29 November 2010

The Ideal Form of Virtue

The following is excerpted from Saint Ambrose’s treatise titled, ‘De Virginibus’. It is written for those living the life of virginity, with our Blessed Lady being presented as the perfect model. But this treatise goes far beyond that. It is also a wonderful reflection on the virtues of Mary, offering some gems for one's interior life. And there’s more: this treatise may also add to and enhance one’s meditations on the Holy Rosary, most especially the Joyful Mysteries. As the text itself proclaims, our Blessed Mother's life ‘is an education for all’. As we have now entered into the season of Advent, and the expectation of the Saviour, it seems fitting to re-visit the Annunciation and the important role of Our Lady in salvation history; and Saint Ambrose does that for us here.

Let Mary’s life for you be an image of virginity itself, as from a mirror, the shining model of chastity and the ideal form of virtue. Take, then, the existential life of Mary as an example, as the perfect model, showing you what you need to correct, and keep in you.

Mary was chosen by the Holy Spirit, who is visited by an angel, which is told by the evangelist. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, and her worthiness that the Son of God should be born of her.

When the angel entered, he found her at home, in the inner room, without company, that no one could distract her attention or disturb her. In fact, she did not even desire the company of women, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Indeed, she seemed so much less alone when she was alone, for how could she be alone, and how could she be isolated, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?

When the angel salutes Mary, she remains silent, but when addressed she answered. Initially, she feels troubled, but then promises to have done to her the words of the angel.

Scripture depicts Mary as modest towards her neighbours. She became even more humble when she realized she was chosen by God, and immediately goes to her cousin in a mountainous area. She did not go there to see the evidence adduced by the angel, because she had already believed in his prophecy. The sacred text says in fact: ‘Blessed are you who have believed’ (Saint Luke 1:45).

Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months. In such an interval of time, it is not faith that is being sought, but she shows kindness to her cousin. And this was after the child leapt for joy in Elizabeth when greeting the Mother of the Lord. Thus John expressed an affection that exceeds the natural rate. Many miraculous signs came one after another: the barren will give birth, a Virgin conceives, a mute regains his speech; there is the Adoration of the Magi, the expectation of Simeon, the stars gave notice. Mary, who is moved by the angel’s entrance, is not shaken by these miracles. The text says that she kept all these things in her heart (cf. Saint Luke 2:19).

Although the Mother of God, Mary wants to learn the precepts of the Lord God; and she who brought forth God yet desired to know God.

Every year she went to Jerusalem for the Passover with Joseph. Why do you go with him? For a virgin, modesty always accompanies all the virtues. It is so inseparable from virginity, that this cannot exist without that. Thus, Mary did not even go to the temple without the guardian of her modesty.

Mary shines in the true image of virginity. Her life alone is an education for all. There is a proverb which says: ‘If the author does not displease us, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires the rewards of Mary may imitate the example’. How many virtues shine forth in one Virgin: the confidentiality of modesty, the emblem of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the Mother at the temple.

What a triumph in the heavens, what a great joy of jubilant angels, when she is found worthy of living in heaven, after living a heavenly life in this world. Then Mary, with her timbrel, will stir up choirs of virgins who sing to the Lord, because they have crossed the seas of this world without suffering the storms. Then, each shall rejoice saying: I will go to the altar of God, to God Who makes my youth glad; and, I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay vows to the Most High.

Blessed Virgin, I will not hesitate to say that you have access to the true altar of God, for you yourself are the altar in which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body, which is the Church.

For if the virgin's body is a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapour of the divine fire.

Blessed Virgin, you emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest.