THE POWERFUL ROLE OF MEEKNESS IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)

“Take care to practice well the humble meekness that you owe to everybody, for it is the virtue of virtues which our Lord greatly recommended to us.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Our discussion regarding meekness begins with the teaching of Jesus, who said: “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Of this passage Spurgeon says: “One great lesson of the gospel is to teach us to be meek—to put away our high and angry spirits, and to make us lowly in heart. Peradventure, this is the meaning of the passage— that if we will but come to Christ’s school, he will teach us the hardest of all lessons,—how to be meek and lowly in heart.” In the school of Jesus Christ, we learn the importance of meekness for living a Christian life.

Relying on Surrin, Father Faber states that “gentleness and softness were the graces our Lord [Jesus] most desired that we should copy in Himself; and certainly, whether we look at the edification of others, or the sanctification of ourselves, or of the glory our lives may give to God, we shall perceive that nothing can rank in importance before gentleness of manner and sweetness of demeanor towards others” (The Blessed Sacrament, p. 169).

Why do the meek inherit the earth? “The words [inherit the earth] may be partly allusive to the ‘kingdom of the saints of the Most High’…. They have, however, a wider and continuous fulfillment. The influence of the meek and self-controlled is in the long-run greater than that of the impulsive and passionate. Their serenity helps them to find the maximum of true joy in all conditions of life; for to them the earth is not a stage for self-assertion and the graspings of desire, but an “inheritance” which they have received from their Father” (Ellicott’s Commentary).

“Far from being weak, however, the meek possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the midst of adversity” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). In this sense, meekness could never be considered weakness because a beatitude taught by Jesus (“Blesses are the meek”)  “is the original and transcendent synthesis of the Christian ethic or, more accurately and more profoundly, of the spirituality of the new covenant in Jesus Christ” (Saint Pope John Paul II). Simply put, the beatitude of meekness is not only a grace-filled power, but a very elevated manifestation of that power.

The real POWER of meekness lies in its capacity to diffuse anger. “Meekness is particularly meritorious when practiced toward those who make us suffer; then it can only be supernatural, without any admixture of vain sensibility. It comes from God and sometimes has a profound effect on our neighbor who is irritated against us for no good reason. Let us remember that the prayer of St. Stephen called down grace on the soul of Paul, who was holding the garments of those who stoned the first martyr. Meekness disarms the violent.” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange)

Additionally, Father Garrigou-Lagrange helps us to understand the difference between the virtue of meekness and mere meekness of temperament. He states:

“Meekness, or gentleness… has as its special effect, not the endurance of the vexations of life [the special effect of the virtue of patience] but the curbing of the inordinate movements of anger. The virtue of meekness differs from meekness of temperament inasmuch as, in widely diverse circumstances, it imposes the rectitude of reason illumined by faith on the sensibility more or less disturbed by anger. Meekness of temperament is exercised with facility toward those who please us and is rather frequently accompanied by ill-temper toward others. The virtue of meekness does away with this bitterness toward all persons and in the most varied circumstances. Moreover, into a just severity that is necessary at times, the virtue injects a note of calmness… Meekness, like temperance to which it is united, is the friend of the moderation or the measure which causes the light of reason and that of grace to descend into the more or less troubled sensible appetites.”

Simply put, when we become ANGRY at someone we need to let grace-filled MEEKNESS descend or enter into that anger to produce the fruit of gentleness and self-control. Meekness, then, transforms the vice of potential inordinate anger into the virtue of meekness towards our neighbor.

“The times call for the manliness of meekness more than the false courage of violence and uncontrolled anger. We need the self-conquest of meekness more than the self-centeredness of hate and brutality. We need the meekness and humility of Christ” (Father Kilian McGowan, Your Way to God, p.57)

CONCLUSION: Are not most of us in need of POWER to control our inordinate anger and resentment? What we need, then, is the virtue of MEEKNESS. “Let us often, in practice, ask our Lord for the virtue of meekness united to humility of heart. Let us ask Him for it at the moment of Communion, in that intimate contact of our soul with His, of our intellect and heart with His intellect illumined by the light of glory and His heart overflowing with charity. Let us ask Him for it by spiritual communion that is frequently renewed and, whenever the occasion presents itself, let us practice these virtues effectively and generously” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The quotes from Father Garrigou-Lagrange are from The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

FIVE LEVELS OR GRADATIONS OF MEEKNESS: Relying on Father Garrigou-Lagrange I note five levels or gradations of meekness:

  1. The natural temperament of meekness.
  2. The human or acquired virtue of meekness, “causing the light of reason to descend into the sensibility”.
  3. The supernatural or infused virtue of meekness flowing from sanctifying grace (associated with the cardinal virtue of temperance, which “moderates the inordinate impulses of our sensible appetites”).
  4. The supernatural virtue of meekness profoundly strengthened by the Gift of Piety.
  5. The beatitude of meekness which is essentially the overflowing of # 4 in a person’s life.

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THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE HIDDEN POWER OF KINDNESS

 

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 1832 lists KINDNESS as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It says:

“1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity [citing Galatians 5: 22-23].”

Kindness is a virtue which “lifts the spirits” and “touches the hearts” of the people we encounter in our lives. When kindness is amplified by grace theologians call it an infused or supernatural virtue gifted to us in baptism, and when that virtue of kindness becomes part of our very nature – perfecting us in grace – it is a manifestation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Kindness therefore involves acts of kindness, and these acts of kindness can increase by way of practice, prayer and sacramental life. The goal, then, is to become proficient in producing these all-important acts of kindness in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

The late Father Lovasik wrote a wonderful book about the power of kindness called The Hidden Power of Kindness (Sophia Press). Father Lovasik points out that even a kind smile or a small compliment can bring joy to someone. I think we should resolve to pray to the Holy Spirit to ripen the fruit of kindness in us! “Ask and you shall receive” (John 16:24 ).

Please keep in mind that I am not using hyperbole when I call kindness a power! (after all, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is a tremendous, supernatural power). Authentic kindness has the power to make other people’s lives more bearable, less miserable, to repair  damaged self-esteem in a person, and even to produce joy and happiness in souls. It really is a tremendous power!  Regarding this power of kindness, Father Lovasik states:

“Not only is kindness due to everyone, but a special kindness is due to everyone. Kindness is not kindness unless it is special. Its charm consists in its fitness, its timeliness, and its individual application. Kindness adds sweetness to everything. It makes life’s capabilities blossom and fills them with fragrance. Kindness is like divine grace. It bestows on men something that neither self nor nature can give them. What it gives them is something of which they are in need, or something which only another person can give, such as consolation. Besides, the manner in which this is given is a true gift itself, better far than the thing given. The secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct that is the noblest part of yourself. It is the most undoubted remnant of the image of God, given to us at the beginning” (The Hidden Power of Kindness, p.6, Cf. Frederick William Faber, Spiritual Conferences (Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1859) at 19).

Here are Fr. Lovasik’s simple rules for being kind from his book, The Hidden Power of Kindness:

DON’TS

1. Don’t speak unkindly of anyone.

2. Don’t think unkindly about anyone.

3. Don’t act unkindly toward anyone.

(My note: of course there may be some instances when we have to speak sternly to others, but we should try to do this with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and with the good of the other person in mind. Of course, the kindness of the Holy Spirit is rooted in truth. The essential mission of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of the ruin of sin and of our salvation in Jesus – see Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s Gospel.)

DO

1. Speak kindly of someone at least once a day.

2. Think kindly about someone at least once a day (this teaches us to think kindly, which in our secret thoughts we’re prone not to do).

3. Do an act of kindness to someone at least once a day (and as this virtue grows such acts can be multiplied).

When you are unkind, says Father Lovasik, make a short act of contrition and resolve to produce acts of kindness in your life. Practicing these simple rules isn’t easy and will require conscious effort and self-denial, but keeping them will lead to growth in holiness as we become less self-centered and more humble. Kindness, like patience, involves a certain form of mortification. Kindness is a type of love or charity. Frankly, it doesn’t cost us very much to be kind, or to say a kind word to someone.

Father Faber says that, in terms of evangelization, “kindness is the best pioneer of the Precious Blood.” He further states: “Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence or learning: and these last three have never converted anyone, unless they were kind also” (Spiritual Conferences, p.15).

Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest, Uncreated Gift of the Father and the Son, and fill our hearts with kindness.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: In addition to Father Lovasik’s book, I have relied on Father Faber’s famous essay, “Kindness,” and also on an internet article by Michael Hickey: “Words of Wisdom: kindness is the greatest virtue of all.”

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THE POWER OF THE MORNING OFFERING

 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)

“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157)

There is an interesting – and even charming – moment in Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, when, in the midst of deep theological reflection, he suddenly pauses for a moment to pass on to us some fatherly advice on the practice of making a Morning Offering. Here is what the Pope said:

“I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.” (Spe Salvi, 40)

The great German Dominican, Father Albert M. Weiss, whose writings Pope Benedict was most likely familiar with, makes a most powerful comment concerning the importance of connecting up all the actions of our day with God. He states:

“All spiritual life is governed by the life of prayer. If a man ceases prayer death ensues…. [N]ot to intersperse the actions of the day with a thought of God and some pious aspiration, is to give undeniable proof that the spiritual life has not taken deep root in the soul.” (The Christian Life, pages 95-96)

Still further,  the great Jesuit and French spiritual writer, Father Lallemant, comments on the losses incurred by failing to sanctify our actions:

“The smallest measure of holiness, the least action that increases holiness, is to be preferred before scepters and crowns. Whence it follows, that by losing everyday opportunities of doing so many supernatural actions [i.e., little sacrificial acts done out of love for God] , we incur losses of happiness inconceivable in extent and all but irreparable.” (The Spiritual Doctrine, p. 197)

Put in a more positive light, Father Grou, another great French spiritual writer, states:

“Great occasions of heroic virtue are rarely presented to us. But little things are offered to us every day” (p.116).  “A soul which is faithful to its resolution of pleasing God in the smallest things will most assuredly gain the Heart of God; that it will draw to itself all His tenderness, all His favors, all His graces; that by such a practice it will amass every moment inconceivable treasures of merit….” (Father Jean Nicolas Grou, Manual for Interior Souls, p.120)

In the spiritual life we should desire to become more and more conscious of offering up all we do throughout the day for the love of God (the three books cited above emphasize this point). The practice of making a Morning Offering, and then renewing it throughout the day, helps us to accomplish this purpose and to merit additional graces for ourselves and others (see CCC 2010). However, we don’t want this practice to become stale and mechanical: we want it to spring forth from the love of God we have in our hearts and the desire we have to please God and do His will.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. There are many morning offering prayers you can find online. Saint Therese of Lisieux composed a very lengthy one. You might simply say throughout the day – or merely thinking it is all that matters – “this is for you, Jesus.” What really gives the action supernatural value is the purity of intention – doing it for the love of God. Here is a sample morning offering prayer:

Morning Offering Prayer: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your sacred heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all the apostles of prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.” (from Catholic.com)

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THE DIVINITY OF JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK

DEVOTION TO THE HAIL MARY PRAYER IS IMMENSELY FRUITFUL

(The Annunciation by El Greco, c. 1590-1603, Public Domain, U.S.A.)     

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)

INTRODUCTION: The value of good advice is, in some instances, simply priceless. When God in his Eternal Wisdom sent an angel to greet Mary, the angel addressed Mary not by a name, but by a title, saying: “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28). Nothing could be more assured, therefore, than the fact that Mary is a vessel of tremendous grace. The advice given by Saint Louis De Montfort (set forth below) is that devotion to the Hail Mary prayer is of incalculable value. In other words, to love to say the Hail Mary prayer with devotion and love for Mary is a Heavenly dew certain to bring you many blessings and draw you closer to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ. Here, then, is the wonderful advice given by Father De Montfort about the immense value of the Hail Mary prayer:

  1. “[You] ought also to have a great devotion to saying the Hail Mary (the Angelical Salutation). Few Christians, however enlightened, know the real price, merit, excellence, and necessity of the Hail Mary. It was necessary for the Blessed Virgin to appear several times to great and enlightened Saints, to show them the merit of it. She did so to St. Dominic, St. John Capistran, and the Blessed Alan de la Roche. They have composed entire works on the wonders and efficacy of that prayer for converting souls. They have loudly published and openly preached that, salvation having begun with the Hail Mary, the salvation of each one of us in particular is attached to that prayer. They tell us that it is that prayer which made the dry and barren earth bring forth the fruit of life; and that it is that prayer well said which makes the Word of God germinate in our souls, and bring forth Jesus Christ, the Fruit of life. They tell us that the Hail Mary is a heavenly dew for watering the earth, which is the soul, to make it bring forth its fruit in season; and that a soul which is not watered by that prayer bears no fruit, and brings forth only thorns and brambles, and is ready to be cursed. (Hebrews 6:8).
  2. … it is an equally universal experience, that those who have… great marks of predestination about them love and relish the Hail Mary, and delight in saying it. We always see the more a man is for God, the more he likes that prayer. This is what our Lady said also to the Blessed Alan, after the words which I have recently quoted.
  3. I do not know how it is, nor why, but nevertheless I well know that it is true; nor have I any better secret of knowing whether a person is for God than to examine if he likes to say the Hail Mary and the Rosary. I say, if he likes; for it may happen that a person may be under some natural inability to say it, or even a supernatural one; yet nevertheless he likes it always, and always inspires the same liking into others.
  4. O predestinate souls! slaves of Jesus in Mary! learn that the Hail Mary is the most beautiful of all prayers after the Our Father. It is the most perfect compliment which you can make to Mary, because it is the compliment which the Most High sent her by an archangel, in order to gain her heart; and it was so powerful over her heart by the secret charms of which it is so full, that in spite of her profound humility, she gave her consent to the Incarnation of the Word. It is by this compliment also that you will infallibly gain her heart, if you say it as you ought.
  5. The Hail Mary well said, that is, with attention, devotion, and modesty, is, according to the Saints, the enemy of the devil, which puts him to flight, and the hammer which crushes him. It is the sanctification of the soul, the joy of Angels, the melody of the predestinate, the canticle of the New Testament, the pleasure of Mary, and the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. The Hail Mary is a heavenly dew which fertilizes the soul. It is the chaste and loving kiss which we give to Mary. It is a vermilion rose which we present to her; a precious pearl we offer her; a chalice of divine ambrosial nectar which we hold to her. All these are comparisons of the saints.
  6. I pray you urgently, by the love I bear you in Jesus and Mary, not to content yourselves with saying the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, but a whole Chaplet; or even, if you have time, the whole Rosary every day. At the moment of your death, you will bless the day and hour in which you have followed my advice. Having thus sown in the benedictions of Jesus and Mary, you will reap eternal benedictions in heaven. ‘He who soweth in blessings, shall also reap blessings’ (2 Corinthinas 9:6).”  (From: True Devotion to Mary, translation by Father Faber, as edited)

CONCLUSION: What a simple but powerful devotion! – to love saying the Hail Mary prayer. There is nothing hard about saying this prayer (so deeply rooted in Luke’s Gospel) – and yet Saint Louis De Montfort assures us that so much good will come from it! Dear friend, fall in love with the Hail Mary prayer. Oh holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death! Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible rightly defends the traditional translation, “Hail, full of grace,” as against some modern translations, stating: “[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life. Alternative translations like ‘favored one’… are possible but inadequate.”   

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MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD

 

“The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 963).

“And why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

It is a matter of dogma, concerning the Most Blessed Trinity,  that God the Son is eternally begotten by the Father (“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God“). It is a matter of dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Eternal Love between the Father and the Son (“I believe in the Holy Spiritthe Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son“). The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment or “terminus” of the Holy Trinity, and therefore (unlike the Father and the Son) He does not bring forth (to use human terms) another Divine Person, except through Mary in the Incarnation!

The Holy Trinity chose to take its “repose” in Mary in order that the Holy Spirit could bring forth a God-man, Jesus Christ, through the unspeakable grace of the true and never-ending maternity of Mary Immaculate who is, and will always be, the Mother of God. Through Mary’s consent, the Holy Spirit’s shadow covered Mary, and she conceived our Savior in her womb (Luke 1:35). Even now in Heaven she is truly the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Although we are all adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism, Mary is, as Saint Maximilian Kolbe points out, the actual Mother of God! There is, then, a unique and special relationship between Mary and the Holy Trinity that far exceeds in profundity our understanding. We can only approach this mystery in love.

Mary’s supreme office then – her predestination we might say – is that of Mother! And since she is the mother of the first born of all the elect, Jesus Christ, she is our mother too. She intercedes for us as a good mother – no, much more, as “the best of mothers!” Jesus bequeathed her to us! “Behold your Mother.”

The Fathers at Vatican II put it this way in Lumen Gentium:

“The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.[15] By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.”

January 1, 2018 is the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let us begin the new year by drawing closer to the maternal heart of Mary. 

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: I am relying on Chapter One of True Devotion to Mary by Saint Louis DeMontfort, and also on Aim Higher, Spiritual and Marian Reflections of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I am indebted to these two saints for the content of this note. Thank you, Mother Mary, for these two great saints!

Image: Our Lady of Good Counsel by Pasqualle Sarullo (Public Domain, U.S.A.).

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THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR MARY’S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY

 

1.  CHURCH DOCTRINE
That Mary remained a virgin her entire life is a De Fide (required of the faithful) doctrine of the Catholic Church.  See Documents of Vatican II (LG57), Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499, The Mother of the Redeemer, 39 (Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul Il, 1987), and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
2. VIRGINITY FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a radical feature of Christianity, and finds its biblical mandate at Matthew 19:12. Jesus, in fact, “is described” and “sees his own self identity” as that of the “celibate bridegroom” (article by Janet Smith; see also John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15). Paul presents celibacy as a highly favored state of life for believers saying, “I wish that all were as myself am [celibate].  But each has his own special gift from God….” (1 Cor. 7:7). Paul confirms the goodness of marriage at 1 Cor. 7:38 saying, “He who marries does well,” but then adds that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.” Mary embraced both marriage and celibacy, thus exemplifying in a unique way the sublime dignity of both vocations.
 
3.  MARY, SPOUSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).
 
4.  MARY’S VOW OF VIRGINITY
The relevant verse is Luke 1:34: “How shall this be, seeing I do not know man.” These words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation show that Mary did not intend to have conjugal relations with a man; otherwise, Mary surely would have known that conjugal relations with Joseph, her husband, could cause a pregnancy. Catholic theologian Stefano Manelli explains Mary’s strange response to the angel this way:
 
“Confronted by this [the angel Gabriel’s] wondrous announcement, however, the virgin finds herself embarrassed; not because of the sublime greatness of the majesty announced to her, but rather for the way in which such a maternity might be realized. The embarrassment would seem inexplicable because, on any reasonable grounds, she is precisely a woman in ideal conditions to conceive a son. She is the young spouse of Joseph – What young spouse would not be inclined to desire a beautiful son? It is obvious, therefore, and must be acknowledged that Mary’s difficulty stems from a precise commitment — vow or promise — “not to know man,” that is, to be and remain a virgin.  St. Augustine rightly says, that ‘Mary certainly would not have spoken those words If she had not vowed her virginity to Got” In fact, only by admitting Mary’s virginal consecration to God, can it be understood why she found herself facing an unsolvable dilemma: How to reconcile her virginal offering to God with the request of maternity on the part of God? How could she become a mother without betraying a promise of virginal consecration to God.”
(Stefano Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, pages 137-140)

Warren H. Carroll adds:

“[The] Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds…to the Hebrew and Aramaic active participle indicating a permanent condition. Mary’s words in Aramaic were ki enneni yodaat ish, the yodaat indicating a permanent condition of virginity” (Warren Carroll summarizing and quoting from Manuel Miguen’s “indispensable” work, The Virgin Birth: an Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence (p.81) in The Founding of Christendom, Vol. I, p.310).

 
5. DID JESUS HAVE BROTHERS?

Robert Payesko comments:

“It is often alleged too that such verses as Mark 6:3, “His brethren James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon,” and Matthew 13:55- 56, “his brethren James and Joseph, and Simon and Judas,” are evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters. What is forgotten is that the Jewish expression for brothers and sisters applies to cousins and even to people in the same tribe. Although Lot was the son of Jjraharn’s brother Aran, he is described as Abraham’s “brother” (Genesis 14:14). Similarly, Jacob is referred to as the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:15). Similar examples are found throughout Scripture.  In any case, in Matthew 27:56, Mark 14:40 and John 19:25, James and Joseph are described as the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas— thus Scripture tells us that the “brethren” James and Joseph in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are not blood brothers of Jesus. If James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was truly a son of Mary it would be impossible for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be affirmed in the early Church Nevertheless, such ancient writers as IrenaeusPolycarp and Ignatius all taught the doctrine as an article of faith.”
(Robert Payesko. The Truth about Mary, page 2-198).

 Section 500 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”
 
 
6. MATTHEW 1:25: “UNTIL SHE BORE A SON”
The relevant verse is sometimes translated, “he [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, whom he named Jesus.” The New American Bible translates the verse as follows: “He had no relations with her at anytime before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus,” This verse demonstrates that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth, thus establishing the doctrine of Jesus’ virginal birth, The verse does not mean that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus was born.

Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

“The Greek hoes [until] does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated ‘”to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 413). Here Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth.”
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, page 18).
 

J. Laurericeau explains:

The semitic locution “until” makes no judgment about the future. Thus, “Michal was childless until the clay of her death” (2 Sm 6:23) [does not’t imply Michal became a mother after her death.]”
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)
 
7. MARY EXCLUSIVELY REFERRED TO IN BIBLE AS JESUS’ MOTHER
Mary is never called the mother of anyone else except Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels refer only to Jesus as Mary’s son (the verses where Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son include John 2:1, John 19:25, and Acts 1:14). Further, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, it is unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the Apostle John’s care at his crucifixion if Mary had other natural sons to care for her (John 19:26-27).
 
8. LUKE 2:7 “FIRSTBORN SON”

J. Laurencaau explains:

Luke says: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son” (2:7). This makes allusion to the legal prescriptions concerning the first male child of a family, even if there were no other children.
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)

 Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

[Luke 2:7 is] a legal term linked with a son’s social standing and rights of inheritance.  It does not imply that Mary had other children after Jesus, only that she had none before him.
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, page 22)
 
9. THE CHURCH FATHERS
The Protoevangelium of James, written around A.D. 120, had as one of its “principal aims” to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Origin (died 254) strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity but Tertullian (died 230), who was excommunicated, denied it.  Other early Church fathers affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity include Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.  Reference: Mary: Ever Virgin (This Rock: February, 2002) and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
10. EARLY DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENT
Mary referred to as “perpetual virgin” by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople in 553.  The first doctrinal formulation of this belief takes place at the Lateran Synod of 649 under Pope Martin I where Mary is called “blessed ever-virginal and Immaculate Mary.”  Reference: Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Madonna of the Book, c. 1480, by Sandro Botticelli (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS AND THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

“But does the soul see nothing in this dark night? In the natural order when the sun has set and completely disappeared… we can see stars and constellations which are thousands of leagues from the earth. When the soul enters the spiritual darkness we are speaking of, it no longer sees what is near it, but it has an increasingly better anticipatory apprehension of the infinite majesty and purity of God….” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange on the passive purification of the spirit)

“For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7)


INTRODUCTION: This note attempts to shed light on the great purifying value of “spiritual darkness” for growth in holiness by way of a summary of some of the insights of the Church’s greatest mystical theologian, Saint John of the Cross. However inadequate this note may be, I nevertheless hope it will be of some value to you, and that it will at least increase your interest in this great mystical theologian and Saint of whom Saint John Paul II said: [The spiritual journey is] totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”. How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila?” (Novo Millenio Inuente)

KEY PRELIMINARY POINT # 1: Saint John of the Cross states, “All the goodness [of the things created by God], in comparison with the infinite goodness of God, may be described as wickedness. For there is naught good, save only God,” and, “All the wealth and glory of all creation, in comparison with the wealth which is God, is supreme poverty and wretchedness” (Saint John of the Cross, Book I, Ascent of Mount Carmel). The underlying starting point of John of the Cross is thus: God is All in AllTherefore, we were created to set our hearts on God.

KEY PRELIMINARY POINT # 2: Saint John of the Cross emphasizes the nearness of God, who is “nearer to us than we are to ourselves.” In The Spiritual Canticle he makes this point in a strikingly beautiful way: “Oh, then, soul, most beautiful among all creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your Beloved so you may go in search of him and be united with him, now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret inner room and hiding place. There is reason for you to be elated and joyful in seeing that all your good and hope is so close as to be within you, or better, that you cannot be without him. Behold, exclaims the Bridegroom, the kingdom of God is within you [Lk. 17:21]. And his servant, the apostle St. Paul, declares: You are the temple of God [2 Cor. 6:16].  It brings special happiness to a person to understand that God is never absent….” (Stanza 1; emphasis added). Therefore, the desire for union with God is greatly aided by the discovery that God dwells within my baptized soul!

OVERVIEW:

1. We are made for union with God, a process which begins with baptism (where the great gift of sanctifying grace concurrently prepares our soul for the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity) and which is meant to grow in intimacy and love by the increase of this grace throughout our lives. Please call to mind that the gift of sanctifying grace includes the three theological ( God-directed) virtues of faith, hope and love, along with the infused moral virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The purpose for the soul’s journey through the “dark night” of purification and contemplation is to arrive at an “experimental” or true mystical knowledge of the indwelling of the Triune  God, the highest degree of which is the transforming union.

2. This process of growing ever closer to God is in direct response to the great commandment: to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and with all our strength (see Matt 22: 37-40).

3. This journey to greater intimacy with God is hindered by false loves and inordinate attachments. In this sense, we become like what we love.Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). I repeat, since this is a key point of the saint, you will grow in likeness to what you love. Consequently, when we set our affections on God, we are reformed more and more, through grace, into His image and likeness. Thus, as Saint John of the Cross says, “What prepares the soul to be united with God is the desire for God.” 

4. These false loves and inordinate attachments, although not necessarily sinful, nevertheless need to be purged and purified, so as to set our “house” in right order. This purification, then, involves not only the avoidance of sin but also the readjustment of our appetites and desires (it could be called an “un-possessing” of all the affections that capture our heart but impede our union with God). Saint John of the Cross says:

“[The] soul went forth (being led by God) for love of Him alone, enkindled in love of Him, upon a dark night, which is the privation and purgation of all its sensual desires, with respect to all outward things of the world and to those which were delectable to its flesh, and likewise with respect to the desires of its will. This all comes to pass in this purgation of sense; for which cause the soul says that it went forth while its house was still at rest; which house is its sensual part, the desires being at rest and asleep in it, as it is to them. For there is no going forth from the pains and afflictions of the secret places of the desires until these be mortified and put to sleep. And this, the soul says, was a happy chance for it — namely, its going forth without being observed: that is, without any desire of its flesh or any other thing being able to hinder it. And likewise, because it went out by night — which signifies the privation of all these things wrought in it by God, which privation was night for it” (from Chapter 1 of Ascent of Mount Carmel, pertaining, in particular, to the night of the senses discussed below).

The purpose of entering into the dark night, then, is to effect the purification needed in order to draw closer to God.

5. This process of purification or mortification, which John of the Cross calls a “dark night,” involves a four step process:

 
   1) The Active Night of the Senses (Book I, Ascent of Mount Carmel)
 
   2) The Passive Night of the Senses (Book I, Dark Night of the Soul)
 
   3) The Active Night of the Spirit (Books II and III, Ascent of Mount Carmel)
 
   4) The Passive Night of the Spirit (Book II, Dark Night of the Soul)


MORTIFICATION OF THE SENSES (Lower Faculties) Night of the Senses

6. The active night of the senses involves our own effort, supported by grace, to mortify the inordinate desires of the senses (St John of the Cross often uses the phrase, “mortification of the appetites”). All the things we outwardly or secretly love and desire, which prevent us from setting our hearts on God, like creature wealth and selfish sensual pleasures, need to be put to rest, as if entering a dark night where they are no longer seen, so that the soul can advance unhindered towards the love of God. In this process there is a transformation of desire from the love of things and a disordered sensuality, to the LOVE OF GOD. This process involves self-denial, detachment, prayer, growth in virtue and the readjustment of our affections. What is crucial is to enkindle in our hearts a strong love of God. Again, what you love is what you will become.


EXAMPLES: If God could take the zeal and love we have for the passing and perishable things of this world, and apply that zeal and love to Himself (God being the one, true good), the result would be hearts on fire in the service of the LordJohn of the Cross refers to this change of heart as a “transformation” or “reformation of desire”. In this transformation, we begin to love God with our whole heart and soul (thus fulfilling the great commandment), whereas our love for the passing things of this world wanes (and we use them primarily in the service of God). This readjustment of our affections is something God is attempting to carry out in our lives whenever our love for some object or pleasure impedes our love for Him. “He who has God has everything.” “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul” (Mark 8:36). One example: the amazing transformation of desire that took place in Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He took all the zeal, energy and love he had in being a soldier and nobleman and transferred it to the service of God.

St. Paul had the same type of zeal and determination for life displayed by Ignatius. God saw what a good job Saul was doing going after new Christians, and He must of thought, “I need that guy on my side.” So He knocked Saul off his horse and set Paul’s heart on the love of Christ. Paul’s return to the Lord was prodigious. No one worked harder, and suffered more, to advance the church. Is there anything in our lives that we potentially love more than God (or prevent us from growing closer to God)? Is there anything in our lives that provides more security to us than God? Do we have idols that impede our worship of God? Do we understand that the only retirement account of any value is Heaven? These disordered affections need to be uprooted, for they ultimately impede us from loving God and growing closer to Him.

A QUOTE FROM SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS: “Hence, we call this nakedness [this mortification of appetites] a night for the soul, for we are not discussing the mere lack of things; this lack will not divest the soul if it craves for all these objects. We are dealing with the denudation [emptying] of the soul’s appetites and gratifications. This is what leaves it free and empty of all things, even though it possesses them. Since the things of the world cannot enter the soul, they are not in themselves an encumbrance or harm to it; rather, it is the will and appetite dwelling within that causes the damage when set on these things” (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book One, Chapter 3). Saint John of the Cross mentions that even a small, seemingly harmless attachment to some pleasure or novelty can impede the soul’s advancement if not mortified. In short, this purification is comprehensive: you are scrubbing clean all your inordinate desires and attachments – all of them! (and St. John of the Cross provides some rather strong guidelines to accomplish this goal; see Book One, Chapter 13). A simple example: you are attached to late night news shows which prevent you from praying the rosary and from examination of conscience. How many amusements and trivial pursuits keep us from meditation, deep prayer and adoration, thus impeding our union with God?

The beautiful senses God has given us should help us to grow in holiness. In our electronic media society we often run the risk of getting entrapped in a world of sensory addiction that is almost a type of bondage. Moreover, our consumer society can keep our senses so inflamed with the desire for “petty, peripheral things,” that we we run the risk of despiritualization. The remedy to this very real and serious problem involves the great Catholic spiritual principle of detachment, where we begin to control our desire for things that are stunting or limiting our true moral and spiritual development, eliminating anything which is immoral, and strictly limiting things which are harmful because they keep us away from other activities which are far more humanizing and God-directed. In the order of the human being, God is the greatest good to which all other goods must be subordinated. Growth in prayer, in fact, is a fundamental antidote to despiritualization. So we see that John of the Cross’ recommendation that we set our senses at rest in the purifying darkness is highly relevant to our own times.

“Strive,” says St. John of the Cross in the counsels he gives in Chapter 13, “thus to desire to enter into complete detachment and emptiness and poverty, with respect to everything that is in the world, for Christ’s sake.” And, “Desire to possess nothing, in order to arrive at being everything.” How can we walk in “liberty of spirit,” towards union with God, our true good, if we are so weighed down by our things, our desires, and our inordinate sensual appetites? Thus, the necessity for the active purification of the senses.

7.  The active night of the senses prepares us for the passive night of the senses. The passive night of the senses involves God’s own action upon the soul in question. As the person begins to strip away his inordinate sensual attraction to the things of this world, thus getting rid of the “old-self,” especially through prayer, meditation and self-denial, God then allows a profound period of spiritual aridity to beset the believer, the ultimate purpose of which is to effectuate an even more powerful purification of our inordinate passions and desires, especially as these vices begin to manifest themselves on a spiritual level (as in craving for spiritual delights and pleasures). As the believer perseveres through this “dark night,” where no consolation of God is experienced, but not wanting to turn back to the futility of his old ways, a breakthrough ultimately occurs whereby, through sheer grace, the believer begins to experience the interior presence of God and makes the transition from meditative (discursive) prayer to contemplative (supernatural) prayer, thus moving from the purgative stage of the journey to the illuminative stage (from beginner to proficient). Regarding this transition, Saint John of the Cross states:

“Since the conduct of these beginners in the way of God is lowly and not too distant from love of pleasure and of self, as we explained, God desires to withdraw them from this base manner of loving and lead them on to a higher degree of divine love. And he desires to liberate them from the lowly exercise of the senses and of discursive meditation, by which they go in search of him so inadequately and with so many difficulties, and lead them into the exercise of spirit, in which they become capable of a communion with God that is more abundant and more free of imperfections” (Dark Night of the Soul, Book I, Chapter 8).

This process may take several months or many years.

NOTEThis deeper purification of the passive night of the senses is needed because, as the soul begins to experience sweetness and consolation in spiritual things, resulting from progress made and graces given during the active night of the senses, it “stumbles into many imperfections” like spiritual pride, spiritual avarice and spiritual gluttony (a manifestation of the seven capital sins on a deeper, more spiritual level). The soul thus needs to be greatly humbled, and thus to walk the path of pure faith without groping incessantly  for spiritual delights and consolations, so as to draw closer to God Himself. Consolations are good, but they are not meant to be an end in themselves. John of the Cross discusses three signs that demonstrate that the soul has genuinely entered into this passive night of the senses (1. no consolation in the things of God, or in created things; 2. the memory dwells ordinarily upon God with a painful anxiety; and 3. an inability to meditate with an attraction simply to gaze inwardly at God), and then discusses the amazing benefits derived from this night( see Book I, Chapters 9-12 of Dark Night of the Soul; and pages 43-53 of The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. II, for a detailed discussion of the “three signs” summarized above by Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange). 

A QUOTE FROM SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS: “At the time of the aridities of this sensory night, God makes the exchange we mentioned by withdrawing the soul from the life of the senses and placing it in that of spirit — that is, he brings it from meditation to contemplation — where the soul no longer has the power to work or meditate with its faculties on the things of God. Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo as to their fear of having gone astray….The attitude necessary in this night of the senses is to pay no attention to discursive meditation since this is not the time for it. They should allow the soul to remain in rest and quietude even though it may seem obvious to them that they are doing nothing  and wasting time….Through patience and perseverance in prayer, they will be doing a great deal without activity on their part….They must be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God, and live without the concern, without the effort, and without the desire to taste or feel him. All these desires disquiet the soul and distract it from the peaceful, quiet, and sweet idleness of the contemplation that is being communicated to it” (The Dark Night, Book I, Chapter 10).

It might be beneficial to look at this passive night of the senses from the point of view of addition and subtraction. With the subtraction of sensible consolations in the lower faculties (the sensual part of the soul), comes the addition of a dry, nascent, infused, mystical contemplation in the spiritual part of the soul – a contemplation perhaps not even fully perceived by the soul, but which will increase as the soul becomes more receptive to it. In essence, the soul is being weaned of sensible consolations and called to a higher spiritual life of contemplative prayer through these special operations and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. If the soul perceives that the three signs mentioned above have been met, the soul can safely conclude that God is calling it to a deeper conversion marked by an experimental knowledge of God made present to the soul through an infused, loving contemplation (Ref. chapter 4, Volume II, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, concerning the passive purification of the senses).

Among the effects of the passive night of the senses on the soul, Saint John of the Cross mentions the following: “The love of God is practiced, because the soul is no longer attracted by sweetness and consolation, but by God only. . . . In the midst of these aridities and hardships, God communicates to the soul, when it least expects it, spiritual sweetness, most pure love, and spiritual knowledge of the most exalted kind, of greater worth and profit than any of which it had previous experience, though at first the soul may not think so, for the spiritual influence now communicated is most delicate and imperceptible by sense” (Dark Night of the Soul, Book I, Chapter 13, cited by Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange).

Another great benefit derived by the soul from this purgation of sense is a profound knowledge of self. Father Garrigou-LaGrange explains:  “Among the effects of the passive purification of the senses, must be numbered a profound and experimental knowledge of God and self. St. John of the Cross points out: ‘These aridities and the emptiness of the faculties as to their former abounding, and the difficulty which good works present, bring the soul to a knowledge of its own vileness and misery.’ This knowledge is the effect of nascent infused contemplation…. St. John of the Cross says: ‘The soul possesses and retains more truly that excellent and necessary virtue of self-knowledge, counting itself for nothing, and having no satisfaction in itself, because it sees that of itself it does and can do nothing. This diminished satisfaction with self, and the affliction it feels because it thinks that it is not serving God, God esteems more highly than all its former delights and all its good works.’ With this knowledge of its indigence, its poverty, the soul comprehends better the majesty of God, His infinite goodness toward us, the value also of Christ’s merits, of His precious blood, the infinite value of the Mass, and the value of Communion. ‘God [says St. John of the Cross] enlightens the soul, making it see not only its own misery and meanness, . . . but also His grandeur and majesty’ ” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. II, pages 61-62).

Other benefits of this passive night of the senses include “the soul bears a habitual remembrance of God,” it “exercises all the virtues together,” a “spiritual humility” manifested by “love of neighbor,” “freedom of spirit” accompanied with the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the soul longs and yearns to serve God (The Dark Night, Book I, Chapter 13).

The night of the senses has turned out to be an extraordinary blessing, and the soul is now prepared for a deeper, more comprehensive purification in the night of the spirit, a purification where the soul will experience profound privations and desolation in the dark night of the valley of the shadow of death, in order to reach the ultimate goal of this journey in spiritual darkness – union with God, for which the purification of the senses was the necessary first stage. We proceed, therefore, to the night of the spirit.



MORTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT: OF THE UNDERSTANDING, MEMORY AND WILL (Higher Faculties) Night of the Spirit

      “We are now going to treat of the second part of this night, which is faith; this
        is the wondrous means which, as we said, leads to the goal, which is God.”
        (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, Chapter II)

8. The crucial importance of FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE! Saint John wants us to thoroughly cleanse the faculties which sense, know, desire, understand, remember, imagine and will. In short, John of the Cross wants to completely clean house! And when our spiritual house has been set in order, and swept clean of all the encumbrances that so impede union with God, we will begin to walk by faith, hope and love (the theological virtues). And so a deeper purification is still needed, which brings us to the active and then passive night of the spirit. The active purification of the spirit, of the understanding, memory and will, is discussed in great detail, and with great importance, in Books II and III of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, with numerous examples and explanations given of the detachment needed to avoid pitfalls or dangers associated with our natural knowing, remembering and willing: these examples demonstrate how the misguided or even wounded human intellectual faculties lead souls off the path which leads to contemplation.

Saint John of the Cross provides practical suggestions for the proficient’s practice of contemplative prayer in Book II of The Ascent of Mount Carmel(Chapter 12), and then readdresses the signs which show that the proficient is truly called to leave meditation and pass on to the state of contemplation (AMC, Book II, Chapter 13). It is useful to understand that there is normally a gap of “many years” between the night of the senses and the passive night of the spirit (TDN, Book II, Chapter 1). It is the passive night of the spirit which marks the soul’s transition from proficient to perfect, from the illuminative stage of the journey to the unitive stage. The unitive stage of the journey is entered upon and completed by the passive night of the spirit, of which the active night of the spirit (addressed in Books II and III of The Ascent of Mount Carmel) is the preparation. The passive night of the spirit is discussed in Book II of The Dark Night Of The Soul (TDN).

Our natural knowledge and human ingenuity are completely insufficient to effectuate union with God; rather, only the supernatural knowledge accessible by the super-discursive virtues of faith, hope and love can effectuate a likeness to God which is the basis of such a union. “As a result, a man has nothing more to do than strip his soul of these natural contrarieties and dissimilarities so that God…may [communicate] Himself to it…supernaturally through grace” (AMC, Book II, Chapter 5). Supernatural faith therefore purifies human understanding, and since memory is our storage facility for human knowledge, it too needs to be purified by supernatural hope; and since the will derives its affections from human intellectual perceptions it needs to be purified by supernatural charity. Even if you were the beneficiary of a supernatural vision, you would still need to process it through your human intellectual faculties, which is, per se, an obstacle to union with God. “[V]isions will be an obstacle to…advancement if [a person] fails to practice this denial, since they impede spiritual nudity, poverty, and emptiness in faith – the requisite for union with God” (AMC, Book II, Chapter 24). Only when the human intellect is placed in darkness (in “un-knowing”) can faith make progress towards its exceptional goal – union with God.

Saint John of the Cross states:“The reason [for this purification of the spirit] is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensory part are rooted in the spirit and from it receive their strength. All good and evil habits reside in the spirit and until these habits are purged the senses cannot be completely purified of their rebellions and vices” (The Dark Night  Book II, Chapter 3).

Saint John of the Cross points out that the imperfections of the lower faculties, namely, the senses, although now purged, cannot be completely purged unless the higher, spiritual faculties of the understandingmemory and will are also purged. “The stains of the old man still remain in their spirit like rust that will disappear only under the action of a purifying fire” (Father Garrigou LaGrange). Although Saint John of the cross spends a lot of time discussing the defects still present in proficients, one might summarize by saying that egoism and pride are deeply embedded in the human spirit. “They must be purified from every human attachment to their judgment, to their excessively personal manner of seeing, willing, acting, from every human attachment to the good works to which they devote themselves. This purification, if well borne in the midst of temptations against the three theological virtues, will increase tenfold their faith, their confidence in God, and their love of God and neighbor” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange). This purgation or purification of the spirit, of the understanding, memory and will, is accomplished in the following manner:

Understanding is to be replaced by faith

Memory is to be emptied and forgotten and replaced by hope 

The will is to be emptied of all desires save that of loving God with all our heart, mind and strength

A QUOTE FROM SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS: “But we are imparting instructions here for advancing in contemplation to union with God. All these sensory means and exercises of the faculties must consequently be left behind and in silence, so that God himself may effect divine union in the soul. As a result one has to follow the method of disencumbering, emptying, and depriving the faculties of their natural authority and operations to make room for the inflow and illumination of the supernatural. Those who do not turn their eyes from their natural capacity will not attain to so lofty a communication; rather they will hinder it” (The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Three, Chapter II, my emphasis).

Concerning the purification of memory, Saint John of the Cross states: “We must draw it away from its natural props and capacities and raise it above itself to supreme hope in the incomprehensible God” (AMC, Book III, Chapter 2, as cited by S. Muto in The Ascent, p.124). And concerning the purification of the will, Saint John says this: “[T]he will must…be emptied of and detached from all disordered appetite and satisfaction in every particular thing in which it can rejoice whether earthly or heavenly, temporal or spiritual, so that purged and cleansed of all inordinate satisfactions , joys and appetites it might be wholly occupied in loving God with its affections. For if in any way the will can comprehend God and be united with Him, it is through love….” (Minor Works, Letter 12, as cited by S. Muto in The Ascent, p.145). Biblically, Saint Paul says in Ephesians 3:19: “…and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

In essence, we are going to let the Holy Spirit lead us. In Saint John’s own words, the understanding is purged in “the darkness of faith, the memory in the emptiness of hope, and the will in the nakedness and absence of every affection.” This sort of transformation is necessary, John maintains, for those seeking mystical union with God. And even though we may not reach that high degree of union in this lifetime (“the unitive stage”), the principles laid down by Saint John are still of tremendous value in that we should learn to be very distrustful of our limited, human knowledge (and walk by faith); and we need to escape being bogged down in our past memories (some which harm and distract us) and look forward with hope to one day being in the presence of God; and, finally, we need to redirect our will to loving God with all our heart, mind and strength. The theological virtues were placed in our souls at baptism, and they function to allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives. This active process of “letting go of all that is not God,” as stored in our understanding, memory and will, prepares us for the passive night of the spirit, ultimately leading to betrothal and union with God, but not before trials and sufferings of a most profound nature (during the passive night of the spirit) as described in the following paragraph.

The entrance into this profound night of suffering and passive purification, which might be likened to entering an obscure, dark tunnel, is necessary for the comprehensive purgation God intends to work in the soul. For it is in this darkness that God can work secretly through an obscure and penetrating light – a “dark contemplation,” a “transluminous obscurity” – to bring forth the profound reign of supernatural life in the soul He is essentially transforming into a saint. The annihilation of the soul’s natural faculties is so profound, so painful, so awful that St. John of the Cross calls it a “terrible anguish” and a “terrible undoing,” which normally lasts several years (with varying intensities). This transformative suffering of a purgatorial-like quality is caused by a dark, penetrating contemplation that annihilates and supernaturalizes. What can the soul entering into this “frightful” night of the passive purification of the spirit expect to encounter? Here is a partial list of some of the formidable and daunting challenges the soul will face as God essentially takes over control of the soul’s deep purification of the spirit (here I am relying on the helpful insights of Dr. Susan Muto in John of the Cross for Today: The Dark Night, pages 166-195, as edited):
 
A. Divestment. The stripping of the soul’s faculties, especially intellect, memory and will.
B. Apparent Abandonment. As God secretly empties human understanding, the soul in its affliction feels abandoned by God.
C. Privation. “The experience of being deprived of knowledge, good memories, and warm feelings….”
D. Dark Contemplation/Trans-luminous Obscurity. “The divine wisdom is so high that it transcends the capacity of the soul, and therefore it is, in that respect, darkness” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 5). This “infused purifying light manifests itself as darkness” and “at times causes great suffering” (Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange). “The rays of high contemplation…striking the soul with its divine light, makes it dark, and deprives it of all the natural affections and apprehensions which it previously entertained in its own natural light” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 8).
E. Secret Contemplation. “As divine wisdom darkens human reason,” the soul becomes painfully aware of its utter wretchedness and weakness in contrast to the divine operation. This experience causes the soul profound agony as it sees itself in its true condition.
F. Loneliness and Isolation. “One feels utterly alone, cast out of the shelter of God’s favor like an unwanted stranger.”
G. Feeling Undone. Saint John of the Cross quotes Psalm 18:5: “The breakers of death surged round about me, the destroying floods overwhelmed me.”
H. Feeling Rejection. This “purgative contemplation” causes the soul to feel like an outcast, “of enduring a kind of living hell,” of being the object of God’s chastisement and anger.
I. Feeling Forsaken. “It is as if one has become a lost soul, enveloped in an abyss, forsaken by God and despised by other people, even one’s friends.”
J. Feeling Utterly Dependent on God. This “dark contemplation” leads the soul to the profound realization that he is nothing and God is everything. The soul experiences its profound emptiness and poverty apart from God. 
K.The Testing of Faith. “The struggle to remain faithful under the duress of darkness stretches our will to the breaking point.” Father Garrigou-LaGrange states that temptations against faith, hope and love are present during this night of the spirit.
L. Great Trials.  Saint John of the Cross states: “For when a person feels safest and least expects it, the purgation returns to engulf the soul in another degree more severe, dark, and piteous than the former….”
M. Afflictions of the Darkest Hour. The soul feels affliction in not being able to pray. St. John of the Cross says “…this is not the time to speak with God, but the time to put one’s mouth in the dust….” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 8).  We “must suffer through this purgation with patience” and “learn to be still.”
N. Incipient Transformation. The denudation or emptying of the intellect, will and memory takes place, which prepares the soul to receive the divine influx of supernatural light that will unite it to the divine wisdom.
O. Knowing by Faith, Not by Sight. “The soul with universality and great facility perceives and penetrates anything earthly or heavenly that is presented to it” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 8). This might be considered a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, for it certainly is a divine operation.
P. The Soul is Wounded with Love. During these difficult and dark trials, the soul begins to experience touches of God’s love, and the soul is therefore wounded with love. Saint John of the Cross says: “[T]he soul, amidst these dark trials, feels itself wounded to the quick by this strong love divine….And inasmuch as this love is infused in a special way, the soul corresponds only passively with it, and thus a strong passion of love is begotten within it….The soul is itself touched, wounded, and set on fire with love….” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 11). In the very next chapter St. John of the Cross adds: “This enkindling of love…is something immensely rich…because it is a certain touch of the divinity and already the beginning of the perfection of the union of love which the soul hopes.” The manifestation of the Divine Wisdom as love to the soul is now, with this profound and painful purification of its faculties, becoming more accessible. The purification is accomplishing its goal of uniting the soul to God.
Q. The Soul is Taken to a Secret Place. “…this mystical wisdom occasionally so engulfs souls in its secret abyss that they have the keen awareness of being brought into a place far removed from every creature. They accordingly feel that they have been led into a remarkably deep and vast wilderness unattainable by any human creature, into an immense, unbounded desert, the more delightful, savorous, and loving, the deeper, vaster, and more solitary it is. They are conscious of being so much more hidden, the more they are elevated above every temporal creature. Souls are so elevated and exalted by this abyss of wisdom, which leads them into the heart of the science of love….” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 17)
R. The Soul Experiences Profound Peace and Joy. “Yet when the communication of such contemplation shines in the spirit alone and produces strength in it, the devil’s diligence in disturbing the soul is often of no avail. It receives instead new benefits and a deeper, more secure peace. For what a wonderful thing it is! In experiencing the troublesome presence of the enemy, the soul enters more deeply into its inner depths without knowing how and without any efforts of its own, and it is sharply aware of being placed in a certain refuge where it is more hidden and withdrawn from the enemy. There the peace and joy that the devil planned to undo increase. All that fear remains outside; and the soul exults in a very clear consciousness of secure joy, in the quiet peace and delight of the hidden Spouse that neither the world nor the devil can either give or take away” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 23).
S. The Soul Experiences Substantial Touches of Union with God. “The reason for this concealment is that since His Majesty dwells substantially in that part of the soul to which neither the angel nor the devil can gain access and thereby see what is happening, the enemy cannot learn of the intimate and secret communications there between the soul and God. Since the Lord grants these communications directly, they are wholly divine and sovereign. They are all substantial touches of divine union between God and the soul. In one of these touches, since this is the highest degree of prayer, the soul receives greater good than in all else….A person in this way becomes wholly spiritual, and in these hiding places of unitive contemplation…my house being now all stilled” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 23).
(see note on the cause of the passive purification of the spirit, below)

THE SOUL WALKS SAFELY AND SECURELY THROUGH THIS PURIFYING DARK NIGHT: Saint John of the Cross states: “In the measure that the soul walks in darkness and emptiness in its natural operations, it walks securely….Since the soul’s evils are thus impeded, only the goods of union with God are imparted to the appetites and faculties; these appetites and faculties become divine and heavenly in this union. If they observe closely at the time of these darknesses, individuals will see clearly how little the appetites and faculties are distracted with useless and harmful things and how secure they are from vainglory, from pride and presumption, from an empty and false joy, and from many other evils…. Another more basic reason the soul walks securely in darkness is that this light, or obscure wisdom, so absorbs and engulfs the soul in the dark night of contemplation and brings it so near God that it is protected and freed from all that is not God. Since the soul, as it were, is undergoing a cure to regain its health, which is God himself, His Majesty restricts it to a diet, to abstinence from all things, and causes it to lose its appetite for them all….Because dark contemplation brings the soul closer to God, it has all these characteristics; it safeguards and cares for the soul” (TDN, Book II, Chapter 16).

This passive night of the spirit we have just briefly discussed is an experience of “utter desolation,” where only the “light of pure faith” is able to safely and securely preserve the believer from despair, until finally, and in stages described by mystical theologians (Saint John of the Cross uses the image of ascending ten steps on a mystical ladder), an overwhelming experience of union with God takes place. Saint John of the Cross describes it in the following manner:

“Poor, abandoned, and unsupported by any of the apprehensions of my soul (in the darkness of my intellect, in the distress of my will, and the affliction and anguish of my memory), left to darkness in pure faith, which is a dark night for all these natural faculties, and with my will touched only by sorrows, afflictions, and longings of love of God, I went out from myself.

… My intellect departed from itself, changing from human and natural to divine. For united with God through this purgation, it no longer understands by means of its natural vigor and light, but by means of the divine wisdom to which it was united.  And my will departed from itself and became divine.  United with divine love, it no longer loves in a lowly manner, with its natural strength, but with the strength and purity of the Holy Spirit; and thus the will does not operate humanly in relation to God. The memory, too, was changed into eternal apprehensions of glory. And finally, all the strength and affections of the soul, by means of this night and purgation of the old self, are renewed with divine qualities and delights.” (The Dark Night, Book II, Chapter IV, as cited by Larry Cooley in The Way to Ultimate Meaning in the Mystical Theology of Saint John of the Cross).

9. In a very simplified manner (relying on Father Garrigou-LaGrange), we may say that these higher intellectual and spiritual faculties have been purified “in their depths” by this dark night of trial and suffering which elevates to an extraordinary degree the infused, loving contemplation of God, and all the amazing benefits which flow from such an elevation of union with God. The highest level of union with God the soul can attain to by the purification of this dark night is called the transforming union, of which Father Garrigou-LaGrange states: “St. John of the Cross describes the transforming union as the state of spiritual perfection, the full development of the grace of the virtues and the gifts: ‘The perfect spiritual life,’ he says, ‘consists in the possession of God by the union of love.’ The transforming union is, therefore, most intimate; it brings with it great, inalterable peace, at least to the summit of the higher faculties.” Overall, these successive purifications place “our house in order”, the ultimate effect of which is profound union with God and, as Ralph Martin points out, a proper and much richer use and appreciation of the things of this world for the love of neighbor and the greater glory of God

THE CAUSE OF THE PASSIVE PURIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT: As Father Garrigou-LaGrange demonstrates, the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, and the intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit (Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding) are operating at a high level at these higher levels of the spiritual journey, as God, in essence, is now leading the soul. The “purifying infused light” of the dark night, which St. John of the Cross calls “a certain inflowing of God into the soul which cleanses…whereby God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in the perfection of love,” Father Garrigou-LaGrange relates specifically to the Gift of Understanding. Father Garrigou-LaGrange quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, who said: “The stronger the light of the understanding, the further it can penetrate into the heart of things….Consequently man needs a supernatural light in order to penetrate further so as to know what it cannot know by its natural light: and this supernatural light which is bestowed on man is called the gift of understanding.” The gift of understanding, according to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s critique of Saint Thomas, “confirms the supernatural certitude of faith by making us penetrate mysteries and by dispelling errors.” Thus, says Father Garrigou-LaGrange, relying on Saint Thomas, “Contemplation, which exists in the state of darkness [in the dark night], proceeds from living faith as from its radical principle, and from the gift of understanding as from its proximate principle. The gift of knowledge also often concurs in it by revealing to us more in detail our poverty, culpability, and wretchedness” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. II, Chapter 36).

A QUOTE FROM SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS: At the end of Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross leaves us with these final thoughts: “By means of the acts of substantial touches of divine union, the soul obtains habitually and perfectly (insofar as the condition of this life allows) the rest and quietude of her spiritual house. In concealment and hiding from the disturbance of both the devil and the senses and passions, she receives these touches from the divinity. By their means the soul is purified, quieted, strengthened, and made stable so she may receive permanently this divine union, which is the divine espousal between the soul and the Son of God….One cannot reach this union without remarkable purity, and this purity is unattainable without vigorous mortification and nakedness regarding all creatures….Persons who refuse to go out at night in search for the Beloved and to divest and mortify their will, but rather seek the Beloved in their own bed and comfort, as did the bride [Sg. 3:1], will not succeed in finding him. As this soul declares, she found him when she departed in darkness and with longings of love”(Chapter 24).

10. Saint John of the Cross describes the active night of the senses and spirit in Ascent of Mt. Carmel. He describes the passive night of the senses and spirit in Dark Night of the SoulPractical point: Not everyone enters into the dark night voluntarily. Sometimes God brings us into the darkness against our wills in order to purify us. God wants us to learn to walk by faith, hope and love. Thus, as Ralph Martin says, we need to keep in mind that “the purification is our friend.” Dr. Martin further points out that if we persevere during this painful purification, God will take us where we need to go. “Be faithful and it will happen.”

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Stock.

Personal note: There is a lot more to the spiritual theology of Saint John of the Cross than the bare-bones outline presented here (entire topics, like the difficulties presented to the soul by purported supernatural phenomena, and many other topics, are not even touched upon). This post provides, at best, a bird’s eye view of his spirituality (and, as a summary, no doubt has defects and deficiencies). Saint John of the Cross is not easy to read. For a more detailed explanation of his spirituality, see Dr. Susan Muto’s two books, John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent and John of the Cross for Today: The Dark Night.

Note on Active Purification: With respect both to the active purification of the senses and spirit, see Father Garrigou-LaGrange’s essays in Volume I of The Three Ages of the Interior Life (where he relies on a number of great spiritual writers). These essays are entitled as follows: “The Active Purification of the Senses or of the Sensible Appetites; The Active Purification of the Imagination and Memory; The Active Purification of the Intellect; The Active Purification of the Will.” All the faculties of a human being, then, are actively placed under observation for active purification (a prelude to the passive purifications carried out by God as sheer grace, which cannot be merited but only prepared for).

The Degrees of Contemplative Prayer: Saint John of the Cross does not map out the degrees of contemplative prayer as precisely as Saint Teresa of Avila (also a Carmelite). Therefore, please refer to my note on St. Teresa of Avila (St. John of the Cross’ contemporary), at the link below:

THE SOUL’S JOURNEY TO GOD: A CONCISE SUMMARY OF SAINT …


Sources: Ascent of Mount Carmel, translated by E. Allison Peers (Triumph Books); Dark Night of the Soul, translated by E. Allison Peers (Doubleday);The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications); an essay on John of the Cross by Mary E. Giles in Great Thinkers of the Western World (HarperCollins); an internet essay, “The Way to Ultimate Meaning in the Mystical Theology of Saint John of the Cross,” by Larry Cooley; Christian Perfection and Contemplation by Father Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange (TAN Books); and Ralph Martin’s audio presentation on Saint John of the Cross available at renewalministries.net

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MADONNA AND CHILD AND THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF LOVE

            

  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)

If you took Philosophy 101, you probably still remember a little about epistemology – enough to remember that human knowledge proceeds at first primarily from images and sounds seen and heard in the external world, which pass through the senses (sense perception) and are then processed by the mind and memory into abstract or symbolic knowledge, which is then stored in the memory and in deeper realms called the subconscious. For this reason, our Lord no doubt used very powerful and poignant images of hell in order to awaken in our hearts and minds a healthy fear of that dreadful place.

There are in the external world many powerful images – both natural and human crafted – that have a capacity to turn our hearts toward God, but perhaps none so powerful as the image of Madonna and Child. When we see the image of the Virgin Mary with her Divine Child in the stable at Bethlehem our hearts are naturally filled with love and a sense of God’s amazing goodness. The one who opposes God knows well that this image of Madonna and Child has a peculiar power to attract souls, and so he works diligently to suppress it and replace it with images that harm souls. The devil knows a little about epistemology himself. He knows that the image of our Lord as a baby being loved and cared for by the Blessed Virgin Mary is magnificently powerful, patently touching and deeply felt – a germ of powerful truth, transformative in scope, “touching upon eternal possibilities.” The purity, simplicity and beauty of the image is akin to a theological treatise that can be read “as in a heart beat.”

“In the subordination of the causes that transmit divine grace,” says a great theologian of the twentieth century, “Mary exercises, in fact, a salutary influence on our sensibility; she calms it, rules it, to enable the elevated part of our soul to receive the influence of our Lord more fruitfully. In addition, [the image of] Mary herself is to our sensible faculties a most pure and holy object, which lifts our soul toward union with God” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Chapter 26).

Our Lord is mindful of the power of holy images. He commissioned a saint to have a picture of the Divine Mercy Image painted, and he attached great promises to those who would venerate the image (Diary of Saint Faustina, 47-48, 327). Devotion to our Lord’s Sacred Heart was given by Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary. Bethlehem is a seedbed of evangelization: the image of God incarnate as a helpless baby (to be seen!), resting in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin, has a remarkable power to open hearts, change lives, and imprint Jesus and Mary in the deepest recesses of the human spirit. Let the image of the Madonna and Child shine forth this Christmas seasonOur country will be the better for it!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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WHY THE NEW TESTAMENT SUPPORTS THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF MARY

“And the angel … said… : ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’.” (Luke 1:28)

1. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope Pius IX , ex cathedra  (from the chair of St. Peter) on December 8, 1854. The Papal Bull reads:

“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” 

“With these words in 1854, Pope Pius IX in the Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus, declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be dogma. Pius was simply affirming a long-held belief of many Christians East and West before him, that Mary was conceived free of the stain of original sin, on account of Christ’s work, in order to bear God-made-flesh.”  (From Saint John Cantius Parish web-site)

2The dogma is confirmed four years later (in 1858) by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself in the most famous of her apparitions at Lourdes. At Lourdes, when asked her name by St. Bernadette, Mary responded in an extraordinary fashion, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then, Lourdes has been the situs of countless miracles.

3. Some of the early Reformers, such as Martin Luther, at least initially stood firmly behind this doctrine in that they saw that Mary would have to be a pure and sinless vessel in order to communicate to Jesus his sacred and holy body. The following quote from Martin Luther is illustrative:
 
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”
Martin Luther, (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the 
Mother of God,” 1527).

4. Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine has strong scriptural support in that:

A. Gabriel announces that Mary is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). If Mary is full of grace it follows that she is without sin (note how the angel does not call Mary by her name, but rather by a title, saying:“Hail, full of grace”  – and the angel is God’s messenger). The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible defends the traditional translation, “Hail, full of grace,” as against some modern translations, stating: “[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life. Alternative translations like ‘favored one’… are possible but inadequate.”   

B. Saint Luke (in his Gospel) and Saint John (in the Book of Revelation) identify Mary as the  Ark of the New Covenant, thus comparing her to the all-holy Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. See “Topical Essay: Mary Ark of the Covenant” in The Ignatius Catholic Bible Study or click the following on-line article from Catholic Answers: Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant | Catholic Answers

C.  Mary’s Immaculate Conception is internally consistent with the doctrine of Original Sin (which flows from a number of Old and New Testament passages, especially at Romans 5:12-21). Since original sin is transmitted by physical generation, it follows logically that Jesus, who was born without sin, would have to be born from a spotless womb. Mary is that pure and spotless vessel: the woman who overflows with God’s grace; and

D. John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother’s womb. At Luke 1:15 it states that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. The passage, in context, reads as follows:

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:11-17)

The angel then identifies himself as Gabriel, the same angel of Mary’s annunciation a few lines later at Luke 1:26, who addresses Mary, not by a name, but by a title, “Hail, Full of grace.”  The point is obvious (I think its obvious): if John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, what was done in God’s providence to prepare Mary to be the mother of God? Luke then, as you know, makes a direct comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, implying the incredible magnitude of her sanctity and holiness. All of this fits in very nicely with the Church’s proclamation of her Immaculate Conception.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: The lead image, Madonna and Child 2, by Bartolomeo Montagna.  According to Wikipedia,  “This image (or other media file) is in the Public Domain [U.S.A.] because its copyright has expired. However – you may not use this image for commercial purposes and you may not alter the image or remove the WikiGallery watermark.”

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