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Mary could not have humbled herself more

16 min • Digitized on July 22, 2021

From The Glories of Mary, page 410
By St. Alphonsus Liguori

Mary could not humble herself more than she did in the incarnation of the Word. On the other hand, God could not exalt her more than he has exalted her.

“Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” These are the words of our Lord, and cannot fail. Therefore, God having determined to make himself man, in order to redeem lost man, and thus manifest to the world his infinite goodness, being about to choose on earth his mother, sought among women the holiest and most humble.

Among them all he saw one, the youthful virgin Mary, who, as she was the most perfect in all virtues, so was she the most simple; and humble as a dove in her own esteem. “There are young maidens without number; one is my dove, my perfect one.” Let this one, then, said God, be my chosen mother.

Let us then see how humble Mary was, and how God exalted her. Mary could not humble herself more than she did in the incarnation of the Word; this will be the first point. That God could not exalt Mary more than he exalted her, will be the second.

First Point.—Our Lord in the holy Canticles, speaking precisely of the humility of this most humble Virgin, said: “While the King was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odor thereof.”

St. Antoninus, commenting on these words, says that the spikenard, inasmuch as it is a small and lowly plant, was a type of the humility of Mary, whose odor ascended to heaven, and drew, even from the bosom of the eternal Father, into her virginal womb the divine Word. The spikenard is a small herb, and signifies the blessed Virgin, who exhaled the odor of humility; which odor ascended even to heaven, and in heaven as it were awakened him who was in his repose, and brought him to rest in her womb. Thus the Lord, drawn by the odor of this humble Virgin, chose her for his mother, when he wished to become man to redeem the world.

But he, for the greater glory and merit of this his mother, would not make himself her Son without first obtaining her consent. He would not take flesh from her with out her consent. Therefore, when the humble young Virgin was in her poor dwelling, sighing and praying to God more earnestly than ever that he would send the Redeemer, as was revealed to St. Elizabeth, a Benedictine nun, behold the Archangel Gabriel came, bearing the great embassy.

He enters and salutes her, saying: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.” Hail, oh Virgin, full of grace, for thou wast always rich in grace, above all the other saints. The Lord is with thee because thou art so humble. Thou art blessed among women, for all others have incurred the curse of original sin; but thou, because thou art to be the mother of the Blessed One, hast been and wilt always be blessed, and free from every stain.

But what does the humble Mary answer to this salutation so full of praises? She answered nothing, but she was disturbed thinking on such a salutation: “And when she had heard, she was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.” And why was she disturbed? through fear of illusion, or through modesty at the sight of a man, as some suppose, remembering that the angel appeared to her in human form? No, the text is plain; she was troubled at his saying, as Eusebius Emissenus remarks: Not by his appearance, but by his speech.

Such a disturbance was then wholly owing to her humility at hearing those praises, so far beyond her humble esteem of herself. Hence the more she is exalted by the angel, the more she humbles herself, and the more she considers her nothingness. St. Bernardine remarks: If the angel had said that she was the greatest sinner in the world, Mary would not have been thus surprised; but in hearing those exalted praises she was greatly disturbed.

She was troubled because, being so full of humility, she abhorred every praise, and desired that none but her Creator, the giver of every good, should be praised and blessed. Mary said exactly this to St. Bridget, speaking of the time when she became mother of God. “I disliked my own praise, and only wished to hear that of the giver and Creator.”

But I would remark, that the blessed Virgin had already well learned from the Holy Scriptures that the time foretold by the prophets for the coming of the Messiah had arrived; that the weeks of Daniel were now completed; that already, according to the prophecy of Jacob, the sceptre of Judah had passed into the hands of Herod, a strange king, and she well knew that a virgin was to be the mother of the Messiah; and she hears those praises offered by the angel to herself, which seemed to belong only to the mother of God; did it then come into her mind that perhaps she herself might be that chosen mother of God? No, her profound humility did not permit this thought.

These praises had no other effect than to cause her great fear; so that, as St. Peter Chrysologus remarks: As Christ wished to be consoled by an angel, so must the Virgin be encouraged by an angel. As the Saviour willed to be comforted by an angel, so it was necessary that St. Gabriel, seeing Mary so full of fear at that salutation, should encourage her, saying: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” Do not fear, oh Mary, nor be surprised by the great titles by which I have saluted thee, for if thou art so little and humble in thine own eyes, God, who exalts the humble, has made thee worthy to find the grace lost by man; and therefore has he preserved thee from the common stain of all the children of Adam; therefore, even from the moment of thy conception he has adorned thee with a greater grace than that of all the saints; and therefore, finally, he now exalts thee to be his mother: “Behold, thou shalt conceive and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”

Now why this delay? The angel, oh Lady, awaits thy answer, as St. Bernard says: We rather await it who are condemned to death. Behold, oh our mother, continues St. Bernard, to thee is now offered the price of our salvation, which will be the divine Word in thee made man; if thou wilt accept him for a son, we shall be immediately delivered from death; behold the price of our salvation is offered to thee; immediately we are liberated if thou dost consent. Thy Lord himself, as he is greatly enamored of thy beauty, so much the more desires thy consent, on which he has made the salvation of the world depend. Answer quickly, oh Lady, adds St. Augustine, delay no longer the salvation of the world, which now depends on thy consent.

But, behold, Mary already answers; she answers the angel, and says: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” Oh, what more beautiful, more humble, and more prudent answer could all the wisdom of men and of angels united have invented, if they had thought of it for millions of years! Oh powerful answer, which gave joy in heaven, and poured upon the earth a vast flood of graces and blessings! Answer, that hardly came forth from the humble heart of Mary before it drew from the bosom of the eternal Father, the only begotten Son, to become man in her most pure womb! yes, for hardly had she uttered these words: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word; when immediately the Word was made flesh: the Son of God became also the Son of Mary. Oh powerful Fiat! exclaims St. Thomas of Villanova; oh efficacious Fiat! oh Fiat to be reverenced above every fiat! for by another fiat God created the light, the heaven, and the earth; but by this fiat of Mary, says the saint, God became man like us.

But let us not wander from our point, let us consider the great humility of the Virgin in this answer. She was indeed well enlightened to understand how great was the dignity of the mother of God. She already had been assured by the angel that she was this happy mother chosen by the Lord. But with all this she is not at all raised in her own esteem, stops not at all to enjoy her exaltation, but considering on one side her own nothingness, and on the other the infinite majesty of her God, who chose her for his mother, she knows how unworthy she is of such an honor, but would by no means oppose herself to his will.

Hence, when her consent was asked, what does she do? what does she say? Wholly annihilated as to self; all inflamed, on the other hand, with the desire of uniting herself thus more closely to God, by entirely abandoning herself to the divine will: Behold, she answers, behold the handmaid of the Lord. Behold the slave of the Lord: obliged to do whatever her Lord commands. And she intended to say: If the Lord chooses me for his mother, who have nothing of my own; if all that I have is his gift, who could think that he selects me for any merit of my own? Behold the handmaid of the Lord. What merit can a slave have, to be made the mother of her Lord? Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let the goodness of God alone be praised, and not the slave; since it is wholly his goodness which has led him to place his eye on a creature so lowly as I, and make her so great.

Oh humility, exclaims here Guerric the Abbot; small in its own eyes, great in the eyes of God! Insufficient to itself, sufficient to him whom the whole world cannot contain! But still more beautiful on this occasion is the exclamation of St. Bernard, which he makes in the fourth sermon on the Assumption of Mary, in which, admiring the humility of Mary, he says: Oh Lady, how have you been able to unite in your heart such an humble esteem of yourself with so much purity, so much innocence, and with such fulness of grace as thou dost possess! And whence, oh blessed Virgin, did this humility, this so great humility, take such deep root in thee, when thou wast so honored and exalted by God?

Lucifer, seeing himself endowed with great beauty, aspired to exalt his throne above the stars, and make himself like to God. Now what would not that proud spirit have said and attempted if he had seen himself adorned with the privileges of Mary? Not so the humble Mary; the more she saw herself exalted, the more she humbled herself. Ah Lady, for this beautiful humility, concludes St. Bernard, thou hast indeed merited to be regarded by God with peculiar love, to charm thy King with thy beauty; to draw him with the sweet odor of thy humility, from his repose in the bosom of God, into thy most pure womb. Hence St. Bernardine de Bustis says, that Mary merited more by that answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” than all creatures could merit by their works.

Thus, says St. Bernard, this innocent Virgin, although by her virginity she rendered herself dear to God, yet by humility afterwards rendered herself worthy, as much as a creature can render itself worthy, to be made the mother of her Creator. Although she pleased by her virginity, by her humility she conceived. And St. Jerome confirms this by saying, that God chose her for his own mother more for her humility, than for all her other sublime virtues. Mary herself expressed this to St. Bridget, by saying to her: How much did I merit such a grace to be made the mother of my Lord, if not because I knew my nothingness, and humiliated myself?

And this she declared before in her Canticle, so full of the deepest humility, when she said: “Because he hath regarded the humility of his hand maid … He that is mighty hath done great things to me.” Upon which words St. Lawrence Justinian remarks, that the blessed Virgin does not say, he regarded my virginity, my innocence, but only my humility. And by this humility, as St. Francis de Sales remarks, Mary did not intend to praise the virtue of her humility, but wished to proclaim that God had regarded her nothingness: “humility, that is, nothingness”, and through his pure goodness had willed thus to exalt her.

In a word, St. Augustine says that the humility of Mary was like a ladder, by which our Lord deigned to descend upon earth to become man in her womb. And St. Antoninus confirms this by saying that the humility of the Virgin was her most perfect and the next preparation to become the mother of God. And by this is explained what Isaias predicted: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” The blessed Albertus Magnus remarks, that the divine flower, namely, the only-begotten of God, according to Isaias, would come forth, not from the top or the trunk of the tree of Jesse, but from its root, which precisely denotes the humility of the mother.

And this is more clearly explained by the Abbot of Celles. Observe, says he, that not from the top, but from the root this flower is to spring up. And therefore our Lord said to his beloved daughter; “Turn away thy eyes from me, for they have made me flee away.” And from whence flee, unless from the bosom of the Father to the womb of Mary? as St. Augustine says. Upon which the learned interpreter Fernandez observes, that the most humble eyes of Mary, with which she always contemplated the divine greatness, never losing sight of her nothingness, did such violence to God herself that they drew him into her bosom.

And by this we are to understand, says Francone the Abbot, why the Holy Spirit so much praised the beauty of this his spouse for her eyes, which were like those of a dove: “How beautiful art thou, my love! how, beautiful art thou! thy eyes are like doves eyes;” because Mary, looking on God with the eyes of a simple, humble dove, he was so much enamored of her beauty, that with the bands of love she made him a prisoner in her virginal womb; these are the words of the abbot: In what place on the earth could so beautiful a virgin be found, who could allure the King of heaven by her eyes, and by a holy violence lead him captive, bound in the chains of charity?

We will conclude this point by remarking that Mary, in the incarnation of the Word, as we have seen from the beginning, could not have humiliated herself more than she did.

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