The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 43.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Virgin of the Rocks
There is a legend to the effect that one of the Three Wise Men was black. If this be so, then he, who adored the Virgin and her Babe under a flaming Orient star, now recovers the glory of his race in seeing the Mother and the Child portrayed as their own. Well, indeed, may the mothers of Africa (who during the days of Colonial expansion saw their young sons snatched from their hands to become slaves in another land) look forward to a Madonna who might save them as she would save her own Son. A poetess has put upon the lips of a black Madonna this evening prayer:

Unanswered yet, but not yet unheard, O, God my prayer to You unfurled He's just a Negro boy they say, Common, cheap and unlearned. What difference if he never does return? But, God, he is my only son,

He knew a Bethlehem like your Son, God! No home like other little boys, With now and then a precious toy. He was unwonted like your only Son, And lots of Herod's sought the life Of my little black son.

He knew a flight like your son, God! A flight from hunger and starvation, Sometimes from sickness and disease. He knew abuse, distress, want and fear. He knew the love of a Madonna, too, Just like your little Son.

Must he, too, know a dark Gethsemane? A Golgotha and a Calvary too ? If so then I like the Madonna Mary Must help him bear his cross.

Help me to pray: "not mine, but thine" Just like your only son.

But no one, better than Gilbert K. Chesterton, glorifies the Black Virgin, who is as much the Africans' mother as any other peoples under the sun, and even more their mother than of those who would look upon the people of Africa as less noble than themselves.

In all thy thousand images we salute thee, Claim and acclaim on all thy thousand thrones Hewn out of multi-colored rocks and risen Stained with the stored-up sunsets in all tones -If in all tones and shades this shade I feel Come from the black cathedrals of Castille Climbing these flat black stones of Catalonia, To thy most merciful face of night I kneel. (G. K. CHESTERTON, "The Black Virgin," from I Sing of a Maiden.)

Thus, whether one studies world history before or after Christ, there is always revealed a yearning in every human breast for ideal motherhood. Reaching out from the past to Mary, through ten thousand vaguely prophetic Judiths and Ruths, and looking back through the mists of the centuries, all hearts come to rest in her. This is the ideal woman! She is THE MOTHER. No wonder that an aged woman, seeing her beauty cross the threshhold, cried out: "Blessed art thou amongst women." And this young expectant Mother, far from repudiating this high estimate of her privilege, goes beyond it, by anticipating the judgment of all time: "all generations shall call me blessed." Surveying the future, this ideal Mother has no hesitation in proclaiming that the distant ages will ring with her praise. Women live only for a few years, and the vast majority of the dead are not remembered at all. But Mary is confident that she is the real exception to this rule. Daring to predict that the law of forgetfulness will be suspended in her favor, she proclaims her eternal remembrance, even before the Child by Whom she will be remembered has been born. Our Lord has not yet worked a miracle; no Hand of His had been lifted over palsied limbs - He was but scarcely veiled from the heavenly glory, and had only for a few months been tabernacled within her - and yet this Woman looks down the long corridors of time. Seeing there the unknown people of Africa, Asia, China, Japan, she proclaims with absolute assurance: "From henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed." Julia, the ill-used daughter of Augustus and wife of Tiberius; Octavia, the sister of Augustus whom Anthony divorced to marry Cleopatra - names once familiar to a people and a world - today receive no tribute of praise. But this lovely maiden, who lived in a little town in the far reaches of the Roman Empire, a town which was associated with reproach, is at this hour more honored and oftener borne in mind by civilized man than any other member of her sex who ever lived. And she knew the reason why: "Because He that is Mighty has done great things to me, and Holy is His Name."

As one searches for the reasons for this universal love of Mary among peoples who do not even know her Son, it is to be found in four instincts deeply embedded in the human heart: affection for the beautiful; admiration for purity; reverence for a Queen; and love of a Mother. All of these come to a focus in Mary.

The beautiful: he who has lost the love of the beautiful has already lost his soul. Purity: even those who fall from it always admire those who preserve the ideal, toward which, again, they feebly aspire. Queen: the heart wants a love so much above itself that it can feel unworthy in its presence and bow down before it in reverence. "I am not worthy," is the language of all love. Mother, the origin of Me finds peace again only by a restoration to the embrace of a mother. Beautiful, Pure, Queen, Mother! Other women have had one or more of these instincts, but not all of them combined. When the human heart sees Mary, it sees the realization and concretion of all its desires and it exclaims in the ecstasy of love: "This is the Woman!"

Mary, as the Madonna of the World, will play a special role today in relieving the combined sorrows of the East and West. In the East, there is fear; in the West, there is dread. The people of the Eastern world who are not Christian have a religion based on the fear of the devil and evil spirits. There is very little practical cognizance of the good spirit there. In Tibet, for example, the farmers plow their fields in a zigzag fashion to drive out the devil. Until recent years they immolated a child to placate the evil spirit in the mountains. When they cross a mountain pass, they must still give a gift to the devil but since they believe the devil is blind, they only throw a stone. Every tree that sways, every flower that dies, and every disease that harms is caused by an evil spirit. China, too, has its devils which have to be assuaged. There is a statue of a goddess in Shanghai with a hundred arms. More incense burns before that statue than any other. The Buddhist priest in the temple explains that her arms represent vengeance and that she must be often propitiated lest she strike.