In the Bosom of Mary
FR. FREDERICK WILLIAM FABER, D.D.
Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri
Let us turn from this life in Mary's Bosom to her own contemporary life. It too is full of God and of Divine significances, very needful to be contemplated if we would rightly understand the life of the Word within her. All the wide kingdoms of God's creation are fair to look upon. There is not a single province of it which is not so beautiful as to fascinate the mind and heart of man. It is no wonder men fall into such an idolatry of science. Even departments of science which concern themselves with the details of but one section of creation, rather than a kingdom of it, can readily so absorb the faculties of a large mind as to make it almost dead to other truth, blind to other beauty, and incapable of other interests. The animal propensities of men must be strong indeed to keep down intellectual idolatry even to the pitch which it has attained in the present age, when the alluring charms of science, with its broad regions of exhilarating discovery, are taken into consideration. Surely nothing but the better enchantment of God, the nobler spells of spiritual wisdom, the emancipating captivity of Divine faith, can withstand the attractions of scientific research; more especially in the case of the physical sciences, where God's actual works are more immediately the objects of our investigation, and not, as in the case of mental and moral sciences, the systems in which other men have embodied their puny views of what God has done. The contact with God is less immediate in these latter sciences, and the very phenomena have an uncertainty about them. The recesses, in which physical science works, are more authentic Divine laboratories, where man's meddling has less overlaid God's footprints, and the disturbing force of moral evil is less perceptible. But if the physical sciences are, in our present imperfect state, more attractive to most men than the mental sciences, they in their turn must yield in interest and beauty to the sciences which are Divine. Theology is the proper interpretation of all sciences. It is the central science in which alone all sciences are true, and all sciences one. The objects of faith, while they are more cosmic than any phenomena, are also unspeakably more beautiful, because they are Divine, and more interesting, because we each of us have an individual interest in them, and they concern our eternity as well as our time. Theology has some departments which more resemble the physical sciences, such as the treatises on God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and Beatitude; others again are more akin to the mental sciences, as the treatises on Grace, on Human Actions, and on Laws; while the treatises on the Sacraments unite, and often in a perplexing way, the characteristics of both.
But of all the kingdoms of God's creation, there are none, the paradise of the Sacred Humanity excepted, to compare with the interior of Mary's soul, the inward beauty, the marvelous wisdom, the consummate graces of that chosen queenly creature. We must try to bring before ourselves some picture of her life during those Nine Months from the Annunciation to the Nativity. She bore the Incarnate God within herself. She had an unclouded consciousness of her rank in creation. She possessed such a degree of infused science as enabled her more clearly to comprehend the vast mystery within her than the most piercing intelligence in all the realm of Angels. She stood already upon a height of sanctity, which no definitions can at all adequately express, 2 so that there was a sense in which God found her worthy of the sublimity of her exaltation. Like a material world being fashioned and completed, so was she a spiritual world, grander and broader than all material creation, being fashioned by her Creator, and she was conscious of the unutterable process, and adoringly passive under it, with the most meritorious of all possible consents. She was placed even in a kind of created superiority over Him, because she possessed the rights of a Mother, and His physical life was dependent upon her, and His possession of His Soul had hung for a moment on her consent. Now, can we at all put ourselves in the position of such a creature? Can we divine how she would feel and act, how she would love, and hope, and believe, and worship? There must be guesses in all sciences. We advance by guessing, as often as by discovery. All that is needful is that our guesses should be in harmony with the indubitable and authentic analogies of our science.
We must suppose, then, that, short of the Beatific Vision and also of the joys of the Sacred Heart, no creature ever had a joy equal to the delight of Mary in possessing the Incarnate God within herself, compassing the Incomprehensible, exercising dominion over the Omnipotent, and being united with Him Who is infinite Beatitude, in such a union that His life and hers were one. Is it even clear that the Beatific Vision is equal to this joy simply in the greatness of the joy? From some points of view we should consider Mary's bliss in this respect to be greater than many degrees of the Beatific Vision; and still more if, as some revelations of the Saints would seem to intimate, she did transiently, and from time to time, during those nine months enjoy the Beatific Vision also. But in kind at least this joy of hers stands alone. None other is like it. It is single in creation. It is obviously a different joy from the Beatific Vision, because it is quite a different possession of God. It is as it were the other side of our Lord's joy in his Sacred Heart, which arose from the sense of His being the Creator, and yet being in such a wondrous and singular union with a created nature; while the joy of Mary resided mainly in the sense of her being a creature, yet in such solitary and peculiar relations to the Creator. It could not help but be an exceeding joy, and yet it could not help also but be the masterful unity of her whole life. It must not only have colored every thing else, but every thing else must simply have subsided into it. It must have made every other component part of life different, because of its sovereign presence. Yet Mary knew that it was only for a season. She was conscious that the mystery must pass on into another, and that His present state must give place to a new state. Moreover, our Lord's mysteries did not merely change. They rose as well as changed. They developed. They grew in beauty, and had a multiplied significance. Thus her first sight of His new-born Face at Bethlehem was a kind of Beatific Vision for her still to desire, something which seemed to leave her present joy incomplete as well as transitory. Yet the enjoyment of God, however transitory, is in another sense never incomplete. Thus her bliss was like that of the Blessed in Heaven, in so far as it united in itself satiety and desire, the most complete enjoyment, and yet a sweet insatiable hungering for more, which last in her case was a certain expectation. She had satiety; for how could she be other than satisfied when she possessed God within her bosom, and possessed Him in such a singular way and with such a transcending reality? He surely filled her nature, vast as its capacities were, to overflowing. Every pulse, that beat in her, reposed upon Him in a way in which no creature out of Heaven reposed on Him before. Yet her very satiety fed her intense desire. She yearned for more, without being the less satisfied with what she now enjoyed. A tranquil disquietude, a hungry contentment, a restful craving, these are the contradictory expressions by which we express to ourselves our own idea of her state. To use the word of the Church, it was a state of "expectation," that beautiful and touching mystery in honor of which she keeps a special festival, whereby she helps her children to clothe themselves with some portion of the grandeur of the Mother's mind, as fitting preparation for celebrating the Son's Nativity.
In order to understand Mary's expectation, we must bring before ourselves a picture of her mind, one falling far below the original in brightness of coloring and in fulness of representation, yet such a picture as we can make for ourselves. No creature out of Heaven, save the Soul of the Babe within her, ever saw the Divinity so clearly as she; and she saw it, as none else can see it, substantially in herself, and physically compassed there. What must that be which shall waken further expectations, when she is brooding over such a sea of glorious light and speechless calm as that? Moreover, no doctor of the Church, not even the Apostles, comprehended the scheme of redemption, with all its complicated graces, its magnificent disclosures of the Divine perfections, its marvelous compensations, its abundant triumphs, the delicate machinery of its supernatural operations, more truly or completely than she did. She took in at a glance its colossal proportions as a whole, while she read off the ever-varying expressions of each lineament of that mystery which may be defined as the full Face of God turned toward creation. The past history of the world, with all its needs of a Savior, lay before her, with a Divine light interpreting the entangled puzzles which human actions have painted upon. it, and showing how tranquilly God's glory is unraveling it all into the orderly and ornate unity in which it originally lay in the intention of the Creator. The grand depths of Scripture were giving out to her perpetually a magnificent wisdom, as if the inner folds of the Divine Mind were being unrolled before her. The schools of Athens would have been rich indeed if they had been endowed with one scintillation of the wisdom, which out of the Hebrew oracles was falling ever more in showers of light upon her. The Thirty-Three Years lay before her, as a painted country with its provinces lies before us in a map, and as she gazed upon the crowded vision, every faculty of her soul was heroically clothed with the spirit of sacrifice and the enthusiasm of magnanimity. Shadows fell upon her soul out of the cloudless skies of that vision, and her divine life deepened as ever and anon they passed upon her. They, who have spent their boyhood among the mountains, may remember the sacred awe which passed upon them, as they lay upon the lonely heights, when under the blue and cloudless heavens a strange shadow fell over them and rested vibratingly upon them, and yet they knew themselves to be alone upon the mountain-top; and, at last, they perceived that it was some huge falcon or eagle in the sunny air, balancing itself high up betwixt the sun and them and gazing down upon them, a shadow not wholly free from fear. Thus it was with our Lady's dolors in the vision of the Three-and- Thirty Years. They cast shadows when there were no clouds, as if, like birds of prey, they had been allowed to sail through the unbroken brightness of that heavenly mystery.
She also saw before her in true perspective the future of the Church, its trials, and its triumphs, and her own vast influence in every age upon doctrine, devotion, and the outward fortunes of the Holy See. With its millions of figures, bearing their own blazonings with the sun full upon them, it passed. like a gorgeous procession before her, wonderfully interpreted, as it passed, in the amazing soliloquies of her own supernatural philosophy. She saw the battling forms of darkness and of blood in which the Church shall close her terrestrial pilgrimage, ever fighting her way to her eternal home, and engaged in the most dire of all her conflicts on the very confines of the promised land, on the very eve of the final doom. She looked on through the mists of time, and all was clear to her. She saw the great world rocking almost off its equilibrium, not with material catastrophes---for in matter all was lawful, meek, and uniform---but with moral convulsions and mental revolutions. She saw it plunging on through space so unsteady that it seemed ever about to fling the Church off from itself, as a beast shakes off an uneasy load, or to swerve desolately from its spiritual orbit, so that in some generations good men---that is, God's men---should almost hold their breath in the terrible suspense of some inevitable and yet incredible finality. She saw it cleave through ages without precedent, through civilizations without parallel. She saw how its life of ponderous revolutions was one of lightning-like progress also, and there was a recklessness about its moral speed, and a daring in the manner with which it entangled itself in all manner of social complications, which might have depressed a seer less grand than she was. But no panic passed on her. The Babe within her was stronger than the world. His tiny infant Hand, His thin treble Voice, were enough to confine it in its groove, and to speak peace to those warring elements of mind and will which sin has thrown into ruinous combustion. Then at last she saw the great wandering creation housed in its Father's mansion, and bathed in the splendors of His eternal love, through the Precious Blood made from hers, and whose pulses she felt with unspeakable thrills throbbing within her at that moment. To what emotions of thanksgiving, to what hymns of praise, to what sciences in her soul---which were worships also---to what numberless unlanguaged and unsung Magnificats, did not all this give rise? And yet she was expecting something more!
Thus it was with the great Mother of God, still in the dawn of her virginal youth. All created things had a new meaning to her, now that they were governed from out of her. Men's faces and actions were the language of a new science to her, which philosophy might envy. Meanwhile she was sensibly receiving graces from the Babe, and those graces were unparalleled, not to be so much as imagined by any of us, perhaps barely comprehended by herself. She was consciously growing, too, in reverence and devotion to St. Joseph, as the image of the Eternal Father. She was growing out of herself into her office, out of the daughter of Anne into the Mother of God. The marvelous permitted intimacies of the Saints with God were as nothing to her colloquies---her spiritual colloquies---with the Infant Jesus. Yet with all this growth, her Expectation was growing also. But what was her Expectation like? It was a mystery of incomparable joy. All godlike things are joyous. They inherit joy by their own right. They sing songs in the soul even amidst the agonies of nature. There is no making them otherwise than joyous. They have touched God, and so they carry with them an irresistible gladness everywhere. They have an unquenchable sunshine of their own, which the surrounding darkness only makes more startlingly bright. The thorns of mortification thus become a bed of roses: yet not a thorn is blunted, nor is nature spared a wound. The pains of martyrdom attune themselves to this inward jubilee, and yet are pains as they were before. Now Mary's Expectation was full of God, and therefore it was joyous. It had two intensities of joy in it: the intensity of created holiness thirsting for the sight of God; and the intensity of an earthly mother's desire---natural, simple, and human, but immensely sanctified---to see the Face of her Babe, Whom she knew to be God as well.
2. It is probable that
our Lady had grace ex opere operato all the nine months she bore
our Lord. See Siuri. De Novissimis. Tract xxxi. cap. iv, sec. 76.
Vega and Mendoza teach that she received grace ex opere operato
every time she touched our Lord; and Sister Agreda tells us that the
which she received in order to minister to her Son aright was a special
and distinct grace, and expressly communicated to her by the Holy
for that purpose, and not merely an exercise of the common virtues
which it would otherwise naturally fall.