God Moments: Lingering Long in the Cool of Gods Shadow
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So again the power of administering the Sacraments, which also is supernatural and miraculous, does not imply personal holiness; nor is there anything surprising in God's giving to a bad man this gift, or the gift of miracles, any more than in His giving him any natural talent or gift, strength or agility of frame, eloquence, or medical skill. It is otherwise with the office of preaching and prophesying, and to this I have been referring; for the truth first goes into the minds of the speakers, and is apprehended and fashioned there, and then comes out from them as, in one sense, its source and its parent.
The Divine word is begotten in them, and the offspring has their features and tells of them. They are not like "the dumb animal, speaking with man's voice," on which Balaam rode, a mere instrument of God's word, but they have "received an unction from the Holy One, and they know all things," and "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" and while they deliver what they have received, they enforce what they feel and know. John, "the charity which God hath to us.
John as St. And so of the great doctors of the Church, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Leo, St. Thomas, each has his own manner, each speaks his own words, though he speaks the while the words of God. They speak from themselves, they speak in their own persons, they speak from the heart, from their own experience, with their own arguments, with their own deductions, with their own modes of expression.
Now can you fancy such hearts, such feelings to be unholy? If one drop of corruption makes the purest water worthless, as the slightest savour of bitterness spoils the most delicate viands, how can it be that the word of truth and holiness can proceed profitably from impure lips and an earthly heart?
No, as is the tree, so is the fruit; "beware of false prophets," says our Lord; and then He adds, "from their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Which of you would go to ask counsel of another, however learned, however gifted, however aged, if you thought him unholy? So then is it in the case of the soul; and so it is with the body also; as the offspring of holiness is holy in the instance of spiritual births, so is it in the instance of physical.
The child is like the parent. Mary was no mere instrument in the God's Dispensation; the Word of God did not merely come to her and go from her; He did not pass through her, as He may pass through us in Holy Communion; it was no heavenly body which the Eternal Son assumed, fashioned by the angels, and brought down to this lower world: no; He imbibed, He absorbed into His Divine Person, her blood and the substance of her flesh; He became man of her; and received her lineaments and features, as the appearance and character under which He would manifest Himself to the world.
Thus His Mother is the first of Prophets, for of her came the Word bodily; she is the sole oracle of Truth, for the Way, the Truth, and the Life, vouchsafed to be her Son; she is the one mould of Divine Wisdom, and in that mould it was indelibly cast. Surely then, if "the first fruit be holy, the mass also is holy; if the root be holy, so are the branches. I say, if the Prophets must be holy, "to whom the word of God comes," what shall we say of her, who was so specially favoured, that the true and substantial Word, and not His shadow or His voice, was not merely made in her, but born of her?
Was it not fitting, beseemed it not, that the Eternal Father should prepare her for this ministration by some pre-eminent sanctification? Do not earthly parents act thus by their children? Shall even careless parents show a certain tenderness and solicitude in this matter, and shall not God Himself show it, when He commits His Eternal Word to the custody of man?
Such, then, is the truth ever cherished in the deep heart of the Church, and witnessed by the keen apprehension of her children, that no limits but those proper to a creature can be assigned to the sanctity of Mary. Did Abraham believe that a son should be born to him of his aged wife? Did Judith consecrate her widowhood to God to the surprise of her people? Did Samuel, when a child, inhabit the Temple, secluded from the world?
Mary, too, was by her parents lodged in the same holy precincts, at the age when children begin to choose between good and evil. Was Solomon on his birth called "dear to the Lord? But further still; St. John Baptist was sanctified by the Spirit before his birth; shall Mary be only equal to him?
Mary must surpass all the saints; the very fact that certain privileges are known to have been theirs, proves to us at once, from the necessity of the case, that she had the same and higher [ Note 2 ]. I T was surely fitting, it was becoming, that she should be taken up into heaven and not lie in the grave till Christ's second coming, who had passed a life of sanctity and of miracles such as hers. All the works of God are in a beautiful harmony; they are carried on to the end as they begin.
This is the difficulty which men of the world find in believing miracles at all; they think these break the order and consistency of God's visible word, not knowing that they do but subserve a higher order of things, and introduce a supernatural perfection. But at least, when one miracle is wrought, it may be expected to draw others after it for the completion of what is begun. Miracles must be wrought for some great end; and if the course of things fell back again into a natural order before its termination, how could we but feel a disappointment?
Now this applies to the history of our Lady.
I say, it would be a greater miracle, if, her life being what it was, her death was like that of other men, than if it were such as to correspond to her life. Do the sons of men thus deal with their mothers? Or who can conceive that that virginal frame, which never sinned, was to undergo the death of a sinner?
Why should she share the curse of Adam, who had no share in his fall? She died then because even our Lord and Saviour died; she died, as she suffered, because she was in this world, because she was in a state of things in which suffering and death are the rule. But though she died as well as others, she died not as others die; for, through the merits of her Son, by whom she was what she was, by the grace of Christ which in her had anticipated sin, which had filled her with light, which had purified her flesh from all defilement, she had been saved from disease and malady, and all that weakens and decays the bodily frame.
Original sin had not been found in her, by the wear of her senses, and the waste of her frame, and the decrepitude of years, propagating death. She died, but her death was a mere fact, not an effect; and, when it was over, it ceased to be. And therefore she died in private. It became Him who died for the world, to die in the world's sight; it became the Great Sacrifice to be lifted up on high, as a light that could not be hid.
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But she, the lily of Eden, who had always dwelt out of the sight of man, fittingly did she die in the garden's shade, and amid the sweet flowers in which she had lived. Her departure made no noise in the world. The Church went about her common duties, preaching, converting, suffering; there were persecutions, there was fleeing from place to place, there were martyrs, there were triumphs; at length the rumour spread abroad that the Mother of God was no longer upon earth.
Pilgrims went to and fro; they sought for her relics, but they found them not; did she die at Ephesus? So, inquirers went home marvelling, and waiting for further light. And then it was said, how that when her dissolution was at hand, and her soul was to pass in triumph before the judgment-seat of her Son, the apostles were suddenly gathered together in one place, even in the Holy City, to bear part in the joyful ceremonial; how that they buried her with fitting rites; how that the third day, when they came to the tomb, they found it empty, and angelic choirs with their glad voices were heard singing day and night the glories of their risen Queen.
O NE word more, and I have done; I have shown you how full of meaning are the truths themselves which the Church teaches concerning the Most Blessed Virgin, and now consider how full of meaning also has been the Church's dispensation of them. You will find, that, in this respect, as in Mary's prerogatives themselves, there is the same careful reference to the glory of Him who gave them to her. You know, when first He went out to preach, she kept apart from Him; she interfered not with His work; and, even when He was gone up on high, yet she, a woman, went not out to preach or teach, she seated not herself in the Apostolic chair, she took no part in the Priest's office; she did but humbly seek her Son in the daily Mass of those, who, though her ministers in heaven, were her superiors in the Church on earth.
Nor, when she and they had left this lower scene, and she was a Queen upon her Son's right hand, not even then did she ask of Him to publish her name to the ends of the world, or to hold her up to the world's gaze, but she remained waiting for the time when her own glory should be necessary for His. It became her, as a creature, a mother, and a woman, to stand aside and make way for the Creator, to minister to her Son, and to win her way into the world's homage by sweet and gracious persuasion.
So when His name was dishonoured, then it was that she did Him service; when Emmanuel was denied, then the Mother of God as it were came forward; when heretics said that God was not incarnate, then was the time for her own honours. And then, when as much as this had been accomplished, she had done with strife; she fought not for herself. No fierce controversy, no persecuted confessors, no heresiarch, no anathema, marks the history of her manifestation; as she had increased day by day in grace and merit, while the world knew not of it, so has she raised herself aloft silently, and has grown into her place in the Church by a tranquil influence and a natural process.
It was as some fair tree, stretching forth her fruitful branches and her fragrant leaves, and overshadowing the territory of the Saints. And thus the Antiphon speaks of her: "Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thine inheritance in Israel, and strike thy roots in My elect". Again, "And so in Sion was I established, and in the holy city I likewise rested, and in Jerusalem was my power.
And I took root in an honourable people, and in the glorious company of the Saints was I detained. I was exalted like a cedar in Lebanus, and as a cypress in Mount Sion; I have stretched out My branches as the terebinth, and My branches are of honour and grace.
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Such art thou, Holy Mother, in the creed and in the worship of the Church, the defence of many truths, the grace and smiling light of every devotion. In thee, O Mary, is fulfilled, as we can bear it, an original purpose of the Most High.
He once had meant to come on earth in heavenly glory, but we sinned; and then He could not safely visit us, except with a shrouded radiance and a bedimmed majesty, for He was God. So He came Himself in weakness, not in power; and He sent thee, a creature, in His stead, with a creature's comeliness and lustre suited to our state. And now thy very face and form, dear Mother, speak to us of the Eternal; not like earthly beauty, dangerous to look upon, but like the morning star, which is thy emblem, bright and musical, breathing purity, telling of heaven, and infusing peace.
O harbinger of day! O hope of the pilgrim!
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