A sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin by St. Jean-Marie Vianney for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
“Of whom was born Jesus.” Matt. i, 16.
Here, my dear brethren, expressed in a few words, is the most complete praise which could be given to Mary, by saying that of her was born Jesus, the Son of God. Yes, Mary is the most beautiful creature that ever came forth from the hands of the Creator. God Himself elected her to be the star from which His most precious and richest blessings should shine upon all those who place their confidence in her. God presents her to us as a beautiful mirror, in which He is reflected, a perfect model of all virtues. Consequently the Church looks upon her as her Mother, her protectress, and her powerful helper against her enemies, and she celebrates today the happy day on which this lovely star first illumined the earth. Let us, my dear friends, abandon ourselves to a holy joy with the whole Church, and contemplate why we admire in this holy Virgin, the model of perfect virtue and the mediator between God and mankind.Give me your earnest attention, for to speak of Mary must touch your hearts, because we are talking of the object of your confidence and love.
My beloved brethren, if it were necessary, so as to inspire you with a loving devotion to Mary, to show you how great is the happiness of those who confide in her, how powerful is her aid, and how numerous the graces and the favours which she can obtain for us – if it were necessary, I say, to prove to you the blindness, and the misery of those who are indifferent, and disregard so good, so tender, so powerful a Mother, I need only refer to the Prophets and the Patriarchs, and all the great things, which the Holy Ghost inspired them to say of her, should be a source of reproach for the little esteem in which we often hold this good Mother. Furthermore, if I were to relate to you how her example was followed by the Saints, we should be moved to lament our blindness, and to revive our confidence in her. In the first place nothing is more capable of inspiring in us a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin as the first passage which we read of her in Holy Scripture, where we behold God Himself the first One to announce Mary’s coming.
When our first parents had the great misfortune of falling into sin, God, moved by their condition, promised that a day would come when a Virgin should be born, and she would bear a Son, by whom the misery caused by their sin would be redressed. In consequence of this, the Prophets have never ceased, time and again, to proclaim for the consolation of the human race, sighing under the tyranny of the evil spirit, that a Virgin would bear a Son, who would be the Son of the Most High, and be sent by His Father to redeem the world, lost by Adam’s sin. All the Prophets foretold that she would be the most beautiful creature that had ever appeared upon earth. They called her the Morning Star, which would eclipse all others by its radiancy and beauty, and would guide the traveller upon the sea a perfect model of every virtue. With justice, therefore, the Church in holy joy, says to the Blessed Virgin: “Thy birth, O Blessed Virgin Mary fills the whole world with a sweet consolation and a holy joy, because of thee was born this sun of justice, our Jesus, our God, who has taken away from us the curse in which we were plunged by the sin of our first parents, and filled us with all kinds of blessings.” In fact, although the Blessed Virgin wandered in the common path of life, yet the Holy Ghost willed that her soul should be the most beautiful, and the richest in grace. He willed, also, that her body should be the most beautiful body which had ever appeared upon earth. Scripture compares her to the dawn of morning, to the moon at its full, to the sun at midday. From the time of Adam’s fall, the world was covered with a terrible darkness. Mary appeared, and, as a beautiful sun, dispersed the darkness, and revived hope. Must not God, dear brethren, have said to Mary, as He did to Moses: “Deliver my people who are groaning under the tyranny of Pharaoh; announce to them that their deliverance is at hand, and that I have heard their prayers, their sighs, and their tears.”
O what treasures Mary’s birth brings for heaven and earth! The evil spirit trembles with fury and despair, because he beholds in Mary she who is to crush his head. Whereas the angels and the blessed make the vault of heaven ring with songs of joy at the birth of a queen who will add new glory to their splendour.
But because God wished to show us that heaven can only be gained by humility, self-denial, poverty, and suffering, He decreed that the birth of Mary should be accompanied by ordinary circumstances. She was born in a state of weakness, her cradle was moistened with tears like that of other children who, when they are born, seem to foresee the misery to which they will be subjected through life. As the Holy Ghost tells us through the mouth of the prophets: “The day of death is preferable to that of birth:” Mary was born in a state of obscurity. Although she was of the race of David, and numbered among her ancestors Patriarchs, Prophets, and Kings – all these honourable ancestors, so much sought after by the people of the world, had passed into oblivion, she had nothing more splendid than virtue, which, in the eyes of men, does not call for much esteem. God had permitted this, so that this birth might be in accordance with that of His divine Son, of whom the Prophets declared that He would have no place of rest to lay His head. If, however, she came into this world so poor of earthly riches, still she is rich in the gifts of Him whose Mother she was predestined to be from all eternity. Do we, said one of her great servants, a saintly Bishop of Geneva, wish to know who this crowned Virgin in the cradle is? Let us ask the angels. They will tell us that Mary infinitely surpasses them in grace, merits, and dignity, and in all other perfections. St. Basil tells us that the eternal Father, from the creation of the world until Mary’s arrival, had not found a creature who was pure and holy enough to be the Mother of His Son. How often have not the Patriarchs and the Prophets cried out, amid sighs and tears: “When will the happy moment arrive, when the Blessed Virgin shall appear in the world? Blessed the eyes that shall behold this creature who is to be the Mother of the Redeemer of the world!”
It would be impossible, my dear brethren, not to love Mary, if we reflected for a moment upon her affection for us, and the benefits which she never ceases to lavish upon us. “Alas,” exclaims St. Bernard, that great servant of Mary, “how blind and miserable are we that we do not love so kind and good a Mother! The world, without Mary’s prayers, would long ago have ceased to be, and on account of our sins, have fallen back into chaos.” The same Saint tells us that all the graces which we obtain from heaven, pass through Mary’s hands. Another Father of the Church tells us: “Mary is like a good parent who is not content with caring for her children in general, but watches over each one of them in particular.” If God had treated us as we deserved after many of our sins, we should long ago have been burning in hell. O how many are in those flames who would not be there if they had had recourse to Mary! She would have implored her Son to prolong their lives, to give them time to do penance. If this misfortune has not happened to us, dear brethren, we may thank Mary for it; it is she to whom we really owe it. She throws herself at the feet of her divine Son, and says to Him: “My Son, a little more time for this sinner; perhaps he will amend, perhaps he will act differently than he formerly did.” What does she do to avert the wrath of the Father? She points out to Him all that His Son did and suffered, to repair the honour of which He has been deprived by sin. She hastens to remind her Son of everything that she suffered during her life for His sake. “My Son,” she says to Him every moment, “just a few days longer, perhaps he will amend.” O how great is the affection of a mother! And yet there are some who despise her; others not only despise her, they despise by their mockeries all those who have confidence in her! Now, dear brethren, although they have only shown contempt for her, she has, nevertheless, not forsaken them, for were this the case, these mockers would already be in hell.
When we love someone, we are happy to possess his or her picture. It is the same if we love the Blessed Virgin, my dear friends. We consider it an honour and a duty to have her picture in our house, to remind us frequently of this good Mother. Furthermore, those parents who are truly Christians should never omit to inspire their children with a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. This is the best means to call down the blessings of heaven, and the protection of Mary upon your families.
The Blessed Virgin is not only a dispenser of graces, but also a rampart against the assaults of the evil spirit! Once, when St. Dominic, her great servant, was about to drive the evil spirit out of one possessed, the evil spirit declared, with loud voice, that the Blessed Virgin was his bitterest enemy, for she brought all his intentions to naught; that without her the world would be without religion, as he would have been able to destroy the Church by schism and heresy. Thus you see, dear brethren, what valuable help Mary is to all who call upon her in their battle with the archfiend.
It is safe to say that all Christians have a great devotion to Mary, with the exception of those hardened sinners who have long lost their faith, and who wallow in the mire of their passions. The evil spirit strives to hold them in blindness until the moment of death opens their eyes. Ah, if they had taken refuge in Mary, they would not have fallen into hell as they did!
But, again, my dear friends, it is not enough to honour Mary only with our lips in order to deserve her protection. We must also endeavour to acquire those virtues of which she was such a shining example. We must strive to acquire her great humility. Although she well knew that God had exalted her to the highest of all dignities, to be the Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, she despised no one. She looked upon herself as the least of creatures. We must also aspire to her extraordinary purity, which made her so pleasing to God. Her modesty was so great that God regarded her with delight. We must, my dear friends, detach ourselves from the things of this world, and think only of heaven, our true country. After the ascension of her divine Son, she only languished upon earth. She endured life, indeed, with patience, but she ardently awaited death, which would reunite her with her divine Son, the sole object of her love. How often did she not cry out with the Prophet: “My God, how much longer wilt thou permit my banishment to last? O when will that happy moment come when I shall be united to Thee forevermore? O if you see my beloved, tell Him that I languish with love!” God took her out of this world where she had suffered so much during her long pilgrimage. She died, but it was neither old age nor the feebleness of nature that caused her death, but it was her love for her divine Son. Her first breath had been an aspiration of love; it was proper that her last should be a sigh of love. She knew no fear, because she had never offended God by sin; she had no sorrow, because she was never attached to the things of the world; she sighed only for Jesus, and death procured this happiness for her. She beheld Him coming to meet her, with the whole court of heaven, to honour her triumphant entry into heaven. Thus did this holy Virgin fall asleep in the embrace of the Lord; thus did this beautiful star vanish, which had illumined the world for seventy-two years. Thus triumphed over death she who gave birth to the author of all life!
What should we conclude from all this, dear brethren? This, that like Mary we are striving for the same happiness, and that it should be our sole purpose so to strive that we may merit it. This is what I wish you all! Amen.