1. A Life of Prayer. From a wealth of glorious tradition, from the inspiring revelations of many mystics, and from reason itself, we cannot but know precisely how our Heavenly Mother passed the last years of her life. First, it must have been a life of prayer. The whole life of Our Lady was a life of prayer, since she never lost sight of the Presence of God, either before or after the Incarnation. However, towards the end of her life, this prayer was bound to be even more intense. How could she spend even one single moment without thinking of her Beloved Son? Would she not think of Him constantly? Would she not incessantly recall His words, His miracles, His preaching, His Passion and Death, His Resurrection and Ascension, His love for men?
The Gospel says that the Blessed Virgin Mary used to keep whatever Jesus said, even from childhood, deep in her heart. And apart from others, she would meditate upon His sublime words. Could she now live without this meditation, she who only lived of Jesus and for Jesus?
On the other hand, her household duties as a mother were already terminated. Her domestic cares no longer occupied her, for she was lovingly taken care of in the house of St. John. Consequently, all her time would be spent conversing with her Son, her God. It is natural to suppose that often, perhaps daily, she visited the places sanctified by the blessed Presence of her Divine Son. Let us accompany her on these visits, and see her enter the Garden of Olives, to spend there an hour, "watching" with her agonizing Son, Jesus. See her climb Mount Calvary, one by one going over the Stations of the Cross, prostrating herself at the place of the Crucifixion, kissing the tombstone of the Holy Sepulchre, and returning once more through that street of sorrows as she did on the day of her awful Compassion.
Let us ask Our Lady to accompany us; especially when we make the Stations of the Cross or meditate upon the Passion. How devout and loving would the prayer of this Spotless Virgin be!
2. A Life of Fervor. There is no holiness without fervor. How great, then, was the fervor of Mary, since her holiness was so great. Can you even imagine that she could do anything carelessly, ungracefully, distractedly, or simply because she had to do it? Rather, she was always endeavoring to serve God as a sincere handmaid, always better and always more, with an ever-increasing charity, uprightness of intention, and interest.
On the road to true holiness, to stop is to go back. Imagine, then, how great must have been the growth in virtue of that Heavenly Lady. While thinking of this, we should be ashamed of ourselves in her presence. She, always pure, always holy, always full of grace, strives nevertheless ceaselessly after an even higher degree of virtue, never stopping while we -- what are we doing? Let our hearts give the answer.
3. A Eucharistic Life. Her life during those years must have been an intense Eucharistic life. Who could ever receive Holy Communion in such a way as to be compared with her faith and fervor? If Holy Communion is the most intimate union of the soul with God, how fervent would her Communions be! It would seem to her that the Incarnation was renewed in every Holy Communion. On receiving Jesus she would again feel the effective, real and true Presence of her Son. Not a day would pass without her receiving Our Lord. Her Holy Communion would be the central action of every day. The whole day would seem far too short for her preparation and thanksgiving.
If the saints say that only one Holy Communion would suffice to make a saint, what effects would it have on the soul of Our Lady? In certain souls the effects of their devout Holy Communions are conspicuous. Let us try, then, to imagine what Holy Communion meant for the Immaculate Mother of God. We should also center our lives around the Holy Eucharist. Holy Communion, Holy Hours, and Visits to the Blessed Sacrament must be the most important acts of our lives. Let us remember Mary, let us imitate her, pray to her, entreat her not to abandon us; and let us ask her to teach us how to receive Holy Communion well.
4. A Life of Sacrifice.
a) In obedience, not only to the positive laws of God, but also to whatever St. Peter and the Apostles laid down for the welfare of the Christian Community. She never asked for an exception; she never believed herself exempt from any rule. She was the first to obey and submit herself to God's holy Will. With the eyes of a pure faith, she saw the representatives of God in those vested with His authority. And in their commands she saw the will of God alone.
b) In Poverty, for she lived on alms as her Divine Son had done. She was satisfied with whatever distributions the Apostles made to the widows and the other poor amongst the faithful. She never sought any distinction on account of her unsurpassed dignity. Many believe that Our Lady so loved that poverty which she had seen so fervently and lovingly practiced by Jesus, that she was the first to take the vow of poverty, becoming thereby the model of so many souls who, in her pure footsteps, would forsake all of their worldly possessions in order to belong to God alone.
c) In Mortification. As St. Ambrose tells us, her temperance and abstinence were admirable and even heavenly. She would eat in the most simple and ordinary manner. She would very often practice fasts and penances. Watching the greater part of the night in a vigil of prayer, she would rest no longer than the time that was necessary. In comparing our lives with hers, we realize how little we are entitled to boast of our few paltry sacrifices.
5. A Most Pure and Virginal Life. She, ever a Virgin, towards the end of her life, perfumed with the memory of her virtues, showed an even greater love for the beautiful lily of virginity. She wanted, it would seem, to leave a legacy for our imitation. The one whom the Church greets with the liturgical anthem: "Holy and Immaculate Virgin, we know not with what human words we could worthily praise thee!" is our very own Mother, the Virgin of virgins. Let us imitate her external modesty; let us eagerly treasure and conceal within the depths of our souls the priceless treasure of chastity and purity.
6. A Life of Love and Charity Towards Souls. She would constantly pray for all, and especially for poor sinners. Would not those prayers be the cause of the first miraculous conversions brought about by the Apostles? How she prayed for the enemies of the Church! How she prayed for Saul, so as to transform him into Saint Paul. Moreover, that love for souls used to shine forth by assisting all with her words, teaching them the mysteries of the Faith that she knew so well, encouraging the faithful, especially by her example. The example of her life was like a beautiful sermon. Would that we ourselves were like her. Let us pray to our Heavenly Mother to obtain for us the grace of imitating, at least in some small way, her holy, pure, and Immaculate Life.
1. Her Gentle Passage Into Eternity. The Blessed Virgin Mary, although not bound by the law of death, truly did die. Death, however, being the punishment of sin, in her case it could not be so, for she had not contracted Original Sin, neither had any actual sin or the slightest stain or the most insignificant imperfection ever soiled her Immaculate being. However, she wished to die that she might in this manner imitate her Son, Who also underwent death; that she might have her merits increased by going through that terrible humiliation, never deserved by her; and above all that her death might be an example and consolation for us at the moment of our death.
Jesus willed to die in order to give an abundance of satisfaction for us, and to conquer the death of sin through His own Death; to show us that He was truly man, equal to us, capable of suffering, of feeling, of dying like the rest of mankind; and to experience in Himself the anguish of that hour so as to be an admirable example of fortitude and patience for us in our agony. If it was then fitting for Christ to die, His Mother also desired to follow Her Divine Son in death. She had voluntarily offered Him up upon the Cross for us, thus becoming our Co-Redemptrix. She wished to seal her sublime participation in the Redemption by allowing death also to consummate her life.
Her death, however, was free from every other punishment common to sinners. So sweet and tranquil was her loving passage into eternity, that it merits the unique title of the Dormition of Mary, her "falling asleep" in the Lord.
In dwelling upon this reality of the death of our Mother Mary, let us consider the impending reality of our own death. We must all certainly die, because if death entered the world through sin, our own sins have deserved death a thousand times! With our death we must atone for our offenses against God.
2. A Death of Love. After the Ascension of Our Divine Lord, the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary was scarcely maintained upon earth, on account of the violence with which she loved her Divine Son, and desired to be with Him. Love completely consumed her. On account of Divine love, St. Teresa of Jesus felt like dying because she could not actually die. Blessed Imelda died in an ecstasy of love. So many other saints, being unable to stand the fire of love which consumed them, actually died of it. What then, can we say of the Heart of Mary? The astonishing thing is that she could still live. A continuous miracle was needed, else she must long ago have died of love.
Have you ever seen a tree heavily laden with fruit, barely able to hold its branches aloft? Such was the case with our Heavenly Mother. She was a fruit-laden tree. Her soul could hardly bear the weight of so much grace whose fullness she had possessed from the first instant of her life. And that precious weight went on increasing without ceasing for one single moment. How could that body, so pure, holy, and immaculate, contain that soul, which from her Conception was being drawn with an irresistible strength towards Heaven?
Moreover, how powerful would that attraction be with which the soul of our Mother gravitated towards Jesus! How vehement would the longing be with which that most pure dove was urged to fly to Him! Those words of the Psalm: Alas! How has my exile been lengthened, how long have I been living with the dwellers of Cedar. How long has my soul been a pilgrim in this life, undoubtedly were written of her. At times, with even more ardor than holy David, she would exclaim: Oh God, my whole soul longs for thee, as a deer for running water. My whole soul thirsts for God, the living God. Shall I never again make my pilgrimage into God's Presence? Finally, with the Angels, she would utter those words of the Canticle of Canticles, I charge thee, O maidens of the Heavenly Jerusalem; if you find my Beloved, tell him that I faint away with love.
Every moment would that sweet holocaust burning within her soul increase until it consumed Her completely. Oh, that we could love God in this manner, and be entirely consumed by His love!
3. A Sweet Agony. God could no more resist these loving longings and finally resolved to acquiesce. According to tradition, God sent the Archangel Gabriel with this sweet message: "Hail Mary, Thou full of grace today much more than on the day of the Annunciation! The Lord has yielded to thy longing, and sends me to inform thee to make ready to quit the earth, since thou art going to be crowned in Heaven. Make haste, then, because all the Angels are longing for the day when they will keep thee in their company as their Queen and Mistress." Listen again to the answer of this most humble Virgin on hearing this embassy. Again she prostrates herself on the ground and repeats: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to Thy word!"
The beloved disciple, St. John, has become aware that his loving Mother is about to depart for Heaven. He can scarcely bear the thought of it. How can he live, accustomed as he was to her maternal glances, to her tender fondness of the virgin disciple to whom Jesus had entrusted her from the Cross? How great will be his sorrow! He had received Mary in legacy, as a most cherished treasure upon Calvary! He had eagerly kept this most precious treasure of the earth. He had looked after her with so much care; and now death is going to wrest her from him!
The sorrow of all the other Apostles and disciples, of all the Christians and especially those holy, pious women in whose company our Lady had been living would be scarcely less. How sad and desolate must have been that departure for them all! But for Mary it was ineffably sweet; and she would certainly try to ease the separation by telling those around her: "Do not weep. It is good for you that I go in order to look after you from Heaven. I shall never fail you until the end of time." This promise of Our Lady is most consoling for us. How true it is that Our Lady is always with us! The Church is not sad, nor does She don mournful vestments on the anniversary of Mary's death. Rather does she array herself in festive garments. The death of saints is precious, says the Holy Scripture. What, then, could be said of the death of Mary? St. John Damascene tells us that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself came for her last Holy Communion, and said to her: "Receive, O noble Lady and Mother of Mine, from My Own Hands the Body that thou gavest unto Me, the One shaped in thy most pure womb." And Our Lady answered: "My dearest Son, into Thy hands I entrust my soul!" And then, bidding that most holy soul come forth from that holy body, He took her into His Arms, exclaiming: "Come now, My Beautiful One, My Dove, come because the winter is over in this vale of tears. Come up from Lebanon and thou shalt be crowned."
So the Blessed Virgin Mary died in the only way that she could, of love. St. Francis de Sales says the Angels, if they were mortal, would die of the same cause. Would that we could have a similar death! Let us not forget that death is merely a reflection of our life. Do we wish to die like our Mother Mary? Let us then live like unto her. Neither help nor protection will ever be wanting from her. So let there not be lacking, for our part, that constant and true devotion to Mary which will ensure us a sweet and holy death. Let us ask that grace daily from our Beloved Mother.
Apostle of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
St. John Eudes, born in France in 1601, spent twenty years as a member of the French Oratory. This most zealous priest then founded the Congregation of the Priests of Jesus and Mary, the Eudist Fathers, and the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity (Good Shepherd Sisters). In addition to the activities of an incessant and many-sided apostolate, he wrote a number of valuable books. Among them was the classical treasure, "The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God", which ranked him among the most prolific ascetic writers of the seventeenth century.
It is well worth noting that Holy Mother Church, in the course of the process of beatification and canonization of St. John Eudes, has graphically emphasized the part which he played in establishing the liturgical worship of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The decree dealing with his heroic practice of the virtues refers to him as "the author of the worship." The brief of beatification develops the same idea: "What places the finishing touch to the services rendered by John to the Church is that, burning himself with extraordinary love for the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, he was the first to think, not without divine inspiration, of rendering them specific liturgical worship. He should then be regarded as the Father of this gracious form of religious devotion, for, from the institution of his congregation of priests, he took care to have the solemn feasts of these Hearts celebrated by his sons; he should be regarded as the Doctor, because he composed proper offices and Masses in their honor; and, finally as the Apostle, because he did all in his power to spread this salutary devotion."
The feast of St. John Eudes is observed on August 19th.
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