IT IS just a few days before the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the first of the new millennium, for it is the beginning of the Great Jubilee, the Holy Year of the Lord’s Favour, the third millennium of Christian Faith!






As the eleventh century was ending, the second millennium barely begun, there was throughout Christendom much suffering: that of serfs at the hands of feudal lords; of thousands as the Crusades consumed both aggressor and victim; death by plague, civil strife; and so within the twelfth century wounds were deep, dislocation of persons extensive, the embryonic stirring of national identities, scientific, philosophical and other thinkers challenging the presumed foundations of religion, cosmology, politics; the Church herself, East and West, desperately needed reform but that was lost in the dust of internecine struggles which fuelled the Great Schism, emboldened Islam, weakened Rome, divided Europe.

Yet in the midst of all the turmoil would emerge a Little Poor Man/ the Poverello Francis of Assisi and his companions, why even his girlfriend would repent of her dissolute life and show remarkable passion for True Love, while another young man would enter a relatively new monastic order and eventually become a leading force in the affairs of Rome and in medieval monasticism: Bernard of Clairvaux.

Somehow, even when sent off by the thousands to the Crusades, or impressed into the feudal armies because they had no land left to till, or widowed, orphaned by plague or marauding bandits, the common people, that great backbone of any civilization, the ordinary persons alive who are the glory of God, kept the treasure of faith in their hearts and daily living, especially their devotion to, and trust in, the Holy Mother of God Herself, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.

I mention those two centuries because each year at this time I am struck by how many of the Christmas cards I receive portray images of faith as seen through the eyes of the great artists of the period — and the not so great.

Too, my heart was struck when completing the previous chapter of how immense the role of Our Blessed Mother has been, is, in my own life and how I always feel so inadequate when it comes time to extol her praises.

But then who among us ever feels they have done justice to the memory of their mother?

Finally, when my heart was moved to pause momentarily, in the writing of this story of Divine Mercy being greater than our capacity for sin, and to speak of Mary, I was overwhelmed by the possible reference texts, since my own words in her regard always, as mentioned, seem to me woefully inadequate.

Then I remembered the simple yet shining faith of the twelfth century and the particular love of Our Lady which burned in the heart of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I went to an ancient translation of his sermons on Our Lady.

Moderns may smirk at the type of language used, but then we smirk at most things that originate in the heart rather than in the intellect.

Non Byzantine or Latin Catholic Christians may shudder at the apparent over prominence given to a woman who is NOT one of the Divine Persons, indeed is herself a redeemed creature.

My only response to the former would be to ask of any mother which means more to her heart, the so-called primitive art and poetry of her children given on mother’s day when they were small, or the list of their adult accomplishments and impersonal gadgets mailed to her in latter years?

My only response to the latter would be to ask all Christians to stand in silence with St. John at the foot of the Cross and listen to Jesus: “Behold your Mother! “

As should be apparent already, and will be again, Our Lady has been, is, an ever consoling and encouraging presence in my life, constantly saying to my heart the words she first spoke at Cana: “Go and do whatever He tells you. “

BEHOLD, O man, the counsel of God; acknowledge the counsel of His wisdom, the counsel of His love. Designing to irrigate the floor with the dew of heaven, the Lord first poured down upon the fleece all the precious liquid {Jg.6:37}: designing to redeem the human race He placed the whole ransom in the hands of Mary. Wherefore this? Possibly in order that Mother Eve might be excused by her Daughter, and that the complaint of the man against the woman might be hushed for evermore. Never again, O Adam, never again shalt thou say to God, ‘The woman whom Thou gavest me to be my companion gave me of the forbidden fruit ‘ {Gn.3:12}; but rather let thy words be henceforth: ‘ The woman whom Thou gavest me fed me with fruit of benediction.’ Here indeed we have a counsel full of love. But perchance we have not yet seen it all, perchance something remains still to be discovered. That which I have told you is true undoubtedly, yet — unless I am deceived — it is not enough to satisfy your desires. You have enjoyed the sweetness of the milk: perhaps if we labour the subject a little more we shall succeed in extracting there from the fatness of the butter.

Let us, therefore, look more deeply into this matter, and let us see with what sentiments of tender devotion the Lord would have us honour Mary, in whom He has placed the plenitude of all good; so that if there is anything of hope in us, if anything of grace, if anything of salvation, we may feel assured it has overflowed to us from her who ‘ went up from the desert flowing with delights ‘ {Sg.of Sg.8:5}. Oh, truly may we call her a garden of delights, which the Divine ‘South Wind’ not merely ‘ comes and blows upon ‘ (Sg.of Sg.4:16}, but comes down into and blows through, causing its aromatical spices, that is, the precious gifts of heavenly grace, to flow out and to be diffused abroad on every side. Remove from the heavens the material sun which enlightens the world, and what becomes of the day? Remove Mary, remove this Star of the sea, of life’s ‘ great and spacious sea ‘ {Ps.103:25}, and what is left but a cloud of involving gloom, and ‘ the shadow of death ‘ {Job 10:22}, and a darkness exceeding dense.

Therefore, my dearest brethren, with every fibre, every feeling of our hearts, with all the affections of our minds, and with all the ardour of our souls, let us honour Mary, because such is the will of God, Who would have us to obtain everything through the hands of Mary. Such, I say, is the will of God, but intending our advantage. For exercising a provident care for us, her poor children, in all things and through all things, the Virgin Mother calms our trembling fear, enlivens our faith, strengthens our hope, drives away our distrust, raises our pusillanimity. Thou wast afraid, O man, to approach the Father; thou wast terrified at the mere sound of His voice, and soughtest to conceal thyself amongst the foliage {Gn.3:8}. Therefore He gave thee Jesus as thy Mediator. What shall not such a Son be able to obtain for thee from such a Father? Doubtless He shall be ‘ heard for His reverence ‘ {Hb.5:7}: for ‘ the Father loveth the Son ‘ {Jn.3:35}. Surely thou are not afraid of approaching Him also? ‘ He is thy Brother and thy flesh ‘ {Gn.37:27}, ‘ tempted in all things like as thou art, but without sin ‘ {Hb.2:17}. Him Mary has given thee for thy Brother. But perhaps thou standest in awe of the Divine Majesty of Jesus? For although He has become man He has not ceased to be God. Perhaps thou desirest to have an advocate even with Him? If so, have recourse to Mary. In Mary human nature is found entirely pure, not alone pure from all defilement, but pure also from composition with another nature. Nor do I deem it doubtful that she likewise shall be heard for her reverence. Assuredly the Son will listen to the Mother and the Father will listen to the Son. My little children, behold the sinner’s ladder, behold the main source of my confidence, the principal ground of my hope. What? Can the Son refuse aught to His own Mother or be refused aught by His Father? Can the Son deny a hearing to her or be denied a hearing by Him? Both suppositions are plainly impossible. ‘ Thou hast found grace with God, ‘ said the Archangel to Mary. Happy Virgin! Yes, dearest brethren, Mary shall always find grace with God, and grace alone is what we have need of. Prudent Virgin! she does not ask either wisdom, as did Solomon {1Kgs.3:9}, or riches, or honours, or power, but only grace. For it is by grace alone we shall be saved. [bo]