The World's First Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Part 20.

Mary does not prevent our honouring Our Lord. Nothing is more cruel than to say that she takes souls away from Christ. That could mean that Our Lord chose a mother who is selfish, He Who is Love Itself. If she kept us from her Son, we would disown her! But is not she, who is the Mother of Jesus, good enough for us sinners? We would never have had Our Divine Lord if He had not chosen her.

We pray to the Heavenly Father, "Give us this day our daily bread." Though we ask God for our daily bread, we do not hate the farmer nor the baker who help prepare it. Neither does the mother who gives the bread to her child dispense with the Heavenly Provider. If the only charge Our Lord has against us on Judgment day is that we loved His Mother then we shall be very happy!

As our love does not start with Mary, so neither does it stop with Mary. Mary is a window through which our humanity first catches a glimpse of Divinity on earth. Or perhaps she is more like a magnifying glass, that intensifies our love of her Son, and makes our prayers more bright and burning.

God, Who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would be only a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space, were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing. With Him, she is the Mother of Men. On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet while we await the sunrise.

A woman can be a virgin in one of three ways: first, because she never had a chance to marry. This could be involuntary virginity (if she rebelled against her maidenhood), or it could be voluntary and meritorious (if she accepted it as God's Holy Will). No one is saved because of virginity alone -of the ten virgins in the Gospel, five were foolish women. There are virgins in hell, but there is no one in hell who is humble. A woman can be a virgin a second way because she decided not to marry. This can be for social or economic reasons and, therefore, may have no religious value, but it can also be meritorious, if it is done for a religious motive - for example, the better to serve a sick member of a family, or to dedicate oneself to neighbor for the love of God. Thirdly, a woman can be a virgin because she made a vow or a promise to God to keep herself pure for His sake although she has a hundred chances to marry.

Mary was a virgin in the third way. She fell in love at a very early age, and it was with God one of those beautiful loves where the first love is the last love, and the last love is Eternal Love. She must have been very wise, as well as good as a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, to have made such a choice. This alone made her very different from other women, who were anxious to bear children. When a married woman did not have children in that time, it was considered sometimes, but wrongly, that God was angry with her.

When Our Lady took the vow of virginity, she made herself "queer" to some people, for there will always be some material-minded people who cannot understand why some souls really love God. The Blessed Mother had a better chance than most women to become the Mother of God; for the Bible said that Our Lord would be born of the House of David, the great king who lived a thousand years before. And Mary belonged to that royal family. Without doubt Mary knew the prophecy of Isaias which some had forgotten, namely, that the Messias would be born of a Virgin. But it is more likely, from what she said later, that she considered herself too lowly for such dignity and took the vow in the hope that, through her sacrifice and prayer, the coming of the Messias might be hastened.

How do we know that Mary took a vow? We know it from her answer to the angel Gabriel. Out from the great white throne of light came the angel to this beautiful girl kneeling in prayer. This visit of the Angel to Mary is called the Annunciation because it announced the first really good news the earth had heard in centuries. Yesterday's news was about the fall of a man through a woman; today's news is about the regeneration of man through a woman.

An Angel salutes a woman! This would be a perversion of Heaven's order, worse than men's worshipping animals, unless Mary had been destined by God to be even greater than the angels - yes, their very Queen! And so the Angel, who was accustomed to be honored by men, now honors the Woman.

This Ambassador of God gives no order, but salutes her: "Hail, full of grace." "Hail" is our English translation for the Greek Chaire and probably is the equivalent of the old Aramaic formula Shalom, which meant "Rejoice" or "Peace be to you." "Full of grace" the rare word in the Greek of the Gospel, signifies either "most gracious" or "full of virtue." It was almost like a proper noun in which God's Emissary affirms that she is the object of His Divine Pleasure.

It was less the flashing visit of the Heavenly Messenger which troubled the humble maid, than the startling greeting and the unexpected tone of Divine praise. A short time later when she would visit her cousin, Elizabeth, she would be asked: "How is it that the Mother of my God should come to me?" But now it is Mary's turn to ask: "Why should the Angel of my God come to me?" The angel hastens to assure her of the reason of the visit. She is to fulfill within herself that which the prophet Isaias had announced seven centuries before: "A Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and His Name shall be called 'Emmanuel' (God with us)." (Isaiah 7:14) Making clear allusion to that prophecy, the angel says: "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name, Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever." (Luke 1:30-33)

God was choosing her, not just because she was a Virgin, but because of her humility. Later Mary herself declared this as the reason: "He looked upon the lowliness of his handmaid." (Luke 1:48) So Mary was troubled. Nothing troubles a humble soul like praise, and here the praise comes from an angel of God.

This great honor created a problem for Mary who had vowed to give her body as well as her soul to God. Therefore she could never be a mother. As she put it: "I know not man. I have willed not to know man."