Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Of the Observance of Lent (3)

CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
31 Mar. 31 July. 30 Nov.

Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence.

1 Licet omni tempore vita monachi quadragesimae debet observationem habere, 2 tamen, quia paucorum est ista virtus, ideo suademus istis diebus quadragesimae omni puritate vitam suam custodire omnes pariter, 3 et neglegentias aliorum temporum his diebus sanctis diluere.

Saint Benedict describes Lent as a time during which a monk can “wash away (diluere) the negligences of other times”. The very fact that one can wash away past negligences gives rise to hope and confidence. It is possible to start afresh. The man who can weep over his past sins — and this is itself a grace — can go forward in joy.

The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness. (Psalm 29:11–12)

I recall with gratitude the wisdom and solicitude of my Master of Novices, Père R.C. (to whom I owe so much), who saw fit in 1972 to introduce me Father Irenée Hausherr’s classic work, Penthos, The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East. The man who never weeps is not fully human. In the Gospels, the tears of Our Lord are the authentic tokens of His Humanity. It is recorded that Our Lord wept three times: first, over the faithless city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); then, at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:35); and, finally, in the bitter agony of Gethsemani (Hebrews 5:7). The shortest sentence in the New Testament is, if I am not mistaken, John 11:35: “And Jesus wept”, Et lacrimatus est Jesus. This little sentence is a an inexhaustible spring of consolation for all of us, poor sinners, who go “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”.

The tears of the Mother of God, no less than those of her Son, fall upon the hearts of poor sinners with a gentle efficacy. The devotion to the tears of Our Lady is not a product of baroque piety; there is evidence of it even among the Desert Fathers:

Abba Isaac said: Once I was sitting with Abba Poemen, and I saw that he was in an ecstasy; and since I used to speak very openly with him, I made a prostration before him and asked him, “Tell me, where were you?” And he did not want to tell me. But when I pressed him, he replied: “My thoughts were with St. Mary the Mother of God, as she stood and wept at the Cross of the Savior; and I wish that I could always weep as much as she wept then”.

If  a man has no tears, he should ask God for them with all his strength and with all his soul. There is no other way by which  he can remain sinless and pure in heart. So precious is the gift of tears that the Church makes it the object of her prayer in the Roman Missal. Blessed Abbot Marmion, among others, had a special devotion to the liturgical prayers for the gift of tears.

Almighty and most gentle God, who when Thy people thirsted drew living water out of a rock, do Thou draw tears of compunction from our stony hearts, giving us grace to lament our sins and fitting us to receive Thy merciful forgiveness.

It seems to me that there are seven fruits of tears. At least, this is my own experience. One desires these seven fruits must pray earnestly for the gift of tears. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 125:5). Here, then, are the seven fruits of tears.

  1. Humility
  2. Purity of heart
  3. Receptivity to the Word of God
  4. Softening of the heart to Divine Things
  5. Compassion for others in their weakness
  6. Closeness to the Mother of God
  7. Joy

 

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

An Oblate of Silverstream on Fatima and the Desert Fathers

Marco da Vinha and his wife, Isa, are Oblate novices of Silverstream Priory. Marco and Isa are the parents of Helena and Cristóvão. They make their home in the U.K., while remaining deeply rooted in Portugal, Mary’s Land, la Terra de Maria.

Fátima and the Desert Fathers
by Marco Gregory da Vinha, Obl.O.S.B.

I find myself writing today about a topic which I never thought I would – Fátima; specifically, the message of Fátima (or, at least, how I have come to understand it). Caveat: for those that came here expecting some comment on “the Consecration of Russia”, you can forget about that. That is a topic I’m not at all interested in touching. Let’s just say that I believe that that request was very time-specific, and is not necessarily what the “message” was all about, though it seems to me that to many it carries an almost messianic weight.

Love it or hate it, every Portuguese knows Fátima and has probably been there at least once in their life. In the minds of not a few, Fátima is something quite apart from the Church. How many times did I not hear from people (who even made regular pilgrimages there): “I don’t believe in the Church, but I have a lot of faith in Fátima.” I never understood what that was supposed to mean. What do those who profess such a belief understand Fátima to be? Does it mean you believe in some “miraculous” event, some “force” you keep a mercenary relationship with? Or does it mean that you believe in the message? If so, then you must necessarily believe in the Church. Our Lady cannot be understood apart of the Church; she is a type of the Church. If you believe in her, and not the Church, then there is something seriously flawed with your belief.

But I digress…

Fátima (Cova da Iria) is about an hour and fifteen minutes drive on the motorway from my home city. Now that I stop to think about it, I (providentially?) made my official return to the Church there 10 years ago. For almost two years I drove down every Sunday so as to be able to experience the vetus ordo of the Roman rite (and occasionally the Divine Liturgy at the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic chapel at Domus Pacis). When people found out that I would go to Fátima every Sunday they would say “Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Fátima.”, but it had never crossed my mind, in all those trips, that I was going there because of Fatima; if anything, in my mind, Fátima was accidental: the vetus ordo just happened to be celebrated there. As time went on, I began to have a bit more of a “sacramental” understanding of the place, and so the shrine (or at least the area of the chapel of the apparitions) became a kind of holy ground. The Deipara, the Dei genetrix, had appeared there; she had hallowed the ground (or at least the oak tree) by her contact. In my mind, that made the immediate vicinity a kind of contact relic, and so I would always stop by, even if just for 5 minutes, to say “hello” and entrust to her care my vocation, whichever it might be. Several years later, Sr. Maria do Rosário and I were received as novice Benedictine oblates at Fátima.

During these many years I had struggled to understand just what exactly was the “message of Fátima” or why “the world needs Fátima“. Searching for answers on the internet only served to further the confusion. I had never stopped to read any proper literature on the apparitions; I only got bits and pieces of the story from time to time from speaking with people who had purposely moved to Fátima from abroad, as well as from someone who had known Sr. Lucia for many years and served as an interpreter of sorts for her. However, it was only after Father Prior had spoken with the postulator for Bl. Francisco’s cause that things suddenly start to click in my head. To quote Father Prior’s own words:

I put the question to Dr Coelho. She explained that while little Jacinta was an extrovert, easily engaging with others and concerned in reaching out to all, especially to poor sinners, Francisco was a very interior soul, focused on God alone or, as he himself put it, on consoling the Hidden Jesus. In this way, the personalities and graces of Francisco and Jacinta are complementary. Jacinta is emblematic of the missionary impulse of the Church, while Francisco illustrates the call to the hidden life and total dedication to the “One Thing Necessary” (Luke 10:42). Francisco, explained Dr Coelho, was, from the very beginning of the apparitions, singled out as a contemplative soul.

The Postulator explained that had Our Lady said that Francisco was to become a “contemplative soul”, the meaning of her words would have completely escaped Francisco’s understanding. His was the simple vocabulary of a child, of a boy accustomed to the concrete realities of nature. Our Lady’s words that Francisco would “need to say many rosaries” before going to heaven was, in effect, her way of saying that Francisco was to become an entirely contemplative soul before going to heaven, and this by means of many rosaries. Understand by this that, for Francisco and for most ordinary people, many rosaries are the most simple and efficacious way to union with God.

For some time I had begun to see the message of “penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners” as synonymous with the Gospel, which made me wonder what was so unique about the apparition(s) and its message. Suddenly, with the postulator’s comment about Our Lady adapting her language to her interlocutors/audience, it made sense.

What was Our Lady trying to tell us? What had we forgotten?

Penance – mortifications; prayer for the conversion of sinners – intercession; pray the Rosary – the layman’s office par excellence in the West. Our Lady was reminding a simple people, a people of simple faith, of what it means to be Christian. I don’t mean simple in a pejorative sense; I mean simple in childlike, unable(?) to understand complex theological ideas, but faithful enough to intuit them, with a lively sensus fidelium. In very simple terms, she was reminding them of their baptismal priesthood. Sons in the Son, they could unite their sufferings, their mortifications, to Christ’s, to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). As Our Lord had offered Himself up on the Cross for sinners, so they were to become icons of all mankind, offering in themselves all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, especially for those who did not believe. The daily rosary was an injunction to “pray without ceasing”. For a long time the rosary had been an alternative to the Office for those who were unable to read. The Office, especially through the Psalms, shows us the vultus Christi; praying the Psalms helps one to acquire the mind of Christ. Being unable to do that, one turns to Mary, and in contemplating her, one can see in her face the face of her Son shining through.

“Fátima”, in my understanding of it, is nothing “new”. The message is the Gospel. It is the life that finds echo in the life of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Father’s lived a(-n extreme) life of penance, of mortification; one needs only to read their sayings to see how indispensable it was to them, how essential it was to cultivate humility. It was not something negative; rather it was liberating. See, for example, this saying of Abba Poemon:

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, ‘I have committed a great sin and I want to do penance for three years.’ The old man said to him, ‘That is a lot.’ The brother said, ‘For one year?’ The old man said again, ‘That is a lot.’ Those who were present said, ‘For forty days?’ He said again, ‘That is a lot.’ He added, ‘I myself say that if a man repents with his whole heart and does not intend to commit the sin any more, God will accept him after only three days.’

Even on their deathbed penance was still (or should that be especially?) on their minds:

It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, ‘Look, Abba Anthony is coming.’ A little later he said, ‘Look, the choir of prophets is coming.’ Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, Look, the choir of apostles is coming,’ His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, ‘With whom are you speaking, Father?’ He said, ‘Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance.’ The old man said to him, ‘You have no need to do penance, Father.’ But the old man said to them, ‘Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet.’

Continual prayer was also a theme on the minds of the Desert Fathers. They knew, through their experience, that it required a great effort to become a habit, especially if one was to pray without ceasing, which in a goal of all Christians, which they will one day do perfectly united to Christ, the Eternal High Priest. The Psalms were their school of prayer.

Abba Agathon said, “Prayer is hard work and a great struggle to one’s last breath”.

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

The brethren also asked him, ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. What ever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’

We find as well stories of the Fathers’ intercession for sinners:

One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must fulfill that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery of virgins and entrusted her to the amma and he said, ‘Take this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later she besought the amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread and some work through the window.’ The amma did so and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life.

Is Fátima still “relevant”? I think it is particularly poignant a century later because it obliges us to ask “What have we forgotten?” It seems to me to be quite providential that our Blessed Mother should remind us of this supernatural aspect of the faith on the eve of a revolution of the “anti-Gospel”, of a materialistic “gospel” that promised an immanenitized eschaton. And yet, 100 years later, on the cusp of the anniversary of the apparitions, if one listens to the majority of the “testimonies” about the meaning of Fatima on this website (which is backed by the Sanctuary and a Catholic radio station), one will find that we have forgotten much. The majority of those testimonies of what Fátima means to those individuals is focused to much on me, on vague concepts of love and peace and feeling good with one’s self, a form of spiritual hygiene. God does not figure into the picture. The faith is primarily about the world here below, a convenient ethical system, but little beyond that.

We have forgotten the Cross. It is the Cross, the dulce lignum, that best encapsulates the Faith. In trying to make it more appealing, in applying so much cosmetic to sweeten the pill, we have gone so far as to forget what it is all about.

What is Fátima to me? Fátima is the unbroken tradition of the Church; Fátima is the life of monks and religious and clerics and lay alike; Fátima is the faith of the Desert Fathers –  Fátima is the Christian life in broad strokes, so simple enough even a child could understand it. And it is a reminder to make every day a beginning.

Bernadette

BernadetteBest.jpgHer Feast
Today, February 18th, is the feast of Saint Bernadette.  I have long cherished the Collect for her feast:

O God, protector and friend of the humble, Who filled Thy servant, Mary Bernard, with joy by the apparition and conversation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary: grant, we pray, that by the simple way of faith we may be counted worthy to see Thee face to face in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who, with Thee, liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

When Saints Are Lovers
My book on a flight to Ireland nine years ago was When Saints Are Lovers, The Spirituality of Maryknoll Co–Founder, Thomas F. Price by John T. Seddon III. Father Price was very taken with Saint Bernadette. The little Saint of Lourdes and Nevers became his confidante and intimate companion. His relationship to Jesus and Mary was inextricably bound up with his love for Bernadette.

Father Price “met” Saint Bernadette on the occasion of his first visit to Lourdes in July 1911. He passed through various stages in his relationship with Saint Bernadette; these might be compared to what a man and woman experience in friendship, courtship, betrothal, and marriage. Father Price went so far as to wear a wedding band inscribed with his name and that of Bernadette. The culmination of this Father%20Price.jpgmystical relationship was in the marriage of Father Price and Bernadette together to the Divine Bridegroom, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary’s Priest: The Journey of a Heart
In 1918, Father Thomas Price left the United States with the first three Maryknoll missionaries to China. A year later Father Price died there. His body was laid to rest in China but his heart was, as he requested, removed from his body to be placed close to his dear Bernadette in Nevers, France. Father Price’s life was profoundly marked by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He attributed his survival from a shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina in 1876 to a miraculous intervention of Our Lady. In 1908, Father Price adopted the practice of writing a daily “letter” to the Mother of God. It became a kind of written conversation with her, a complement to the daily Rosary and Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary to which he remained faithful all his life. In 1923, Father Price’s heart was carried from China to Nevers by a French missionary and placed next to the body of Saint Bernadette. His body was exhumed in 1936 and returned to Maryknoll in Ossining, New York.

What Are the Instruments of Good Works (IV)

Notre–Dame–de–Bonne–Délivrance (Paris) before whom Saint Francis de Sales was delivered from the temptation to despair of the mercy of God.

21 Jan. 22 May. 21 Sept.
62. Daily to fulfil by one’s deeds the commandments of God.
63. To love chastity.
64. To hate no man.
65. Not to give way to jealousy and envy.
66. Not to love strife.
67. To fly from vainglory.
68. To reverence the Seniors.
69. To love the juniors.
70. To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ.
71. To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun.
72. And never to despair of God’s mercy.

Behold, these are the tools of the spiritual craft, which, if they be constantly employed day and night, and duly given back on the day of judgment, will gain for us from the Lord that reward which He Himself hath promised – “which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community.

• Chapter IV ends with ten commandments of God for life together in charity and in peace. Saint Benedict would have each of his monks fulfill by his deeds this closing series of commandments. Saint Benedict, who was no stranger to the temptations of the flesh, begins with the love of chastity. The man who loves chastity will, even if he must pass through the crucible of many temptations and humiliating reversals, enter into the joy of chastity. “Love chastity”, says Saint Benedict, knowing full well that the man who loves chastity will be a happy man, and that is good and pleasant to live in community with men who are happy. Vice, be it unchastity or any other vice, has never made a man happy. On the contrary, the signature of vice is unhappiness, sadness, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to love chastity because he wants them to be happy men, men capable of singing with the Psalmist: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 132:1).

• Hatred is toxic. Saint Benedict says, “Hate no man”. Satan seeks, by every means at his disposal, to sow the seeds of enmity among brethren. Hatred does not declare itself as such straightaway. It begins as a petty annoyance, as an insuperable antipathy. And it grows. It grows in the dark. And one day, there is hatred in one’s heart. One must react vigorously to the very first movements of antipathy, however subtle they may be, lest they grow into the kind of thing that foments discord, detraction, backbiting, and division.

• Saint Benedict recognises the dangers presented by jealousy and envy. Jealousy rears its ugly head when one feels that who one is, or what one has — one’s special gifts, one’s place in the community, the place one holds in the affection of another — is threatened by another. Envy occurs when one wants what another has: material things, physical or intellectual attributes, talents, and friendships. One in the grip of jealousy or envy begins to look upon one’s brother with a jaundiced eye. Jealousy and envy can so blur one’s vision that one’s entire perception of reality becomes distorted. Thoughts of jealousy and envy must be, as Saint Benedict says, dashed down on the Rock, that is Christ, the instant that they come into the heart, and laid open to one’s spiritual father. This latter point can be difficult and humiliating. Non one likes to admit feelings of jealousy and envy. All the same, exposing them to the light is their undoing.

• Saint Benedict says that his monks are not to love strife. You may have known individuals who love strife: such individuals thrive on conflict. They need to have an enemy at all times. They are not content unless they are discontent, and not at peace unless they are at odds with someone. The lover of strife thinks, “If I cannot get close to the one I hate, I can, at least, hate the one to whom I close”. We see this kind of thing played out in families and in the workplace. In the monastery, where emotions are easily magnified by the observances of silence and enclosure, the love of strife is particularly dangerous and can threaten the peace of the whole community.

• Saint Benedict would have his monks fly from vain–glory. Vain–glory is, some would say, an old–fashioned sort of word; few people today have any notion of what the word means. Vainglory comes from the Greek κενοδοξία, literally empty glory. It is a capital vice; that is, a vice that gives birth to other vices. The man in the grip of vainglory wants to be seen as excellent, superior, surpassing others in virtue, knowledge, ability, or physical attributes. Saint Thomas (Summa II:2, q. 132) says that the end of vainglory is the manifestation of one’s own excellence; he identifies the daughters of vainglory as follows: boasting, love of novelties, hypocrisy, obstinacy, discord, contention, and disobedience.

• Reverence for the seniors and love for the juniors is an expression of charity and the assurance of peace in a community. When seniors are set against juniors and juniors against seniors, as sometimes happens in monasteries, the community falls into sterility, vocations dry up, decadence enters in, and mortal decline accelerates. In our community, as we grow in number, we must do everything to put into practice these two instruments of good works. If each brother reverences the fathers senior to him and loves the brothers junior to him, our monastery will flourish, vocations will abound, observance will be good, and our life will be fruitful in accord with Our Lord’s word, “In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit” (John 15:8).

• To pray for one’s enemies in the love of Christ and to make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun are two indispensable instruments. Praying for one’s enemies can bring about miracles of grace. The prayer of forgiveness and reparation that we distribute has changed lives and brought peace to hearts long troubled by the refusal to forgive. Making peace with one’s adversary (or with one perceived as an adversary) fosters humility, builds up charity, strengthens unity, and produces gladness. Holding on to enmity causes one to swell up with pride, increases antipathies, foments division, and lodges sadness in the cloister.

• And so we come to the 73rd and last instrument of good works: “And never to despair of God’s mercy”. Be alert to the tactics of the devil. He is forever trying to push souls, or drag them, or get them to throw themselves, into the pit of despair. He does this principally by whispering: “Look at yourself. You are a failure, a bad monk, a vice–ridden wretch and there is no hope for you, no grace, no mercy. Just accept this state of things and get on with your miserable existence. You might as well live a desperate little life because you are, in any case, going to die in despair”. As soon as you begin to hear such despicable diabolical insinuations, run— do not walk — run to the Mother of God and cast yourself at her feet. Blurt out to her all that you are feeling; hold nothing back; tell her the whole sorry tale. (Not for nothing do we have in our monastery a statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance; it was at the feet of this statue that Saint Francis de Sales, in the throes of a crippling temptation to despair, stammered a Memorare, and found himself freed from despair and filled with trust in the love of God.) And, then, go to your spiritual father and ask him to help you send all such despicable diabolical insinuations back to hell whence they came in the first place. Even if a monk has failed to implement the 72 first instruments of good works, he can still lay hold of the 73rd, and by means of it, draw down the great strong arms of the mercy of God, who desires nothing more than to lift him out of his misery and press him against His Heart.

Saint Benedict says that “the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery and stability in the community”. A monastery is, in a very real way, a “sheltered workshop”. We are, all of us, fragile men, souls at risk, travelers wearied and bruised along the way. Saint Aelred says that the “singular and supreme glory” of his abbey, Rievaulx, was that it taught “tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities”. Among the most subtle and destructive temptations that can befall a monk are those against enclosure and stability. The monk who entertains the idea of leaving the sheltered workshop of the cloister, should he carry out his design, risks leaving behind him all 73 instruments of good works, including the last one. There are too many tragic stories of monks who, having been deceived by devil and seduced into leaving the monastery, found themselves washed up amidst the flotsam and jetsome of this world’s moral wreckage. It is an old story, as old as the drama of the first pages of Genesis and of the temptations of Our Lord Himself. Saint Benedict unmasks this last temptation and assures us that for the man who perseveres, there will be, at the end, and even in little glimpses and forestastes along the way, “things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

Into the Silence of the Mother of God

DSC_6860-642x394
The Seven Utterances of the Mother of God

It is rarely noted that the Seven Utterances of the Mother of God are given us in the arc of time that stretches from the First Sunday of Advent to today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany. It is as if the Church, by entering yearly into the utterances of the Mother of God, would have us enter into her Immaculate Heart. Does not Our Lord say, «A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good . . . . For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh» (Luke 6:45).

The First Four Utterances
Our Lady speaks but seven times in the Gospels. Today’s Holy Mass and Divine Office enshrine the last of these seven utterances. The first four utterances of the Mother of God are given us in the liturgy of the Ember Days of Advent:

1. “And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1:34)

2. “And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

3.”And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:40).

4. “And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”] (Luke 1:46–55)

The Fifth Utterance
On the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany, the fifth utterance is given us:

5. “And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” (Luke 2:48)

The Sixth and Seventh Utterances
Finally, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the sixth and seventh utterances of the Mother of God. It is these that will carry us through the whole liturgical year until, the mystic circle made complete once again, we enter upon a new Advent.

6. “And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine.” (John 2:3)

7. “His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.” (John 2:5)

Into a Great Silence
After today, the Mother of God retreats into a great silence: the silence of listening to her Son’s words; the silence of contemplaring his deeds; the silence of the Via Crucis; the silence of Calvary pierced only by the words from the Cross; the silence of her Child’s lifeless body and of the tomb; the silence of Holy Saturday; the silence of the Resurrection; the silence of her wonder at the Ascension; the silence of her incandescent prayer in the Cenacle; the silence of Pentecost borne aloft on a mighty wind; and, finally, the heavenly silence of her Assumption. The Blessed Virgin Mary is, as the poet John Lynch aptly called her, «the Woman wrapped in silence». It was in silence that the Immaculate Mother of God came to Knock in 1879. It is silence — with very few exceptions and in few words — that the Queen of Heaven continues to manifest her presence in the Church.

No one can draw near to the Mother of God, the Ark of the Covenant, without entering into the silence of the heavenly sanctuary. «And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven, as it were for half an hour» (Apocalypse 8:1). What is this measure of silence? A half–hour in heaven can, in no way, be compared to the fleeting half–hours of earthly timepieces. Is this silence in heaven not brought to earth in the space of a single rosary? What is the rosary but a progressive entrance — mystery by mystery, and Ave by Ave — in the silence of heaven, into the silence of Mary?

The Maternal Heart of Mary
What does the last recorded utterance of the Blessed Virgin Mary tell us about her? It tells us, first of all, that Our Lady is attentive. No one spoke to the Mother of Jesus of the lack of wine that would have brought humiliation upon the bridegroom and troubled the joy of the feast. Mary observed quietly. She saw what would have escaped the attention of another. Her maternal Heart compelled her to intervene, and so she spoke to her Son” “They have no wine” (John 2:3).

There is no detail of our days and nights that escapes Our Lady’s notice. The maternal Heart of Mary is, at every moment, attentive to the circumstances of our lives. Mary’s silence is not the silence of one removed from those around her and absorbed in herself. It is the silence of a maternal Heart intent on observing everything that impinges upon the life of her children. There is no sorrow of ours, no need, no anguish, no temptation, and even no sin, that Our Lady does not see and take to heart.

“Woman, what is that to me and to thee? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Mary received her Son’s mysterious response not as a rebuff but as an invitation to trust or, as the Irish say, to “leave it with Him”. Our Lady had learned, from the time she laid her Jesus in the manger, to gaze into His Face and to read the light shining in His eyes. This is, I think, what happened at Cana. Our Lady looked into the eyes of her Divine Son and saw there the promise of the revelation of His glory. Turning to the waiters, she said, “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye” (John 2:5). This is the last recorded word of the Mother of God in the Gospels.

Listening to the Mother of God
“Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye” (John 2:5). There is in the Christian life a moment in which one realises that a childlike obedience to the Mother of God is the beginning of obedience to the commandments of her Son. Mary is the gateway to newness of life. “Come to me,” she says, “that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience” (Prologue, Rule of Saint Benedict). The quiet presence of Mary in one’s life and the intercession of her maternal Heart make easy the things that at first appear difficult and altogether beyond one’s strength. It is Mary who accompanies her sons along “the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God ” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter LVIII); at every step she offers encouragement and consolation.  The sacred liturgy places these words on her lips:

Listen to me, then, you that are my sons, that follow, to your happiness, in the paths I shew you; listen to the teaching that will make you wise, instead of turning away from it. Blessed are they who listen to me, keep vigil, day by day, at my threshold, watching till I open my doors. (Proverbs 8:32–34)

Jesus completes the words of His Mother, saying:

If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father’ s commandments, and do abide in his love. (John 15:10).

The sign of water changed into wine at the behest of the Mother of Jesus — and in so lavish a quantity — reveals the glory of His divinity, and causes His disciples to believe in Him, that is, to stake their lives on Him and on the efficacy of His priestly prayer:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)

The Hour of the Mother

The prayer of the Mother effectively opens hearts to the prayer of the Son. The hour of the Mother hastens the hour of the Son “whom having not seen, you love: in whom also now, though you see Him not, you believe: and believing shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified” (1 Peter 1:8). Mary’s hour is whatever hour in which her children, members of her Son’s Mystical Body, are in need of her presence. Mary’s hour is whatever hour in which her children find themselves in sore need of her intervention. Mary’s hour is the hour in which any soul turns to her in confidence, saying, “Show thyself a Mother” (Vespers Hymn, Ave Maris Stella).

Today, as at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is present in the Church, observing all things and attentive to every need. Today, even as at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary intervenes quietly and effectively, even without being asked. Today, even as at the wedding feast of Cana, she speaks to her Son on our behalf — “They have no wine” — and, then, speaks to us on His behalf — “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye”.

Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces; she is the almoner of the Divine Munificence; she is the Mother of the Mystical Body, bending over the little ones, comforting those who weep, and lifting up the fallen. So attuned is her maternal Heart to the Heart of God that she, like Him, “fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53) and causes wine to flow in abundance “lest anyone be troubled or grieved in the house of God” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter XXXI).

Support the monks of Silverstream Priory:

Silverstream Priory Logo

Founded in 2012 in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, and canonically erected in 2017, Silverstream Priory is a house of monks living under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle. The monks of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the “Opus Dei” (Work of God, the sacred Liturgy) in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” (Extraordinary Form) of the Roman Rite. As Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, they aspire to assure ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream offer their life for the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, and a publishing house, the Cenacle Press.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

Audio Homilies

Hundreds of audio homilies from Silverstream Priory may be found on our podcast site here.

Latest Comments

Categories

Archives