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.
"The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains; the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob." (Ps. lxxxvi, 1, 2.)
WHEN the time fixed by God to enrich mankind with new graces of salvation had arrived, the Blessed Virgin Mary was given to the earth. The world was then all wrapt in the darkness of paganism: even the chosen people, ungrateful to God, and forgetful of the divine promises, maintained only certain external observances of the Law quite inadequate to give spiritual life. When, lo! like the dawn of day, the Immaculate Virgin appeared on earth to illumine it with a new light of faith and love. For Mary's birth announced the near approach of the Sun of Justice, who would scatter the shades of death, and show to man the path to heaven.
Mary, at the time of her birth was not only without spot, but she also possessed grace in a much superior degree to that which Adam and Eve received on the first moment of their formation in the earthly paradise. The grace of sanctification wherewith Mary was then adorned, surpassed even the consummate grace of the highest Seraphim, because she was destined to conceive and bring forth Jesus Christ, the true Son of God.
We may even say of Mary, that she commenced her mortal life in a superior degree of sanctity to that attained by the highest saints at the end of their career: "Her foundations are on the holy mountains." (Ps. lxxxvi, 1,)
It is quite a tenable opinion that Mary, in the first instant of her conception, received the use of reason, in order that, by a spontaneous movement of her will, she might turn toward God, and thus freely consent to the operation of grace in her soul. Consequently, Mary knew God from her first entry into this world: she could therefore offer herself at that moment entirely to the Divine Majesty, devoting herself heart and soul to the service of the Most High.
Jesus Christ, upon entering into this world, thus addressed His Eternal Father: "Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldest not: but a body Thou hast fitted to me: holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then, said I, behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of Me, that I should do Thy will, O God." (Heb. x, 5, 7.)
In like manner, Mary, before she yet knew of her election to the dignity of Mother of God, offered herself nevertheless without reserve to the Lord, that He should do with her whatever it pleased Him, and that He might deign to accept her as a victim of expiation for the sins of men. In such fashion did Mary trace the outlines of a life which was to be in perfect likeness to that of Jesus Christ, for the keynote of her whole existence was to be the resemblance with her divine Son.
Oh, how pleasing to God was this offering! With what complacency did the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity look down on this heavenly Child, who was one day to procure Them such glory!
Endeavor, O my soul, to imitate Mary in the oblation of thyself to God; frequently renew this offering, saying with the Royal Prophet: "My heart is ready, my God, my heart is ready." (Ps. lvi, 8.) "Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God." (Ps. cxlii, 10.)
The grace with which Mary was enriched from her entrance into this world, and the dowry of supernatural virtues with which she was then adorned, are a sufficient motive to liken her to a fair city, wherein the Three Divine Persons delighted to dwell: "Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God." (Ps. lxxxvi, 3.) The Holy Ghost was well pleased with this dwelling place, far more than with the Temple of Jerusalem made with hands; hence He never ceased to replenish it with new and precious graces.
Grace went on increasing in Mary's soul from the first use of reason, to her last mortal action. Corresponding incessantly to the motion of the Holy Spirit with all her might, she doubled and even trebled over and over again the grace that was in her. How, then, can we possibly apprize the sum of her accumulated spiritual wealth, when the time arrived that her divine Spouse was pleased to call her to Himself?
Example - Blessed Joachim Piccolomini
Blessed Joachim Piccolomini, a shining light of the Servite Order, was born in Siena of a noble family. From his earliest years he nourished a tender devotion to our blessed Lady, and it was his great delight to recite the Hail Mary. When he was thirteen years old he was called by Our Lady herself to the religious life. In consequence, leaving his father's home, he begged to be admitted to the Order of the Servants of Mary, and was received and clothed by St. Philip Benizi.
By the special protection of Our Lady he kept himself immune from any grievous sin and he especially avoided anything contrary to holy purity. He made it a point to exercise himself -in penance and mortification; but the virtue which particularly shone in him was his ardent charity toward his neighbor, and in this he gave to all a striking example. One day he met an epileptic whom he did his best to console, but the sufferer would not listen to his kind words, but rather rebuked Joachim, saying: "You had better take this illness upon yourself and I will console you."
The holy man hearing this at once went on his knees before the crucifix and begged Our Lord to transfer the affliction of the unhappy man to himself. At that instant the sick man was perfectly healed and Joachim contracted the terrible disease which he bore patiently till his death.
But this suffering did not satisfy his charity and he continually prayed that he might become more and more like his Crucified Lord. His desire was fulfilled, for his whole body began to be covered with sores which ate away his flesh to the bone. He bore all this with great joy and patience and in spite of the entreaties of his brethren he did not ask to be delivered by a miraculous cure.
Toward the end of his life he was honored by Our Lady with a vision in which she showed him two crowns prepared for him in heaven: one for his voluntary martyrdom, the other for his great virtues. He begged for the grace of dying on Good Friday and his prayer was heard. For when his brethren were gathered round him on that day and the Passion was being read in the Church, at these words: "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit," he peacefully expired. This was the sixteenth of April, 1305. Our Lord was pleased to glorify his servant by many miracles, which were and are still obtained through his intercession.
O Mary, radiant star, whose shining announced the near advent of Christ, the King of Justice, grant me, I pray thee, always to correspond with divine grace, and never to place any obstacle to the action of God in my soul. Amen.