18 December 2009

The Virgin's Fecundity, the Mother's Integrity, the Offspring's Dignity

Here’s a gem from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and is very appropriate for this time of the year.

In Mary there is something more wonderful still: it is the union of fecundity with virginity. Since the beginning of the world it had not been heard that a woman was at once a virgin and a mother. And if you consider of whom she is the Mother, how great will be your admiration of her exalted dignity! Do you feel as if you can never sufficiently praise it? Do you not judge, and rightly, that she who has the God-man for her Son is exalted in greatness above all the choirs of angels? Did not Mary confidently call the God and Lord of Angels her Son, saying: "Son, why have You done so to us?" (Luke 2:48). Which of the angels would have presumed thus to speak? It is sufficient for them and something great, that while by nature they are spirits by grace they are made and called angels, as David says: "Who makes his angels spirits" (Psalm 103:4). In confidently calling God her Son, Mary acknowledges herself Mother of that Majesty Whom those angels serve with reverential awe.

Neither does God disdain to be called what He vouchsafed to be. For the Evangelist adds shortly after, "And He was subject to them" (Luke 2:51). Who was subject? God, to man. God to Whom the angels are subject. God, Whom the powers and principalities obey, was subject to Mary. And not only to Mary, but to Joseph also, for Mary’s sake. Consider, then, and choose which you will most admire, the gracious condescension of the Son, or the surpassing dignity of the Mother. Both are amazing; both are miraculous. That a God should obey a woman is humility without example; that a woman should command the Son of God is a dignity without parallel. In the praise of virgins we hear that wonderful verse: "They shall follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Revelation 14:4). But what praise, do you think, is worthy of her who leads the way before Him? Learn, O man, to obey; learn, O earth, to be subject; learn, O dust, to be submissive. The Evangelist, speaking of your Creator, says: "He was subject to them," that is, of course, to Mary and Joseph.

Blush, O dust and ashes, and be ashamed to be proud. God humbles Himself, and do you exalt yourself? God submits to man, and do you desire to domineer over your fellow-man? In so doing you prefer yourself to your Creator. Would that when such thoughts assail me, God would vouchsafe to make me the same reproach as to His Apostle : "Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things that are of God” (Matthew 16:23). As often as I seek distinction among men, so often do I dispute the pre-eminence with my God, and then assuredly I savor not the things that are of God, since of Him it is said: "He was subject to them." If, O man, you disdain to imitate the example of your fellow-man, you cannot find it degrading to follow that of your Maker. If you cannot follow Him "wherever He goes," at least follow Him in the most safe road of humility, for, from this straight path should even virgins deviate they will not "follow the Lamb wherever He goes." The Lamb is followed by the innocent soul and by the once sin-stained but now humble and repentant soul; by the proud virgin, likewise, He is followed, but assuredly not "wherever He goes." The penitent cannot rise to the purity of the Lamb without spot, the proud soul cannot descend to the meekness of Him Who, not before His shearers only, but even before His executioners, was dumb and opened not His Mouth. It is safer for the sinner to follow in humility than to be proud in virginity, because the sinner by his humility makes satisfaction for, and purges away his impurity, whereas, the purity of the other is polluted by pride.

Happy was Mary in whom neither humility nor virginity was wanting. O glorious virginity, which fecundity honored, but did not contaminate. O singular humility, that a fruitful virginity elevated but did not destroy. O incomparable fecundity, in which virginity was associated with humility. Which of them is not wonderful, incomparable, unique? In pondering them, we are at a loss to decide which is the more worthy of admiration: the Virgin’s fecundity, the Mother’s integrity, or the adorable dignity of her offspring; or, again, that in such sublime elevation she still preserves her humility. Can we be surprised that God, Who is wonderful in His saints, should also show Himself wonderful in His Mother? Admire, you who are married, and reverence her integrity in corruptible flesh! You sacred virgins, behold with astonishment this fruitful Virgin! Let all Christians imitate the humility of the Mother of God! O holy angels, honor the Mother of your King! He is at once our King and yours, the Redeemer of our race, Who replenishes your city. To Him Who with you is so glorious, with us so humble, be rendered for ages without end, both by us and by you, the reverence due to His dignity and the honor and glory worthy of His infinite condescension. Amen. Amen.