TAKEN FROM THE GLORIES OF MARY
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1931
Since the fall of Adam, the senses being rebellious to reason, chastity is of all virtues the one that is the most difficult to practise. St. Augustine says: "Of all the combats in which we are engaged, the most severe are those of chastity; its battles are of daily occurrence, but victory is rare." May God be ever praised, however, Who in Mary has given us a great example of this virtue.
"With reason," says Blessed Albertus Magnus, "is Mary called the Virgin of virgins; for she, without the counselor example of others, was the first who offered her virginity to God." Thus did she bring all virgins who imitate her to God, as David had already foretold: After her shall virgins be brought ... into the temple of the King. [Ps. 44:15] Without counsel and without example. Yes; for St. Bernard says: "O Virgin, who taught thee to please God by virginity, and to lead an Angel's life on earth?" "Ah," replies St. Sophronius, "God chose this most pure virgin for His Mother, that she might be an example of chastity to all." Therefore does St. Ambrose call Mary "the standard-bearer of virginity."
By reason of her purity the Blessed Virgin was also declared by the Holy Ghost to be beautiful as the turtle dove: Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle-dove's. [Cant. 1:9] "Mary," says Aponius, "was a most pure turtle dove." For the same reason she was also called a lily: As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters. [Cant. 2:2] On this passage Denis the Carthusian remarks, that "Mary was compared to a lily amongst thorns, because all other virgins were thorns, either to themselves or to others; but that the Blessed Virgin was so neither to herself nor to others;" for she inspired all who looked at her with chaste thoughts. This is confirmed by St. Thomas, who says, that the beauty of the Blessed Virgin was an incentive to chastity in all who beheld her. St. Jerome declared that it was his opinion that St. Joseph remained a virgin by living with Mary; for, writing against the heretic Helvidius, who denied Mary's virginity, he says, "Thou sayest that Mary did not remain a virgin. I say that not only she remained a virgin, but even that Joseph preserved his virginity through Mary."
St. Gregory of Nyssa, says, that so much did the Blessed Virgin love this virtue, that, to preserve it, she would have been willing to renounce even the dignity of Mother of God. This we may conclude from her answer to the Archangel, How shall this be done, because I know not man? [Luke 1:34] and from the words she afterwards added, Be it done to me according to thy Word, [Ibid., 38] signifying that she gave her consent on the condition that as the Angel had assured her, she should become a Mother only by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.
St. Ambrose says, that "whoever has preserved chastity is an Angel, and that he who has lost it is a devil." "Our Lord assures us that those who are chaste become Angels, They shall be as the Angels of God in Heaven. [Matt. 22:30] But the impure becomes as devils, hateful in the sight of God. St. Remigius used to say that the greater part of adults are lost by this vice. Seldom, as we have already said with St. Augustine, is a victory gained over this vice. But why? It is because the means by which it may be gained are seldom made use of.
These means are three, according to Bellarmine and the masters of a spiritual life: fasting, the avoidance of dangerous occasions, and prayer.
1. By fasting, is to be understood especially mortification of the eyes and of the appetite. Although our Blessed Lady was full of Divine grace, yet she was so mortified in her eyes, that, according to St. Epiphanius and St. John Damascene, she always kept them cast down, and never fixed them on anyone; and they say that from her very childhood her modesty was such, that it filled everyone who saw her with astonishment. Hence St. Luke remarks, that, in going to visit St. Elizabeth, she went with haste, that she might be less seen in public. Philibert relates, that, as to her food, it was revealed to a hermit named Felix, that when a baby she only took milk once a day. St. Gregory of Tours affirms that throughout her life she fasted; and St. Bonaventure adds, "that Mary would never have found so much grace, had she not been most moderate in her food; for grace and gluttony cannot subsist together." In fine, Mary was mortified in all, so that of her it was said my hands dropped with myrrh. [Cant. 5:5]
2, The second means is to fly the occasions of sin: He that is aware of the snares shall be secure. [Prov. 11:15] Hence St. Philip Neri says, that, "in the war of the senses, cowards conquer:" that is to say those who fly from dangerous occasions. Mary fled as much as possible from the sight of men; and therefore St. Luke remarks; that in going to visit St. Elizabeth, she went with haste into the hill country. An author observes, that the Blessed Virgin left St. Elizabeth before St. John was born, as we learn from the same Gospel, where it is said, that Mary abode with her about three months, and she returned to her own house. Now Elizabeth's full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son. [Luke 1:56] And why did she not wait for this event? It was that she might avoid the conversations and visits which would accompany it.
3. The third means is prayer. And as I knew, said the wise man, that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it ... I went to the Lord and besought Him. [Wisd. 8:21] The Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, that she acquired no virtue without effort and continual prayer. St. John Damascene says, that Mary "is pure, and a lover of purity." Hence she cannot endure those who are unchaste. But whoever has recourse to her will certainly be delivered from this vice, if he only pronounces her name with confidence. The Venerable John d' Avila' used to say, "that many have conquered impure temptations by only having devotion to her Immaculate Conception."
O Mary, O most pure dove, how many are now in Hell on account of this vice! Sovereign Lady, obtain us the grace always to have recourse to thee in our temptations, and always to invoke thee, saying, "Mary, Mary, help us." Amen.