Article: Generosity of the Mother of God.
(Transcribed by the sermon of Julius Pottgeisser)
"How shall this be done, because I know not man?" [Luke 1:34]
Among all the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary there is hardly one which invites us more eloquently to pay her honor than that of to-day. For it has been instituted as a perpetual memorial of the divine message which has distinguished her above all the daughters of man. But what made this occasion so glorious for her was no less the heroic generosity of soul which she displayed on receiving this message than the in comparable dignity which it announced to her.
It is on the generosity displayed by the Mother of God in this mystery that I intend to dwell in the present discourse. This generous disinterestedness was manifested by her both in the initial renunciation and in the final acceptance of the unspeakable dignity of the divine Motherhood offered her by the angel. I shall, therefore, endeavor to show you her generosity (1) in refusing, (2) in accepting the dignity of Mother of God.
1. Her refusal.
The refusal of the prerogative of divine Motherhood, to which I here refer, was made in favor of her virginity, which the Blessed Virgin would have chosen in preference to the dignity of Mother of God, if it were necessary to renounce one of the two. This is the only possible explanation of the answer she gave the angel: " How shall this be done, because I know not man?" By these words she manifestly gave to understand that she hesitated to accept the dignity offered her, because she feared the violation of her virginal purity. Thus several of the holy Fathers explain this passage, among others St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Bernard; and they add that our blessed Lady would consider the loss of her virginity a greater evil than her exclusion from the privilege of the divine Motherhood. And St. Gregory Nyssen says in express terms that she preferred her virginal integrity to the prerogative which God extended to her; and that, if the dignity of divine Motherhood were incompatible with her virginity, she would have chosen to decline the highest of all honors rather than forfeit the latter. These are his words: "The angel announces her maternity, but she insists on her virginity, and judges that inviolate purity is preferable to the dignity that is tendered her."
1. This supposed, I maintain that this renunciation on the part of the Blessed Virgin was an act of the most heroic self-sacrifice, which gives evidence of an in comparable generosity. We shall easily realize the truth of this assertion, if we only consider the greatness of the prerogatives contained in the divine Motherhood. And the first thing that strikes us here is the marvellous dignity and honor of this singular distinction. This distinction is so great that it is impossible to give even a remote idea of it. Even the holy Fathers of the Church dared not venture to give an adequate description of this unspeakable honor, doubtlessly convinced of the impossibilty of describing it, and thinking that silence is more eloquent than speech on a subject which so far transcends our power of conception and expression. Nay, the Mother of God herself was nnable to find utterance for the greatness of the dignity conferred upon her. All that she was able to do was to express her wonderment at the marvellous things the Almighty had done to her. "He that is mighty," she says, "hath done great things to me." It were vain for me, then, to attempt to describe to you the greatness of a dignity that baffles all description. All that I can say of this prerogative is that it is most intimately connected with the infinite greatness of God Himself, that it is, in a certain true sense, infinite, and therefore far surpasses human understanding. What an heroic act of self-sacrifice, then, on the part of our blessed Lady to decline the acceptance of this transcendent dignity!
Perhaps some one may think the Blessed Virgin declined this honor because she did not realize the privileges connected with it. But, apart from the knowledge of the Messias which she drew from constant prayer and the reading of the Sacred Books, the angel expressed himself so clearly that there was no mistaking of his meaning. Nor did he fail to propose the most powerful motives to induce her to its acceptance.
"Fear not," he says, "for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end" [Luke 1:31-33]. Can we, then, suppose that Mary was not sufficiently instructed on the dignity and importance of the motherhood to which she was divinely appointed? Yet all the prerogatives implied in this highest of all honors could not lessen her preference for the virginity which she had consecrated to God. Therefore she hesitated to give her consent, and her first impulse was to ask: How can that be done, because I know not man?
2. And how could her virginity make up for the dignity of the divine Motherhood? This virtue, be loved brethren, could in this life procure her nothing but self-denial and contempt: self-denial, because by the profession of virginity she condemned herself to a life of retirement and obscurity; of contempt, because, her virginity being unknown to the world, she ex posed herself, in the eyes of men, to the reproach of sterility, which was looked upon by the Jews not only as a disgrace, but as a curse and a divine chastisement. In the next life, it is true, her virginity gave her a right to a glorious crown, the crown of virgins, but not the right to the peerless crown of the Mother of God. When, therefore, she declined the distinction of divine Motherhood in favor of her virginity she did so purely from love and esteem for this holy virtue. But such a disinterested love of virtue, not for the sake of its advantages, but for its own sake and for God´s sake, implies the noblest and most heroic self-denial and, consequently, the highest degree of generosity that can be imagined.
We must, therefore, conclude that the Blessed Virgin on this occasion, by renouncing the dignity offered her, gave proof of the greatest and most admirable generosity. But no less marvellous was the generosity shown by her subsequently in accepting the honor proffered her.
2. Her acceptance.
1. It is an act of generosity purely for God s sake to resolve one´s self to a step which one foresees to be connected with the most painful consequences; and the more painful the consequences are the more heroic is the generosity displayed. Let us apply this principle to that momentous step upon which our blessed Lady resolved when she finally accepted the proffered dignity of the divine Motherhood, and we shall at once see what wonderful generosity she displayed. a. She submitted to this call purely to please God. For by the fact that she previously declined the dignity of Mother of God she sufficiently manifested that she did not accept it for its own sake nor for the sake of the prerogatives connected with it, but solely for God´s sake.
b. She accepted this dignity although she fully realized the painful consequences which it entailed. For, on the one hand, she knew very well that by accepting the dignity held out to her by the angel, she was to become the Mother of the Redeemer; and, on the other hand, as the holy Fathers assure us, she was well acquainted with the sufferings which the Saviour was to undergo. And apart from all private revelations which God may have granted her, how could she be unacquainted with those sufferings, since they are most minutely described in the books of the Old Testament, with which she was familiar? Did she not know that He was to be wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins; that the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and that by His bruises we should be healed? Did she not know that His hands and feet were to be transfixed, and that all His bones were to be numbered; that from the crown of His head to the sole of His foot there should be no soundness in Him; that He should be a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people; a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity? [Ps. xxi; Is. liii.] Must she not have clearly foreseen, therefore, the terrible anguish which was in store for the Mother of the Redeemer, that is, for herself, in case she accepted this dignity? Must not even then the sword of grief have transfixed her immaculate heart? And, if this was the case, must we not acknowledge that in the acceptance of the dignity of divine Motherhood she has given proof of the most heroic generosity?
2. It might be objected, perhaps, that our conclusion is true only in the supposition that our blessed Lady at the moment of her consent actually reflected on the disagreeable consequences of her maternity. But is this supposition well grounded? Must we not, on the contrary, suppose that at that moment, for her so glorious, her mind was so engrossed with the greatness of the honor tendered her that, for the time being, she altogether forgot the painful consequences it involved?
No, beloved brethren; our supposition is well founded. She actually thought of the disagreeable feature of the honor conferred upon her. For Almighty God evidently wished that her acceptance should be altogether free, and therefore, that it should be obtained with a full knowledge of all its consequences and with perfect deliberation on her part. Therefore it is beyond all doubt that God revealed to her at that moment the long series of sufferings which her acceptance entailed.
And this supposition is the more likely also for this reason, because it was the will of God that the work of Redemption should, also on her part, begin with an heroic act of self-devotion. This same supposition is confirmed also by the answer which she gave to the angel: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word." This answer implies not so much an acceptation of a proffered favor as the humble and voluntary submission to a disagreeable and repugnant duty imposed upon her against her will. In fact, if she had not actually reflected upon the disagreeable consequences of the divine Motherhood, but on its joys and honors, she would doubtless have given a very different answer. She would have given expression to her gratitude, and to the sense of her unworthiness of such aninfinite dignity. But, instead of any such protestations, she answers: "Behold the handmaid," the humble servant, "of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word." So spoke our blessed Lord in His agony in the Garden of Olives: "Not My will, but Thine be done." This is the language of one who in obedience submits himself with repugnance to some great sacrifice. Nay, beloved brethren, so great was this sacrifice on the part of the Blessed Virgin, that no other human sacrifice can be brought in comparison with it. Only the sacrifice made by her divine Son in Gethsemani surpassed it in bitterness. Justly, then, has the Church given her the title of Queen of Martyrs. By this very act of self-sacrifice she more than merited this glorious title. Who, then, will further say that she gave her consent without a full knowledge of all the long martyrdom of sufferings which the divine Motherhood involved?
Our holy Mother Mary, therefore, both in her first refusal and her subsequent acceptance of the dignity of the divine Motherhood, gave evidence of the most heroic self-denial and the most marvellous generosity. And this, beloved brethren, is the clearest proof that God has chosen her as the fittest of all women to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son. Or, has there ever been any other among women capable of such wondrous self-sacrifice and generosity?
And this His own so highly favored Mother Almighty God in His infinite love has given us as our Mother. Have we not just cause to be proud of such a Mother, and to glory in the happiness of being her children? Rejoice, then, beloved brethren, rejoice from your heart, that God has given you such a Mother; but at the same time endeavor, as becomes good children, to do honor and give joy to your heavenly Mother. Choose her, then, to-day as your model and pattern, and take care to imitate her particularly in that virtue which above all others is dear to her in the virtue of holy purity. If you cultivate this angelic virtue, each according to his state in life, you shall give joy to the spotless heart of your dear Mother; you shall be worthy children of such a Mother; and you shall secure the powerful protection of the Queen of Heaven. She shall be your support in the trials and temptations of this life, your consolation in death, your advocate before the judgment-seat of God, and shall receive you into the number of her glorious children in heaven. Amen.