THE FAIREST FLOWER OF PARADISE - CONSIDERATIONS ON THE LITANY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN, ENRICHED WITH EXAMPLES DRAWN FROM THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS BY Very Rev. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O. S. M.
"Put thy feet into her fetters, and thy neck into her chains . . . Then shall her fetters be a strong defense for thee, and a firm foundation, and her chain a robe of glory." (Ecclus., vi, 25, 30.)
WHEN we reflect on the multitude of trials and miseries incident to man during this life, we cannot refrain from a feeling of deepest sadness. Our first parents haying lost, by original sin, the grace of God, and with it that state of justice in which they had been created, fell into a state of misery, in which manifold ills became their portion. These evils, which were to extend to their posterity, originate in four deep wounds inflicted on our nature by original sin. These are, in the understanding, darkness as to the truths of faith; in the will, a perverse inclination; in our lower faculties, an inordinate proneness toward the pleasures of sense, and an extreme difficulty in resisting evil.
Moreover, man, who would have been impassible and immortal had he remained faithful to God, lost by his first sin all these privileges, and consequently became subject to misery, disease and death.
Oh, how deep is the stain of sin, and how pitiable is the lot of man, thus deprived of original righteousness! Let us give thanks to God, who being "rich in mercy," (Eph. ii, 4. 2) has had compassion upon us. Not merely content to succor us Himself, He has given us in Mary a Mother sensible of our unhappy state, and all solicitous to relieve us: Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae"
We are indebted to God's infinite bounty for having given us, in Jesus and Mary, two persons animated with the tenderest sentiments of mercy and compassion. St Paul says of Jesus Christ that He willed to be like unto us, and that like us He chose to know sorrow, in order that we might find in Him a Father "full of mercy." (Heb. ii, 17.)
Mary, too, had to suffer bitter torments, especially at the foot of her Son's cross, in order that she might become the tender, clement and loving Mother of mankind. And so, like Jesus, she is full of the most compassionate mercy toward us, poor sinners. This mercy makes her prompt to succor our miseries. Like a powerful advocate, she never ceases to intercede for us, in order that God may give us the light needful to guide our steps, inspire us with a right intention in all our actions, hinder our will from declining toward evil, strengthen us against the assaults of the enemy, and ever preserve in our souls that heavenly grace which allays in us the fever of concupiscence.
Mary's bountiful mercy does not extend merely to our spiritual wants: it embraces also our bodily needs. This tender Mother has known poverty, fatigue and hunger. No wonder, then, if she is intent on relieving us even in our temporal miseries. She delights in sending to our assistance the holy angels, whose Queen she is and over whom she commands. She even sometimes deigns to appear in person to her devoted servants, especially at the hour of death, in order to comfort them in that dread and decisive moment.
In imitation of Jesus and Mary, a Christian should exercise, toward,his neighbor, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, endeavoring to relieve, as far as possible, his miseries and wants. Since, however, the greatest evil which man may encounter is to fall into sin, the sole obstacle to divine mercy, therefore the most excellent of all works is to prevent men from offending God. "My brethren, if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him, he must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (James, v, 19, 20.)
Not only should we endeavor to withhold our neighbor from mortal sin, but we should strive also to inspire him with a holy hatred for venial sin. It is true that venial sin does not deprive the soul of charity; yet it lessens the fervor thereof, and introduces us in a way which, in the long run, might lead us to eternal death.
To occupy oneself in so holy a work as the conversion of sinners, is an earnest of countless blessings: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt, v, 7.)
Example - St. Jerome Emiliani
St. Jerome Emiliani, Founder of the Congregation of Somasca, experienced in a marvelous way the great mercy of our blessed Lady. He was a noble patrician of Venice, and had first served as a soldier, during which time he had unhappily allowed himself to fall into every sort of vice.
It happened that he was once entrusted with the defense of the fortress of Castelnuovo, in Friuli. When this was stormed by the enemy, Jerome was captured and confined in a dark prison, where he was loaded with chains.
Not knowing what would happen to him, he began to be filled with remorse for his past life, almost to the point of despair, when the thought of Mary the Mother of God and men enlightened him. He remembered that this most powerful Mother was invoked as "Virgin most merciful" and as "Mother of divine mercy." To her, therefore, from the depths of his prison he confidently turned, promising to lead a better life in the future. He also made a vow to go, clothed as he was, to give thanks before Mary's shrine in Treviso, if this loving Mother should deliver him from his miserable condition. And lo! in an instant, Jerome beheld his prison filled with light, and the Virgin Mary descending from heaven to loose with her own hands the chains with which he was bound. Moreover, the Mother of God handed him a key with which to open the door of the prison and escape.
Being now freed in this marvelous way, Jerome directed his steps toward Treviso, bearing his chains on his shoulders in token of his wonderful deliverance. But as the roads were occupied by the enemy, he was in danger of falling into their hands. He had again recourse to Mary and this heavenly Queen instantly appeared to him, and caused him to pass unnoticed through the camp of the enemy on his twenty-mile journey. When he arrived at Treviso, he went and prostrated himself before the image of Our Lady, and wishing to fulfil his vow, he laid on her altar the instruments of his torture.
From that hour he placed himself under Mary's special protection and, in memory of the kindness shown him, began to recite her Office daily. Moreover, when he set on foot his memorable work of educating orphans, he exhorted not only these but all with whom he came in contact, to reverence this powerful Queen, by often reciting the "Hail Holy Queen" and other sacred hymns. He died a holy death on the eighth of February, 1537.
O Mary, thou art twice Mother of Mercy, because thou hast been made Mother of our most merciful Saviour, and furthermore because thou hast given to us so many signs of thy maternal care and love. Turn upon us, we beseech thee, thy glance of compassion, and grant that we may always live free from sin, which is the only impediment to receiving the fruits of the divine mercies. Amen.