The Father William Most Collection
Lourdes and Penance
FIFTEEN hundred years ago St. Augustine wrote: "My weight is my love, by which I am carried wherever I am carried."1 Had he known the laws of gravitation he might have said instead: Love is like a gravitational attraction, pulling a soul to the same level as the object of its love. Our Lord Himself expressed the same truth beautifully when He said: "Where thy treasure is, there also will thy heart be."2
Materialism is not, then, a new danger. Since the very beginning our ancestors have always been tempted to let themselves be so drawn by material things as to be more or less severely hindered in their ascent to God. The treasure that pulls on a man's heart need not be a wonderful thing in itself: we can readily believe that even primitive men were in danger of forming attachments to their wretched surroundings and poor possessions. Yet, obviously, the richer, the more comfortable, and the more beautiful material possessions become, the more attractive they are and the more they can incline a man to make them his treasure, holding his thoughts and affections from ascending higher.
The past century has seen a truly marvelous growth in the number and kind of material things that are placed before us, and, particularly in the United States, in the ability of the masses of men to obtain them. Comforts and conveniences that were once beyond the dreams of the most powerful rulers, of which no Roman emperor or Pharaoh of Egypt could have had any conception, are now an everyday matter to persons of quite modest economic status.
Impact of Materialism
In the middle of the nineteenth century, powerful forces were beginning to appear, which were to augment greatly the impact of materialism. By 1842 Socialism was at its zenith in Paris, and Karl Marx had already contributed radical articles to periodicals. Five more years would bring the Communist Manifesto of the same Marx and Engels. Another dozen years would see preliminary studies by Marx for his great Das Kapital, which appeared in 1867. During the same years Charles Darwin was preparing his revolutionary work, On the Origin of Species, which astonished the world in 1859.
While Marx was sowing the seeds of future Communism, and Darwin was providing the assistance of natural science to those who would reduce men to the level of animals, theological and philosophical attacks on Christianity were likewise multiplying, in the works of a host of critics who challenged the historicity and interpretation of Sacred Scripture. These critics disagreed much among themselves, even on basic matters. Yet, they seemed certain of one thing: the traditional interpretation of Christianity is false.
In the midst of this dark dawn of a renewed and more potent materialism, a new light from heaven shone in the high Pyrenees, and the solicitous voice of our immaculate Mother spoke, warning her children to repent and do penance. As Pope Pius XII wrote: "To a society which in its public life often contests the supreme rights of God, which would conquer the universe at the expense of its soul ... the motherly Virgin has sent out a cry of alarm." For she, "foreseeing our real needs, came to men to remind them of the essential and austere steps of religious conversion."3
Today we find ourselves in a new age of unbridled materialism. This materialism, warns the Holy Father, is to be found not only in the form of "a condemned philosophy which rules the politics and economic life of a segment of humanity. It rages also in the love of money, whose destructive power increases according to the dimensions of modern enterprise.... It expresses itself in the cult of the body, in the excessive search for comfort and the flight from all the austerities of life.... It resides in the unrestrained search for pleasure which exhibits itself without modesty and even attempts to seduce souls which are still pure, with reading matter and entertainments. It shows itself ... in a word, in that concept of life which regulates all things only in terms of material prosperity and satisfactions."4
The Age of Mary
But the goodness of our Father in heaven has not left his children without a remedy: the new age of materialism is to be countered by a great age of Mary.
If we leave for a moment the realm of private relevations and turn to the domain of general dogmatic theology we can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Lourdes by a reconsideration of the position which our Blessed Mother occupies in God's master plan. The close union of our Blessed Mother with her divine Son extends literally from eternity to eternity. For "in the beginning of His ways ... of old before the earth was made," she was already "joined with Him in a most close and indissoluble bond,"5 as Pope Pius IX said, to such an extent that she was even provided for in one and the same divine decree with Him. When our first parents had fallen, casting aside the love of their Father, and the true divine likeness which they already possessed, for the false divinity promised by the lying serpent, our Father consoled both Himself and mankind by the promise of a Redeemer. Revealing the truth that, in His thoughts, Mary had never been dissociated from Jesus,6 He spoke in the very same sentence of a mysterious woman who would be joined with Him in crushing the head of the infernal serpent.
After long centuries of preparation, when the time had come for the heavens to drop down their dew, the Archangel Gabriel, one of the first princes of the celestial court, was sent, not to command, but to ask Mary to give her consent in the name of the whole human race that the work of redemption might begin.7 As soon as she accepted her "dignity second only to God"8 with her offering of self, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord," the Word was made flesh and "emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave."9 Entering this world with His Sacred Heart in closest accord with the Immaculate Heart of His Mother, He offered Himself to His Father. "Behold I come to do thy will, O God."10
Henceforth these two hearts would be so inseparably united that St. Pius X could speak of a "never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother,"11 and Pope Pius XII could refer to Mary as "always sharing His lot."12 Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth-for thirty of His thirty-three years the incarnate Word would be about His Father's business, not by astounding the crowds with His teaching and miracles, but simply by remaining in the seclusion He went down to with Mary and Joseph, and by being subject to them.
Some have misunderstood the significance of Cana and the public life of Christ, as though the indissoluble bond were broken then. It is true, Mary did retire humbly into the background. But, although to her was not assigned the carrying out of the external signs of sanctification and preaching, yet, in the realm of interior efficacy without which even the sacraments would be mere mummery, she would be ever joined with Him in that eternal unbreakable bond, "always sharing His lot." For if St. Pius X could say of her even on Calvary, the very consummation of our redemption, that "she merited for us congruously," that is, in a lesser way, "what Christ merited condignly," in fullest justice, who could doubt that just as He merited for us during all His public ministry, so also did she, joined with Him in a "never dissociated manner of life and labors"?13
But when that dark hour came, the hour of the baptism with which He was to be baptized in His own blood, when He was deserted by those who had shared the glory of His triumphs, then did she take her place by His Cross, in the midst of the sullen, blaspheming crowd, to share His reproaches, His suffering, and His offering, so fully as to merit, in subordination to Him, and in dependence on Him, the very redemption that He was earning in all justice.14 For so great was the power of His oblation that it not only sufficed to redeem countless worlds, but, at the same time, was able to make His Mother capable of sharing in suffering and meriting in such a way that Pope Pius XII rightly said: "Our salvation flowed from the love and sufferings of Jesus Christ, intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother."15
The cause, therefore, of our redemption, had been a work shared by Jesus and Mary. Hence, since the "struggle" of Calvary had been "common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son" it "had to be closed by the glorification of her virginal body."16 For a common cause should have a common effect: in Him, the effect was the Resurrection, by which He became, as St. Thomas says, the very efficient cause of our resurrection.17 In her, the same common cause should bring forth the Assumption.
Mary's All-Pervading Role
Now at last, in the eternal brightness of heaven, crowned Queen by His side, she shares forever in His kingship, and in the dispensation of all the graces won by the redemption; and she will continue throughout eternity to be united with Him, in a subordinate but true way, as a marvelous source of joy to all those who finally reach the mansions of our Father. Thus from eternity to eternity, she is joined to Him, provided for in one and the same eternal decree with Him, taking part in all His mysteries: always sharing His lot. Truly, her role in the divine economy is justly described as all-pervading.
Before the final consummation of this world He is to come again. Would it not be strange indeed if she who is so intimately united to Him in all things forever should have no special role in this second coming? The dogmatic picture would seem incomplete, its unity inexplicably violated, were there not some special association of Mary with Jesus in that solemn event. Many saints and theologians believe the form that association is to take is to be a great age of Mary, which (though its length is uncertain) will precede the end.18
Is it not then plausible to suppose that when our immaculate Mother appeared at Lourdes, she was by her appearance solemnizing the opening of the great age of Mary? For, in the sphere of dogmatic theology the definition of 1854 opened the way to a splendid flowering of the theology of Mary, and that, in turn, laid the solid foundation for a much deeper devotion to her. Her all-pervading role in the divine economy suggests that it is most logical and fitting to give her an equally all-pervading role in our personal spiritual lives.
Again, in the realm of private revelations Lourdes marks the opening of a great cycle of appearances of Our Lady, in which, with true motherly solicitude, she warned her children against the dangers of the new age of materialism that was beginning.19 In the first coming of the Savior, the precursor, St. John, and our Lord Himself admonished the people: "Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand." So too, it would seem that our Mother has come to urge all her children, not only to arm themselves against the insidious attractions of the new materialism, but to prepare themselves for the specially rich graces of this great age. That is why she cried out to Bernadette: "Penance, penance, penance."
We do not, of course, know how long the age of Mary is to last. For, "one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."20 But let us rejoice and thank our heavenly Father for the privilege of living in this rich age, in which, just as the celestial Woman whom St. John saw in the Apocalypse seems to be an embodiment of both Mary and the Church,21 so also the Church is favored with the grace of taking on specially Marian features. For, although the dangers of our times for souls are very great, no less great are the graces offered to those who heed our immaculate Mother's call to penance.
|1||St. Augustine, Confessions, XII, 9; PL, 32, 849.|
|3||Pius XII, Le pèlerinage de Lourdes, July 2, 1957; AAS, XLXIX (1957), 605 ff. Cited from Marian Reprints 55, p. 11 f.|
|5||Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.|
|6||Pius IX had taught that in one and the same decree the Incarnation and Mary's divine motherhood were provided for.|
|7||Cf. Summa Theol., IIIa, q. 30, a. 1.|
|8||Pius XI, Lux veritatis, December 25, 1931; AAS, XXIII (1931), 513.|
|11||St. Pius X, Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904; ASS, XXXVI (1904), 453.|
|12||Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950; AAS, XLII (1950), 768.|
|13||Ad diem illum, ASS, XXXVI (1904),454. On the tense of the first verb, see Marianum XVII (1955), 356 f.|
|14||Luke 12: 50|
|15||Cf. Pius XII, Haurietis aquas, May 15, 1956. AAS XLVIII (1956), 352.|
|16||Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus; AAS, XLVI (1954), 768.|
|17||Cf. Summa theol., Suppl. q. 76, a. 1.|
|18||Pius XII has privately expressed the view that we do live in the age of Mary, in a conversation with the director of the General Secretariate of all Sodalities in Rome. Cf. Our Lady's Digest, August-September, 1951, p. 119.|
|19||The Miraculous Medal and La Salette apparitions may be regarded as preliminary to this cycle.|
|20||II Pet. 3:8.|
|21||On this interpretation of Apoc., chap. 12, cf. the monumental study of B. J. LeFrois, S.V.D., The Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rome. 1954) and S. Lyonnet, S.J., De peccato et redemptione (Rome: 1957), I. 77 f.|