons in the world emerges from the Annunciation, namely the vocation of woman to supreme religious values. Mary is here recapturing woman's vocation from the beginning, namely, to be to humanity the bearer of the Divine. Every mother is this when she gives birth to a child, for the soul of every child is infused by God. She thus becomes a co-worker with Divinity; she bears what God alone can give. As the priest in the order of Redemption, at the moment of Consecration, brings the crucified Saviour to the altar, so the mother in the order of creation brings the spirit which issues from the Hand of God to the cradle of earth. With such thoughts in mind, Leon Bloy once said: "The more a woman is holy, the more she becomes a woman."

Why? It is not that women are naturally more religious than men. This statement is merely a rationalization made by men who have fallen from their ideals. Man and woman each have a specific mission under God to complement one another. Each, too, has its symbol in the lower order. Man may be likened to the animal in his acquisitiveness, mobility, and initiative. Woman may be likened to the flower, which is fixed between Heaven and earth; she is like the earth in her bearing of life; she is like the Heaven in her aspirations to blossom upward to the Divine. The mark of man is initiative; but the mark of woman is cooperation. Man talks about freedom; woman about sympathy, love, sacrifice. Man cooperates with nature; woman cooperates with God. Man was called to till the earth, to "rule over the earth"; woman to be the bearer of a life that comes from God. The hidden wish of every woman in history, the secret desire of every feminine heart, is fulfilled in that instant when Mary says: "Fiat" --- "Be it done unto me according to thy word."

Here is cooperation at its best. Here is the essence of womanhood --- acceptance, resignation, submission: "Be it done unto me." Whether it be the unmarried daughter who cares for the mother with her Fiat of surrender to service, or the wife who accepts the husband in the unity of the flesh, or the Saint who accepts little crosses proffered by her Saviour, or this Unique Woman whose soul submits to the Divine Mystery of mothering God made man --- there is present in varying degrees the beautiful picture of Woman in her sublimest vocation --- making the Total Gift, accepting a Divine assignment, being submissive for Heaven's holy purposes. Mary calls herself ancilla Domini, the handmaid of the Lord. Not to be this for any woman lowers her dignity. Woman's unhappiest moments are when she is unable to give; her most hellish moments are when she refuses to give. Tragedy stalks when woman is forced by economic or social circumstances to busy herself in those materialities which hamper or dam up the outpouring of that specific quality of surrender to Divine Purpose which makes her a woman. Denied an outlet for the bursting need of giving, she feels a deeper sense of emptiness than a man, precisely because of the greater depths of her fountain of love.

For a woman to be the Collaborator with the Divine --- whether it be helping the missions, visiting the sick after business hours, freely offering services to hospitals or mothering her children --- is to enjoy that equilibrium of spirit which is the essence of sanity. Liturgy speaks of woman as fulfilling mysterium caritatis: the mystery of love. And love does not mean to have, to own, to possess. It means to be had, to be owned, to be possessed. It is the giving of self for another. A woman may love God mediately through creatures, or she may love God immediately, as Mary did, but to be happy she must bring the Divine to the human. The explosive revolt of woman against her alleged inequalities with man is at bottom a protest against the restraints of a bourgeois civilization without faith, one which has chained her God-given talents.

What every woman wants in the "mystery of love" is not the bestial burst, but the soul. Man is driven by love of pleasure; woman by the pleasure of love, by its meaning and the enrichment of soul it grants. In this beautiful moment of the Annunciation, Woman reaches her sublimest fulfillment for God's sake. As the earth submits to the exigency of the seed for the sake of the harvest, as the nurse submits to the exigencies of the wounded for the sake of the healing, as the wife submits to the exigencies of the flesh for the sake of the child, so Mary submits to the exigencies of the Divine Will for the sake of the Redemption of the World.
 
Closely allied with this submission is sacrifice. For submission is not passivity, but action --- the action of self-forgetfulness. Woman is capable of greater sacrifices than man partly because her love is less intermittent, and also because she is unhappy without total and complete dedication. Woman is made for the sacred. She is Heaven's instrument on earth. Mary is the prototype, the pattern --- Woman who fulfills in herself the deepest aspirations of the heart of every daughter of Eve.

Virginity and maternity are not so irreconcilable as it would seem. Every virgin yearns to become a mother, either physically or spiritually, for unless she creates, mothers, nurses, and fosters life, her heart is as uneasy and awkward as a giant ship in shallow waters. She has the vocation of generating life, either in the flesh or in the spirit through conversion. There is nothing in professional life which necessarily hardens a woman. If such a woman does become hardened, it is because she is denied those specifically creative God-like functions without which she cannot be happy.

On the other hand, every wife and mother strives for spiritual virginity in that she would like to take back what she has given, that she might offer it all over again, only this time more deeply, more piously, more divinely. There is something incomplete about virginity, something ungiven, unsurrendered, kept back. There is something lost in all motherhood: something given, something taken --- and something irrecoverable.

But in the Woman there was realized physically and spiritually what every woman desires physically. In Mary, there was nothing unsurrendered, nothing lost; there was a harvest without the loss of the bud; an autumn in an eternal spring; a submission without a spoliation. Virgin and Mother! The only melody that fell from the violin of God's creation without the breaking of a string!

Woman has a mission to give life. The Life which is to be born of Mary comes without the spark of love of a human spouse, but with the Flame of Love of the Holy Spirit. There can be no birth without love; but the meaning of the Virgin Birth is Divine Love acting without benefit of the flesh. As a result, He Whom the Heavens could not contain she now contains within herself. This was the beginning of the Propagation of the Faith in Christ Jesus Our Lord, for in Her Virgin body is celebrated, as in a new Eden, the nuptials of God and man.

Because in this one Woman, Virginity and Motherhood are united, it must be that God willed to show how both are necessary for the world. What are separated in other creatures are united in her. The Mother is the protectress of the Virgin, and the Virgin is the inspiration of motherhood. Without mothers, there would be no virgins in the next generation; without the virgins, mothers would forget the sublime ideal that lies beyond the flesh. They complement one another, like the sun and the rain. Without the sun there would be no clouds, and without the clouds there would be no rain. The clouds, like mothers, surrender something in fecundating the earth; but the sun, like a virgin, recoups and recovers that loss by drawing the gentle drops back again into heaven. How beautiful to think that He Who is generated without a mother in Heaven is now born without a father on earth! Can we imagine a little bird building the very nest in which it is to be hatched? It is clearly impossible, because the bird would have to exist before it could build its own nest. But that is what happened, in a sense, with God, when He chose Mary as His Mother: He thought of Her from all eternity --- He made His Mother as the very nest from which He would be born. We have often heard friends and relatives say of a child: "You look like your father," or, "You look like your mother." Or, "You get your blue eyes from your mother's side," or "You get your smartness from your father's side." Well, Our Lord had no earthly father's side. Where did Our Lord get His beautiful face, His strong Body, His clean Blood, His sensitive mouth, His delicate fingers? He got them from His mother's side. Where did He get His Divinity, His Divine Mind that knows all things even our most secret thoughts, and His Divine Power over life and death? He got these from His Heavenly Father's side. It is a terrible thing for men not to know their father, but it is even more terrible not to know their Heavenly Mother. And the greatest compliment that can be paid to a true Christian is: "You took after your Father's side in grace, but in your humanity, you took after your Mother's side."


It is very difficult for the unspiritual-minded to think of a golden mean between marriage and being alone. They think that a person is either tied up with someone in wedded life, or else that he lives in solitude. The two are not exclusive, for there is such a thing as a combination of marriage and solitude, and that is absolute virginity with wedded life, in which there is a union of the soul of one with another and yet an absolute separateness of body. Only the joys of the spirit are shared; never the pleasures of the flesh.
 
Today the vow of virginity is taken only outside of human espousals or marriage, but among some Jews and among some great Christian Saints, the vow of virginity was sometimes taken along with espousals. Marriage then became the frame into which the picture of virginity was placed. Marriage was like a sea on which the bark of carnal union never sailed, but one from which one fished the sustenance for life.

There are some marriages where there is no unity of the flesh, because the flesh has already been sated and dulled. Some partners abandon passion only because passion has abandoned them. But there are also marriages wherein, after a unity of the flesh, couples have mutually pledged to God a sacrifice of the thrill of unity in the flesh for the sake of the greater ecstasies of the spirit. Beyond both of these, there is a true marriage where the exercise of the right to another's body is annulled --- and even the desire of it; such is the marriage of two persons with the vow of virginity. It is one thing to give up the pleasures of married life because one is jaded with them, and quite another to give up the pleasures before they are ever experienced. Here the marriage is of the heart and not of the flesh; it is a marriage such as the stars have, whose light unites in the atmosphere although the stars themselves do not; a marriage like the flowers in the garden in springtime, who give forth perfume, although they themselves do not touch; a marriage like an orchestration, where a great melody is produced but where one instrument is without contact with the other. Such a marriage was actually the type of marriage which took place between the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, one in which the right to another was surrendered for a higher purpose. The marriage bond does not necessarily imply carnal union. As St. Augustine says: "The basis of married love is the attachment of hearts."

First, then, we will inquire why there should have been a marriage at all, since both Mary and Joseph had taken the vow of virginity, and secondly, we will seek to understand the character of Joseph himself. The first reason for the espousal was that it kept the Blessed Mother covered with honor until the time came for her to reveal the Virgin Birth. We do not know exactly when she revealed the fact, but it is likely that it was done shortly after the Resurrection. There was no point in talking about the Virgin Birth until Our Lord had given the final proof of His Divinity. In any case, there were only a few who really knew it: the Mother herself, St. Joseph, Elizabeth, her cousin, and, of course, Our Blessed Lord. So far as public appearances went, it was thought that Our Blessed Lord was the son of  Joseph. Thus the reputation of the Blessed Mother was conserved; if Mary had become a Mother without a spouse, it would have exposed the mystery of Christ's birth to ridicule, and would have become a scandal to the weak.

A second reason for the marriage was that Joseph could bear witness to the purity of Mary. This involved, both for Mary and for Joseph, the greatest sorrow this side of Calvary. Every privilege of grace has to be paid for, and so Mary and Joseph had to pay for theirs. Mary did not tell Joseph that she was conceived by the Spirit of Love, because the Angel did not bid her do so. The Blessed Mother once revealed to a Saint: "Outside of Golgotha, I never suffered such intense agony as in those days when, despite myself, I brought worry to Joseph, who was so just." The sorrow of Joseph came from the inexplicable. On the one hand, he knew that Mary had taken the vow of virginity, as he had done. It seemed impossible to believe her guilty, because of her goodness. But, on the other hand, because of her condition, how could he believe otherwise? Joseph suffered then what the mystics have called "the dark night of the soul." Mary had to pay for her honor, particularly at the end of her life, but Joseph had to pay for his at the beginning. Because Joseph had kept his vow, he was naturally surprised when he heard that Mary was with child. The surprise that Joseph felt was like that of Mary at the Annunciation: "How shall this be, seeing I know not man?" Mary wanted then to know how she could be both a virgin and a mother; Joseph wanted to know how he could be a virgin and a father.. It took an Angel to reassure them both that God had found a way. No human knowledge of science can explain such a thing. Only those who listen to Angels' voices can pierce that mystery. As Joseph had a mind to put Mary away secretly, the Gospel lifts the veil of the mystery to him: "But hardly had the thought come to his mind, when an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take thy wife Mary to thyself, for it is by the power of the Holy Ghost that she has conceived this child; and she will bear a son, whom thou shalt call Jesus, for He is to save His people from their sins.' " (Matt. 1:20, 21.)

Joseph's worries were overcome by a revelation of the dignity of Christ's Virgin Birth and of the nature of His mission --- namely, to save us from our sins. The very words of the Angel: "Do not be afraid to take thy wife Mary to thyself," seem to support the view that Joseph already believed that a miracle had taken place in Mary and that that was why he "feared" to bring her into his own house. It is unlikely that any man told of a Virgin Birth would ever have credited it if there had not already been in his heart a belief in the Messias, Christ, Who was to come. Joseph knew that the Messias would be born of the family of David, and he himself was of that family. He also knew of the prophecies concerning the Child, even the one of Isaias that He would be born of a Virgin. If Joseph had not already been described as a just man, the message of the Angel and the honor that was to come to Mary would have been enough to have inspired great purity in him. For if a modern father were told that one day his son would be President of the United States, it would inspire a changed attitude toward his wife, the mother of the child. In like manner, all anxiety and anguish now leave Joseph, as his soul is filled with reverence and awe for the love of Mary's secret.

That brings us to the second interesting question concerning Joseph. Was he old or young? Most of the statues and pictures which we see of Joseph today represent him as an old man with a gray beard, one who took Mary and her vow under his protection with somewhat the same detachment as a doctor would pick up a baby girl in a nursery. We have, of course, no historical evidence whatever concerning the age of Joseph. Some apocryphal accounts picture him as an old man; Fathers of the Church, after the fourth century, followed this legend rather rigidly. The painter, Guido Reni, did so when he pictured Joseph as an old man with white hair.

But when one searches for the reasons why Christian art should have pictured Joseph as aged, we discover that it was in order better to safeguard the virginity of Mary. Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus, unconsciously, made Joseph a spouse, chaste and pure by age, rather than by virtue. But this is like assuming that the best way to show that a man would never steal is to picture him without hands; it also forgets that old men can have unlawful desires, as well as young men. It was the old men in the garden who tempted Susanna. But more than that, to make Joseph out as old portrays for us a man who had little vital energy left, rather than one who, having it, kept it in chains for God's sake and for His holy purposes. To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not ordain a man to his priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God.

 Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that Our Lord would prefer, for a foster father, someone who had made a sacrifice rather than someone who was forced to it. There is the added historical fact that the Jews frowned on a disproportionate marriage between what Shakespeare calls "crabbed age and youth"; the Talmud admits a disproportionate marriage only for widows or widowers. Finally, it seems hardly possible that God would have attached a young mother, probably about sixteen or seventeen years of age, to an old man. If He did not disdain to give His Mother to a young man, John, at the foot of the Cross, then why should He have given her an old man at the crib? A woman's love always determines the way a man loves: she is the silent educator of his virile powers. Since Mary is what might be called a "virginizer" of young men as well as women, and the greatest inspiration of Christian purity, should she not logically have begun by inspiring and virginizing the first youth whom she had probably ever met --- Joseph, the Just? It was not by diminishing his power to love, but by elevating it, that she would have her first conquest, and in her own spouse, the man who was a man, and not a mere senile watchman!

Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter's bench. Instead of being a man incapable of loving, he must have been on fire with love. Just as we would give very little credit to the Blessed Mother if she had taken her vow of virginity after having been an old maid for fifty years, so neither could we give much credit to a Joseph who became her spouse because he was advanced in years. Young girls in those days, like Mary, took vows to love God uniquely, and so did young men, of whom Joseph was one so pre-eminent as to be called the "just." Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the King, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.

Mary and Joseph brought to their espousals not only their vows of virginity, but also two hearts with greater torrents of love than had ever before coursed through human breasts. No husband and wife ever loved one another so much as Joseph and Mary. Their marriage was not like that of others, because the right to the body was surrendered; in normal marriages, unity in the flesh is the symbol of its consummation, and the ecstasy which accompanies a consummation is only a foretaste of the joy that comes to the soul when it attains union with God through grace. If there is satiety and fed-up-ness in marriage, it is because it falls short of what it was meant to reveal, or because the inner Divine Mystery was not seen in the act. But in the case of Mary and Joseph, there was no need of the symbol of the unity of flesh, since they already possessed the Divinity. Why pursue the shadow when they had the substance? Mary and Joseph needed no consummation in the flesh for, in the beautiful language of Leo XIII: "The consummation of their love was in Jesus." Why bother with the flickering candles of the flesh, when the Light of the World is their love? Truly He is Jesu, voluptas cordium. When He is the sweet voluptuousness of hearts, there is not even a thought of the flesh. As husband and wife standing over the cradle of their newborn life forget, for the moment, the need of one another, so Mary and Joseph, in their possession of God in their family, hardly knew that they had bodies. Love usually makes husband and wife one; in the case of Mary and Joseph, it was not their combined loves but Jesus Who made them one. No deeper love ever beat under the roof of the world since the beginning, nor will it ever beat, even unto the end. They did not go to God through love of one another; rather, because they went first to God, they had a deep and pure love one for another. To those who ridicule such holiness, Chesterton wrote:

That Christ from this creative purity
Came forth your sterile appetites to scorn.
Lo! in her house Life without Lust was born
So in your house Lust without Life shall die.

In a flesh-marriage, the body first leads the soul, and then, later, comes a more reposed state, when the soul leads the body. At this point, both partners go to God. But in a spirit-marriage, it is God Who possesses both body and soul from the beginning. Neither has a right to the other's body, for that belongs to the Creator through the vow. Mary and Joseph thus combined solitude and espousal through the spiritual magic of virginity along with togetherness. Joseph renounced paternity of the flesh, and yet found it in the spirit, as the foster father of Our Lord; Mary renounced maternity, and yet found it in her virginity, as the closed garden through which no one should pass except the Light of the World Who would break nothing in His coming --- any more than light breaks the window by coming into the room.
 
How much more beautiful Mary and Joseph become when we see in their lives what might be called the first Divine Romance! No human heart is moved by the love of the old for the young; but who is not moved by the love of the young for the young, when their bond is the Ancient of Days, Who is God? In both Mary and Joseph, there was youth, beauty, and promise. God loves cascading cataracts and bellowing waterfalls, but He loves them better, not when they overflow and drown His flowers, but when they are harnessed and bridled to light a city and to slake the thirst of a child. In Joseph and Mary, we do not find one controlled waterfall and one dried-up lake, but rather two youths who, before they knew the beauty of the one and the handsome strength of the other, willed to surrender these things for Jesus.
Leaning over the manger crib of the Infant Jesus, then, are not age and youth, but youth and youth, the consecration of beauty in a maid and the surrender of strong comeliness in a man. If the Ancient of Days turned back eternity and became young again; if the condition of entering Heaven is to be reborn and to become young again, then, to all young married couples: here is your model, your prototype, your Divine Imaginal. From these two spouses, who loved as no couple on earth has ever loved, learn that it takes not two to love, but three: you and you and Jesus. Do you not speak of "Our love" as something distinct from the love of each one of you? That love, outside of both of you, and which is more than the addition of your two loves, is the love of God.

Married couples ought to say the Rosary together each night, for their common prayer is more than the separate prayers of each. When the child comes, they should say it before the Crib, as Joseph and Mary prayed there. In this earthly Trinity of Child, Mother, and foster father, there were not two hearts with but a single thought, but one great Heart into which the other two poured themselves out as confluent streams. As trustees of carnal wealth, husband and wife will see that the flames of love have been given to them not to scorch the flesh, but to solder life. And children will ask, If He Who is the Son of God made Himself subject to His parents in reparation for the sins of pride, then how shall they escape the sweet necessity of obeying their parents who stand in the place of God? Democracy put man on a pedestal; feminism put woman on a pedestal. But neither democracy nor feminism could live a generation out unless a Child was put onto a pedestal. This is the significance of the marrying of Joseph and Mary.

Obedience and Love
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952


On the eleventh day of February 1895, on the forty-first anniversary of the revelation of Our Lady at Lourdes, M. Jaurθs spoke as follows in the French Chamber of Deputies:

"The most priceless good conquered by man through all his sufferings and struggles, and despite all his prejudices, is the idea that there is no sacred truth; that all truth that does not come from us is a lie … if God Himself ever appeared before men, the first duty of man would be to refuse obedience and to consider Him an equal with us, not a Master to Whom we should submit."

This affirmation of man as against God is not new, except in its verbiage. From the very beginning, man was a rebel against his Divine destiny; consider the steward, who pretends to be the master of the vineyard and then kills the messengers of the Lord --- the prodigal son who demands his share of the substance and then squanders it. Man has acted thus in the past, and now the revolution is again in full swing. A modern writer, explaining why he became a Communist, answered that one must go back to the garden of Eden to understand the real reason. There Satan tempted man, promising that "he would be like unto God." This desire of man to deny his dependence on his Creator and to set himself up as an absolute is the basic cause of men's becoming Communists. They are, fundamentally, already in revolt against God, and Communism gives the social pattern for that rebellion. The copy or the carbon then tries to be the original —-- but it could never strive to be the original unless it was already conscious that it was a carbon. Man is the shadow, who would be the substance; the pendulum, which would swing without being suspended from the clock; the painting, which would deny that an artist's hand ever touched it. The most daring of all sins is that of self-deification, and it is possible only because of a Divine Creation --— for who would want to be God unless he had come from the hands of God? The human "I" was not made for the "I" alone, but for God's service. The man, therefore, who refuses to seek the perfection of his personality, namely, God, must do one of two things: he must either inflate himself into an infinity and identify himself in a fantastic swelling with the dimensions of God, or else he must suffer a terrible emptiness and void within his ego, which is the beginning of despair. Thus there is pride at one end of the mystical self and hopelessness at the other. The will that breaks away from God always becomes an assertive will that will tread anything, ruthlessly, underfoot. All that a will divorced from God cares about is power. Nietzsche's will-to-power is synonymous with atheism --- not the mental atheism of the sophomore, who knows a smattering of science and of comparative religion, but an atheism of the will, which sets itself up as God. Through all the ages, and until the consummation of time, there will be those who will shriek before the Pilates of this world: "We will not have this Man rule over us!

Behind this rebellion, or disobedience of God, there are two basic assumptions. The first is that the intelligence invents or originates truth and does not discover or find it. In the nineteenth century it was very common for materialists to believe that they originated the laws of nature because they discovered them. They forgot that the scientist is actually a proofreader of the book of Nature and not its author. The second assumption is that subordination to another implies subjection. This implies a denial of all degrees and hierarchy in nature and in creation, as well as the reduction of mankind to an egalitarianism in which each man is a god.

This philosophy of pride assumes that independence must mean the want of any form of dependence. But independence is conditioned upon dependence. Our Declaration of Independence affirms certain basic freedoms, such as the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. But in a previous sentence it ascribes this independence to the fact that all of these are the endowments of a Creator. Because man is dependent on God, he is not dependent on a State. But once dependence on God is lost, then the State takes over the attributes of Divinity and, being material in its structure, crushes the last vestige of the human spirit. To correct this false deification of man, it is important once more to investigate the meaning of obedience.

Obedience does not mean the execution of orders that are given by a drill sergeant. It springs, rather, from the love of an order, and love of Him Who gave it. The merit of obedience is less in the act than in the love; the submission, the devotion, and the service that obedience implies are not born of servitude but are rather effects that spring from and are unified by love. Obedience is servility only to those who have not understood the spontaneity of love.

To comprehend obedience, one must study it between two great moments. The first moment was when a woman made an act of obedience to the will of God: "Be it done unto me according to thy word." The other moment was when a woman asked man to be obedient to God: "Whatsoever He shall say to you, that do ye." Between these historical facts is the story told by Luke: "And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their city Nazareth. And the Child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was in him.... And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them, and His mother kept all these words in her heart. Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men" (Lk 2:39, 40, 51, 52).

For the reparation of the pride of men, Our Blessed Lord humbled Himself in obedience to His parents: "And he was subject to them." It was God who was subject to man. God, Whom the principalities and powers obey, subjected Himself not only to Mary but to Joseph too, because of Mary. Our Blessed Lord Himself said that He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister." Now He makes Himself the servant not only of His parents but even of the community, for later on the townspeople will speak of Him as the Son of the carpenter. This humility, abstraction made from His Divinity, was exactly contrary to what one would expect of a man destined to become the reformer of the human race. And yet, what did this carpenter do during these thirty years of His obscurity? He made a coffin for the pagan world; He fashioned a yoke for the modern world; and He fashioned a Cross upon which He would be adored. He gave the supreme lesson of that virtue which is the foundation of all Christianity --- humility, submission, and a hidden life as a preparation for duty.

Our Lord spent three hours in redeeming, three years in teaching, and thirty years in obeying, in order that a rebellious, proud, and diabolically independent world might learn the value of obedience. Home life is the God-appointed training ground of human character, for from the home life of the child springs the maturity of manhood, either for good or for evil. The only recorded acts of Our Blessed Lord's childhood are acts of obedience --- to God, His Heavenly Father, and also to Mary and Joseph. He thus shows the special duty of childhood and of youth: to obey parents as the vice-regents of God. He, the great God Whom the heavens and earth could not contain, submitted Himself to His parents. If He was sent on a message to a neighbor, it was the great Sender of the Apostles who delivered the message. If Joseph ever bade Him search for a tool that was lost, it was the Wisdom of God and the Shepherd in search of lost souls who was actually doing the seeking. If Joseph taught Him carpentry, He Who was taught was One Who had carpentered the universe and Who would one day be put to death by the members of His own profession. If He made a yoke for the oxen of a neighbor, it was He Who would call Himself a yoke for men —-- and yet a burden that would be light. If they bade Him work in a little plot of garden ground, to train the creepers or water the flowers, it was He Who was the great Dresser of the vineyard of His Church, Who took in hand the water pot and the gardening tools. All men may ponder well the hint of a Child subject to His parents, that no Heavenly call is ever to be trusted that bids one neglect the obvious duties that lie near to hand.

There is an Oriental proverb that says: "The first deities the child has to acknowledge are his parents." And another says that "Obedient children are as ambrosia to the gods." The parent is to the child God's representative; and in order that parents may not have a responsibility that will be too heavy for them, God gives each child a soul, as so much clay that their hands can mold in the way of truth and love. Whenever a child is given to parents, a crown is made for it in Heaven; and woe to those parents if that child is not reared with a sense of responsibility to acquire that crown!

Although the words "He was subject to them" apply especially to that period of Our Lord's life between the finding in the Temple and the Marriage Feast of Cana, nevertheless they are also a true description of His course in after years. His whole life was one of subjection and submission. He said that He had come to do His Father's will, and now He was obeying it, for it was His Father's will that He have Mary for a Mother and Joseph as a foster father. Later on, He submitted to receiving John's Baptism, although He had no need of it. He also submitted to paying the tax for the support of the Temple, although He, as the Only-begotten Son of the Father, was rightfully exempt from that tax. He bade the Jews submit themselves to the Romans who had conquered them and to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. He bade His Disciples observe and do all that the Scribes and Pharisees enjoined, because they sat in Moses' Chair and held a position of authority; finally, He became obedient under the sentence of death, drinking with the utmost meekness --- even to the dregs --- the cup of suffering that His Father had appointed to Him.

What adds particular emphasis to the fact of His obedience was that Our Blessed Lord was subject to parents so much His inferiors --- even as a creature is far below a Creator. One day the sun in the heavens, in obedience to the voice of a Man, stopped in its course. So, obedient to the voice of Mary, the Light of the World submitted for thirty years --- I might almost say that it stopped in full midday to illumine, embrace, and enrich her for all eternity.

The Apostles had the advantage of only three years' teaching to prepare themselves for the establishment of His Kingdom, but the Blessed Mother had the advantage of thirty years. When one tries to imagine how much insight and inspiration would come from catching only a momentary glimpse of Wisdom Incarnate, ... think how much inspiration and wisdom Mary must have received from the years of communing with her Divine Son. She must have been instructed in the Paternity of God and learned how the Person of the Father could not be born or proceed from others, but how He was rather the origin of all else. She must have understood, too, the eternal generation of the Son by the Father, as being not inferior but equal in Divinity and Eternity. She must have understood, too, how the Holy Spirit, the Third Person, proceeded from the Father and the Son as from one principle, by an act of will, equal to the other Persons in the Divine nature. If Our Blessed Lord after His Resurrection could so inspire the disciples of Emmaus in the interpretation of Scripture, then what must have been the thirty years' rehearsal of the Scriptures to His Mother, as He explained to her how she was to be the new Eve, and how she was to share in His work of redemption beginning at Cana and ending at the Cross? Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of His life to her as He gave to His Apostles.

If the mere touch of the hem of His garment could cure a woman suffering with an issue of blood, then the human mind can hardly contemplate what thirty years of residence with the eternal Logos of God must have done for a human mind. After the years of companioning with Philip, Our Blessed Lord said to him, somewhat impatiently, at the Last Supper: "Have I been with you all this time and still you do not understand?" How much greater an understanding of His mysteries He must therefore have expected of His Mother, who had suffered with Him during all His hidden life!


Returning again to the idea of His obedience: the Gospel indicates immediately three effects of Our Lord's submission and obedience, namely, growth in age and grace and wisdom. The first effect of obedience is age, or bodily perfection. The inverse of this truth is that disobedience to nature destroys bodily health --- disobedience to God's law spoils spiritual health. By submitting Himself to the laws of human development, He consented to an unfolding that in childhood should exhibit a perfect child; in youth, a perfect youth; and in manhood, a perfect man. It was the unfolding of a perfect bud in a perfect flower. Whatever age one accepts as the one in which the body reaches its natural perfection, the fact is that it lasts only a short time, then begins the decline. As the moon begins to lessen as soon as it reaches its fullness, so too the human body grows to its peak of development and then begins its age. If thirty-three be taken as the age of full bodily growth and development, it would seem that Our Blessed Lord's ardent love for humanity waited until that age, when He had attained perfect growth and vigor, in order that He might offer His life in sacrifice at its very fullness. As the act of His will was total and complete, so the human nature that He would sacrifice on the Cross would not be wanting in anything for its perfect oblation. Obedience to the law of nature produces physical maturity; obedience to the law of parents produces mental maturity; obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father produces spiritual maturity. Our Blessed Lord, therefore, as the Lamb of God, submitted Himself to the shepherding of His Mother so that He might be physically perfect and without stain for the great day of His sacrifice on which He would be offered without opening His mouth.

The flower that is planted in the right place to absorb out of the earth and atmosphere the nutritive forces that it needs will grow. It toils not, neither does it spin, and yet its invisible machinery captures the sunbeams and converts them into flowers and fruit for the welfare of man. So children placed in the right environment grow in age, too. Place a waterwheel in a stream, and it turns; place it in the rocks, and it does not move. So long as we are in the wrong place, we cannot grow. The secret of the growth of Our Lord is that He started in the right place; He was bathed with the warmth and the light and the refreshment of a home that was dedicated to God. One cannot put a bomb under a child and make him a man. Each thing has its own appointed law of growth, provided its roots are properly fixed. All growth is silent, and there is not a word out of the home of Nazareth in these eighteen long years between the Finding in the Temple and the Marriage Feast. Thus, when nature is baptized in the fullness of the powers of spring, there is hardly a rustle. The whole movement takes place secretly and silently, for the new world comes up like the sound of a trumpet. The greatest moral structures grow from day to day without noise; God's kingdoms come without observation. So Our Blessed Lord stayed in His place, did His carpentry, was obedient to His parents, accepted the restraints of His position, met His cares with a transcendent disdain, drank in the sunlight of His Father's faith, possessed His soul in perfect patience, although urged by deep sympathy and a throbbing desire to save man. There was no hurry, no impatience, no quick maturing of power, no marring of strength by haste. When Perseus told Pallas Athena that he was ready to go forth, young as he was, against the fabled monster Medusa, the strange lady smiled and said: "Not yet; you are too young, and too unskilled, for this is Medusa, the mother of a monstrous brood. Return to your home and do the work that awaits you there. You must play the man in that before I can think you worthy to go in search of Medusa." If it is hurry that enfeebles us, it is the silent obedience to God's law that serves to strengthen us.

In addition to the growth in age, which is the fruit of obedience, the Gospel also indicates that there was a growth in grace and wisdom. These are both properties of the soul. As His human body grew in stature to fair and comely proportions, so His human intelligence and experimental knowledge unfolded gradually into full blossom. Growth in wisdom and grace or fervor for God imply that the person who grows is, at a more advanced age, wiser than when he was young --- he knows something and he understands something he did not know and understand before. But how could this be in His case, since He is the Son of God? Was He not God even when He was a child? And how can God be ignorant of anything --- or fail to understand anything? How could He grow in wisdom? Our Lord, even when He was a child, was Everlasting God, but it is also true that He was "manifest in the flesh." He became really and truly, and for our sake, an infant, a child, and a man. He did not merely seem to be human; He actually was human. In order that He might be really and truly a man, He consented, in His wonderful condescension, not to call into exercise those powers that He had as God. It is not too difficult for us to understand how a person, having strength, may refrain from using it. For example, a father can gently pick up a child, or a giant can turn the pages of a book. In like manner, a man may have strong and good eyesight, but he need not use it farther than he pleases. He may shut his eyes altogether; in that case he will see nothing. He may only half open the eyes --- in that case he will see only dimly and confusedly. Or he may live in a dungeon, where there are only a few straggling rays of light to pierce the gloom.

So with Our Blessed Lord --- He had in His Divine nature all wisdom and power; yet when He made His appearance among us as man, He did grow in that experimental knowledge which comes from living and doing certain things. He came into our dark nature, just as a free man might come out of the light of day into a dungeon and consent to be shut up. For a man in a prison may have the power to walk many miles, but the dungeon will permit him to walk only a few paces. He may have the power to see many miles, but his vision is limited to the prison walls. So Our Blessed Lord took a nature like ours in all things save sin and accommodated Himself to the feebleness of that nature --- limited Himself, if we may use the expression, to the walls of it. That is why Our Blessed Lord never worked a miracle in His Own behalf. Taking upon Himself a human nature, He subjected Himself to its limitations. But what is most interesting is that the subjection to His Blessed Mother is associated with growth in wisdom and favor with God. It is in His human nature that Our Blessed Lord gives us a perfect example of obedience.

This leads us to a forgotten aspect of obedience to law, namely, that intelligence is related to obedience. It is only by obedience that we grow in wisdom. A scientist who would know the laws of nature must sit passively before nature. He may not dictate to nature its laws, nor may he impose his own intelligence upon nature; rather, the more passive he is before nature, the more nature will reveal its secrets. And he who would play golf well must know how to hold the clubs aright, for here, too, wisdom is related to obedience. The more we obey the inherent laws of anything, the more that thing reveals itself to us. To obey God's laws because they are the ordinance of an All-wise and an All-loving God is the best means to discover the wisdom and the beauty of life. One whole Psalm of the Scriptures, Psalm 118, is devoted to the idea that in obedience to the ordinance of God we grow in intelligence. Our Blessed Lord, developing this idea later on in His life, said: "If any man will do the will of my Father he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of Myself." Because obedience is the secret of perfection and wisdom (which Our Lord revealed by being subject to His parents), He insisted in His great upheaval of values that: "Unless you become converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 18:3). The great gates of the Kingdom, which are resistant to the poundings and the thumpings of the mighty, will swing back at the simple touch of a child. No old people ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven --- certainly not those who have grown old in their own conceit. Child-likeness, with its accompanying obedience, is an indispensable qualification for membership in His community. Christianity began with the worship of a Babe, and only by the continued recognition of childlikeness will men be recognized as children of God. But childlikeness is not childishness. To be childish is to retain in maturity what should have been discarded at the threshold of manhood.


Childlikeness, on the contrary, implies that with the mental breadth and practical strength and wisdom of maturity there are associated the humility, trustfulness, spontaneity, and obedience of the child. It is the proud and the prigs and the bullies who make social life difficult --- the people who love the first places, who insist always on their own right, who refuse to serve unless they can be chairmen, who throw their weight around whether by fair means or by foul. Against all of these Our Blessed Lord sets Himself: first of all, by being obedient to His parents, and then, at the end of His life, by taking a towel and washing the feet of His disciples. "So it is that the Son of Man did not come to have service done Him; He came to serve others, and to give His life as a ransom for the lives of many" (Mt 20:28).

What makes the obedience of this Child all the more impressive is that He is the Son of God. He Who is the general of humanity becomes a soldier in the ranks; the king steps from His throne and plays the role of peasant. If He Who is the Son of God makes Himself subject to His Mother and foster father in reparation for the sins of pride, then how shall children escape the sweet necessity of obedience to those who are their lawfully constituted superiors? The Fourth Commandment, "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother," has been broken by every generation since the dawn of man. At Nazareth, children were taught obedience by Him Who really is the Commandment. In this particular instance, where the Child is Divine, one might think that He at least would have reserved for Himself the right of "self-expression." Mary and Joseph, it seems, could have, with great propriety, opened the first "progressive school" in the history of Christianity --- in which the child could do whatever He pleased: for the Child could never have displeased. And yet Our Lord says: "And He Who sent Me is with Me: He has not left Me all alone, since what I do is always what pleases Him" (Jn 8:29).

But there is no evidence that Jesus limited Mary and Joseph to the mere nominal right to command. The Gospel says: "He lived there in subjection to them." Two great miracles of humility and exaltation are involved --- God obeying a woman, and a woman commanding her God. The very fact that He makes Himself subject endows her with power. By this long span of voluntary obedience, He revealed that the Fourth Commandment is the bedrock of family life. For, looking at it in a larger way, how could the primal sin of disobedience against God be undone except by the obedience in the flesh of the very God Who was defied? The first revolt in God's universe of peace was the thunderbolt of Lucifer: "I will not obey!" Eden caught up the echo, and down the ages its infraction traveled, winging its way into the nook and crevices of every family where there were gathered a father, a mother, and a child.

By making Himself subject to Mary and Joseph, the Divine Child proclaims authority in the home and in public life to be a power granted by God Himself. From this follows the duty of obedience, for the sake of God and of one's conscience. As later on He would tell Pilate that the civil authorities exercised no power except that given them from above, so now by His obedience He bears witness to the solemn truth that parents exercise their authority in the name of God. Thus parents have the most sacred claim on their children, because their first responsibility is to God. "Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance" (Rom 13:1).

If the parents surrender their legitimate authority and primary responsibility to the children, the state takes up the slack. When obedience in conscience in the home vanishes, it will be supplanted by obedience by the force of the state. The glory of the ego, which infects the twentieth century, is so much social nonsense. The Divine glory of the state that is now taking the ego's place is a social nuisance. Believers in ego consciousness and collective consciousness may regard humility and obedience as vices, but they are the stuff of which homes are made. When in the one family of the world where one might legitimately excuse "child worship," for here the child is God, one finds, on the contrary, child obedience, then let no one deny that obedience is the cornerstone of the home. Obedience in the home is the foundation of obedience in the commonwealth, for in each instance conscience submits to a trustee of God's authority. If it be true that the world has lost its respect for authority, it is only because it lost it first in the home. By a peculiar paradox, as the home loses its authority, the authority of the state becomes tyrannical. Some moderns would swell their ego into infinity, but at Nazareth Infinity stoops down to earth to shrink into the obedience of a child.



Love and Sorrow
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952


Pleasure is the bait God uses to make creatures recognize their destiny, whether it be that of eating for the sake of the individual health, or mating for the sake of society. God also puts a limit on pleasure; one of these is a "fed-up-ness," which comes from nature, the other is that of the woman, who is most reasonable when man is most irrational. In this domain of the flesh, man is liberty, woman, the law.

If, then, a woman is not taught carnal pleasure by the man, two effects will follow: first, her restraining power will create continency and purity. Since pleasure is outgoing, she will become more inward and self-possessed, as if hugging a great secret to her heart. Desire is anticipation, pleasure is participation, but purity is emancipation. The second effect is just the opposite, namely, sorrow. She who lives without pleasure not only gives up something, she receives something --- it may be the hatred of those who see in her the enemy of the flesh, whether they be man or woman. Such is the story of virgins like Agatha, Cecilia, Susanna and, in our day, Maria Goretti. As the sun hardens mud, so purity provokes those who are already sinners to hardness of heart, persecution, and violence.

The day Mary declared: "I know not man," she not only affirmed that she was untaught by pleasures, but she also brought her soul to such a focused inwardness for God's sake that she became a Virgin --- not only through the absence of man, but also through the presence of God. The secret that she kept was no other than the Word! Bereft of the pleasures of the body but not of all joys, she could sing to her cousin, Elizabeth: "My soul doth rejoice in the Lord."
On the other hand, Mary was also a Woman of Sorrow. To love God immediately and uniquely makes a woman hated. The day she brought her Babe, her Divine Love, to the Temple, the old priest Simeon told her that a sword her soul would pierce. The hour the Roman sergeant ran the spear into the Heart of Christ, he pierced two hearts with one blow --- the heart of the God-man for Whom Mary gave up the knowledge of pleasure, and the heart of Mary, who gave her beauty to God and not to man.
 
No one in the world can carry God in his heart without an inner joy, and an outer sorrow; without singing a Magnificat to those who share the secret, and without feeling the thrust of a sword from those who want freedom of the flesh without the law. Love and sorrow often go together. In carnal love, the body swallows the soul; in spiritual love, the soul envelopes the body. The sorrow of the first is never to be satisfied; one who wants to drink the ocean of love is unhappy if limited to a mere cup with which to drink. The sorrow of the second love is never being able to do enough for the beloved.
 
In the human love of marriage, the joys of love are a prepayment for its duties, responsibilities, and, sometimes, its sorrows. Because the crosses lie ahead in human love, there is the Transfiguration beforehand, when the face of love seems to shine as the sun, and the garments are as white as snow. There are those who, like Peter, would wish to capitalize the joys and to make a permanent tabernacle of love on the mountain tops of ecstasy. But there is always the Lord, speaking through the conscience and saying that to capture love in a permanent form one must pass through a Calvary. The early transports of love are an advance, an anticipation, of the real transports that are to come when; one has mounted to a higher degree of love through the bearing of a Cross.
 
What most human love forgets is that love implies responsibility; one may not fool with the levers of the heart in the vain hope of escaping duties, fidelity, and sacrifice for the beloved. So-called birth control, which assists in neither birth nor control, is based on the philosophy that love is without obligations. The real problem is how to make humans realize the sacredness of love --- how to induce mothers to see a Messiahship in the begetting of children. The best way to achieve this would surely be to bring forward the example of a WOMAN WHO WOULD ACCEPT THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF LOVE WITHOUT THE PREPAYMENT OF PLEASURE --- one who would say: "I will do it all for nothing! I will accept the bearing of a child, the responsibility of His education, a share in His world mission," without even asking for the ecstasies of the flesh. Such is the role of the Blessed Mother. She undertook marriage, birth, a share in the Agony, all for the love of God, not asking the initial joys to prepare her for those trials. The best way to convince mankind that it must take the medicine which cures is to take it oneself and without the sugar coating, yet never wince because of its bitterness. The Sisters of Charity in the poor sections of our cities, the missionaries caring for the victims of leprosy --- these give inspiration to all social workers. The former do their work for nothing except the love of God, and thus they keep before the world the ideal of a disinterested affection for the hungry and the sick.
 
In the Annunciation, God told Mary, through an Angel, that she would conceive without the benefit of human affection and its joys --- that is, with no payment of pleasure to herself. She thus dissociated carnal joys and social responsibilities. Her sacrifice was a rebuke to those who would snare the music by breaking the lute, pick up the violins of life and never produce a tune, lift a chisel to marble and yet never bring forth a statue. But it also gave courage to those whose burdens are heavier than their pleasures --- to those who have children destined for death when they are hardly launched on the sea of life, to those who find their love's surrender betrayed and even despised. If Our Lord allowed Mary to suffer the trials that even the most grieved mother could suffer --- such as to have her Son pursued by the totalitarian soldiers at two years of age, to be a refugee in a foreign country, to point to a Father's business which would end in death, to be arrested  falsely, to be condemned by His Own people, and to suffer the taking-off in the prime of life --- it was in order to convince mothers with sorrows that trials without pleasures can be overcome, and that the final issues of life are not solved here below. If the Father gave His Son a Cross and the Mother a sword, then somehow sorrow does fit into the Divine Plan of life. If Divine Innocence and His Mother, who was a sinless creature, both underwent agonies, it cannot be that life is a snare and a mockery, but rather it is made clear that love and sorrow often go together in this life, and that only in the next life is sorrow left behind.

Christians are the only people in history who know that the story of the Universe has a happy ending. The Apostles did not discover this until after the Resurrection, and then they went through the ancient world shouting and screaming the excitement of the good news. Mary knew it for a long time, and in the Magnificat sang about it, even before Our Lord was born.

Great is the sorrow of a woman when her husband abandons his responsibility to her, and seeks what he calls "freedom" from what is his own flesh and blood. What the woman feels in such abandonment is akin to what the Church feels in heresy. Whenever, through history, those who are the members of her Mystical Body isolate themselves from her flesh and blood, not only do they suffer in their isolation, but the Church suffers still more. The irresponsibility of love is the source of life's greatest tragedies, and as the Church suffers more than the heretic, so the woman probably suffers more than the erring man. She stands as the "other half" of that man, a constant reminder to him and to society that what God joined together has, by a perverse will, been rent asunder. The husband may have left his spouse to teach another woman pleasure; but the wife remains as the unfinished symphony, clamoring for spiritual understanding. A civilization which no longer stands before God in reverence and responsibility has also renounced and denounced the dignity of woman, and the woman who submits and shares in such a divorce of responsibility from love stands in such a civilization either as a mirage or a pillar of salt.
 
The world is not shocked at seeing love and sorrow linked arm in arm, when love is not perfect; but it is less prepared to see immaculate love and sorrow in the same company. The true Christians should not be scandalized at this, since Our Lord is described as the Man of Sorrows. He Who came to this earth to bear a Cross might conceivably drag it through His Mother's heart. Scripture suggests that He schooled and disciplined her in sorrow. There is an expression used today, always in a bad sense, but which, if used in the right sense, could apply to the relations between Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, and that is "alienation of affections." He begins detaching Himself from His Mother, seemingly alienating His affections with growing unconcern --- only to reveal at the very end that what He was doing was introducing her through sorrow to a new and deeper dimension of love.
 
There are two great periods in the relations of Jesus and Mary, the first extending from the Crib to Cana, and the second, from Cana to the Cross. In the first, she is the Mother of Jesus; in the second, she begins to be the Mother of all whom Jesus would redeem --- in other words to become the Mother of men.

From Bethlehem to Cana, Mary has Jesus as a mother has a son; she even calls Him familiarly, at the age of twelve, "Son," as if that were her usual mode of address. He is with her during those thirty years, fleeing in her arms to Egypt, living at Nazareth, and being subject to her. He is hers, and she is His, and even at the very moment when they walk into the wedding feast, her name is mentioned first: "Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was there."

But from Cana on, there is a growing detachment, which Mary helps to bring on herself. She induced her Son to work His first miracle, as He changed her name from Mother to Woman, the significance of which will not become clear until the Cross. Readers of Genesis will recall how God promised that Satan would be crushed through the power of a woman. When Our Lord tells Mary that they are both involved in the manifestation of His Divinity, she practically sends Him to the Cross by asking for the first of the miracles and, by implication, His Death. A year or more later, as a devoted Mother, she follows Him in His preaching. It is announced to Our Lord that His Mother is seeking Him. Our Lord with seeming unconcern, turns to the crowd and asks: "Who is my Mother?" (Matt. 12:48.) Then, revealing the great Christian mystery that relationship is not dependent on flesh and blood but on union with Divine Nature through grace, He adds: "If anyone does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother." (Matt. 12:50.)

The ties that bind us to one another are less of race than of obedience to the Will of God. From that text originated the titles of "Father," "Mother," "Brother," and "Sister," as used throughout the Church to imply that our relations are in Christ rather than in human generation. He Who called His Mother, "Woman," is now telling us and her that we can enter a new family with her, as He has already taught us to enter into new bonds with His Own Heavenly Father. If we can call God "Our Father," then we can call her "Our Mother," if we do the Will of the Father.

The mystery comes to an end at Calvary when, from the Cross, Our Lord now hearkens back to Cana and again uses the word "Woman," the title of universal motherhood. Speaking to her of all of us who will be redeemed by His Precious Blood, He says: "Behold thy Son." Finally, to John who, unnamed, stood for us, He said: "Behold thy Mother." She becomes our Mother the moment she loses Her Divine Son. The mystery is now solved. What seemed an alienation of affection was in reality a deepening of affection. No love ever mounts to a higher level without death to a lower one. Mary dies to the love of Jesus at Cana, and recovers Jesus again at Calvary with His Mystical Body whom He redeemed. It was, for the moment a poor exchange, giving up her Divine Son to win us; but in reality, she did not win us apart from Him. On that day when she came to Him preaching, He began to merge the Divine Maternity into the new motherhood of all men; at Calvary He caused her to love men as He loved them.

It was a new love, or perhaps the same love expanded over the wider area of humanity. But it was not without its sorrow. It cost Mary something to have us as sons. She could beget Jesus in joy in a stable, but she could beget us only on Calvary, only in labors great enough to make her Queen of Martyrs. The Fiat she pronounced when she became the Mother of God now becomes another Fiat, like unto Creation in the immensity of what she brought forth. It was also a Fiat which so enlarged her affections as to in- crease her pains. The bitterness of Eve's curse --- that she would bring forth her children in sorrow --- is now fulfilled, and not by the opening of a womb, but by the piercing of a heart, as Simeon had foretold. It was the greatest of all honors to be the Mother of Christ; but it was also a great honor to be the Mother of Christians. There was no room in the inn for that first birth; but Mary had the whole world for her second.

Here, at last, is the answer to the query, "Did Mary have other children besides Jesus?" She certainly did. Millions and millions of them! But not according to the flesh. He alone was born of her flesh; the rest of us were born of her spirit. As the Annunciation tied her up with Divinity before the coming of Her Divine Son, so this word from the Cross tied her up with all humanity until His Second Coming. She was a child of that chosen section of humanity called "the seed of Abraham," the scion of that long line of royalty and kings who hand on to her Divine Son the "throne of His Father David." But, as the new Eve, she hands on to her Son the heritage of the whole human race, from the day of Adam until now; and through her Son she breaks the boundaries of that limited blessing to the seed of Abraham, and pours it out upon every nation, race, and peoples. Her moment in history was the "fullness of time"; this phrase meant that the human race had at last produced a representative worthy of becoming the chosen vessel of the Son of God. "One who comes into his property while he is still a child has no more liberty than one of the servants, though all the estate is his." (Gal. 4:1.)

Our Lord is not immersed in history, but Mary is. He comes to earth from outside time; she is within time. He is the suprahistorical; she, the historical. He is the Eternal in time, she is the House of the Eternal in time. She is the final meeting place of all humanity and all history. Or, as Coventry Patmore says:

Knot of the cord
Which binds together all and all unto their Lord.

At the end of the story of love and sorrow, we see that love needs a constant purification, and this happens only through sorrow. Love that is not nourished on sacrifice becomes trite, banal, and commonplace. It takes the other for granted, makes no more professions of love because it has sounded no new depths. Our Lord would not have His Mother's love on one plane of ecstasy while on this earth; He would universalize it, expand it, make it Catholic. But to do this, He had to send Her seven swords of sorrow which enlarged her love from the Son of Man to the sons of men.

Without this deepening, love falls into one of two dangers: contempt or pity --- contempt because the other no longer pleases the ego, pity because the other is worthy of some consideration without love. Had Our Divine Lord not called Mary into the fellowship of His suffering, had she been dispensed from Calvary because of her Majesty as His Mother, she would have had contempt for those who took the life of her only Son, and only pity for us who had no such blessing. But because He first identified Himself with our human nature at Bethlehem, later with our daily tasks at Nazareth and with our misunderstandings at Galilee and Jerusalem, and finally with our tears and blood and agonies at Calvary, He gave to us His Mother and, to all of us, the lesson that love must embrace mankind or suffocate in the narrowness of its ego. Summoned by Him, to share His daily Cross, her love expanded with His own and reached such a peak of universal identification that His Ascension was paralleled by her Assumption. He, Who inspired her to stand at the foot of the Cross as an active participant in its redemption, would not be remiss in crowning such love with union with Him where love would be without sorrow, or where sorrow would be swallowed up in joy.

 Love never becomes a cult without a death. How often does even human love come into the full consciousness of the other's devotedness, until the death of the partner? History becomes legend after death, and love becomes adoration. One no longer keeps any memory of the other's faults, or what was left undone; all is surrounded in an aureole of praise. The ennui of life fades away; the quarrels that hurt evaporate, or else they are transformed into souvenirs of affection. The dead are always more beautiful than the living.
 
In the case of Mary, we have no memories of her imperfections fading away, for she was "blessed among women"; but we do have such a deepening of love as to produce a cult. He, Who sacrificed Himself for us, thought so much of His Death that He left a Memorial of it and ordered its re-enactment in what is today known as the Mass. His love, that died, became adoration in the Eucharist. Why, then, should not she who gave Him that Body with which He could die, and that Blood which He could pour forth, be remembered, not in adoration, but in veneration, and as long as time endures? But if, along with the God Who is the Man of Sorrows and who entered into His Glory, there is a creature, a Woman of Sorrows who accompanied Him into that glory, then we all have an inspiration to love through a cross and with it, that we, too, may reign with Christ.


The Assumption and the World
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
1952


The definition of the Immaculate Conception was made when the Modern World was born. Within five years of that date, and within six months of the apparition of Lourdes where Mary said, "I am the Immaculate Conception," Charles Darwin wrote his Origin of Species, Karl Marx completed his Introduction to the Critique of the Philosophy of Hegel ("Religion is the Opium of the people"), and John Stuart Mill published his Essay on Liberty. At the moment the spirit of the world was drawing up a philosophy that would issue in two World Wars in twenty-one years, and the threat of a third, the Church came forward to challenge the falsity of the new philosophy. Darwin took man's mind off his Divine Origin and fastened it on an unlimited future when he would become a kind of God. Marx was so impressed with this idea of inevitable progress that he asked Darwin if he would accept a dedication of one of his books. Then, following Feuerbach, Marx affirmed not a bourgeois atheism of the intellect, but an atheism of the will, in which man hates God because man is God. Mill reduced the freedom of the new man to license and the right to do whatever he pleases, thus preparing a chaos of conflicting egotisms, which the world would solve by Totalitarianism.

If these philosophers were right, and if man is naturally good and capable of deification through his own efforts, then it follows that everyone is immaculately conceived. The Church arose in protest and affirmed that only one human person in all the world is immaculately conceived, that man is prone to sin, and that freedom is best preserved when, like Mary, a creature answers Fiat to the Divine Will.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception wilted and killed the false optimism of the inevitable and necessary progress of man without God. Humbled in his Darwinian-Marxian-Millian pride, modern man saw his doctrine of progress evaporate. The interval between the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian Wars was fifty-five years; the interval between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I was forty-three years; the interval between World Wars I and II, twenty-one years. Fifty-five, forty-three, twenty-one, and a Korean War five years after World War II is hardly progress. Man finally saw that he was not naturally good. Once having boasted that he came from the beast, he now found himself to be acting as a beast.
 
Then came the reaction. The Optimistic Man who boasted of his immaculate conception now became the Pessimistic Man who could see within himself nothing but a bundle of libidinous, dark, cavernous drives. As in the definition of the Immaculate Conception, the Church had to remind the world that perfection is not biologically inevitable, so now in the definition of the Assumption, it has to give hope to the creature of despair. Modern despair is the effect of a disappointed hedonism and centers principally around Sex and Death. To these two ideas, which preoccupy the modern mind, the Assumption is indirectly related.
 
The primacy of Sex is to a great extent due to Sigmund Freud, whose basic principle in his own words is: "Human actions and customs derive from sexual impulses, and fundamentally, human wishes are unsatisfied sexual desires. ... Consciously or unconsciously, we all wish to unite with our mothers and kill our fathers, as Oedipus did unless we are female, in which case we wish to unite with our fathers and murder our mothers." The other major concern of modern thought is Death. The beautiful philosophy of being is reduced to Dasein, which is only in-der-Weltsein. There is no freedom, no spirit, and no personality. Freedom is for death. Liberty is contingency threatened with complete destruction. The future is nothing but a projection of death. The aim of existence is to look death in the eye.
 
Jean-Paul Sartre passes from a phenomenology of sexuality to that which he calls "nausea," or a brazen confrontation of nothingness, toward which existence tends. Nothing precedes man; nothing follows man. Whatever is opposite him is a negation of his ego, and therefore nothingness. God created the world out of nothingness; Sartre creates nothingness out of the world and the despairing human heart. "Man is a useless passion."

Agnosticism and Pride were the twin errors the Church had to meet in the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; now it is the despair resulting from Sex and Death it has to meet in this hour. When the Agnostics of the last century came in contact with the world and its three libidos, they became libertines. But when pleasure diminished and made hungry where most it satisfied, the agnostics, who had become libertines by attaching themselves to the world, now began in disgust to withdraw themselves from the world and became philosophers of Existentialism. Philosophers like Sartre, and Heidegger, and others are born of a detachment from the world, not as the Christian ascetic, because he loves God, but because they are disgusted with the world. They become contemplatives, not to enjoy God, but to wallow in their despair, to make a philosophy out of it, to be brazen about their boredom, and to make death the center of their destiny. The new contemplatives are in the monasteries of the jaded, which are built not along the waters of Siloe, but along the dark banks of the Styx.

These two basic ideas of modem thought, Sex and Death, are not unrelated. Freud himself hinted at the union of Eros and Thanatos. Sex brings death, first of all because in sex the other person is possessed, or annihilated, or ignored for the sake of pleasure. But this subjection implies a compression and a destruction of life for the sake of the c Eros. Secondly, death is a shadow which is cast over sex. Sex seeks pleasure, but since it assumes that this life is all, every pleasure is seasoned not only with a diminishing return, but also with the thought that death will end pleasure forever. Eros is Thanatos. Sex is Death.

From a philosophical point of view, the Doctrine of the Assumption meets the Eros-Thanatos philosophy head on, by lifting humanity from the darkness of Sex and Death to the light of Love and Life. These are the two philosophical pillars on which rests the belief in the Assumption.

1. Love. The Assumption affirms not Sex but Love. St. Thomas in his inquiry into the effects of love mentions ecstasy as one of them. In ecstasy one is "lifted out of his body," an experience which poets and authors and orators have felt in a mild form when in common parlance, "they were carried away by their subject." On a higher level, the spiritual phenomenon of levitation is due to such an intense love of God that saints are literally lifted off the earth. Love, like fire, burns upward, since it is basically desire. It seeks to become more and more united with the object that is loved. Our sensate experiences are familiar with the earthly law of gravitation which draws material bodies to the earth. But in addition to terrestrial gravitation, there is a law of spiritual gravitation, which increases as we get closer to God. This "pull" on our hearts by the Spirit of God is always present, and it is only our refusing wills and the weakness of our bodies as a result of sin which keep us earth-bound. Some souls become impatient with the restraining body; St. Paul asks to be delivered from its prison house.

If God exerts a gravitational pull on all souls, given the intense love of Our Lord for His Blessed Mother which descended, and the intense love of Mary for Her Lord which ascended, there is created a suspicion that love at this stage would be so great as "to pull the body with it." Given further an immunity from Original Sin, there would not be in the Body of Our Lady the dichotomy, tension, and opposition that exists in us between body and soul. If the distant moon moves all the surging tides of earth, then the love of Mary for Jesus and the love of Jesus for Mary should result in such an ecstasy as "to lift her out of this
world."

Love in its nature is an Ascension in Christ and an Assumption in Mary. So closely are Love and the Assumption related that a few years ago the writer, when instructing a Chinese lady, found that the one truth in Christianity which was easiest for her to believe was the Assumption. She personally knew a saintly soul who lived on a mat in the woods, whom thousands of people visited to receive her blessing. One day, according to the belief of all who knew the saint, she was "assumed" into heaven. The explanation the convert from Confucianism gave was: "Her love was so great that her body followed her soul." One thing is certain: the Assumption is easy to understand if one loves God deeply, but it is hard to understand if one loves not.

Plato in his Symposium, reflecting the Grecian view of the elevation of love, says that love of the flesh should lead to love of the spirit. The true meaning of love is that it leads to God. Once the earthly love has fulfilled its task, it disappears, as the symbol gives way to reality. The Assumption is not the killing of the Eros, but its transfiguration through Agape. It does not say that love in a body is wrong, but it does hold that it can be so right, when it is Godward, that the beauty of the body itself is enhanced.
 
Our Age of Carnality which loves the Body Beautiful is lifted out of its despair, born of the Electra and Oedipus incests, to a Body that is Beautiful because it is a Temple of God, a Gate through which the Word of Heaven passed to earth, a Tower of Ivory up which climbed Divine Love to kiss upon the lips of His Mother a Mystic Rose. With one stroke of an infallible dogmatic pen, the Church lifts the sacredness of love out of sex without denying the role of the body in love. Here is one body that reflects in its uncounted hues the creative love of God. To a world that worships the body, the Church now says: "There are two bodies in Heaven, one the glorified human nature of Jesus, the other the assumed human nature of Mary. Love is the secret of the Ascension of one and of the Assumption of the other, for Love craves unity with its Beloved. The Son returns to the Father in the unity of Divine Nature; and Mary returns to Jesus in the unity of human nature. Her nuptial flight is the event to which our whole generation moves."

2. Life. Life is the second philosophical pillar on which the Assumption rests. Life is unitive; death is divisive. Goodness is the food of life, as evil is the food of death. Errant sex impulses are the symbol of the body's division from God as a result of original sm. Death is the last stroke of that division. Wherever there is sin, there is multiplicity: the Devil says, "My name is Legion; there are many of us." (Mark 5:9.) But life is immanent activity. The higher the life, the more immanent is the activity, says St. Thomas. The plant drops its fruit from a tree, the animal drops its kind for a separate existence, but the spiritual mind of man begets the fruit of a thought which remains united to the mind, although distinct from it. Hence intelligence and life are intimately related. Da mihi intellectum et vivam. God is perfect life because of perfect inner intellectual activity. There is no extrinsicism, no dependence, no necessary outgoing on the part of God.

Since the imperfection of life comes from remoteness to the source of life and because of sin, it follows that the creature who is preserved from Original Sin is immune from that psychological division which sin begets. The Immaculate Conception guarantees a highly integrated and unified life. The purity of such a life is threefold: a physical purity which is integrity of body; a mental purity without any desire for a division of love, which love of creatures apart from God would imply; and finally, a psychological purity which is immunity from the uprising of concupiscence, the sign and symbol of our weakness and diversity. This triple purity is the essence of the most highly unified creature whom this world has ever seen.

Added to this intense life in Mary, which is free from the division caused by sin, there is still a higher degree of life because of her Divine Motherhood. Through her portals Eternity became young and appeared as a Child; through her, as to another Moses, not the tables of the Law, but the Logos was given and written on her own heart; through her, not a manna which men eat and die, but the Eucharist descends, which if a man eats, he will never die.

But if those who commune with the Bread of Life never die, then what shall we say of her who was the first living Ciborium of that Eucharist, and who on Christmas day opened it at the communion rail of Bethlehem to say to Wise Men and Shepherds: "Behold the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world"?

Here there is not just a life free from the division which brings death, but a life united with Eternal Life. Shall she, as the garden in which grew the lily of Divine sinlessness and the red rose of the passion of redemption, be delivered over to the weeds and be forgotten by the Heavenly Gardener? Would not one communion preserved in grace through life ensure a heavenly immortality? Then shall not she, in whose womb was celebrated the nuptials of eternity and time, be more of eternity than time? As she carried Him for nine months, there was fulfilled in another way the law of life: "And they shall be two in one flesh."

No grown men and women would like to see the home in which they were reared subjected to the violent destruction of a bomb, even though they no longer lived in it. Neither would Omnipotence, Who tabernacled Himself within Mary, consent to see His fleshy home subjected to the dissolution of the tomb. If grown men love to go back to their homes when they reach the fullness of life, and become more conscious of the debt they owe their mothers, then shall not Divine Life go back in search of His living cradle and take that "flesh-girt paradise" to Heaven with Him, there to be "gardenered by the Adam new"?

In this Doctrine of the Assumption, the Church meets the despair of the world in a second way. It affirms the beauty of life as against death. When wars, sex, and sin multiply the discords of men, and death threatens on every side, the Church bids us lift up our hearts to the life that has the immortality of the Life which nourished it. Feuerbach said that a man is what he eats. He was more right than he knew. Eat the food of earth, and one dies; eat the Eucharist, and one lives eternally. She, who is the mother of the Eucharist, escapes the decomposition of death.

The Assumption challenges the nothingness of the Mortician philosophers in a new way. The greatest task of the spiritual leaders today is to save mankind from despair, into which Sex and Fear of Death have cast it. The world that used to say, "Why worry about the next world, when we live in this one?" has finally learned the hard way that, by not thinking about the next life, one cannot even enjoy this life. When optimism completely breaks down and becomes pessimism, the Church holds forth the promise of hope. Threatened as we are by war on all sides, with death about to be rained from the sky by Promethean fires, the Church defines a Truth that has Life at its center. Like a kindly mother whose sons are going off to war, she strokes our heads and says: "You will come back alive, as Mary came back again after walking down the valley of Death." As the world fears defeat by death, the Church sings the defeat of death. Is not this the harbinger of a better world, as the refrain of life rings out amidst the clamors of the philosophers of death?

As Communism teaches that man has only a body, but not a soul, so the Church answers: "Then let us begin with a Body." As the mystical body of the anti-Christ gathers around the tabernacle doors of the cadaver of Lenin, periodically filled with wax to give the illusion of immortality to those who deny immortality, the Mystical Body of Christ bids the despairing to gaze on the two most serious wounds earth ever received: the empty tomb of Christ and the empty tomb of Mary. In 1854 the Church spoke of the Soul in the Immaculate Conception. In 1950 its language was about the Body: the Mystical Body, the Eucharist, and the Assumption. With deft dogmatic strokes the Church is repeating Paul's truth to another pagan age: "Your bodies are meant for the Lord." There is nothing in a body to beget despair. Man is related to Nothingness, as the philosophers of Decadentism teach, but only in his origin, not in his destiny. They put Nothingness as the end; the Church puts it at the beginning, for man was created ex nihilo. The modern man gets back to nothingness through despair; the Christian knows nothingness only through self-negation, which is humility. The more that the pagan "nothings" himself, the closer he gets to the hell of despair and suicide. The more the Christian "nothings" himself, the closer he gets to God. Mary went so deep down into Nothingness that she became exalted. Respexit humilitatem ancillae suae. And her exaltation was also her Assumption.

Coming back to the beginning ... to Eros and Thanatos: Sex and Death, said Freud, are related. They are related in this sense: Eros as egotistic love leads to the death of the soul. But the world need not live under that curse. The Assumption gives Eros a new meaning. Love does lead to death. Where there is love, there is self-forgetfulness, and the maximum in self-forgetfulness is the surrender of life. "Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.) Our Lord's love led to His death. Mary's love led to her transfixion with seven swords. Greater love than this no woman hath, that she stand beneath the Cross of her Son to share, in her own way, in the Redemption of the world.

Within three decades the definition of the Assumption will cure the pessimism and despair of the modern world. Freud, who did so much to develop this pessimism, took as his motto: "If I cannot move the Gods on high, I shall set all hell in an uproar." That uproar which he created will now be stilled by a Lady as powerful as an "army drawn up in battle array." The age of the "body beautiful" will now become the age of the Assumption.

In Mary there is a triple transition. In the Annunciation we pass from the holiness of the Old Testament to the holiness of Christ. At Pentecost we pass from the holiness, of the Historical Christ to the holiness of the Mystical Christ or His Body, which is the Church. Mary here receives the Spirit for a second time. The first overshadowing was to give birth to the Head of the Church; this second overshadowing is to give birth to His Body as she is in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. The third transition is the Assumption, as she becomes the first human person to realize the historical destiny of the faithful as members of Christ's Mystical Body, beyond time, beyond death, and beyond judgment.

Mary is always in the vanguard of humanity. She is compared to Wisdom, presiding at Creation; she is announced as the Woman who will conquer Satan, as the Virgin who will conceive. She becomes the first person since the Fall to have a unique and unrepeatable kind of union with God; she mothers the infant Christ in Bethlehem; she mothers the Mystical Christ at Jerusalem; and now, by her Assumption, she goes ahead like her Son to prepare a place for us. She participates in the glory of Her Son, reigns with Him, presides at His Side over the destinies of the Church in time, and intercedes for us, to Him, as He, in His turn, intercedes to the Heavenly Father.

Adam came before Eve chronologically. The new Adam, Christ, comes after the new Eve, Mary, chronologically, although existentially He preceded her as the Creator a creature. By stressing for the moment only the time element, Mary always seems to be the Advent of what is in store for man. She anticipates Christ for nine months, as she bears Heaven within her; she anticipates His Passion at Cana, and His Church at Pentecost. Now, in the last great Doctrine of the Assumption, she anticipates heavenly glory, and the definition comes at a time when men think of it least.

One wonders if this could not be the last of the great Truths of Mary to be defined by the Church. Anything else might seem to be an anticlimax after she is declared to be in Heaven, body and soul. But actually there is one other truth left to be defined, and that is that she is the Mediatrix, under Her Son, of all graces. As St. Paul speaks of the Ascension of Our Lord as the prelude to His intercession for us, so we, fittingly, should speak of the Assumption of Our Lady as a prelude to her intercession for us. First, the place, Heaven; then, the function, intercession. The nature of her role is not to call Her Son's attention to some need, in an emergency unnoticed by Him, nor is it to "win" a difficult consent. Rather it is to unite herself to His compassionate Mercy and give a human voice to His Infinite Love. The main ministry of Mary is to incline men's hearts to obedience to the Will of Her Divine Son. Her last recorded words at Cana are still her words in the Assumption: "Whatsoever He shall say to you, that do ye."

Added to these is the Christian prayer written by Francis Thompson to the daughter of the ancient Eve:

The celestial traitress play,
And all mankind to bliss betray;
With sacrosanct cajoleries,
And starry treachery of your eyes,
Tempt us back to Paradise

The Brown Scapular of Our Lady:
Its Origin and Promise


1. PREFACE

THE PERFECTIONS of God are so infinite that no single creature could possibly reflect His Power and Goodness. God therefore multiplied creatures that what one failed to reveal the other might declare. The same is true of the Incarnate Son of God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The richness of His Redemptive Blood would not be reflected in only one material way. Rather like the sun, the beauties of whose seven rays are reflected only by shining through the prism, the beauties of Calvary are only adequately revealed to us as they shine through the prism of Christ's Church and split up into the vivifying graces of the seven Sacraments.
   Mary, the Mother of that Divine Savior, is only a creature, human and not Divine. But exalted to the high office of being the ciborium of Emmanuel for the nine months she bore about in her virgin flesh the Host Who is the lamb of God, it follows that she has so much dignity that no one title could exhaust it. That is why there is a Litany to her made up of many titles, as so many facets reflecting the various lights of the diamond of her Divine Maternity.

In like manner, the tradition of the Church is full of various titles under which the intercessory power of the Blessed Mother may be invoked. At one time, it is as the Defender of Christianity when the Turks invaded Europe; at another as the Queen of Peace; at another as the Lady of Lourdes. One of these titles and one of the most glorious of them all is: "Mary, Mother of the Scapular of Mount Carmel, or Our Lady of Mount Carmel."

Since we learn to love ends because we know their beginnings, so we are strengthened in our love of the Blessed Mother by being shown the foundation stones upon which it reposes. More than that, one sees in the scapular, which is a miniature clothing, a reversal of the penalties and effects of Original Sin. Before Adam sinned, he was naked but not ashamed. That was because of the integrity of his human nature by which senses were subject to reason and reason to God. His union with God was, as it were, the clothing of his whole being. But once that union was disrupted, he was naked and ashamed. He now had need of clothing. From that day to this, human nature has used either one of two kinds of clothing, depending upon whether they emphasized the nakedness of souls or the nakedness of the body. Those who are totally disinterested in God clothe themselves with jewels and finery to compensate, whether they know it or not, for their inner spiritual poverty.

Those who love God, and therefore have souls clothed with the raiments of His grace, need never care about the richness of the external. We see something of the symbolism of this in the clothing of a nun. When the ceremony begins she is dressed in surpassing beauty and bedecked with jewels. But once she consecrates herself to God she clothes herself in the poverty-stricken garments of her community. Being clothed with the richness of Divinity, why should she concern herself with the superficial beauty of the world?

   There must be something of this symbolism in Mary's gift of the scapular which was originally a habit. "The beauty of the King's daughter is from within." Mary's gift of clothing is just a simple garment, sufficient to cover the traces of Original Sin in us, but its very simplicity is also a witness to the fact that her own beautiful mantle covers our souls. The scapular bears therefore a double witness: to Mary's protection against the ravages of the flesh occasioned by the Fall, and to Mary's influence as Mediatrix of graces, who covers our souls with the richness of her Son's Redemption.

   Mary has been constituted by her Divine Son as the intermediary between our needs and His wants; such was the role she played at the marriage feast of Cana, when she interceded for the needy guests to the miraculous power of Her Divine Son. It is a singular fact that in answer to her request Our Lord addressed her, not as 'Mother', but as 'Woman', as if to imply that once she began interceding for the humanity whom He was to redeem when "the hour" would come, she entered into a larger relationship than merely that of being His Mother, namely, that of 'Woman', the new Mother of redeemed men.

   On the Cross this title is conferred again when Our Lord addresses her as "Woman! Behold thy son!". She had brought forth her "first born" in the flesh at Bethlehem, now she was to bring forth her first born in the spirit at Calvary, namely John, the beloved disciple. John was the symbol of men, whose motherhood Mary purchased at the foot of the Cross in union with her Divine Son. It is not by a figure of speech, nor by a metaphor that Mary is our Mother, but rather by virtue of the pangs of childbirth. As a woman can never forget the child of her womb, so neither can Mary forget us . . .
 

RT. REV. MSGR. FULTON J. SHEEN
Feast of St. Simon Stock
  May 16, 1940

Taken from the Preface of MARY IN HER SCAPULAR PROMISE,
John Haffert, Scapular Press, 1942;
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.


Mary, Motherhood, and the Home
by Fulton J. Sheen
 

THE PERFECTION of all motherhood is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, because she is the only mother in all the world who was "made to order" by her Divine Son. No creature can create his own mother. He can paint a picture of his own mother, for, in the field of art, the artist preexists his product; he is a symbol of God the Creator preexisting His creatures. All art is an imitation of the Divine Artist Who, from all eternity, possessed in His Divine mind the archetypal ideas according to which He made the world in time. The most famous painting of a mother is probably that by Whistler. Once, when complimented on its beauty, he answered: "You know how it is; one tries to make one's mother as nice as possible."

Our Divine Lord preexisted His own Mother existentially, as Whistler preexisted his mother artistically. Every bird, every flower, every tree has been made according to an idea existing in the mind of God from all eternity. When He came into the world at Bethlehem, He was unlike anyone ever born; creation was no stranger to Him. He was like a bird that might have made the nest in which he was hatched. He came into the universe as a master into His own house or as an artist into his own studio. The universe was His and the fullness thereof.

In a particular way He created His own Mother. He thought of her before she was born, as the poet thinks of his poem before it is written. He conceived her in His eternal mind before she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann. In an improper sense, when she was conceived eternally in the pure mind of God, that was her first "Immaculate Conception." In the Mass of that feast, the Church puts into her mouth the words from the Book of Proverbs, saying that from all eternity God had thought of her, even before the mountains were raised and the valleys were leveled.

The Lord made me his when first he went about his work, at the birth of time, before his creation began. Long, long ago, before earth was fashioned, I held my course. Already I lay in the womb, when the depths were not yet in being, when no springs of water had yet broken; when I was born, the mountains had not yet sunk on their firm foundations, and there were no hills; not yet had he made the earth, or the rivers, or the solid framework of the world. I was there when he built the heavens, when he fenced in the waters with a vault inviolable, when he fixed the sky overhead, and leveled the fountain-springs of the deep. I was there when he enclosed the sea within its confines, forbidding the waters to transgress their assigned limits, when he poised the foundations of the world. I was at his side, a master workman, my delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while; made play in this world of dust, with the sons of Adam for my play-fellows. Listen to me, then, you that are my sons, that follow, to your happiness, in the paths I shew you; listen to the teaching that will make you wise, instead of turning away from it. Blessed are they who listen to me, keep vigil, day by day, at my threshold, watching till I open my doors. The man who wins me, wins life, drinks deep of the Lord's favor; who fails, fails at his own bitter cost; to be my enemy is to be in love with death  [Prov. 8: 22-36].

But God not only "thought" about Mary. He actually created her soul and infused it into a body, co-created by her parents. It was through her portals as the Gate of Heaven that He would come into the world. If God labored six days in preparing a paradise for man, He would spend a longer time preparing a paradise for His Divine Son. As no weeds grew in Eden, so no sin would arise in Mary, the paradise of the Incarnation. Most unbecoming it would be for the sinless Lord to come into the world through a woman afflicted with sin. A barn door cannot fittingly serve as an entrance to a castle.

God in His mercy remits original sin after our birth in the Sacrament of Baptism; it is only natural that He should grant a special privilege to His Mother and remit her original sin before she was born. This is what is meant by the Immaculate Conception: namely that, by the special grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from every stain of original sin at the first moment of her conception. She was, in the improper sense, "immaculately conceived" in the mind of God from all eternity. But in the proper sense of the word, she was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother in time. Mary, therefore, is no afterthought in the mind of God. As Eden was the paradise of perfect delight for man, so Mary became the Eden of innocence for the Son of Man. For the simple reason that the Son of God chose her from among all women to be His Mother, it follows that she above all women is the model Mother of the world.

No mother was ever favorably known to the world except through her children. No one ever heard of the mother of Judas, but all know Mary through Jesus. The painting of Whistler's mother bears on the back of its canvas the portrait of Whistler himself as a boy. Even in art, the child and mother are inseparable. As one cannot go to a statue of a mother holding a child and cut away the mother without destroying the child, so neither can one have Jesus without His Mother. Could you claim as a friend one who, every time he came into your home, refused to speak to your mother or treated her with cold indifference? Jesus cannot feel pleased with those who never give recognition to or show respect for His Mother. Coldness to His Mother is certainly not the best way to keep warm a friendship with Him. The unkindest cut of all would be to say that she who is the Mother of our Lord is unworthy of being our Mother.

To show her veneration is not to adore her. Only God may be adored. Mary is an abstraction of love from Love. All the myth-creations of the upward struggling of men and far-off yearnings for a mother of mothers in such crudities as Penelope, Isis, Astarte, and Diana were unconscious, prophetic witnesses to a fulfillment in Mary, whom Francis Thompson has called:

Sweet stem of that Rose, Christ, which from the earth
Sucks our poor prayers, conveying them to Him.

Love for Mary no more derogates from Christ's Divinity than the setting robs the jewel, or the hearth the flame, or the horizon the sun. She exists but to magnify the Lord, and that was the song of her life. Knowing her as the Tower of Ivory, He climbs up the stairs of her encircling virtues, to "kiss upon her lips a mystic rose." Acknowledging her as the Gate of Heaven, through her portals He comes to us. He who slams the gate in the face of the Queen bars the entrance of lost the Mother, it also lost the Son. It may well be that, as the world returns to love of Mary, it will also return to a belief in the Divinity of Christ. The reason that Mary should be honored above all mothers was given by her cousin: "How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord" [Luke 1: 43]? The Angel Gabriel also gave the answer when he saluted her as "full of grace." But her Son gave the best and perfect answer when He willed her to us from the Cross.

Mary is, first of all, the model of the family. In the Annunciation story, there appears the action of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father sends the Angel to announce that He will send His Son to be conceived in her and that this will take place through the Holy Spirit. When Mary accepts, a new society begins; a human family among human families, which is at one and the same time an ideal and an earthly trinity. In all other families there is father, mother, and child. In this family there is Child, Mother, and Father. It is the Child Who makes the family; it is the Child Who created the parents. Next to Him comes the Mother, for she alone, through the Holy Spirit, conceived the Son in her virgin womb. Finally comes Joseph, the foster father chosen by God to be protector of the group and, for that reason, protector of the Church, which is the expansion of that original family. All through the preceding ages, from the crudest wigwam where spouse lighted fire for spouse to the castle of the prince and princess, wherein the two looked down on heirs of earthly kingdoms, mankind has been looking either forward or backward to that Divine Family, in which God veiled the glory of His Divinity and became flesh through the selfless love of Mary under the strong and reverent wardship of Joseph.

That home of Nazareth, wherein the earthly trinity lived its round of mutual love and obedience, was indeed different from any other home. It had to be; otherwise it could not have been the prototype. The pattern cannot be the cloth, nor the original the copy, nor the example the thing exemplified. The Child was God's Son. Eternally generated in the bosom of the heavenly Father, He had no earthly father, only a kindly carpenter who acted as a foster sire. Mary, the Mother, was different from all mothers, for she conceived that Son with a passionless passion of a soul, as the love of her Creator supplied the passion of a soul in the place of the passion of a creature. Passion is love in bondage; it is the spirit in us straining at the leash of the flesh; it is like an eagle made for the flights over mountain tops, yet caged within a canary's range. For this one time in history, love, by being emptied of passion, is permitted to spread its wings and fall in love with Love. "For it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child." 
[Matt. 1: 20]

Because Nazareth was so different, it is since then so imitable. Because it is the light, we can see our way. Once that earthly trinity stood revealed, the family could never again be the result of a lease or a contract alone; it would be a union, a fellowship, as indissoluble as the Trinity of which it was the reflection. Nazareth tells us the kind of love that makes a home, namely, Divine Love on a pilgrimage into time from eternity.

There is but one life, because there is but one Source of life. The life in flower and plant and the life in man and woman is but the slowly smoldering spark caught up in a clay-kindled flame from the eternal fires of God. Man could not call God "Father" unless He had a Son; and we could not be sons of the Father unless from all eternity the Heavenly Father had made us "to be molded into the image of His Son" [Rom. 8: 29]. Because images become blurred, the Father sent His Son to this earth to teach us the manner of beings He had eternally meant us to be. Human generation had thus become ennobled, because it is the reflection of that eternal generation in which life flows from Life and then goes marching, in created forms, through all the kingdoms of earth, with such force and vitality that death alone can conquer it. Here is the pattern of all fatherhood, all generation, and all life-giving processes, for in it love overflows into Love! This is the beginning of the earthly family: the original of Nazareth.

Because Divine Love as a Messiah came to earth, it became natural that husband and wife should not only give themselves to one another in mutual sacrifice but also should recover themselves in the love of their children, who tie them together as father and mother as the Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between Father and Son. If human love fails, it is because it is short-circuited, not directed to a mutual incarnation of love but rather turned back upon itself, where it dies of its own too-much. Without the child as the bond of mutuality, or at least the desire for the child, passion can end in mutual slaughter. But with the child, love discovers itself to be immortal. By giving its flesh and blood as a kind of earthly eucharist, it lives on what it feeds.

Marriage must end in the family, at least in intention if not in act; for only through the family does life escape exhaustion and weariness by discovering its duality to be trinity, by seeing its love continually reborn and renown, by having its mutual self-giving transformed into receiving. Love thus defeats death, as it defeats exhaustion. It achieves a kind of immortality as self-renewal becomes self-preservation. God is eternal society; Three Persons in one Divine Nature. The family is human society; mutual self-giving, which ends in self-perfection.

Deep mystery is hidden in the fact that Mary "conceived by the Holy Spirit." It meant that the love that begot her child was not human love. A child is the fruit of love. But, in this one instance, the love that begot was the love of God, which is the Third Person of the Trinity. Under the sun one needs no candle. When conception takes place through Spirit love, there is no need of human love. The virgin birth did not imply that Mary conceived without love; it only meant that she conceived without passion. Birth is impossible without love. Human husband love is unnecessary if God sends His Spirit of Love. Where there is no love, there is no family.

To Mary alone was given the gift of bearing a child directly through God. But, in a lesser way, every child is born of God. The parents cannot create the soul of the child; that must come from God. Flesh cannot beget spirit. At the very beginning of the human race, Eve, in the ecstasy of the first-born in the world, cried out: "I have been enriched by the Lord with a man-child" [Gen. 4: 1]. "By the Lord," but using the intermediary of man. Mary, the new Eve, in the ecstasy of her first-born could cry: "I have been enriched by the Lord with a man-child," without the intermediary of man; because she was begetting the new Adam, the new head of the human race. As in the Trinity there are Three Persons in one Divine Nature, as in Adam there are millions of human persons in one fallen human nature, so in Christ there are millions of human persons in one regenerated human nature. "In Adam," man with his heritage of sin can become "in Christ," with a heritage of grace.

The Trinity as the ideal family is the model not only for the human family, but also the model for the family of nations and the human race. The Giver, the Receiver, the Gift were first reflected in Adam, Eve, and their offspring, and later at Bethlehem in Child, Mother, and Father. "Beloved, let us love one another; love springs from God; no one can love without being born of God, and knowing God" [1 John 4: 7]. Mary also reveals the beautiful relationship that ought to exist between mother and children.

There really is such a thing in the world as two hearts with but a single thought. Hearts are like vines; they intertwine and grow together. One can give his heart away, but since there is no life without a heart, one must receive another in return, or die. Deep love does not so much exist between two hearts as between one heart in two bodies. A community of interests, thoughts, desires develop as if from two mountain currents a single river flowed.

What makes parting and death so tragic to lovers is that it is not two hearts that are separating but one heart that is being broken in two. A broken heart is not the fracture of a single heart, but the rupture of two hearts once united in the rapture of a single love. In fear, one's heart can be in one's mouth; but in love, one's heart is in the beloved. And since each of us has only one heart, it can be given away only once.

No two hearts in the world ever grew together like the hearts of a Mother and a Son: Jesus and Mary. "Where your treasure-house is, there your heart is, too" [Matt. 6: 21]. His treasure was His Mother, her Treasure was her Son. These two hearts, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, kept their treasures in one another and in the sovereign will of the Father. In a certain sense, there were not two hearts but one, so deep was the love for each, so at one were their wills, so united were their minds.

 These two hearts, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, threw defiance to the world's warning not to wear your heart upon your sleeve, for they wooed the world openly. Shakespeare wrote: "I will not wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at." But the Savior, wearing His heart upon His sleeve, said: "Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened; I will give you rest" [Matt. 11: 28]. The love of Jesus and Mary for mankind was so open, they left their hearts exposed to every errant dart from the bow of sinful man. Standing at the portals of every heart in the world, each could say: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." They would break down no doors; the latches are on the inside; only we can open them. Because they have wooed, they can be wounded.

The Sacred Heart gave an example to children by allowing His Incarnate Life to be formed by the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. No other human being in the world contributed to His Sacred Heart. She was the anvil on which the Holy Spirit, amidst the flames of love, hammered out the human nature with which the eternal Word of God was one. From her own body and blood, as a human eucharist, He was nourished for life in the world. As the vineyard of His wine, as the wheat field of His bread, she supplied the materials for that Divine Eucharist, which, if a man eat, he will live forever. As friends and relatives crowded about to seek resemblances, they found them double. He resembled His Heavenly Father, for He was indeed "the splendor of His glory; the image of His substance. " But He resembled His Mother, too, for, reversing Eden, man now comes from a woman, and not woman from a man. "He was bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh."

So submissive was He to her care that the door that slammed in her face in Bethlehem also slammed on Him. If there was no room for her in the inn, then there was no room for Him. As she was the ciborium before He was born, so she was His monstrance after Bethlehem. To her fell the happy lot of exposing, in the chapel of a stable, the "Blessed Sacrament," the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. She enthroned Him for adoration before Wise Men and shepherds, before the very simple and the very learned. Through her hands He received His first gifts, which as all mothers do, she would keep until He "grew up." None of them were toys. One of these gifts was gold, because He was King; another was frankincense, because He was Teacher; but the third gift was bitter myrrh for His burial, because He was Priest and Redeemer. Myrrh, signifying death, was accepted by her as a sign that, even at the crib, she would help fashion Him for the Cross and the redemption, for that was why He came.

Through her arms He goes out into other arms. Men do not receive Jesus except through Mary. Simeon "also took Him in His arms." But in no other arms is He really safe, not even in the arms of a saintly old man. For Simeon, too, brought myrrh, when he said to Mary: "Behold, this child is destined to bring about the fall of many and the rise of many in Israel; to be a sign which men will refuse to recognize; and so the thoughts of many hearts shall be made manifest; as for thy own soul, it shall have a sword to pierce it" [Luke 2: 34, 35].

"A sign which men will refuse to recognize," means the cross: one bar in contradiction with another bar, man's will in opposition to God's will. Nowhere in all the world is He safe from contradiction except with His Mother; for, being conceived without sin, she was immune from the original contradiction of sin. But with others this was not true. When a wise man first saw Him, he gave myrrh for His death. When another old, wise man first touched Him, he spoke of a cross. "As for thy own soul, it shall have a sword to pierce it." Her own Immaculate Heart and His Sacred Heart would be as one in love through life, that the spear to be driven through His Heart would also pierce her Heart. As the innkeeper's words to Mary pierced His heart, too, so the sword of Calvary would also pierce her heart, as if the heart cord of Mother and Son had never been broken at birth. For nine months she bore Him in her womb, but for thirty-three years she bore Him in her heart. One stone sometimes can kill two birds, and one sword sometimes can pierce two hearts. As He received His human life from her, so He would not give it up without her. He does not wait until maturity before announcing that the reason for His coming is to take up the sign of contradiction. He makes the offering when He is only forty days old, but He does it through His Mother.

As He was formed by her body and given to mankind by her arms, so He was formed by her mind. The world received only three years of His life, but Mary had thirty years of His obedience. Down to Nazareth He went to be subject to her. He, the Divine Word, for three long decades responded to a human word. Nazareth was the first university in the history of Christianity, and in it all humanity, in the person of Christ, was trained in obedience under the tutelage of a woman. It was no wonder that, when He was graduated, men marveled at His learning: "No man ever spoke as this man." Nazareth was the school for Golgotha.

Her Divine Son could not submit His Divine will to a human mortal, but He could submit His human will, which He received by becoming man. Just as in the unity of His Divine Person He is immortal in virtue of His Divine nature but mortal through His human nature, so He is beyond submission as God and yet freely within submission, except in those things that bear directly on the mission of His heavenly Father: "Know you not that I must be about My father's business." As He depended on her answer to the Angel, before turning back eternity and becoming flesh, as He depended on her for His birth, as He depended on her to present Him at the Temple for the prediction of the Cross, so He depended on her for the announcement of His public life at the marriage feast of Cana. "The Mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited." She is mentioned before He is in the Gospel story of Cana. She enters; He follows. He is at a marriage feast because she is there. Because she asks for it, He works His first miracle. Perhaps it would be truer to say that she did not ask for it but insinuated it. Her words were merely the affirmation of fact: "They have no wine." But though she expressed a wish to her Divine Son, she nevertheless uttered a command to men: "Do whatever He tells you." Her Son fulfilled her wish; men obeyed her command. Mary was not a spectator at Cana's miracle. She was His inspiration. The Mother is as conscious of her power over her Son as He is conscious of His power over creatures. She suggests; He grants.

All through His life, we find a loving dependence of the Sacred Heart on her Immaculate Heart. The blood that flowed in His veins, came from her; His Body that was later delivered for sin was first delivered by her. The Divine fires, which kindled the earth, were housed in her heart. The waters of everlasting life, which are dipped to those that thirst, came through her as a fountain.

This love that the Sacred Heart had for His Mother was reciprocated by the love of Mother for Son. The life of Jesus speaks to us and says: "I gave Myself to My Mother. My body was fashioned by her; My will was subject to her; My miracles were begun through her; My crucifixion was announced through her; My redemption was perfected with her at the foot of the Cross. Unlike other men, I did not leave her to start a family, for as I told My Mother, there are other bonds than those of the flesh. 'If anyone does the will of my Father Who is in Heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother' [Matt. 12: 50]. My family, the family of all who live by My Spirit, started with her. I was the first-born of the flesh; John was the second-born of the spirit at the foot of the Cross. No one, therefore, can be an adopted son of My Heavenly Father without being, at the same time, My brother; but no one can be My brother who does not depend on our Mother. To each of you on the Cross I said: 'This is thy mother.' A Christian means another Christ. You must therefore be formed as I was. I ask that she be your mother, not that you rest in her, for a creature can never be the end of a creature. Her mission is to transform you into Me, so that you put on My mind, think My thoughts, desire My will, and live by My life. But how shall you put on Me except through her who is clothed with Me as the sun? Easier it would be to separate light from the sun and heat from the fire, than to separate growth in Me from devotion to her. I came to you through her; through her, you come to Me. 'What God, then, has joined, let not man put asunder.' "

When any other mother loves her child, she loves a creature. In the case of Mary, she loved her Creator, too, for it was not a nature she loved but a Person, and the Person is the Son of God. In the Transfiguration, the heavenly Father said: "This my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" [Matt. 3: 17]. The Father here spoke of Jesus Christ, true God, true man, appearing in glory before His Apostles, with His face shining as the sun and His garments white as snow. When the eternal Father willed to associate the Virgin Mary in some way to His eternal generation of the Son by sending Him into her body as a temple, there must have arisen in Mary's heart some spark of that infinite love that the Father has for His Son. Thus, the love of Mary for Jesus comes from the same Source as Her Son in God, the prototype of the love of a mother for children as gifts of God and of children for mothers as prolongers of the Incarnation. Some idea of this love is suggested in the simple lines of the Gospel, when her Son went down to Nazareth: "While his mother kept in her heart the memory of all this" [Luke 2: 51]. And the words were the words of the Word. In this reciprocal love of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart, there is suggested the conclusion that if the Sacred Heart willed to have His body, His mind, His will, and His mission formed by the Immaculate Heart of His Mother, then shall not earthly mothers form Christ-life in their children through the inspiration of that same Immaculate Mother? In a broader way, all grown children, adults in the Mystical Body, have their love for Christ formed by His Mother.

As Mary and Jesus are the model-love of mother and children and of Christians and Christ, so she is the inspiration of a home. The principal difference between a house and a home is a child. In a house individuals dwell; in a home the family lives. There are more persons in a boardinghouse or hotel than in a home, but since there is no deep unifying bond of love, the group never makes the family. The two principal virtues of a home are consecration on the part of parents and obedience on the part of the children. The first of these lessons is revealed in the Presentation; the second in the life at Nazareth.

St. Luke begins the story of the Presentation in these words: "And when the time had come for purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him before the Lord there. It is written in God's law, that whatever male offspring opens the womb is to be reckoned sacred to the Lord; and so they must offer in sacrifice for him, as God's law commanded, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" [Luke 2: 22-24].

All the women of Israel who had brought forth a child were obliged, at the end of forty days, to present it to the Temple, and, if it were a first-born, to ransom it. The ransom imposed was in memory of God's ransoming the first-born of the Jews while they were in captivity in Egypt. Jesus was the first-born, not only of Mary [and the only born] but was also the first-born of creatures: "His is that first birth which precedes every act of creation" [Col. 1: 15]. In the name of all humanity, Mary offers her Son as a ransom for the world's redemption. Her act of dedicating her Son was a continuation of the Fiat she pronounced at the Annunciation. Mary was not a priest, but she was the Mother of the High Priest and as such offered in her heart her Child for the salvation of the world. She was not an altar, but the Mother of the Living Temple of God, which, if men destroyed, He would rebuild in three days. As a kind of paten, she holds in her hands Him Who is "the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world."

When Mary Magdalen poured out the precious perfume on the feet of her Savior, the Lord said she was doing it in preparation for the day of His burial. When our Lady presented her Child in the Temple, she was offering Him, too, for the day of His burial for the redemption of the world. Not to other mothers comes the high summons to offer their sons in reparation for the world; but to every mother does come the summons to consecrate her child to the service of God. I know a mother who, when her first-born was Baptized, immediately placed him on the altar of the Blessed Mother and there consecrated him to God. He is now in the service of God.

 The right to educate the children does not belong primarily to the State but to the parents. The State may instruct, but only the parents can consecrate. Since they hold the right from God, they will be held responsible for the proper exercise of the right. Like Mary, they must consecrate their children to the love and service of God. Unlike Mary, they are not called to consecrate unto a crucifixion, for there will never be another Redeemer. Mary here is imitable in the consecration, not in the one who is offered. The consecration of Mary's Child was in a temple; the consecration of every mother's child must also be in the house of God. Without religious education, there is no consecration, and without consecration a child is like an errant arrow, knowing neither the power that gave him motion nor the goal toward which he tends. But the child trained in sacrifice because Jesus Christ died for his sins, trained in truth because of a belief in Him Who is Truth, trained in purity because his body is the temple of God, becomes the redeemer of the parents, as their love pays back the spark of heaven with the flames of faith.

As parents would not think of stealing a neighbor's child, so neither would they ever dream of cheating God of His heritage. They are the trustees of that carnal wealth, not its creator. They have been sent out "two by two" not to picnic on the way but to reinforce the ranks of earth. Mary has taught the mother the first step in the founding of a home by offering it to God, then taking the child back in her arms fun of God's purpose.

Correlative to consecration of the part of the parents is obedience on the part of the children. After finding the Divine Child in the Temple, St. Luke tens us: "But he went down with them on their journey to Nazareth, and lived there in subjection to them, while his mother kept in her heart the memory of all this. And so Jesus advanced in wisdom with the years, and in favor both with God and with men" [Luke 2: 51, 52]. A triple humiliation is here revealed. "He went down" was a miniature of the Incarnation, when God came down from Heaven and became man. Physically, Nazareth was below Jerusalem in the topography of the country. Spiritually it was lower too, for the Creator now goes down to His creatures. "To Nazareth." "Can anything that is good come from Nazareth" [John 1: 46]? was asked by one of the Apostles on hearing that the Messiah came from that tiny little village. He was born in "the least of the cities of Israel;" now he would live in a scorned town, but the ignominy of His death and His apparent defeat He would proclaim in the great city of Jerusalem. "And He was subject to them." Here the sculptor obeys his chisel, the painter is subject to his brush, the winds obey the dictates of the leaves. Two decades later men will see Him washing the feet of His disciples. "So it is that the Son of Man did not come to have service done him; he came to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for the lives of many" [Mark 10: 45].

What makes the obedience of this Child all the more impressive is that He is the Son of God. He Who is the General of humanity becomes a soldier in the ranks; the King steps from His throne and plays the role of peasant. If He Who is the Son of God makes Himself subject to His Mother and foster father in reparation for the sins of pride, then how shall children escape the sweet necessity of obedience to those who are their lawfully constituted superiors? The Fourth Commandment, "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother," has been broken by every generation since the dawn of man. At Nazareth children would be taught obedience by Him who really is the Commandment. In this particular instance, where the Child is Divine, one might think that at least He would have reserved for Himself the right of "self-expression." Mary and Joseph, it seems, could have with great propriety opened the first "progressive school" in the history of Christianity, in which the child could do whatever he pleased; for here the Child could never have displeased. "And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me all alone, since what I do is always what pleases him" [John 8: 29].

But there is no evidence that He gave to Mary and Joseph just the nominal right to command. "And lived there in subjection to them." God subject to man! God, before Whom the Angels, principalities, and powers tremble, is subject to Mary and to Joseph for Mary's sake. Two great miracles of humility and exaltation: God obeying a woman; and a woman commanding God. The very fact that He makes Himself subject endows her with power. And this obedience lasted for thirty years. Three hours He spent in redemption; three years in teaching; thirty years in obedience. By this long span of voluntary obedience, He revealed that the Fourth Commandment is the bedrock of family life. In a larger way, how else could the primal sin of disobedience against God be undone except by the obedience in the flesh of the very God Who was defied? The first revolt in God's universe of peace was the thunderbolt of Lucifer: "I will not obey!"

Eden caught up the echo, and down the ages its inflection traveled, worming its way into the nook and crevices of every family where there gathered a father, mother, and child.

By making Himself subject to Mary and Joseph, the Divine Child proclaims authority in home and in public life to be a power granted by God Himself. From this disclosure follows the duty of obedience for the sake of God and one's conscience. As, later on, He would tell Pilate that the civil authorities exercise no power except that given them from above, so now by His obedience He bears witness to the solemn truth that parents exercise their authority in the name of God. The parents have the most sacred claim on their children, because their first responsibility is toward God. "Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance."  [Rom. 13: 1]

If the parents surrender their legitimate authority and primary responsibility to the children, the State takes up the slack. When obedience in conscience in the home vanishes, it will be supplanted by obedience by the force of the State. The divine glory of the ego, which characterized the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is so much social nonsense. The Divine glory of the State, which is now taking the ego's place, is a social nuisance. Believers in ego-consciousness and collective-consciousness may regard humility and obedience as a vice, but it is the stuff of which homes are made. When, in the one family of the world where one might legitimately excuse "child-worship," for here the child is God, one finds on the contrary child-obedience, then let no one deny that obedience is the cornerstone of the home. Obedience in the home is the foundation of obedience in the commonwealth, for in each instance, conscience submits to a trustee of God's authority. If it be true that the world has lost its respect for authority, it is only because it lost it first in the home. It is a peculiar paradox that as the home loses its authority, the authority of the State becomes tyrannical. Some moderns would swell their egos to infinity, but at Nazareth infinity stoops down to earth to shrink into the obedience of a child. There is a bond established. Democracy put "man" on a pedestal; feminism put "woman" on a pedestal; but neither democracy nor feminism could live a generation unless a "Child" was first put on a pedestal, and such is the significance of Nazareth!

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