Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

Mary our protector in our present life


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287. Mary our protector in our present life

Critical ed. in G. Bosco, Il mese di maggio…, pp. 169-175 (OE X, 463-469).

1. In the midst of the world we are as though on a stormy sea, as if in exile, in a vale of tears. Mary is Star of the Sea, our comfort in exile, the light pointing the way to heaven while she dries our tears. Our tender mother does this by obtaining for us constant spiritual and temporal aid. We cannot go to any city or town where there is not a monument to the graces that Mary has obtained for those who are devoted to her. Leaving aside the many famous sanctuaries of Christendom where testimonies of graces received hang by the thousands from the walls, I would point simply to the Consolata which we are lucky to have here in Turin. Enter those sacred walls, dear reader, with the faith of the good Christian and look at the signs of gratitude shown to Mary for benefits received. In one place you see a sick person given up by the doctors restored to health. In another, the grace received by someone freed from fever; in yet another place someone healed of gangrene. Here is a grace received by someone freed from the hands of assassins through Mary's intercession, while there is another one from someone saved from being crushed under a falling rock someone else saved from floods or given peace of mind. Then if you look at the small square in front of the sanctuary, you see a monument the city of Turin erected to Mary in 1835 when freed from the deadly cholera which was afflicting nearby towns.

2. The favours indicated are only about temporal needs, so what can we say of the spiritual graces that Mary has obtained and does obtain for her devotees? We would have to write huge volumes to list the spiritual graces that her devotees have received and receive every day by the hand of this great benefactress of the human race. How many virgins owe the preservation of their state to her protection! How many of the afflicted have been comforted! How many passions have been overcome! How many martyrs have been strengthened! How many snares of the devil have been overcome! Saint Bernard, after listing a range of favours Mary obtained for her devotees every day, finishes by saying that everything good that comes from God, comes through Mary: “Totum nos Deus habere voluit per Mariam.”

3. Nor is she only the Help of Christians, but also the support of the Universal Church. All the titles we give her recall some favour; all the solemnities celebrated in the Church had their origin in some great miracle, from some extraordinary grace Mary obtained on behalf of the Church. How many confused heretics, how many heresies rooted out, to the point that the Church expresses her gratitude by saying to Mary: “Tu sola, o gran Vergine, fosti colei, che sradicasti tutte le eresie: Cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo.”

Examples - We will refer to some examples that confirm the great favours Mary obtains for her devotees. Let us begin with the Ave Maria. The angelic greeting, Ave Maria is made up of words said by the Angel to the Blessed Virgin and the ones St Elizabeth added when Mary went to visit her. The 'holy Mary' was added by the Church in the 5th century. During this century a heretic called Nestorius lived in Constantinople. He was a man filled with pride. He added to his impiety by publicly denying the Blessed Virgin the august name of Mother of God. This was a heresy that aimed at knocking down all the principles of our holy Religion. The people of Constantinople trembled with indignation at such blasphemy, and to clarify the truth petitions were sent to the Supreme Pontiff called Celestine at the time, begging him to repair the scandal. In the year 431 the Pontiff called a General Council together in Ephesus, a city in Asia Minor on the banks of the Archipelago. Bishops from all across the Catholic world came to this Council. St Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, presided in the Pope's name. All the people from morning to evening stood at the doors of the church where the bishops were meeting. Then the doors opened and St Cyril appeared at the head of 200 or more bishops and they heard him pronounced the condemnation of the wicked Nestorius. Word of jubilation resounded in every corner of the city. The following words were heard in the mouths of everyone: “Mary's enemy has been vanquished! Long live Mary! Long live the great, the excellent, the glorious Mother of God.” It was then that the Church added those other words to the Ave Maria: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. Amen. The other words, “now and at the hour of our death”, were introduced by the Church in later times. The solemn declaration of the Council of Ephesus, the august title of Mother of God given to Mary, was then confirmed by other Councils, until the Church instituted the Feast of the Motherhood of Mary celebrated every year on the second Sunday of October. Nestorius, who dared rebel against the Church and blaspheme against the great Mother of God, was severely punished in this life too.

Another example. At the time of St Gregory the Great a great pestilence was affecting many parts of Europe and especially Rome. To bring this scourge to an end Saint Gregory called on the protection of the great Mother of God. Amongst the public works of penance he ordered a solemn procession to the miraculous image of Mary venerated in the basilica of Liberius, today known as St Mary Major. Little by little as the procession took place the contagious disease disappeared from the streets, until they reached the place where there was Hadrian's tomb (and this is why it is now called Castel Sant’Angelo), where an angel appeared in human form above it. He placed his bloody sword in its scabbard as a sign that God's wrath had subsided and that through the intercession of Mary the terrible scourge was to cease. At the same time the choirs of angels were heard singing the hymn: “Regina coeli laetare alleluia.” The holy pontiff added two more verses to this hymn with its prayer and from that time it began to be used by the faithful to honour the Virgin during the Easter season, a time of joy at the Saviour's Resurrection. Benedict XIV granted the same Indulgences as for the Angelus Domini to the faithful who say it during Easter time. Saying the Angelus is a very ancient usage in the Church. Since we do not know the precise hour of the Annunciation, whether it was morning or evening, the early faithful greeted her on both occasions with the Ave Maria. From that came the alter custom of ringing the bells on those two occasions, to remind Christians of this pious habit. We believe this was introduced by Pope Urban II in 1088. He ordered this to encourage Christians to return to Mary by praying to her in the morning for her protection in the war that was raging at the time between Christians and Turks, and in the evening to beg her for peace and harmony between Christian Princes. Gregory IX in 1221 also added the ringing of bells at midday. The Pontiffs enriched this devotional exercise with many indulgences. Benedict XIII in 1724 granted an indulgence of 100 days every time it was said and a plenary indulgence for whoever said it for an entire month, so long as one day during the month they went to confession and communion.

Brief prayer: O Mary our advocate, / dispenser of every grace, // messenger of salvation / to both the just and the sinner. // From heaven, merciful mother, / cast your eye on those devoted to you, // hear our prayers, / o great Mother of Our Lord.
288. A way of ensuring Mary's protection

Critical ed. in G. Bosco, Il mese di maggio…, pp. 179-183 (OE X, 473-477).

1. Now that we have finished Mary's month, I consider it good to conclude it by giving you some useful reminders to ensure the protection of this great mother of ours in life and in death. Since Mary is our mother, she must certainly abhor the outrages committed against her Son, Jesus. Therefore whoever wants to enjoy her patronage in life and in death smut abstain from sin. Our hope would be in vain if we believed we enjoyed Mary's protection, while offending her Son Jesus whom she loves above everything else. We must not only avoid offending Jesus, but with every effort of our heart meditate on the divine mysteries of his passion, and follow him in penance. Mary herself one days told St Brigid: “My daughter, if you want to do something very pleasing to me, love my Son Jesus with all your heart.” Mary is the refuge of sinners, therefore we must also take holy advice, act with solicitude, prayer, good books and in other ways lead souls to Jesus and increase Mary's children. Jesus has nothing closer to his heart than the salvation of souls. Therefore Mary, who loves her son tenderly, can receive no more pleasing gift than that which wins over another soul. We should also try to offer her a victory over some passion of ours. So if someone who is choleric by nature and often shows impatience, or bursts into curses and blasphemies, or has contracted the habit of speaking badly and with little respect for religious matters, that person should restrain his tongue as a pleasing gift to the Virgin. So in a few words, each one should try to avoid what is bad and do what is good out of love for Mary.

2. Amongst the many good things we can do for Mary are to prepare to celebrate her solemnities devoutly with triduums, novenas, octaves as you would normally do or as is done in public churches and also private homes. St Elizabeth Queen of Portugal on Saturdays and on all the vigils leading up to the Feast of the Virgin, fasted on bread and water. Some others used go to confession and communion every Sunday and Feast Day, as did St Aloysius Gonzaga, St Stanislaus Kostka and others. Others give alms to beggars and give them in suffrage for the souls who were most devoted to Mary when alive. There are also some devotees of Mary who often attend Mass in her honour with the intention of thanking the Holy Trinity who raised Mary to the most beautiful throne in heaven. Others revere her with special devotion to the Saints who were her closest relatives, like St Joseph her most holy Spouse, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne her most fortunate parents.

3. There are also special devotional practices that are like tongues of fire that make this compassionate Mother burn with love for us. For example the Angelus in the morning, at midday and in the evening, the rosary every day or at least on Sundays, attending Vespers, practices of piety on Saturday in honour of her Immaculate Heart. But I recommend that every evening before going to bed you say the following three times: Dear Mother Mary ever Virgin, help me to save my soul. Then let us always remember that being devoted to Mary is one of the most secure means of reaching eternal life. She herself assures us of this by saying: “Those who are devoted to me will have eternal life”, “Qui elucidant me, vitam aeternam habebunt.” [Eccles. 24:31].

Example - I recommend that you never let a Saturday pass without doing something in Mary's honour. From the earliest times of the Church Christians used practise some devotion to the Virgin on Saturdays. Saturday means rest day and was chosen to refer to rest or the abode the Divine Word chose to make of Mary's most pure womb. One of the warmest propagators of the cult of Mary on Saturdays was Saint Ildephonsus the archbishop of Toledo. He had written some hymns in praise of the Mother of Mercy and on the following Saturday heard the angels singing them in church with the Blessed Virgin herself amongst them. After this the Saturday practice spread rapidly throughout Europe. From the tenth century abstinence from meat was practised on that day in Mary's honour. Soon after, the Mass and Office for that day were written. Both the Mass and the Office were approved by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095. We should never let go any Saturday without practising some act of virtue in honour of Mary, and got to Holy Communion if we can or at least let's hear a Mass for the repose of the souls in purgatory.

Brief prayer: Oh if I could see you one day / all loving hearts would languish / for such a beautiful queen and at hearing her / name praised everywhere. / / And so on earth / it may resound everywhere with sweet harmony, / long live, long live Mary forever, / long live God who loved her so.
289. Mary shows her zeal and power with her son

at the wedding in Cana

Critical ed. in Giovanni Bosco, Maraviglie della madre di Dio invocata sotto il titolo di Maria Ausiliatrice. Torino, Tip. Dell’Oratorio di S. Franc. di Sales 1868, pp. 31-37 (OE XX, 223-229).

In St John's Gospel we find a fact that clearly shows Mary's power and zeal in coming quickly to our aid. We are referring to what St John the Evangelist tells us in Chapter 2.

At Cana in Galilee there was a wedding and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. Since they were running out of wine, his mother said to Jesus: "They have no more wine." And Jesus said to her: "Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants: "Do whatever he tells you." Nearby stood six stone water jars of the kind the Jews use for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to them: "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them to the brim. Then Jesus told them: "Now draw from these and take it to the master of the banquet." And they did so. As soon as he had tasted the water changed into wine, the master of the banquet, who did not realise where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said: "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper one after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now." What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Here St John Chrysostom asks: “Why did Mary wait for this occasion at the wedding feast at Cana to invite Jesus to do miracles yet did not ask him before?” He answers that Mary did so ouy of a spirit of submission to Divine Providence. Jesus had lived a hidden life for thirty years. And Mary, who preserved within all that Jesus did, “conservabat haec omnia conferens in corde suo”, as St Luke tells us (Chapter 2, v. 19), venerated Jesus' humiliation in respectful silence. Then when she noted that Jesus had begun his public life, that St John in the desert had already begun to speak about Jesus in his preaching and that Jesus already had some disciples, then with the movement of grace, and in the same spirit of union with Jesus with which she had respected his remaining hidden for thirty years, she put her request to ask him to perform a miracle and show himself to men.

Saint Bernard saw Mary's great delicacy in the words “vinum non habent”, “they have no wine”. Hers was not a lengthy request to Jesus as Lord, nor did she command him as to a son; all she did was proclaim the need, the lack of wine. With hearts that are kind and tending to help, grace does not need to be wrested from them through tricks and violence; it is enough to suggest the occasion (St Bernard, Serm. 4 in Cant.).

The angelic doctor, St Thomas, admires in this brief prayer Mary's tenderness and mercy. Inasmuch as it is proper to mercy to consider other's needs its own, and since the word 'merciful' [misericordia] means a heart made for the miserable, to lift up the miserable, he quotes St Paul's words to the Corinthians: "Quis infirmatur et ego non infirmor?" [2 Cor 11:29]. “Who is weak and I do not feel weak?” Now since Mary was full of mercy, she wanted to provide for the needs of the guests and the Gospel says: “They have no wine”, Jesus' mother told him. So St Bernard encourages us to have recourse to Mary because if she had so much compassion for the shame those poor people would feel and provided for them although they had not asked, how much more pity will she have on us if we call on her with faith? (St Bernard, Serm. 2 Dominicae II Epif.).

Saint Thomas again praises Mary's concern and diligence in not waiting for the wine to completely run out so the guests would notice and it would disgrace their hosts. As soon as the need became imminent she came to their aid just at the right moment, according to Ps 9: “Adiutor in opportunitatibus, in tribulatione.” [Ps. 9:10].

Mary's kindness to us as demonstrated in this fact shines out mainly in what she did after her divine son answered her. After hearing Jesus' words a less confident less courageous soul than Mary would have desisted from hoping further. Mary instead was not disturbed in any way and turned to those serving the tables to say to them: “Do what he tells you.” “Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite.” (Jn 2:5). It was as if she said: “Although you might seem to be saying no, you will do it just the same.” (Bede).

The learned P. Silveira lists a large number of virtues that shine out in these words of Mary's. The Virgin (this writer says) gave a shining example of faith, despite hearing her son's hard response: “What has this to do with me?” but she did not hesitate. When faith is perfect it does not hesitate before any kind of adversity. She taught trust: for although she heard words from her son that seemed to be in the negative, indeed as the Venerable Bede quoted above says, the Virgin could well believe that Christ had refused her request, just the same she went ahead against hope, trusting inn her son's mercy. She taught love for God, getting him to manifest his glory through a miracle. She taught obedience while persuading the servants to obey God not in just one or another thing, but in everything without distinction; “quodcumque dixerit” [Jn 2:5], “whatever he tells you.” She also gave an example of modesty by not profiting from the occasion to glory in her role as mother of such a son, since she did not say: “Whatever my son will tell you” but left it in the simple third person. She also inspired reverence for God by pronouncing the holy name of Jesus. “"I have never discovered” this author says “in the Scriptures that the Blessed Virgin said this holy name because of the great veneration she had for it.” She gave an example of promptness in that she did not exhort them to listen to him but to do what he said. And finally she taught prudence with mercy, since she told the servants to do whatever he told them, so that when they understood Jesus' command to fill the water jars, they did not think it was silly: it was just the right amount to mercifully and prudently prevent others falling into difficulty. (P. Silveira, tom. 2, lib. 4, quest. 21).

290. Mary chosen as Help of Christians on Calvary

by the dying Jesus

Critical ed. in G. Bosco, Maraviglie della madre di Dio…, pp. 37-42

(OE XX, 229-234).

We find the most splendid proof that Mary is the Help of Christians on Mount Calvary. While Jesus was hanging in agony on the cross, Mary overcame her natural weakness and helped him with unheard of strength. It seemed that there was nothing more left for Jesus to do to show how much he loved us. But his affection for us meant he found one more gift that would seal all the other benefits. From up on the cross he turned his dying gaze to his mother, the one treasure of his on earth still left. “Woman,” Jesus said to Mary, “behold your son”, then he said to John the disciple: “Behold your mother.” “From that time on,” the Evangelist concludes, “the disciple took her into his home.”

The Fathers recognise three great truths in these words: 1. That John succeeded Jesus as Mary's son in everything; 2. That everything about Mary's motherhood for Jesus was now applied to her new son John; 3. That in the person of John Jesus meant to include all of human kind.

By her loving cooperation in the ministry of the Redemption Mary, says St Bernardine of Siena, “Mary truly generated the life of grace for us on Calvary.” In the order of salvation we are all born from Mary's sorrows as from the love of the Eternal Father and her son's sufferings. In those precious moments Mary became strictly our mother.

The circumstances which accompanied this solemn act of Jesus on Calvary confirm what we are saying. The words Jesus chose are generic and appealing, observed P. Silveira, but they are enough to let us know that here we are dealing with a universal mystery which includes not just one man but all those to whom we can apply the title of beloved disciple of Jesus. Since the Lord's words are a broad and solemn declaration that Jesus' mother has become the mother of all Christians: “Ioannes est nomen particulare, discipulus commune ut denotetur quod Maria omnibus detur in matrem.”

Jesus on the cross was not a simple victim of the Jews' malice, but a universal bridge acting on behalf of all human kind. So in the same way he asked forgiveness for those who crucified him he obtained it for all sinners; by opening paradise to the good thief he opened it to all penitents. Just as the crucifiers on Calvary, according to St Paul's forceful expression, represented all sinners and the good thief all true penitents, so St John represents all true disciples of Jesus, the Christians, the Catholic Church. As St Augustine said, Mary became the true Eve, mother of all who are spiritually alive, Mater viventium; or as St Ambrose states, “mother of all believers”, “Mater omnium credentium.”

Mary, by becoming our mother on Mount Calvary, not only had the title Help of Christians, but acquired that role, that magisterium, that duty. So we have a sacred right to call on Mary's help. This right has been consecrated by Jesus' word and guaranteed by Mary's motherly tenderness. Now that Mary had interpreted the intention of Jesus Christ on the cross in this sense and that he made her mother and help of all Christians, her conduct from then on proves it. We know from those who have written about her life how much zeal she has shown throughout the ages for the salvation of the world and for the increase and glory of the holy Church. She guided and counselled the apostles and disciples, encouraged them to keep the faith, preserve grace and make it effective. From the Acts of the Apostles we know how she attended the religious gatherings of the early faithful in Jerusalem, since the divine mysteries were never celebrated without her taking part. When Jesus went up to Heaven she followed him with the disciples to the Mount of Olives, the place of the Ascension. When the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, she was there in the upper room with them. Thus St Luke tells us after naming the disciples gathered in the upper room one by one: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus.”

Moreover the apostles and disciples and all the Christians living at that time in Jerusalem and surrounds, came to Mary to be advised and guided.

291. The title “Help”

Critical ed. in Giovanni Bosco, Associazione de’ divoti di Maria Ausiliatrice canonicamente eretta nella chiesa a lei dedicata in Torino. Con ragguaglio storico su questo titolo. Torino,

Tip. dell’Orat. di S. Franc. di Sales 1869, pp. 5-9 (OE XXI, 343-347).

The title 'Auxilium' (Help), attributed to the august mother of our Saviour, is not something new. In the Holy Books themselves, Mary is called the Queen who stands at her divine Son's right hand side, dressed in gold and surrounded by beauty. “Adstitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate.” (Ps 45:10). This mantle is arrayed with gold, according to the spirit of the Church, as well as gems and diamonds, or the titles with which we usually call on Mary. So when we call the Blessed Virgin Help of Christians, it is but a special title, one that is appropriate for her, like a diamond on her gilded clothing. Mary was greeted this way, Help of humankind, from the earliest times in the world when Adam, falling into sin, was promised a liberator to be born of a woman, and whose immaculate feet would squash the head of the insidious serpent.

In fact this great woman is symbolised by the tree of life to be found in the earthly paradise, by Noah's Ark, which saved those who adored the true God from the flood, by Jacob's ladder, which reached up to Heaven, by Moses' bush, burning but not burning up, and which alludes to Mary who remained a Virgin after giving birth, by the Ark of the Covenant, by the Tower of David, defence against every assault, by the rose of Jericho, by the sealed fountain, by the well-cultivated garden looked after by Solomon. She is found in the aqueduct of blessing, in Gideon's fleece. Elsewhere she is called Star of Jacob, as beautiful as the moon, shining like the sun, iris of peace, pupil of God's eye, the dawn of consolation, virgin and mother and parent of her Lord. These symbols and expressions which the Church applies to Mary, make God's providential design clear. He wanted to make her known before his birth as the first amongst all creatures, most excellent protectress, help and support, even the one who would repair the evils to which the human race succumbed.

In the New Testament she is not only called help of mankind in general, through symbols and prophecies but the help, support and defence of Christians. No longer symbolic expressions and figures; everything is the fulfilment and realisation of the past. Mary is greeted by the Archangel Gabriel who calls her full of grace; God beholds the great humility of Mary and raises her up to the dignity of being mother of the Eternal Word. Jesus, great God, becomes Mary's child. He is born of her, raised, helped grow up, and the Eternal Word made flesh submits in complete obedience to his august mother. At her request Jesus worked his first miracles in Cana in Galilee; on Calvary she became mother of all Christians. The Apostles had her as guide and teacher in virtue. They gathered to pray with her in the Upper Room; they waited there with her in prayer and finally received the Holy Spirit. Her last words were to the Apostles and then she flew gloriously to heaven.

From her high throne of glory she gazes down with motherly affection, saying: “Ego in altissimis habito, ut ditem diligentes me et thesauros eorum repleam. On my high throne of glory I enrich those who love me and fill their treasuries with heavenly favours.” Since her Assumption into heaven the constant, uninterrupted flow of Christians to Mary began and it was never heard, St Bernard says, that one who had recourse to this most blessed Virgin, was never heard. Here is the reason why every century, each year, each day and we could say, each moment is marked in history by some great favour granted to someone who called on her with trust. Here is the reason why each kingdom, every city, country, family has a church, a chapel, an altar, a statue, a picture, or some sign recalling the universal veneration for Mary and which at the same time reminds one of the many graces granted to those who have recourse to her for the necessities of life.

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