Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. part 2b

Again; though very few circumstances and incidents of Mary's life are found in the Gospel narrative, and few details are there recorded of the examples she gave and the virtues she practised. Still, from the little that is said, we may discover many traits of her character, and the inner beauties of her soul; her humility, spirit of poverty, modesty, purity of heart, holy reserve and prudence ; her spirit of recollection, her habits of retirement, meditation' and prayer ; her Jove and esteem for God's word; her charity to her neighbour, forgetfulness of self, and thought of others ; her promptitude in following every inspiration of grace and indication of God's Will, her strong faith, unshaken confidence, and ardent charity; her desire for the glory of God alone; her wisdom, and illumination of soul on divine things; her sublime spirit of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise; her perfect obedience to the law of God in minutest details, her abandonment to the providence and holy Will of God; her tender love for her Divine Son, and zeal for all His interests, and especially the work of redemption ; her heroic patience, courage and fortitude ; her meekness and forgiveness of insults and wrongs ; her desire to suffer with her Divine Son; her union with His brethren, the Apostles, and first Christians.

We have but to go in spirit to Nazareth and Bethlehem, to Jerusalem and Egypt, and Nazareth again, to Cana, and to return to Jerusalem—we have but to think of Mary at the scenes of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Purification—the Flight into Egypt, the Loss in the Temple, at the Marriage Feast of Cana ; to see her on the hill of Calvary, and in the upper chamber at Pentecost—and we shall recognise in her all the virtues and traits of character which we have just enumerated. For, with a revelation of wondrous fulness, does the little recorded in the Gospels of the words and actions of Mary portray her to those who with faith and love bear impressed on their minds and hearts the image of the Mother of God. If little is said of Mary in Holy Writ, it is that we may meditate the more. Nay, that little is enough, and better than much more, to enable us to contemplate Mary as a created ideal and perfect model of grace and sanctity.

But this very silence in the Gospels on so many passages of Mary's life is of itself most eloquent in her praise. Though the Evangelists wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the events they record came to their knowledge by human means. Of these events they were either themselves eye-witnesses, or they learnt them from the sure testimony of others. (1) For the circumstances of our Lord's life during thirty years, the Blessed Virgin must have been the chief, and of many incidents she could have been the only, living witness. From her alone would St. Luke, who has been called our Lady's Evangelist, have obtained the knowledge of what he relates concerning the Annunciation, our Lord's birth, infancy, childhood, exile in Egypt, and hidden life at Nazareth. But how short and fragmentary are the passages recorded of those thirty years. How much more, and how many interesting details might Mary have disclosed of them. In her deep humility and zeal for the glory of God alone, she would have only so much recorded about herself as was necessary for showing forth to the world her Divine Son. She would remain herself in the back-ground, appearing only here and there, and now and then, for His, or for us her children's sake. (2)

Before closing this chapter, we would speak more particularly of a case, in which the Evangelists themselves had direct and personal knowledge, and where their silence about the Blessed Virgin is the highest praise they could bestow upon her.

It is their narrative of Our Lord's appearances after His Resurrection. Here they say absolutely nothing of His appearing to His Blessed Mother. But this silence serves only to emphasise her singular faith, since all the appearances they record, were made to those who, more or less, had lost faith in His word, doubted of His Resurrection, and were consequently upbraided by Him for their unbelief.

The Evangelists were therefore inspired to narrate in detail our risen Lord's appearances to them; since the testimony of such witnesses would be more convincing for the establishment of the Faith. This, too, is what S. John, after relating our Lord's appearances to the incredulous Thomas, expressly declares: "Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing you may have life in His Name." [John xx. 30, 31.]

To record the appearances of Our Lord to His Holy Mother would, then, have been beside the purpose of Inspiration; since what was said to her by Elizabeth at the Incarnation might have been addressed to her at the Resurrection: "Blessed art thou that hast believed." [Luke i. 45.] We read of Mary assisting on Calvary at the crucifixion and death of her Son, but she is not found with Magdalene and the other women at the Sepulchre, bringing sweet spices to anoint His body, or seeking the living amongst the dead. Mary had never doubted like the rest, but believed all along with full assurance of faith that He would rise again from the tomb the third day according to His promise. Consequently, and also because she was His Mother, her testimony to His resurrection would seem to be less impartial; and to record Our Lord's appearances to her would not have served the special end the Evangelists had in view.

To infer from the silence in the Gospels that our risen Lord did not appear to His Blessed Mother might seem to be in contradiction with what is said by the Evangelist S. John: that from the hour of her Son's death, " that disciple took her to his own." From which words we should rather gather that where S. John was, there also was Mary, dwelling in the same house, whether in Jerusalem or in Galilee. It is, moreover, mentioned incidentally that even when Our Lord appeared to the eleven Apostles particularly, there were others with them. [Luke xxiv. 33.]

And surely it would be out of harmony with all that we know of Our Lord's life, if after His Resurrection He did not visit Mary, His own most blessed Mother, principally, before and beyond all others beside. During thirty years of His earthly sojourn He had chosen to be habitually alone with her: and even during the remaining three years of His public ministry, which was an exceptional time, many considerations would lead us to infer that Mary was in the near company of her Divine Son. It is worthy of remark and reflection, that throughout those long years of Our Lord's life, about which the Evangelists are so reticent, one thing at least we know of Him, whether in Egypt or at Nazareth, that He was with Mary. And when He had returned from the tomb to tarry still for a short space on earth, before He ascended to His Father in heaven, where should we naturally most expect to find Him, but once more with Mary, in whose company He had chosen, by preference to dwell habitually during His life, and from whom with such words of dutiful love He had last parted at death ? Dominus tecum. — Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum, alleluia. [Introit of Mass for Easter Sunday.— Statio ad S. Mariam.]

How, indeed, could we so conceive of the love, filial piety, and honour which Our Lord bore to His holy Mother, as to think that He should not have visited her especially after His Resurrection, to console and compensate her for all that she had suffered with Him, and for His sake ? She had taken the chief part with Him in His Passion ; and, according to the canon laid down by S. Paul, [Rom. vi. 5-7. Phil. iii. 10, 11.] the part that we have in the sufferings and death of Christ, is to be the measure of the share we shall have in His resurrection. The effect of our risen Lord's appearances to His disciples was to fill their hearts with peace and joy. [John xx. 19, 20.] What then must have been the fulness reserved for Mary ?

May we not well believe that those touching and consoling words of Jesus Christ, in His last discourse to His disciples on the eve of His Passion, had their highest signification and fulfilment in their application to Mary ? " A little while, and you shall not see Me; and, again, a little while, and you shall see Me. Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but, when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. So also you now, indeed, have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice ; and your joy no man shall take from you." [John xvi. 19-22.]

Mary was, doubtless, with the disciples when Our Lord thus spake. And was not she emphatically that Woman then present to His thoughts? Her hour, His own hour also, [John ii. 4.] was now come, when she was to bring forth her Child Jesus again, not as once at Bethlehem with a joyous, painless child-birth, but in labour of bitter sorrow and anguish on Calvary. This dolorous travail past, her Son risen again from death, she will see Him re-born from the tomb to a new and glorious life, "the First begotten of the dead," "the first-fruits of them that sleep," [Apoc. i. 5. 1 Cor. xv. 20.] and seeing Him once more, remembering now no more her anguish, her heart will rejoice, and at sight of Him, exclaim, " According to the multitude of sorrows that were in my heart, Thy consolations have given joy to my soul." [Ps. xciii. 19.]

Mary is celebrated throughout the Church as emphatically " the Blessed Virgin." She was pronounced Blessed by God Himself in the Angelic salutation, and by inspiration of the Holy Ghost. [Luke i. 28, 42, 48.] Hence to her belongs pre-eminently the heritage of every blessing. She was blessed, because she bore Jesus Christ in her womb, and suckled Him at her breasts, yet still more blessed, because she heard the word of God and kept it. [Luke xi. 27, 28.] She was blessed, in seeing her Son risen from the dead, and had also the greater blessing of those who had not seen and yet have believed. [John xx. 29.] Others saw and still doubted. [Matt, xxviii. 17.] Mary before, and without seeing, firmly believed in His resurrection.

In saying that the Blessed Virgin had the principal share in the joys of Jesus Christ's Resurrection, is implicitly contained the proposition that His first appearance was to her. On this point we shall con tent ourselves with quoting the words of the learned Suarez:—

" We should unhesitatingly believe, that, after His Resurrection, Christ appeared first of all to His Mother. This opinion, from its very terms, is of itself so credible, that, almost without controversy, it is firmly seated in the minds of all the faithful and Doctors, and is the teaching of all Catholic writers, who have touched upon the question. Hence it seems to have been the constant sense of the Church, since we cannot discover the time when it first began to be taught in the Church. And, although the ancient Fathers do not frequently affirm it, this is not because they held the contrary opinion—for they never denied it—but because they were used to expound only those things that the Evangelists had written. Still we are not altogether without indications and testimonies from antiquity. For S. Ambrose expressly affirms this opinion in the following words :—' Mary saw the Lord's Resurrection, and was the first to see, and believed. Mary Magdalene saw too, though still she doubted.' [L. iii., De Virginit., ad init.] . . . Well does S. Anselm say, [De Excell. Virg. c. 6.] that the immensity of joy wherewith the Virgin was whelmed at this appearance of her Son, was admirable to Angels, but unutterable to men. He then asks why the Evangelists did not record that Christ appeared first, and principally to His Mother : He answers first, because to do so might seem superfluous: and, secondly, lest they should seem to put the Queen of heaven and earth on the same level with the rest to whom Christ appeared."

Suarez, commenting further on, on the words of S. Mark :—"He appeared first to Mary Magdalene," [Mark xvi. 9.] and quoting from Rupert, [L. vii. De Divin. Off. c. 25.] continues :—" The Evangelists related those appearances only which were made to attest the truth of the Resurrection according to what is written :—' Him God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses pre-ordained by God.' [Acts x. 41.] For they did not assume the task of writing everything that Christ did, nor all the singular favours He showed to His Mother, but those only that appeared to suffice for confirming and recording the mysteries of faith. When, then, Christ is said to have appeared first to Mary Magdalene, this must be understood to mean, either first amongst those who were to be witnesses of the Resurrection, or first amongst those to whom Christ appeared, for the confirmation of their faith. Consequently the Blessed Virgin is not included. For neither was she to be a witness of the Resurrection, for she might be suspected of making up some story, out of love for her Son ; nor did she ever waver in her belief of His Resurrection. It was not, there fore, on this account that Christ first appeared to her ; but to offer her the due expression of His love and honour. And hence not only should we look on this favour as granted to the Virgin for her own comfort, but also as an act that was most becoming for Christ Himself to do ; both because, as a Son, He was bound to specially honour His Mother, and also, because, since He was so greatly loved by her, He was bound to show her especial marks of love in return. And consequently, by means of this singular favour, the Virgin's faith, hope, and charity towards Christ must needs have been very greatly increased and con firmed." [Suarez De Myst. Vit. Christ., Dist. xlix., Sect. 2.]

The foregoing considerations, which have their source in the page of the New Testament, tend, we think, to show clearly that our risen Lord appeared principally, above all, and consequently, first, to His Blessed Mother, even though the Evangelists are silent on this point; moreover, that this silence is intelligible, and emphatically eloquent in Mary's praise.

Hence is confirmed the principle which was laid down in the last chapter, that the silence of the inspired writers on some question of doctrine or fact, is of itself no valid argument at all against the existence, truth, and importance of such doctrine or fact.

(1) The Evangelist, St. Luke, tells us this himself at the beginning of his Gospel. (Ch. i. 1-3.) He says that he narrates the facts of our Lord's life, " according as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word : " and that " having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, it seemed good to him also," though not himself an eye-witness to write his Gospel.

(2)  " In treating of the excelling dignity of the Blessed Mother of God and St. Joseph it is to be well remarked that but few things are said of them in the New Testament. And for this the following reason may be fitly assigned, viz., that the whole intention of the Evangelists and Apostles was turned to Christ: for, when He was known, and His faith sufficiently established, the excellence of His true Mother, and of His reputed father,could not be ignored or hidden : whilst in the few but most weighty words spoken of them, certain chief heads are indicated, that virtually contain all other things that can be said concerning the Blessed Virgin and S. Joseph, which thence flow forth as from their fountains. But if thou askest, why Christ our Lord, Who published the charity of Magdalene, and the praises of John Baptist, never spoke aught like of His Mother nor of His reputed father: I answer first, that this was duo to a certain temperance and modesty of Christ: since whatever He should say of them, would seem to refer and belong to Himself. And this He avoided for our edification, saying, ' I seek, not my own glory ;' and 'if I glorify myself, my glory is nothing' (John viii. 50, 54). Again, too, because Christ our Lord was then especially desirous to teach men His own divine origin; and when this was known, it was easy to understand the excellence of His human Conception, the dignity of His Mother, and the singular prerogative of His reputed father. Most of all, because, since the very facts and deeds, whereby Christ honoured His Mother and Joseph, spoke aloud for themselves, words were not so necessary. And lastly, it was not without special design of the Holy Ghost, that some of the mysteries and privileges of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were neither written nor received by certain tradition, that opportunity might be given to learned and devout faithful for meditating and repeatedly reflecting the more on these mysteries, for discoursing on them, for publicly preaching them, and for committing to writing many things regarding the Virgin and Joseph in a reasoned way, and for drawing inferences from the principles handed down by tradition—as in treating of the Blessed Virgin have taught the learned Canus (L. xii. De Locis) and Suarez (torn. ii. in 3 p. in praefatione)." Morales, S. J., In cap. I., Matt. De Christ. Dom., SS. V. Deip. Mar., cjusq. Virgin. Spoils. Joseph. —L. iii. tr. 7.