CHAPTER IX MARY'S VIRTUES
Multas filiæ congregaverunt divitias : tu supergressa es universas. — PROVERBS xxxi. 29.
MANY of God's daughters have amassed spiritual riches in His sight. Mary has surpassed them all. Vast beyond compare, beyond thought, was the treasure of her merits which she placed in the Heart of her Son. These merits were acquired by our Lady—as supernatural merit can only be acquired—through the practice of virtue— that is, by good works performed in co-operation with the grace of our Redeemer. The Holy Mother of God lived, not merely free from any taint of sin or imperfection. This is in itself something negative. She ascended the mountain of perfection, step by step, advancing from grace to grace, from strength to strength, until she stood on the very hilltop—at a height to which none other born of woman—save only her Divine Son—dare aspire—thence to pass, her earthly task at last accomplished, to receive the crown of justice prepared for her from all Eternity.
When we think of one of our friends, or form a mental picture of any great man known to us from the pages of history, or delineated in some work of imagination, we are accustomed to find light and shade in the portrait. It is a truism that everyone has his faults. In the case of the Saints we find that these faults—their natural tendencies to sin, to which sometimes they yielded, have often become occasions of merit, and have been turned into stepping-stones to sublime sanctity. For example, even amongst the Saints, St. Francis of Sales is conspicuous for his meekness and gentleness, yet we are told that he was by nature of a choleric disposition. Even in mature life—so we read—when something was said that he disliked, he would smile sweetly, but those who knew him well and were standing by, observed the flush of tell-tale colour suddenly coming to the cheek, showing that the tendency to anger was there still, notwithstanding years of patient struggle for self-mastery. Who would have it otherwise? Who would have St. Peter otherwise than we find his character portrayed in the Gospels ? The impulsiveness, the rashness, the chivalrous impetuosity of the Prince of the Apostles—often leading him astray—make him lovable to all who are conscious of their own miseries.
But we can find nothing of this kind in Mary, What we might call monotonous and colourless in others, in her is sublime perfection. For all others are fallen and have inherited various tendencies which it should be a part of the main business of life to subdue and regulate. But our Lady, though altogether human, is unfallen. It is this great fact, together with her unique dignity as Mother of God, which places her in a category apart from all other creatures. In Christ's sinless Mother we behold pure human nature at its very highest. She is the Queen of all the Saints, set by her Lord upon a Throne which none can share. Yet Mary's glory and her privilege are the glory and the privilege of all womanhood, crowned in her who is our glorious Mother. To say it once again—she is the realised perfection of created personality.
We speak of the character of Caligula, or of Charles the First, or of Julius Caesar, or of St. Peter, or of St. Paul, or of the Magdalen—but no one dare write of the character of Christ or of His Mother. For a character involves inequalities, unevenness, at least some want of balance—faults as well as virtues; but our Lord Jesus Christ is the All Holy, and His Mother is immaculate in her origin and sinless in her life. The signs of frailty (in no way sinful in themselves) to be found in all other men and women, which often attract us towards them, which, in a true sense we may, without fault, delight to find even in the Saints, which make us love them, which give us a fellow-feeling of sympathy that would else be impossible, would distress us unspeakably were we to find them (as, needless to say, we never can find a trace of them) in Jesus or in Mary.
The fact that no disorder was possible within the Soul of Christ—that all was perfectly ordered Our Lord in the depths of His inmost Human Nature—made it possible for Him to propose Himself to us as our Example.
Learn of Me, He has said. No Saint could dare to say this of himself absolutely. " Be ye imitators of me," St. Paul ventured to write to converts to Christianity, who were of necessity still ignorant in great measure of the Christian virtues—but only " imitate me" so far "as I am an imitator of Christ." In every age, as we read the Lives of the Saints, we find them imitating their Master, striving faithfully to walk in His Footsteps. The virtues of the Man Christ Jesus are faithfully represented in His Saints—one great servant of God imitating conspicuously the meekness and humility of His Heart, another His prolonged prayer, another His zeal for His Father's Glory, yet another His love for the souls of men. But our Lady imitated her Son, as perfectly as a creature could, in all virtue.