The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 40.

CHAPTER 16 The Madonna of the World

From the Bantu tribes of Congo Africa comes this story. A Bantu mother believed that the evil spirits were disturbing her child, although the child actually had only whooping cough. It never entered the mind of the woman to call on the name of God although the Bantus had a name for God, Nzakomiba. God was utterly foreign to these people and was presumed to be totally disinterested in human woes. Their big problem was how to avoid evil spirits. This is the basic characteristic of missionary lands; pagan peoples are more concerned with pacifying devils than with loving God.

The Missionary Sister, who is a doctor, and who treated and cured the child, tried in vain to convince the woman that God is love. Her answer was an entirely different word: Eefee. The Missionary Sister then said: "But God's love is like that: Nzakomb Acok-Eefee. God has the same feeling of love for us that a mother has for her children." In other words, mother-love is the key to God's love. St. Augustine, who was so devoted to his mother, St. Monica, must have had something like this in mind when he said: "Give me a man who has loved and I will tell him what God is."

That brings up the question: Can religion do without motherhood? It certainly does not do without fatherhood, for one of the most accurate descriptions of God is that of the Giver and Provider of good things. But since motherhood is as necessary as fatherhood in the natural order - perhaps even more so - shall the devoted religious heart be without a woman to love? In the animal kingdom, mothers are the fighters for their offspring, whom paternity often abandons. On the human level, life would indeed be dull if through every beat of its existence one could not look back in gratitude to a mother who threw open the portals of life to give life, and then sustained it by the one great, irreplaceable love of each child's universe.

A wife is essentially a creature of time, for even while she lives she can become a widow; but a mother is outside time. She dies, but she is still a mother. She is the image of the eternal in time, the shadow of the infinite on the finite. Centuries and civilizations dissolve, but the mother is the giver of life. Man works on this generation: a mother on the next. A man uses his life; a mother renews it.

The mother, too, is the preserver of equity in the world, as man is the guardian of justice. But justice would degenerate into cruelty if it were not tempered by that merciful appeal to excusing circumstances which only a mother can make. As man preserves law, so woman preserves equity or that spirit of kindness, gentleness, and sympathy, which tempers the rigors of justice. Vergil opened his great poem by singing of "arms and a man" not of women. When women are reduced to bear arms, they lose that specific quality of femininity; then equity and mercy vanish from the earth.

Culture derives from woman - for had she not taught her children to talk, the great spiritual values of the world would not have passed from generation to generation. After nourishing the substance of the body to which she gave birth, she then nourishes the child with the substance of her mind. As guardian of the values of the spirit, as protectress of the morality of the young, she preserves culture which deals with purposes and ends, while man upholds civilization which deals only with means.

It is inconceivable that such love should be without a prototype Mother. When one sees tens of thousands of reprints of Murillo's "Immaculate Conception" one knows that there had to be the model portrait from which the copies derived their impression. If fatherhood has its prototype in the Heavenly Father, Who is the giver of all gifts, then certainly such a beautiful thing as motherhood shall not be without some original Mother, whose traits of loveliness every mother copies in varying degrees. The respect shown to woman looks to an ideal beyond each woman. As an ancient Chinese legend puts it: "If you speak to a woman, do it in pureness of heart. Say to yourself: 'Placed in this sinful world, let me be pure as the spotless lily, unsoiled by the mire in which it grows.' Is she old? Regard her as your mother. Is she honorable? Regard her as your sister. Is she of small account? As your younger sister. Is she a child? Then treat her with reverence and politeness."

Why did all pre-Christian people paint, sculpture, lyricize, and dream of an ideal woman, if they did not really believe that such a one ought to be? By making her mythical and legendary, they surrounded her with a mystery which took her out of the realm of time and made her more heavenly than earthly. In all people is a longing of the heart for something motherly and divine, an ideal from which all motherhood descends like the rays from the sun.

The full hope of Israel has been realized in the coming of the Messiah; but the full hope of the Gentiles has not yet been fulfilled. The prophecy of Daniel that Christ would be the Expectatio Gentium is so far fulfilled only in part. As Jerusalem had the hour of its visitation and knew it not, so every peoples and race and nation has its appointed hour of grace. Just as God in His Providence hid the continent of America from the Old World for almost 1500 years after His birth, and then allowed the veil which hung before it to be pierced by the ships of Columbus, so He has kept a veil before many nations of the East so that in this hour His ships of grace might finally pierce its veil and reveal, in this late hour, the undying strength of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The present crisis of the world is the opening of the East to the potency of the Gospel of Christ. The practical West, having lost faith in the Incarnation, has begun to believe that man does everything and God does nothing; the impractical contemplative East, which has believed that God does everything and man does nothing, is soon to have its day of discovery that man can do all things in the God Who strengthens him.

But it is impossible to conceive that the East will have its own peculiar advent or coming of Christ without the same preparation that Israel once had in Mary. As there would have been no advent of Christ in the flesh in His first coming without Mary, so there can be no coming of Christ in spirit among the Gentiles without Mary's again preparing the way. As she was the instrument for the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, so she is the instrument for the fulfillment of the hope of the pagans. Her role is to prepare for Jesus. This she did physically by giving Him a body which could conquer death, by giving Him hands with which He could bless children and feet with which He could seek out the lost sheep. But as she prepared His body, so she now prepares souls for His coming. As she was in Israel before Christ was born, so she is in China, Japan, and Oceania before Christ is born. She precedes Jesus not ontologically, but physically, in Israel, as His Mother, and spiritually, among the Gentiles, as the one who readies His tabernacle among men. There are not many who can say "Our Father" in the strict sense of the term, for that implies that we are partakers in the Divine Nature and brothers with Christ. God is not Our Father by the mere fact that we are creatures; He is only our Creator. Fatherhood comes only by sharing in His nature through sanctifying grace. A liturgical manifestation of this great truth is found in the way in which the Our Father is recited in most of the ceremonies of the Church. It is recited aloud in the Mass, because there it is assumed that all present are already made sons of God in Baptism. But where the ceremony is one in which sanctifying grace cannot be presumed among those present, the Church recites the Our Father silently.

Thus pagans, who have not yet been baptized either by water or desire, cannot say the Our Father, but they can say the Hail Mary. As there is a grace that prepares for grace, so there is in all the pagan lands of the world the influence of Mary, preparing for Christ. She is the spiritual "Trojan horse" preparing for the assault of love by Her Divine Son, the "Fifth Column" working within the Gentiles, storming their cities from within, even when their Wise Men know it not, and teaching muted tongues to sing her Magnificat before they have known Her Son.