Misery of Soul and
the Queen of Mercy
THE WORLD'S FIRST LOVE
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
little parable to illustrate a great truth: every mortal one of us
remembers the day when mother said she was going to bake us some
cookies. Her plan was that we should enjoy them together. We saw her
prepare the eggs, the soda, the flour, milk, sugar, butter, and
chocolate --- I hope I have left out none of the ingredients. When,
finally, the batter was made and was allowed to settle, she told us not
to touch it --- not because she did not want us to be happy --- nor
any of the ingredients of the cookies was bad, but because, in her
superior wisdom she knew that we could not be happy in anything that
was not brought to full perfection.
But some of us did taste the batter --- I know I did --- and that is
trouble began. A stomach-ache resulted from the disobedience, and the
cookies we were supposed to enjoy with mother were never eaten.
This is, in miniature, what happened at the beginning of human history,
and it is being repeated with varying stress, in every soul ever since.
God did not say to our first parents: "Some fruit is good, and some is
bad. You must not eat of the bad fruit." He did not say this, because
all the fruit was good, just as all the ingredients of the cookies were
good. But God did say: "You must not eat of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil." By this He meant: "Do not use things in their
imperfect, isolated state, for they are as yet disjointed from their
But man decided to use these things in their half-prepared state, and
contracted humanity's great stomach-ache which is called Original Sin.
It is probable that some children have accused their mothers of
giving them a stomach-ache, just as men, who rebelled against their
final purpose, have asked of God: "If He knew I would be so frustrated,
why did He make me?" The manufacturers of automobiles give instructions
about gas, oil, etc., in order to get the maximum
service out of the car, but they do not, thereby, restrain our freedom.
So God asks us not to treat the batter as a cookie, earth as Heaven,
and the non-god as God. He does this not because he ever wants to put
us in chains, but because He wants us to be happy.
Every person has a destiny --- a final
destiny. He has lesser goals, too,
such as making a living, rearing a family, but over and above all,
there is his supreme goal, which is to be perfectly happy. This he can
be if he has a life without end or pain or death, a truth without error
or doubt, and an eternal ecstasy of love without satiety or loss. Now
this Eternal Life, Universal Truth, and Heavenly Love is the definition
of God. To refuse this final perfect end and to substitute a passing,
incomplete, unsatisfying object, such as flesh or ambitious ego, is to
create an inner unhappiness that no psychiatrist can heal!
What the stomach-ache is to the body, that a complex is to an adult. A
complex is basically a conflict between what we ought to be and what we
are; between our ideals or heavenly implanted impulses and our plain,
matter-of-fact selves; a complex is an exaggerated tension between the
God-summons and the affirmation of our egos. If a razor were endowed
with consciousness and were used to cut rock, it would scream with
pain, because its life purpose was frustrated. Our inner consciences
scream with neuroses and psychoses, too, when we do not freely tend to
the supreme goal for which we are made, namely, the Life and Truth
and Love which is God.
It is possible to draw a complex. Take a pencil and draw a line from
the bottom of the page to the top. That vertical line, which points
heavenward, is the symbol of our final destiny. Now, draw another line,
across the page, splitting the vertical line. What do you have? A
Cross! What a complex is psychologically, that a cross is
theologically. The vertical bar represents God's Will; the horizontal
bar represents our will, which negates it, contradicts it, and
crosses it. Not all, but most, of the curable psychoses and neuroses of
minds are effects of sin. Patients got themselves all "crossed up,"
because they negated their God-given natures. Opening tin cans with
pencils breaks pencils and does not open tin cans. Trying to make a god
out of the belly, or a god out of the ego of our own will and low
standards of life, breaks the mind and does not bring happiness.
Every unhappy soul in the world has a cross embedded in it. The cross
was never meant to be on the inside, but only on the outside. When the
Israelites were bitten by the serpents, and the poison seeped within,
Moses planted a brazen serpent on a stick and all who looked on it were
healed. The brazen serpent was like the serpent which stung them, but
it was without poison. So the Son of Man came in the likeness of man,
but was without sin, and all who look upon Him on His Cross are saved.
In like manner, the inner cross or complex disappears when one catches
a vision of the great outer cross on Calvary, with the God-man upon it
Who solves the contradiction by making good come from evil, life from
death, and victory from defeat.
The child, by making himself wiser than his mother, discovered his
stupidity. Man, by making himself a god, discovers the painful agony
that he is not God. When the first man made this discovery, Scripture
describes him as "naked." Naked, because the man who neglects or
rejects God has nothing. He
may cover himself for a while with the fig
leaves of "Success," "Art," "Science," "Progress" or by rationalizing
his conduct, saying that there is no truth. But he knows that these are
but inadequate shreds and cannot cover all his wants. This is modern
nudity --- to be without God!
What we have successively called a stomach-ache, a complex, a cross, a
nakedness is so general that our modern literature
is rapidly becoming filled with what may be termed the Theology of
Absence. A man without God is not like a cake without raisins;
like the cake without the flour and milk, he lacks the essential
ingredients of happiness. Not knowing God is not like not knowing
Homer; it is more like having life and waking up in a tomb. The absence
the atheist feels is the negation of a presence, a sense of the absurd,
a consciousness of nothingness. White grace is the presence of God in
the soul; black grace is the unhappiness of His absence.
The absence may be likened to a widowhood, in that existence seems
spoiled because we live in the dark agonizing shadow of what is gone!
All this inner misery comes from two kinds of sin: (1) the sin which
takes the Gift and forgets the Giver; (2) the sin which rejects the
Giver with his Gift. The first makes God useless; the second drives God
from the soul. Adam sinned in the first way by choosing something
else before God, as does the man who sets up his ego, or flesh, or
power as the goal of life. The Crucifixion sinned the second way,
being anti-God. The first consists of what might be called the "not"
sins, in the sense that they are inspired by passion; the second
consists of the "cold" sins, for example, blasphemy, deliberate
attempts to destroy all vestiges of God and morality. Killing a body is
not so serious as killing one's soul: "Fear him more who has the power
to ruin body and soul in Hell." (Matt. 10:28.) The university professor
and the newspaper editor who ridicule the Divine in order to purge it
from the hearts, or the radio director who eliminates all prayers and
substitutes antireligious poems: these are Satan's fifth column. Here
is not just a refusal to acknowledge Goodness, but a pretense that
Goodness is badness, or as Nietzsche said: "Evil, be thou my good."
Such evil men said of Our Lord: "It is only through the power of
Beelzebub, the prince of devils, that He casts the devils out." (Matt.
12:24.) It is not the existence of God they deny, but His Essence,
namely, that He is Goodness. The old atheism denied God's existence;
the new atheism denies His Essence, and therefore becomes militant
against His existence. It is worse to say: "God is evil." than to say:
"God is not." To call Love a devil is to reject the very possibility of
Sin, in all its forms, is the deliberate eviction of Love from the
soul. Sin is the enforced absence of Divinity. Hell is that absence of
God made permanent by a last act of the will. God does not do anything
to the soul to punish it; the soul produces Hell out of its very self.
If we excluded air from the lungs as we exclude love from the soul,
the lungs could not blame God because we got red in the face or
fainted, or our lungs collapsed. What the absence of air is to the
lungs, that the absence of love in the soul is to the soul. On this
earth want of love makes people red; in the next life want of love
makes a red Hell.
The great problem is now how to save these two groups, those who have
taken the Gift and forgotten the Giver, and those who have rejected
both Gift and Giver.
The answer is to be found in the attention that a mother would give to
her little son with the stomach-ache. It is not in the nature of a
mother to abandon those children who hurt themselves by their own
folly. Immediately, she manifests what might be called "the mutual
relation between contraries," for example, the rich helping the poor,
the healthy nursing the sick, the learned instructing the ignorant, and
the sinless helping the sinful. There is something about motherhood
which is synonymous with the maximum of clemency, and which prevents us
from being conquered in advance through despair and remorse by giving
us hope in the midst of sins. It is the nature of a human mother to be
the intercessor for the child before the justice of the father,
pleading for her little one, asking that the child be dismissed, or
saying that he is not understood, or that he should be given another
chance, or that, in the future, he will improve. A mother's heart is
always full of pity for the erring and the sinner and the fallen. No
child ever offended a father without offending a mother, but the father
concentrates more on the crime, the mother on the person.
Now, as a physical mother watches over an ailing child, so does Mary
watch over her erring children. The one word never associated with her
is Justice. She is only its mirror. As the Mother of the Judge, she can
influence His Justice; as Mother of Mercy, she can obtain mercy. Twice
in history, kings of power promised half their kingdom to a woman:
once when a woman solicited a king by her vice; once when a woman
inspired a king by her virtue. King Herod, seeing his stepdaughter
Salome dance, and being less intoxicated by the wine than by the
lasciviousness of her as a whirling dervish, said: "Ask me whatever you
will and I will give it to thee, even though it be half of my kingdom."
Salome consulted with her mother, Herodiad, who, recalling that John
the Baptist had condemned her divorce and remarriage, said to her
daughter: "Ask for the head of John the Baptist --- on a dish." Thus
lost his head. But it is always better to lose one's head in John's way
than in Herod's!
The other king was Assuerus, who had made the dust of the land run red
with the blood of the Jews. Esther, the beautiful Jewish maid, fasted
before petitioning him to have mercy on her people; the fasting made
her more lovely than before. The cruel tyrant, as cruel as Herod,
seeing the loveliness of the woman said: "Ask me whatever you desire
and I will give it to you though it be half my Kingdom." Unlike Salome,
she asked not for death but for life, and her people were spared. Woman
is by nature the temptress. But she can tempt not only toward evil
like Salome, but to goodness as did Esther.
the centuries the Church Fathers have said that Our Lord
keeps for Himself half His regency, which is the Kingdom of Justice,
but the other half He gives away to His Mother, and this is the Kingdom
of Mercy. At the Marriage Feast of Cana, Our Lord said that the hour of
His Passion was not yet at hand --- the hour when Justice would be
fulfilled. But His Blessed Mother begged Him not to wait, but to be
merciful to those who were in need, and to supply their wants by
water into wine. Three years later, when not the water was changed into
wine, but the wine into blood, He fulfilled all Justice, but
surrendered half His Kingdom by giving to us that which no one else
could give, namely, His Mother: "Behold thy Mother." Whatever mothers
do for sons, that His Mother would do, and more.
Throughout all history the Blessed Mother has been the link between two
contraries: the eternal punishment of Hell for sinners and the
universal unlimited Redemption of Her Divine Son. These extremes
cannot be reconciled except by mercy. Not that Mary pardons --- for she
cannot --- but she intercedes as a mother does in the face of the
of the father. Without Justice, mercy would be indifference to wrong:
without mercy, Justice would be vindictive. Mothers obtain pardon and
forgiveness for their sons without ever giving them the feeling of
"being let off." Justice makes the wrongdoer see the injustice in the
violation of a law; mercy makes him see it in the sufferings and misery
he caused those who love him deeply.
An evil man who is let off will probably commit the same sin again, but
there is no son saved from punishment by his mother's tears who did not
resolve never to sin again. Thus, mercy in a mother is never separated
from a sense of justice. The blow may not fall, but the effect is the
same as if it had.
What mysterious power is it that a mother has over a son that, when he
confesses his guilt, she strives to minimize it, even when it shocks
her heart at the perversity of the revelation? The impure are rarely
tolerant of the pure, but only the pure can understand the impure. The
more saintly the soul of a confessor, the less he dwells on the gravity
of the offense, and the more on the love of the offender. Goodness
always lifts the burden of conscience, and it never throws a stone to
add to its weight. There are many sheaves in the field which the
priests and sisters and the faithful are unable to gather in. It is
Mary's role to follow these reapers to gather the sinners in. As
Nathaniel Hawthorne said: "I have always envied the Catholics that
sweet, sacred, Virgin Mother who stands between them and the Diety,
intercepting somewhat His awful splendor, but permitting His love to
stream on the worshipper more intelligibly to human comprehension
through the medium of a woman's tenderness."
Mary will assist us if we but call upon her. There is not a single
unhappy soul or sinner in the world who calls upon Mary who is left
without mercy. Anyone who invokes her will have the wounds of his soul
healed. Sin is a crime of lèse-majesté; but the
Blessed Mother is the
refuge. St. Anselm said that she "was made the Mother of God more for
sinners than for the just" --- which could hardly be doubted, since Our
Lord Himself said that He came not to save the just, but to call
sinners to repent.
St. Ephrem calls the Blessed Mother the "charter of freedom from sin,"
and even dubs her the protectress of those who are on their way to
damnation: Patroncinatrix damnatorum.
St. Augustine said of her:
"What all the other Saints can do with your help, you alone can do
There are some sorrows in life which are peculiar to a woman and which
a man cannot understand. That is why, as there was an Adam and an Eve
in the fall, there had to be a new Adam and a new Eve in redemption.
Fittingly, therefore, is a Woman summoned to stand at the foot of the
Cross where Our Lord redeemed us from our sins. He also redeemed her.
Our Lord could feel all agonies mentally, but the agonies and griefs
that only woman can feel, Mary could suffer in union with Him. One of
these is the shame of the unmarried mother. Not of course that Mary was
that, for she was espoused to Joseph; but until the Angel told Joseph
that she conceived by the Holy Spirit, Mary had to share the bleeding
heart of all her sisters who bear within themselves a child born out of
wedlock. Mothers whose sons are called to war call on Mary, who also
had a Son summoned to the war --- against the principalities and powers
evil. She even went onto the battlefield with her Son and received a
who have children born with an affliction, crippled in body,
broken in mind, mute in speech, or who have lengthening shadows of
impending death or disaster hanging over them and their children, can
take their worries to Mary who lived under an incoming tide of
sorrow. She knows what it is to have a child who will be a daily cross.
At His Birth, Magi brought myrrh for His burial signifying that He was
destined for death. When He was forty days old, the aged Simeon told
her that her Son would be a sign to be contradicted, which meant
crucifixion, and that the lance that pierced His Heart would pierce
her own soul!
There is now no excuse. There are some who say they would
be "hypocrites" if they came to God. They would be hypocrites, if they
said they were prepared to be clean when they intended to go on being
dirty. But they would not be hypocrites if they admitted they were
sinful, and really wanted to be children of God.
Those whose spirituality is harsh, whose Christianity is cold, who know
Christ but who are severe in judgment, with a touch of bigotry and
hatred of fellowman, should realize that their condition comes from a
lack of Mary's Motherhood. As, in the physical order, a man who grows
up without the loving attention of a mother misses something that
makes for gentleness and sweetness of character, so in the spiritual
order, those who grow up in Christianity without Mary lack a joy and
happiness that come to those only who know no mother. Orphans of the
Spirit! Your Mother lives!
Throughout the Christian centuries those who were burdened with guilt
and afraid to approach God, or who had not come to the Divinity of
Christ, or who, having come, were so stricken with shame that they fell
back into sadness, have had recourse to the Blessed Mother to lift
them out of the abyss. Typical of this spirit are two modern writers.
T. Titterton, the poet and essayist, on the occasion of Shaw's death
wrote: "Shaw was great friends with a Reverend Mother who prayed daily
for his conversion. Once he confessed to her his difficulty: he could
not believe in the Divinity of Christ. 'But,' he said, patting her
shoulder, 'I think His Mother will see me through.' " Shaw put his
finger on the sublime truth that those who are not yet ready to accept
Christ as the mediator between God and man will come to that truth
through Mary, who will act as the mediatrix between widowed souls and
Christ, until they finally come to His embrace.
Marcel Proust says that when he was a young man he went to his mother
and recollected many of the evil things which he had done in his
ignorance and passion, and which his own mother could not understand,
but to which she listened without understanding. He said that somehow
or other she lessened their importance with a gentleness and compassion
and lifted the weight of his conscience. But how can Mary know what the
un-Christed suffer, or sympathize with the bleeding soul-wounds of
the sinners? As the pure lily rests immaculate on a foul pond, so Mary
came to know
what sin is in a moment which matched, in her love's capacity as a
creature, what Our Lord felt on the Cross.
What is sin? Sin is separation from God and an alienation from love.
But Mary lost God, too! She lost him not morally but physically,
during those seemingly endless three days when Her Divine Son was only
twelve years of age. Searching, questioning, knocking from door to
door, pleading and begging, Mary came to know something of the
despairing emptiness of those who have not yet found Christ. This was
the moment of her widowhood of the soul, when Mary came to know how
every sinner feels --- not because she sinned, but because she felt the
effect of sin, namely, the loss of God and the loneliness of the soul.
To every soul who is lost, she can still truly address the same words:
"Son, we have sought thee sorrowing."
have no record of it in the Gospels, but I have always believed
that Judas, both on the way to betray Our Lord and after the betrayal,
going with a halter over his arm to hang himself on an aspen tree,
deliberately went out of his way to avoid contact with the Mother of
Jesus. Probably no one in the history of the world would Our Blessed
Mother more willingly have pardoned than Judas, though he did send her
Son to the Cross. When Our Lord gave us half His Kingdom in His Mother,
He made it almost impossible for any soul to go to Hell who ever pleads
to her to intercede to her Divine Son. If Judas is in Hell, it is
because he deliberately turned his back on Mary when he went out to
hang himself. If he is not in Hell, it is because in that split second,
as he looked from his hill to the Hill of Calvary, he saw there the
Mother with her Divine Son and died with this prayer on his lips:
"Mother of sinners, pray for me!"
Our Blessed Mother shows mercy to all souls because
she has a right to do so. She accepted Motherhood not as a personal
title, but as the representative of all humanity. Her consent is, to
the new order of grace, what the consent of Eve was to the fallen
humanity. Therefore, she had some claim on the redemptive merits of her
Son. What is more, her Divine Son affirmed it, for the last act of Our
Lord on earth to which He visibly demanded our adherence was his plea
to take His Mother as our Mother: "Behold thy Mother." A child may
forget a mother, but a mother never forgets a child.
She is not only
the Mother of Jesus, she is also the Mother of all whom He redeemed.
"Shall a woman forget the child of her womb?" But beyond all sweet
remembrance is the consoling human fact that a mother embraces and
fondles that child who falls and hurts himself most often.
With St. Bernard the Church has repeated the prayer to Mary as the
Queen of Mercy: "Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never
anyone who had recourse to thy protection, implored thy help or sought
thy intercession, was left unaided." As Christ intercedes for us at
the throne of His Father, so Mary intercedes for us to her Divine Son.
But this role of mercy she cannot fulfill unless there are those who
In her Revelations, St.
Brigit quotes the Blessed Mother as saying:
"The people of earth have need of a triple mercy: sorrow for their
sins, penance to atone for them, and strength to do good." And Mary
promised these mercies to all who would call upon her. As the Son shows
the Father the Wounds He received in saving man in the Battle of
Calvary, so Mary shows the body pierced with seven swords in the same
Siege against Sin. No sinner in the world is beyond the hope of
redemption; no one is so cursed that he cannot obtain pardon if he but
calls on Mary. It is necessary to be in the state of sanctifying grace
to be saved, but it is not necessary to be in the state of grace to
call on Mary. As she was the representative of sinful humanity who
gave consent to the Redemption, so she is still the representative of
those who are not yet in the state of friendship with God. It is easy
for the brothers of Christ to call on the Father, but it is not easy
for the strangers and the enemies. This role Mary plays. She is not
only the Mother of those who are in the state of grace, but the Queen
of those who are not. The true name of Satan is "Without Mercy" (Osee
1:6, 8), one whose nature cannot ask for pardon. He first tries to
convince a soul that evil is not evil; then, when evil is done, he
tries to convince it that there is no hope. Thus does
despair. Satan refuses the humiliation of pardon both for himself
and for others, but Mary asks pardon even for those who, as agents of
Satan, would recrucify Her Son. Her name is the antithesis of Satan:
"One who has received Mercy" (Osee 2:1), and therefore one who
St. Gamma Galgani, of modem times, one day was interceding with Our
Lord for the soul of a certain sinner. As Gamma pleaded for mercy, the
Saviour recounted one by one his frightful and abnormal sins. After the
Saviour had refused three times, St. Gamma Galgani said: "Then I shall
ask your Mother." Our Lord answered: "In that case, I cannot refuse."
An hour later the sinner in question came to the confessor of the Saint
and made his full confession.
Sweet girlhood without guile,
The extreme of God's creative energy;
Sunshiny Peak of human personality;
The world's sad aspirations' one Success;
Bright Blush, that sav'st our shame from shamelessness; Chief Stone of
stumbling; Sign built in the way
To set the foolish everywhere a-bray;
Hem of God's robe, which all who touch are heard;
To which the outside Many honour yield
With a reward and grace
Unguess'd by the unwash'd boor that hails Him to His face,
Spurning the safe, ingratiant courtesy
Of suing Him by thee:
Ora pro me!
-- Coventry Patmore, "The Child's Purchase," from I Sing of a Maiden.
HOME----------------------------MARY, HOPE OF SINNERS