Friday, March 25, 2011

St. Ambrose on the Blessed Virgin Mary


Annunciation (circa 1644) by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
- Read about the painting and artist here -

"And the Word was made flesh..."

Todays is the Solemnity of the Annunciation.  As I pondered what to say about this feast day, I went browsing through the Fathers of the Church at New Advent's magnificent online collection.  I decided to look at what St. Ambrose had to say about Mary.  This is from Concerning Virgins - Book II, Chaper 2.


7. The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbours? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? Being wont only to go to such gatherings of men as mercy would not blush at, nor modesty pass by. There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant, that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the very threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within.


8. Why should I detail her spareness of food, her abundance of services— the one abounding beyond nature, the other almost insufficient for nature? And there were no seasons of slackness, but days of fasting, one upon the other. And if ever the desire for refreshment came, her food was generally what came to hand, taken to keep off death, not to minister to comfort. Necessity before inclination caused her to sleep, and yet when her body was sleeping her soul was awake, and often in sleep either went again through what had been read, or went on with what had been interrupted by sleep, or carried out what had been designed, or foresaw what was to be carried out.


9. She was unaccustomed to go from home, except for divine service, and this with parents or kinsfolk. Busy in private at home, accompanied by others abroad, yet with no better guardian than herself, as she, inspiring respect by her gait and address, progressed not so much by the motion of her feet as by step upon step of virtue. But though the Virgin had other persons who were protectors of her body, she alone guarded her character; she can learn many points if she be her own teacher, who possesses the perfection of all virtues, for whatever she did is a lesson. Mary attended to everything as though she were warned by many, and fulfilled every obligation of virtue as though she were teaching rather than learning.


10. Such has the Evangelist shown her, such did the angel find her, such did the Holy Spirit choose her. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, how worthy she was that the Son of God should be born of her. She, when the angel entered, was found at home in privacy, without a companion, that no one might interrupt her attention or disturb her; and she did not desire any women as companions, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Moreover, she seemed to herself to be less alone when she was alone. For how should she be alone, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?


11. And so, too, when Gabriel visited her, Luke 1:28 did he find her, and Mary trembled, being disturbed, as though at the form of a man, but on hearing his name recognized him as one not unknown to her. And so she was a stranger as to men, but not as to the angel; that we might know that her ears were modest and her eyes bashful. Then when saluted she kept silence, and when addressed she answered, and she whose feelings were first troubled afterwards promised obedience.
Something I always ponder is the whole notion that God created each of us with a free will.  Mary was no exception.  She used her free will to say, "yes" to what was asked of her through the Angel Gabriel. 

We are often asked by our guardian angels to do much simpler things.  It may be that thought that comes to mind to visit someone who is lonely, or to give money to others in much greater need, to go to Confession, or to take time out of your day to go to Church and pray for others - here on earth, and in purgatory. 

There is something else I would like to toss out here.  Notice that St. Ambrose said that she was first troubled after being addressed.  Surely this was because she did not understand how this could be - a natural reaction.  Yet, even without understanding, she gave her fiat.

People often make the mistake of thinking that they do not need to assent to a particular teaching if they do not understand.  This is backwards.  It is easy to accept those things that we do understand, but it takes faith to say "yes" to those things we do not. 

May the Blessed Virgin Mary make us docile in spirit and obedient to the will of God.

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Reminder: Fr. Perrone will be talking at 6:00pm in the Grotto gym for the second Monastic Supper. Doors open at 4:00pm and it runs until 6:30.  Stations of the Cross follow at 7:00pm to allow for Eucharistic fast, then Mass begins right after (about 7:20-25).  While it is a feast day, and we are not obligated to abstain from meat, nothing prevents us from still making some small sacrifice since it is Lent, even if it is only for one meal.  See my post here, with audio from the last talk.



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2 comments:

Nick said...

Saint Ambrose had a way with words :)

Anthony S. Layne said...

Great reflection, Diane! I wonder what St. Ambrose's source was for the Blessed Mother's life in some of those details; they don't all appear in the Protoevangelium. Is it possible there was a book of Mary that hasn't survived the ages?