A sermon on confidence in the Mother of God by St Alphonsus de Ligouri for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany
“And the wine failing, the Mother of Jesus saith to Him: They have no wine” – John 2:3.
In the Gospel of this day we read that Jesus Christ, having been invited, went with His holy mother to a marriage in Cana of Galilee. “The wine failing”, Mary said to her divine Son: “They have no wine”. By these words she intended to ask her Son to console the spouses, who were afflicted because the wine had failed. Jesus answered: “Woman, what is it to me and to thee? My hour is not yet come” – John 2:4. He meant that the time destined for the performance of miracles was that of His preaching through Judea. But, though His answer appeared to be a refusal of the request of Mary, the Son, says St Chrysostom, resolved to yield to the desire of the mother. “Although He said, ‘my hour is not yet come’, He granted the petition of His mother” – hom. in ii. Joan. Mary said to the waiters: “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye”. Jesus bid them fill the water pots with water – the water was changed into most excellent wine. Thus the bridegroom and the entire family were filled with gladness. From the fact related in this day’s gospel, let us consider, in the first point, the greatness of Mary’s power to obtain from God the graces which we stand in need of; and in the second, the tenderness of Mary’s compassion, and her readiness to assist us in all our wants.
So great is Mary’s merit in the eyes of God, that, according to St Bonaventure, her prayers are infallibly heard. “The merit of Mary is so great before God, that her petition cannot be rejected” – de Virg., c. iii. But why are the prayers of Mary so powerful in the sight of God? It is, says St Antonine, because she is His mother. “The petition of the mother of God partakes of the nature of a command, and therefore it is impossible that she should not be heard” – par. 4, tit. 13, c. xvii. § 4. The prayers of the saints are the prayers of servants; but the prayers of Mary are the prayers of a mother, and therefore, according to the holy doctor, they are regarded in a certain manner as commands by her Son, who loves her so tenderly. It is then impossible that the prayers of Mary should be rejected.
Hence, according to Cosmas of Jerusalem, the intercession of Mary is all-powerful. It is right, as Richard of St Lawrence teaches, that the son should impart his power to the mother. Jesus Christ, who is all-powerful, has made Mary omnipotent, as far as a creature is capable of omnipotence; that is, omnipotent in obtaining from Him, her Divine Son, whatever she asks - lib. 4, de Laud. Virg.
St Bridget heard our Saviour one day addressing the Virgin in the following words; “Ask from me whatever you wish, for your petition cannot be fruitless” – Rev., l. 1, cap. iv. My mother, ask of me what you please; I cannot reject any prayer which you present to me; “because since you refused me nothing on Earth, I will refuse you nothing in Heaven” – ibid.
St George, Archbishop of Nicomedia, says that Jesus Christ hears all the prayers of His mother, as if He wished thereby to discharge the obligation which He owes to her for having given to Him His human nature, by consenting to accept Him for her Son. Hence St Methodius, martyr, used to say to Mary: “Rejoice, rejoice, O Holy Virgin; for thou hast for Thy debtor that Son to whom we are all debtors; to Thee He owes the human nature which He received from Thee.” – Orat. Hyp. Dom.
St Gregory of Nicomedia encourages sinners by the assurance, that, if they have recourse to the Virgin with a determination to amend their lives, she will save them by her intercession. Hence, turning to Mary, he exclaimed: “Thou hast insuperable strength, lest the multitude of our sins should overcome Thy clemency”. O Mother of God, the sins of a Christian, however great they may be, cannot overcome Thy mercy. “Nothing”, adds the same saint, “resists Thy power; for the Creator regards Thy glory as His own”. Nothing is impossible to Thee, says St Peter Damian: thou canst raise even those who are in despair to hopes of salvation. – ser. i., de Nat. B.V.
Richard of St Lawrence remarks, that, in announcing to the Virgin that God had chosen her for the mother of His Son, the Archangel Gabriel said to her: “Fear not, Mary; for Thou hast found grace with God” - Luke 1:30. From which words the same author concludes: “If we wish to recover lost grace, let us seek Mary, by whom this grace has been found.” She never lost the divine grace; she always possessed it. If the angel declared that she had found grace, he meant that she had found it not for herself, but for us miserable sinners, who have lost it. Hence Cardinal Hugo exhorts us to go to Mary, and say to Her: O Blessed Lady, property should be restored to those who lost it: the grace which thou hast found is not thine – for thou hast never lost the grace of God – but it is ours; we have lost it through our own fault: to us, then, Thou oughtest to restore it. “Sinners who by your sins have forfeited the divine grace, run to the Virgin, and say to her with confidence: Restore to us our property, which thou hast found”.
It was revealed to St Gertrude, that all the graces which we ask of God through the intercession of Mary, shall be given to us. She heard Jesus saying to His Divine Mother: “Through Thee all who ask mercy with a purpose of amending their lives, shall obtain grace”. If all Paradise asked a favour of God, and Mary asked the opposite grace, the Lord would hear Mary, and would reject the petition of the rest of the celestial host. Because, says Father Suarez, “God loves the Virgin alone, more than all the other saints”. Let us, then, conclude this first point in the words of St Bernard: “Let us seek grace, and let us seek it through Mary; for she is a mother, and her petition cannot be rejected” – Serm. de Aquoed. Let us seek through Mary all the graces we desire to receive from God, and we shall obtain them; for she is a mother, and her Son cannot refuse to hear her prayers, or to grant the graces which she asks from Him.
The tenderness of Mary’s mercy may be inferred from the fact related in this day’s Gospel. The wine fails – the spouses are troubled – no one speaks to Mary to ask Her Son to console them in their necessity. But the tenderness of Mary’s heart, which, according to St Bernardine of Sienna, cannot but pity the afflicted, moved her to take the office of advocate, and, without being asked, to entreat her Son to work a miracle. “Unasked, she assumed the office of an advocate and a compassionate helper” – tom. III., ser. ix. Hence, adds the same saint, if, unasked this good lady has done so much, what will she not do for those who invoke her intercession?
From the fact already related St Bonaventure draws another argument, to show the great graces which we may hope to obtain through Mary, now that she reigns in Heaven. If she was so compassionate on Earth, how much greater must be her mercy not that she is in Paradise? “Great was the mercy of Mary while in exile on earth; but it is much greater now that she is a queen in Heaven; because she now sees the misery of men” – St. Bona. In Spec. Virg., cap. viii. Mary in Heaven enjoys the vision of God; and therefore she sees our wants far more clearly than when she was on earth; hence, as her pity for us is increased, so also is her desire to assist us more ardent. How truly has Richard of St Victor said to the Virgin: “So tender is thy heart, that thou canst not see misery, and not afford succour”. It is impossible for this loving mother to behold a human being in distress without extending to him pity and relief.
St Peter Damian says that the Virgin “loves us with an invincible love” – ser. i., de Nat. Virg. How ardently soever the saints may have loved this amiable queen, their affection fell far short of the love which Mary bore to them. It is this love that makes her so solicitous for our welfare. The saints in Heaven, says St Augustine, have great power to obtain grace from God for those who recommend themselves to their prayers; but as Mary is of all the saints the most powerful, so she is of all the most desirous to procure for us the divine mercy.
And as this our great advocate once said to St Bridget, she regards not the iniquities of the sinner who has recourse to her, but the disposition with which he invokes her aid. If he comes to her with a firm purpose of amendment, she receives him, and by her intercession, heals his wounds, and brings him to salvation. “However great a man’s sins may be, if he shall return to me, I am ready instantly to receive him. Nor do I regard the number or the enormity of his sins, but the will with which he comes to me; for I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds, because I am called, and I truly am, the mother of mercy”.
The Blessed Virgin is called a “fair olive tree in the plains” – Eccl. 24:19. From the olive, only oil comes forth; and from the hands of Mary only graces and mercies flow. According to Cardinal Hugo, it is said that she remains in the plains, to show that she is ready to assist all who have recourse to her. In the old law, there were five cities of refuge, in which not all, but only those who had committed certain crimes, could find an asylum; but in Mary, says St John Damascene, all criminals, whatever may be their offences, may take refuge. Hence he calls her “the city of refuge for all who have recourse to her”. Why then, says St Bernard, should we be afraid to approach Mary? She is all sweetness and clemency; in her there is nothing austere or terrible.
St Bonaventure used to say, that, in turning to Mary, he saw mercy itself receiving him. “When I behold thee, O my lady, I see nothing but mercy”. The Virgin said one day to St Bridget that miserable and miserable for eternity shall be the sinner who, though he has it in his power during life to come to me, who am able and willing to assist him, neglects to invoke my aid, and is lost. “The devil”, says St Peter, “as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour” – I. Pet. 5;8. But, according to Bernardine a Bustis, this mother of mercy is constantly going about in search of sinners to save them. “She continually goes about seeking who she may save” - Maril., par. 3, ser. iii. This queen of clemency, says Richard of St Victor, presents our petitions, and begins to assist us before we ask the assistance of her prayers – in Can., c. xxiii. Because, as the same author says, Mary’s heart is so full of tenderness towards us, that she cannot behold our miseries without affording relief.
Let us, then, in all our wants, be most careful to have recourse to this mother of mercy, who is always ready to assist those who invoke her aid. She is always prepared to come to our help, says Richard of St Lawrence, and frequently prevents our supplications: but, ordinarily, she requires that we should pray to her, and is offended when we neglect to ask her assistance. Thou, O blessed lady, art displeased not only with those who commit an injury against thee, but also with those who do not ask favours from thee, says St Bonaventure – in Spec. Virg. Hence, as the same holy doctor teaches, it is not possible that Mary should neglect to succour any soul that flies to her for protection; for she cannot but pity and console the afflicted who have recourse to her.
But, to obtain special favours from this good lady, we must perform in her honour certain devotions practised by her servants; such as first, to recite every day at least five decades of the Rosary; secondly, to fast every Saturday in her honour. Many persons fast every Saturday on bread and water: you should fast in this manner at least on the vigils of her seven principal festivals. Thirdly, to say the three Aves when the bell rings for the Angelus Domini; and to salute her frequently during the day with an Ave Maria, particularly when you hear the clock strike, or when you see an image of the Virgin, and also when you leave or return to your house. Fourthly, to say every evening the Litany of the Blessed Virgin before you go to rest; and for this purpose procure an image of Mary, and keep it near your bed. Fifthly, to wear the scapular of Mary in sorrow, and of Mount Carmel. There are many other devotions practised by the servants of Mary; but the most useful of all is, to recommend yourself frequently to her prayers. Never omit to say three Aves in the morning, to beg or her to preserve you from sin during the day. In all temptations have immediate recourse to her, saying: “Mary, assist me”. To resist every temptation, it is sufficient to pronounce the names of Jesus and Mary; and if the temptation continues, let us continue to invoke Jesus and Mary, and the devil shall never be able to conquer us.
St Bonaventure calls Mary the salvation of those who invoke her. And if a true servant of Mary were lost (I mean one truly devoted to her, who wishes to amend his life, and invokes with confidence this advocate of sinners), this should happen either because Mary would be unable or unwilling to assist him. But, says St Bernard, this is impossible: being the mother of omnipotence and of mercy, Mary cannot want the power or the will to save her servants. Justly then is she called the salvation of all who invoke her aid. Of this truth there are numberless examples: that of St Mary of Egypt will be sufficient. After leading for many years a sinful and dissolute life, she wished to enter the church of Jerusalem in which the festival of the Holy Cross was celebrated. To make her feel her miseries, God closed against her the door which was open to all others: as often as she endeavoured to enter, an invisible force drove her back. She instantly perceived her miserable condition, and remained in sorrow outside the church. Fortunately for her, there was an image of most Holy Mary over the porch of the Church. As a poor sinner she recommended herself to the divine Mother, and promised to change her life. After her prayer, she felt encouraged to go into the Church, and, behold! The door which was before closed against her, she now finds open: she enters, and confesses her sins. She leaves the church, and, under the influence of divine inspiration, goes into the desert, where she lived for forty seven years, and became a saint.