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.
"Oh, how beautifid is the chaste generation with glory! For the memory thereof is immortal! because it is known both with God and with men." (Wisd. iv, 1).
THE Church teaches us that the Christian must all submit in expiation of our sins. Our divine Redeemer Himself impressed upon us this great truth when He said: "Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish." (Luke xiii. 3.)
The object of penance is, in the first place, to lead us to refrain ourselves, in so far as reason and faith demand, from the inordinate desire of sensual pleasure, to which our fallen nature is inclined. So strong is this inclination, that we are ever in danger of falling into the slough of vice. How many Christians, alas, by following their unbridled imagination, lose both soul and body together!
Wherefore, Holy Church imposes upon us the obligation of fasting, putting us in mind of the advantages which accrue from this salutary penance to which we practice. Fasting, in effect, "represses vices, raises our thoughts heavenward, makes easy the practice of virtue, and is a constant source of merit." (Preface for Lent.)
Let us set ourselves to appreciate as we should, Christian mortification, which procures for us so many and such great advantages for time and eternity.
As Mary was not tainted with original sin, she did not experience in herself this disorderly proneness to the pleasures of sense, the.baneful consequence of the sin of our first parents. Being full of grace, she maintained always the just balance of the powers of her soul. She performed all her actions with ease and delight, not having to use violence with herself, in order to preserve that even poise of the faculties, which reason arid the law of God demand.
Nevertheless, Mary subjected herself willingly to the law of penance and mortification, denying herself those pleasures which others are wont to seek after with an unquenchable craving. Her life was one long series of privations and self-denials. Her fasting and abstinence was continual. She only allowed herself what was necessary to maintain life and no more. She mortified all her senses, so that it were hard to say in what particular kind of mortification she excelled, in modesty of the eyes, in lowliness of mien, in the sparingness of her words or in the dignity of her gestures.
It was natural, then, that her Heavenly Bridegroom should find in her all His delight. And as the fruit of this temperance, Mary acquired an extraordinary facility in conversing familiarly with her Well-Beloved, a heavenly joy which was depicted on her countenance, a virginal beauty which radiated from her whole presence, a something so indescribably sweet and majestic, that it gave to her an aspect rather divine than human: "How beautiful art thou my love, how beautiful art thou! Thine eyes are as doves' eyes, besides what is hid within!" (Cant. iv, 1.)
The virtue of temperance is necessary to the Christian who would live according to the law of God. When this virtue is wanting, the spirit becomes the slave of the flesh. It can no longer relish things divine; for, says St. Paul, "the sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. ii, 14.)
In fact, gluttony and gross living naturally tend to the obscuring of the intellect and to the quenching of spiritual light. It is vain, therefore, to look for wisdom among those that live in luxury and abundance:"Wisdom is not found in the land of them that live in delight." (Job, xxviii, 18.) Moreover intemperance, by exciting a wild gaiety, often provokes bickerings and dissensions, and it is a known fact that gluttony takes a greater toll of human lives than does disease. But what is still worse, intemperance excites in man all kinds of impure thoughts, which find vent in words, gestures and actions contrary to holy modesty; it hardens the heart and prepares the way to eternal perdition.
Example - Blessed Elizabeth Picenardi
This illustrious Servant of Mary was born in Mantua, in the year 1428. In her infancy, she preferred prayer and recollection to childish pastimes, thus foreboding the great sanctity to which she would one day attain. Animated with lively devotion to our blessed Lady, she retired, after her mother's death, to the house of her sister and begged that she might be given the habit of the Third Order of the Servants of Mary. From that time, her whole life was one continual exercise of the most sublime virtues. She meditated continually on the passion of Jesus and the sorrows of Mary, and she never let a day pass without purifying her soul in the sacrament of Penance, that she might receive the Holy Eucharist with greater spiritual fruit. She fasted frequently and always wore an iron chain next her skin-. Every day she recited the Divine Office with great fervor and devotion, striving to penetrate the mystical and sublime meaning of the liturgical and scriptural prayers.
Her holiness and example attracted many noble ladies to the service of God. Under her wise direction these persons attained a high degree of perfection. Many convents of the Servite or Mantellate Sisters were founded by the help of Blessed Elizabeth.
Mary, whose chosen daughter she was, deigned to visit her many times in her poor cell, joining in familiar conversation with her. So great was her power of intercession, that it sufficed for any one to recommend himself to her prayers, for him to obtain from Mary all the graces he desired. Thus she was known as the "Mediatrix with the Mother of God."
Her humility was so profound, that she thought herself to be the most wretched of creatures, and God in return for this granted her many favors. It is generally thought that Blessed Elizabeth never lost her baptismal innocence. Moreover, she possessed the gift of prophecy to a marked degree, and among other things she foretold the day of her death, which occurred in the year 1468, being the forty-first year of her age. She then had the privilege of contemplating the Child Jesus and His-holy Mother, who were present, to assist her in the passage from time to eternity.
The body of the Blessed Elizabeth rests at Mantua, in the Church of St. Bernard. This great Servant of Mary continually obtains from God many graces and favors for all who have recourse to her with confidence. The Sovereign Pontiff Pius VII placed her among the Blessed on the twentieth of November, 1804.
O Mary, most temperate of virgins, thou didst taste, more than any other creature, the pure joys of the spiritual life. Help me, I beg thee, to overcome the seductions of sense, in order that, preserving myself chaste in body and soul, I may enjoy with thee those spiritual delights which are promised to us, through the merits of Christ Jesus, our Saviour. Amen.