Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
MARY IN THE TEMPLE—PRAYER.
"Sursum corda ! — Lift up your hearts !"
Whilst Anne and Joachim returned to their desolate home, Mary was received into the interior courts of the temple, amongst the young maidens consecrated to God, and began her new life, far from all noise of earth, under the shadow of the holy altars. It is there that we shall follow her to-day. Let us ask her to send down on us from heaven the pure light which enlightened the obscurity of her childish days, O Mary, obtain for us grace to catch a glimpse of the sanctuary of God, which was the joy of thy youth. A single day, a single instant, spent with thee in His Temple, is worth more than a thousand years of our useless life.
The holy child grew in the sight of God. It was the work of God alone, to form her soul, to adorn daily with new; graces the sanctuary in which His Son was to repose; and it is beautiful to picture to ourselves the ever increasing light which came down from heaven into the heart of the chosen Virgin, Nothing, however, distinguished her from her companions, except that none were so humble and so submissive. The hours were divided between prayer and work. The ancient Christian authors speak of her precocious reason, of the union of gravity with the pure beauty of childhood in her face, and working men of old encouraged themselves in work by picturing to themselves the future Mother of God, spinning with her companions, and weaving the finest veils of the temple. In one of the most beautiful cathedrals of France, at Amiens, a stall of carved wood, offered five hundred years ago, by the weavers of the town, represents Mary, a basket of spindles by her side, with one hand making the shuttle fly through the woof, with the other tightening the threads. Those workmen knew that the work of him who prays is the most blessed upon earth, and that the most skilful hand is that which obeys the holiest heart.
The Gospel teaches us that there were in the temple holy women, such as Anna the prophetess, whom we shall soon see meeting the Infant God. These holy servants of God, in the decline of life, doubt-less loved to teach the young maidens, who were consecrating to Him their brightest days: and often, as the spindles turned in their skilful fingers, must they have related the marvels that the Lord had worked for His people in happier times, have unveiled to them the treasures of the prophecies, and have awakened holy hope in their young hearts by announcing to them the speedy coming of the Son of David, the Saviour promised to Israel.
Then, in solitude, Mary meditated, and, above all, she prayed. Prayer was her first occupation, her constant joy. From the first days of her infancy all her thoughts, all her feelings, were used to rise towards heaven as the sweet smell of a blossoming garden rises in a pure air: but as God by degrees developed her mind and enlightened her soul, she offered herself to Him with a more thoughtful love, and made Him the voluntary gift of her whole life. Exempt from original sin, she worked like a simple daughter of Eve. Pull of grace from the time of her Immaculate Conception, she prayed as if she had to obtain all graces one by one.
Who can penetrate the mystery of Mary's prayer, through the veil which the Gospel draws over the years of her childhood? "Who can see the transports of this blessed soul towards God, her complete self-sacrifice, her deep humility, her constant obedience! In the touching history of St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, there are some beautiful passages in which the Blessed Virgin throws some light on this time of her childhood, till then known only to God. "My daughter," she said to her servant, u you think that I had all these graces without much trouble; but it was not so. Truly I say to you that I did not receive one of these graces without great trouble, without continual prayer, an ardent desire, deep devotion, many tears and trials. I wish to teach you," the Virgin blessed amongst all women went on to say, "I wish to teach you all the prayers that I said while I was in the temple. Above all, I asked from God great love of Him and hatred of my enemy, the devil. There is no perfect virtue without this absolute love of God by which the fulness of grace descends into the soul. But when it has descended into it, it remains not, but flows away like water, if the soul hates not its enemies, that is, sins and vices. He, then, who would know how to preserve this grace from on high, should know how to unite this love and this hate in his soul. I wish you to do all that I did. I rose in the middle of each night, and went to prostrate myself before .the altar, where I asked of God grace to observe all the precepts of His law, I besought Him to grant me the graces which I needed in order to be pleasing to Him. Above all, I begged of Him that I might see the time in which that holy Virgin would live who was to bring forth His Son, in order that I might dedicate my whole being to serve and venerate her."
St. Elizabeth interrupted her to ask, "Most sweet Lady, wert thou not already full of graces and of virtues ?" But the Blessed Virgin answered her, "Be sure that I thought myself as poor and miserable as you think yourself. Hence it was that I asked of God to grant me His grace." And afterwards, as the Blessed Virgin initiated her servant more and more in the mysteries of her prayer, and of her sublime intercourse with God and the angels, she added this record of her deep humility : " I wished to be the servant of all the holy women who dwelt in the temple; I wished to be subject to all creatures for love of the Father of all !"
St. Elizabeth then put this question to the Blessed Virgin: " Tell me, my sweet Lady, why thou hadst so intense a desire to see the Virgin who was to bring forth the Son of God." Then Mary related to her how the reading of the prophecies had led her to this idea; how she had resolved to consecrate to God her virginity in order to be worthy to serve this predestined Virgin. (History of St. Elizabeth, by M. de Montalembert)
How touching is this testimony to the humility of Mary which St. Elizabeth has preserved for us; she who was herself so meek and humble, in spite of the weight and splendour of her crown.
The great mystery on which depended the salvation of men was about to be accomplished; the Son of God was about to come down upon earth, and she who was chosen to.become His Mother humbled herself before God, and before her companions; and all her dreams, all the hopes of her heart, were limited to seeing the predestined Virgin, and serving her as the most humble of handmaidens. What lessons are contained in Mary's prayer! In her prayer, so humble, so fervent, so full of love and of gratitude! Let us think often of it. Let us often contemplate the Blessed Virgin praying in the temple, or in her humble cell, and then let us kneel down by her side, and, casting a salutary glance upon our own souls, let us ask ourselves if we ever think of prayer, and if we know what it is to pray. To pray is to adore God: it is to thank Him for graces received, to ask Him for more; and for us poor sinners it is to implore His pardon. What is more just than to render homage to Him who is our Creator and our Sovereign Master, to thank Him who has been for us the source of all good ! What is more consoling than to speak to Him of our miseries, to ask from Him patience to endure them, and above all, strength to resist discouragement and temptation ! And when our weakness has given way, what is sweeter than to come as a repentant child, to weep over our faults in the arms of the Father whom we have offended, and who will mingle so many caresses with His reproaches and His lessons! "What more powerful cordial to revive our languor! Where shall we find a more life-giving food for our soul than in God from whom comes all strength, all courage, all understanding ! We all work, we all suffer, on this earth, which David called a vale of tears. By prayer we draw from the source of life itself, new vigour, which gives us more patience in suffering, more heart for work, more power for good. In order to ascend from the depths of this sad valley to the heaven which is our country, we must not only raise ourselves by patience above suffering, but also by virtue above sin. To do this we need steps, like the steps of a ladder, on which, one after another, our foot rests. Those who know how to pray mount this, from step to step, for, after having spoken to God, like children full of trust, they offer Him each one of their actions, and so go on from prayer to prayer. It is thus that they build up in their souls the steps which mount from earth to heaven. God, who has imposed on them the law of prayer only to draw them to Himself, will bless them: they shall go from virtue to virtue; they shall see God in His holy city.*
Whence comes it that so few have recourse to so wonderful a means of salvation ? We are all creatures of God, laden with His graces; we have all need of help and of pardon: whence comes it, then, that we do not all worship, return thanks, pray, and humble ourselves ? Is prayer so difficult that only a small number of minds and of hearts are capable of it P —That were but blasphemy. The needs and sufferings of life, though under different forms, are the same to all men, and would God have put help within the reach of the few alone ?
But perhaps some hard working man may say, I have not time to pray: here is the dawn of day; I must hasten to work. And then he sets out. He sees the morning in its splendour: he thinks not of it. When the burden of the day comes, he works without having in his heart that strength which should make his labour light. He rests without a thought of blessing the Hand which gave us the trees to shelter us during the heat. In vain the Angelus rings to call faithful hearts to prayer: he does not listen. Then he works through more long hours, and in the evening he returns home tired, and perhaps with discontent in his heart. He has only cross words for the little children who run to meet him. The day ends as it began, without his having once blessed God. Do the poor say that they cannot pray? What, the poor, the friends of God, whom He has blessed above all others, they cannot pray! No; they say they have . no time; they must gain bread for themselves and their families, and have nothing but their own hands to depend upon. Let those pray who have the time. This is false reasoning. How will they gain, their daily bread if they have not asked it of Him whose fatherly kindness alone can give it to them ? Will not He who finds food for the smallest of the birds render to them a hundred-fold for the time that they spend in calling upon Him? And, besides, does it really take so much time to pray ? Are long words or difficult prayers required of us ? Surely not. It cannot be doubted that there is great merit before God in the prayers our mothers taught us when we were children, and to say them but little time is needed. A few minutes in a day is not much. Do we never spend as long a time in a cause less good? But if, now and then, we really have no time, let us raise our hearts towards God, and kneeling down for a moment before leaving our home, let us say, "My God, I love Thee," and the " Our Father;" let us sign our foreheads with the sign of the cross, and set out with happy hearts. Then let the thought of God go with us on our road. Let us continue our prayer; let us hail Mary our Mother, when the church bell rings, that bell which we love, and the sound of which has mingled with the best joys of our lives. (The author lives in a country in which the ancient Churches have not been unjustly taken from the Catholics, as they have in England.— Translator.)
How happy should we be if this good habit remained with us, when this month of Mary, in which we have prayed and meditated together, is passed. The day thus begun would be blessed. If the work is heavy and the heat burning, the Christian who has begun the day by prayer will feel in his heart a new life, and a happiness which will overcome weariness. He will offer his suffering to God, and that alone is enough to lighten its weight. Work thus offered to God is itself a prayer. At the hour of rest his thoughts will once again be quickly and fervently raised towards God. In the evening he will bless God again, while returning gaily to his home; he will there find happiness and joy, for the mother and children will have worked and prayed, like the father, and the Messing of God will be on the family. Can anyone think that this day will have been less good, even as regards earthly labour, than that which is begun a few minutes earlier, and without prayer? Such a thought would be absurd*
True prayer consists in offering to God every action of the day, every discouragement, and every hope, in asking with confidence for all that we need, in thanking God with our whole soul for graces received, in imploring His pardon for sins committed, with true repentance and childlike trust. This is true prayer. Let us not refuse it to Him, who gives us all. Let us not refuse such a help to ourselves. Let us pray to Mary our dear Mother to obtain for us this constant thought of God which alone engrossed her blessed soul. Let us love her in order to be like her. Let us think of her oftener during this beautiful month. "What a rich harvest of graces would it bring us if we would constantly renew in our souls during these blessed days, the remembrance of our Mother. Let the labourer at his plough, the mother while spinning at her wheel, the child while tending his flock, let each one think of Mary and call upon her. Children, during the long days that you pass thus in the fields alone with your sheep, without other work than that of preventing them from straying, what hinders you from praying? Call without fear, and in the simplest words, upon your Mother who is in heaven; sing some simple hymn in her praise ;„ gather on the grass, or in the hedges, some pretty flowers to carry to her chapel, or to deck her image in your houses. I was reading this morning the touching history of a little shepherdess, who every evening, on returning from the fields, went to place at the foot of a statue of the Blessed Virgin a crown of flowers, and kneeling in the chapel, prayed for a few minutes, and then went her way with a happy heart. On the day of her death, The Blessed Virgin, whom she had loved so much, was seen to appear at her bed-side : she ,bent over the sick child, placed on her brow a crown of white roses, and bore up to heaven the soul of her gentle servant.
Let us all pray, let us all pray, young and old.
O Mary, who didst pray so unceasingly, teach us to offer to God, like thee, the sacrifice of a heart full of love, of humility, and of gratitude. Teach us to pray in joy and in suffering, to bless God every day of our lives, until thy Motherly hand leads us to the throne of thy Divine Son, to obtain from His mercy everlasting rest.
Never to put off morning prayer for vain excuses.