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.
WHEN we reflect on the good which we are required to do, and on the sufferings we must endure to attain to eternal felicity, it is impossible, however short our experience of this life may be, to refrain from a sentiment of fear, at the sight of the difficulties and contradictions which await us on all sides.
Three enemies, let loose by original sin, are leagued together with our native weakness against us: they accompany us at all times, constituting a perpetual obstacle to the acquisition of the crown for which we are striving. These are the devil with his snares, the flesh with its perverse inclinations, and the world with its allurements. These three enemies wage against us a dire and ceaseless warfare, so that, were it not for a special aid given us from above, it would be impossible to withstand their onset. We should, then, render thanks to the infinite goodness of God, who arms us by the gift of strength with a holy courage, thus giving us hope of escape from all dangers, and a firm assurance of reaching, if we are but faithful, the end of our labors and the goal of our desires.
Rest thyself, O my soul, upon the arm of thy loving Saviour, He who tempers the wind to the downy fledgeling, will give thee patience to support the ills of this life, and strength to overcome the enemies of thy salvation: "Through my God I shall go over a wall." (Ps. xvii, 29.)
If we consider, on the one hand, the grandeur of the mission to which Mary was predestined, and, on the other, the innumerable obstacles she had to surmount, not indeed as regards the flesh, since she was immaculate, but on the part of the devil and the world, we perceive that, humanly speaking, this Holy Virgin had much to cause her to lose heart. How will a creature, holy indeed, but of herself feeble, be able to find the necessary strength to accomplish so great an enterprise? How will Mary be able to overthrow the redoubtable foes that beset her on all hands? St. Paul gives us the decisive answer: "Through the grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. vii, 25.)
Yes, the grace which was to be given to Mary, we may say almost without measure, in virtue of the merits of her Son Jesus Christ, strengthened her to overcome all dangers. It caused her to triumph over all difficulties, and enabled her to fulfill perfectly her mission of co-Redemptress in the restoration of the human race. Divine grace sustained her in her afflictions and toils: whilst her soul, firm as a rock in the midst of a raging sea, reposed upon God, her Saviour, as a child in its mother's arms.
The thought of the divine assistance animated Mary when, foreseeing the sufferings she would have to undergo, she uttered full of confidence the prophetic words: "He hath showed might in His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart." (Luke, i, 51.)
The combats to which we are exposed in this life are indeed hard and unceasing. We must, therefore, arm ourselves with courage and beg the divine assistance, to be able to overcome our spiritual foes, to surmount the obstacles which block our pathway, and to achieve the final goal of our endeavors. By these aids, included in the gift of strength, we may rest sure of victory, provided however we correspond with grace: for we do not fight alone, God having promised to be always with us.
Still, if we have need of the gift of strength to enable us to fight courageously and to resist the enemies of our salvation, it is no less necessary to help us in bearing patiently the ills which fall to our lot from the cradle to the grave. We are worth nothing without the supernatural gift of strength. On the other hand, it is comparatively easy for us to work out our eternal salvation with the help of this gift, and we can repeat with the Apostle: "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? ... I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God." (Rom. viii, 87, 88.)
Example - St. Raymond Nonnatus
St. Raymond Nonnatus (not born), was so called because his mother died before giving him birth. From his early years he placed himself entirely in the hands of Our Lady. He began then to feel a strong inclination to the ecclesiastical state, but he encountered great opposition from his father, who in order to dissuade him from his purpose, sent him to mind the flocks.
But the saintly youth found means to practice his devotion to Our Lady, by spending many hours daily before her shrine. In honor of Mary he made a vow of perpetual virginity to God and in return he received the grace necessary to overcome the opposition of his father.
Filled with compassion for the hardships of many Christians who had fallen into the hands of the Saracens, he went to Algiers to liberate them, desiring, if possible, to shed his blood for the faith of Jesus Christ. He gave himself entirely to setting free these poor wretches, rescuing them with money and strengthening them in the faith. He also would often encourage them to receive the holy sacraments, by which they might preserve divine grace in their souls.
But this did not satisfy his zeal. He wished, for the love of Jesus, to remain a slave for his beloved brethren. Not only did he suffer fatigues, scorn and derision in his charity toward them, but furthermore he had to bear the assaults of the barbarous pagans, who were determined at all costs to make him apostatize from the faith. Being helped by his heavenly Queen, Raymond bore all his trials with great constancy and even with joy in order to gain souls for heaven.
His own master, irritated by such constancy, at first condemned him to death. However, moved by a strong greed for money, he set aside his desire for vengeance and commuted this sentence into that of a great number of stripes. Moreover, he ordered Raymond's lips to be pierced and looped with an iron chain, that prevented him from preaching the Christian religion and only allowed of his taking scanty nourishment.
Raymond remained in this painful condition for more than eight months, that is, until the sum of money required for his ransom was obtained. He then returned to Spain, accompanied by the blessings of many Christians whom he had redeemed to life and to the practice of the Catholic Faith. The Sovereign Pontiff, Gregory IX, wished to recompense his labors by raising him to the cardinalate. But God had prepared a more precious reward for him, calling him to partake of the eternal joys of paradise. His death took place in the year 1240.
O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, true Tower of David, thou didst remain immovable among the contradictions of this life, valiantly fulfilling, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, the part allotted to thee in the work of our redemption. Obtain for me, I beseech thee, of thy Son, a large share of the gift of strength, in order that I may not lose courage in the battles of life, but that passing through the troubles of this world, I may surely attain to everlasting peace. Amen.