Ecce ego mitto angelum meum ante faciem meam.
"Behold I send My Angel, and he shall prepare the way before My Face. And presently the Lord, Whom ye seek, and the Angel of the Testament, Whom ye desire, shall come to His temple."
To-day we would commemorate the fact, that the Lord, to Whom all time belongs, and by Whom the Law was made, subjected Himself to time and law, and offered Himself for us in the temple of His heavenly Father. It was not necessary that He, like any other firstborn son, should be sanctified; for all holy seasons and festivals, places and temples, are made holy by Him. Neither was it necessary for His blessed Mother to be purified, like other women, for she was shielded from all sin, and conceived and bare the Son of God by the operation of the Holy Ghost, remaining ever a virgin and adorned with all purity. Her purity was much greater than that of all Angels; for it is impossible to imagine greater purity apart from God. And yet she also subjected herself to the austere law, and offered her dear Child to the heavenly Father at the hands of the priest, and herself, not her Son, as a living sacrifice and to the praise of God, for the salvation of all men.
Now, by this we are taught that we must, at all times, repress ourselves and become absorbed in deep humility, as those who have nothing and can do nothing of themselves, but that which is evil; and that in the inner temples of our souls we must offer up ourselves, our own wills, and all that we have and are, in complete resignation to God at all times, with the Son in the Father, as an eternal sacrifice of praise. All that the Father has He gives to His Son; so dear is the Son, that the Father loves nothing but the Son; and those whom He finds united with the Son, He loves in the Son. Therefore, we must exert all the powers of our souls, and offer them to the Father in the Son, that they may be loved by Him in the Son, after the perfect pattern of Mary, the most holy Virgin and Mother of God. Now, to-day, I will tell you something about her, how we may copy her holy life; because she was full of grace and virtue, and the mirror and exact reflection of all holiness.
This gentle Virgin spent the whole of her life in such perfect love to God, in the inner temple of her heart, that she never loved any other creature beside God. Neither did any image ever come into her mind that interposed between her and her love of God. Her love to God was undivided, and she loved all creatures in Him. With all her powers she communed with herself in the depths of her heart, wherein the Divine Image lay hidden; there she dwelt in the innermost temple of her soul, and turned all her powers within, and prayed there to the one God in spirit and in truth. She confessed that she could not worthily praise God; therefore she desired that He would praise and magnify Himself in her. She was so conformed to God from the very bottom of her heart, that if any one could have looked into it, he would have seen God in all His glory, and would have actually seen the procession of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; for her heart never turned away from God.
Now, shall I tell you something about the devotional exercises of this Holy Virgin? They are, however, so divine and superhuman, so high and unfathomable, that they surpass the understanding of men and of Angels. But of her lesser devotions ye shall know that she always got up at midnight, and lifted up her heart to the heavenly Father, in such rapt devotion, that it forced its way through heaven, and rested only in the Father's Heart; and thus she stood absorbed in prayer till break of day. Oh! how blessed is he with whom she shares her gentle prayers, and for whom, with especially motherly love, she intercedes with her Son.
Now, learn, that she knew that she was beloved and endowed above all other creatures by God; therefore, when she got up at midnight, she fell on her knees in lowliness, and thanked God for His rich bounty, which He had poured out upon her. Then she offered herself and all that she had to God in prayer, and gave herself into God's gentle keeping, that He might begin and accomplish His will in her, and in all that was hers. Thirdly, she prayed for all the members of the Holy Church, that all things might be ordered therein for the best in all godly honour; and for all sinners, that they might truly turn again unto salvation. And then she turned in her prayer to all the poor souls in purgatory, for whom she had especial love, and besought God to set them free. Fourthly, she talked with God as a child might talk with his father, or one dearly loved to her beloved; and then often, by the eye of faith she beheld the Divine Being, unveiled, in all His glory and beauty, and God spake with her as with His dear and chosen spouse. Fifthly, she began to praise God in her prayer with such lively praise, that it seemed to come forth from a divine and blossoming garden that had been tended by God. Her praise was sweeter and purer, and more pleasing to God, than when He had created heaven and earth, the morning stars and the children of God praised Him. Sixthly, she sank down in her prayer into her own nothingness, and confessed that she could not worship the great God, nor praise Him according to His worthiness; and she desired of Him that He would be magnified in her; and then she let all her powers sink down to the lowest depths, whence alone the Eternal God receives the prayer and praise that He loves best.
Know also that, when she thus prayed, she withdrew her mind from all that was external, from all forms and figures, and continued thus, her whole mind being absorbed. Afterwards she meditated on the greatness and glory of the Lord, with Whom she desired to hold converse, though in her own sight she was a worthless creature. Then she fell down at the Feet of the glorious God, and prayed in deep humility, and in earnest, fervent love and desire, and with heartfelt trust in the boundless love of God, that He would hear her, not according to her own will, but according to His. And she continued in prayer from midnight till dawn, and from that time till Prime she devoted herself to holy meditations, in the best way that any creature ever did. First of all she meditated on the greatness and almightiness of the great God, whom she confessed as above all Angels. Then she sank down in her own littleness, in deep humility. Secondly, she meditated on the mysterious and unfathomable judgments of God, and on His wisdom, which is hidden from all creatures. Thirdly, on the fathomless goodness of God in His eternal love, which is the loving source of all that is good and gracious. Fourthly, she meditated on the overflowing sweetness of God, from whom she had received so much sweetness; for, had she not been overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, her divine heart must have burst with love. Fifthly, she meditated with tearful eyes on the humility of her Child, Who had humbled Himself, and had so trodden the path of humiliation that it was impossible for Him to humble Himself any more.
Sixthly, she meditated on the sufferings of her Child, how great and manifold they were; and this she did with great compassion, for the meditation smote like a sword through her virgin heart and soul. Therefore hers was a martyr's reward, as much as that of any other martyr. Then she meditated on the sufferings of her Child, desiring to imitate Him; for she bethought herself how, at all times, her Child had been despised and had suffered; therefore she devoted all her life to suffering and to bearing oppression. She so entirely submitted herself, that she never prayed to God that her suffering might be shortened or lessened. She spent her life in suffering, and bore it to the end with willing submission, willing even to suffer throughout eternity, if such were the will of God. Then she meditated again on the sufferings of her Child; how He had borne His suffering with great patience, without murmuring, rejoicing in spirit, because of His burning love and desire for us. Thus she also bore her suffering without murmuring and with burning love and joy.
At the hour of Prime she went into the Temple, and betook herself to a corner with downcast eyes, and stayed there till mid-day. Mentally reaching out into eternity, she meditated on the commands and discourses of the Lord; then her soul was exalted, as in a divine vision, above all knowledge, and she was transfigured in spirit above all powers. Her memory shed a pure light, and remained in the unity of the spirit above all carnal suggestions. Her mind was transfused with clearness, so that she understood and discerned all the virtues, the ways, the discipline and the mysteries of Scripture with judgment. Her will was set alight with fervent heat, in silent love, passing beyond all created things. In this state of exaltation she was above all wisdom and all judgment. Here she received the outpouring of Divine Love, in silence, her spirit was steeped in the immaterial Spring, without any exercise of her own power. Here, above all things, she reposed in God, and, surrounded by Love unfathomable, she lost herself in the obscurity of the Godhead. She was united, without any intervention, and made one Spirit with God, above all created gifts, graces and lights, in one single light that renewed itself unceasingly in the depths of her heart, in the highest exaltation of spirit. In this she had some conception of future blessedness, and she loved God with eternal, uncreated love. All created gifts, virtues, works and discipline, with all that pertained to the creature, must here remain without, for she was moulded herein with divine brightness above all sense and imagination. She saw the eternal lights and scenes, as they were beholden in eternity, with unspeakable and divine joy and pleasure. Know that, were all the delights and joys of the world melted down altogether, they would be nothing but bitterness, compared with the least divine joy such as that ever received by the Mother of God.
Now, know, that the Blessed Virgin possessed one grace above all other human beings; to whatever heights she might be caught up and entranced, beholding God in the light of God, she saw, none the less, all other things, and attended to them. Thus she could even order her outer life in calm and holy conduct, without disturbing her inner life; for her highest powers communed directly with their Source, and were united thereto, so that the lowest were obedient to the highest, as those of Adam had been in Paradise. This grace was hers, because she never inherited original sin; for she had been preserved from this by her Child; so that never for an instant had she been the child of wrath, or an unclean vessel, under the power of the Devil, like the rest of mankind. The Eternal Wisdom prevented and would not allow this chosen Temple to be thus defiled. Therefore, during this inner vision and absorption in God, she could listen with her outward ears, with diligence and devotion and deep humility of heart, to Divine Service; it gave her no trouble, but was delightful and desirable above all things to her at this time. Then, when towards mid-day she went home, she was often fed by the Angels.
In the afternoon, if it was not a Holy day, she worked, till Vespers, with her blessed hands, and did everything, however small it might be, with especial intention to the glory of God. But, if it was a Holy day, after she had praised God, she went to hear the Word of God, and listened to it with great humility, however plainly it might be spoken, and though she understood it better herself; and she stamped it earnestly in her pure heart, earnestly desiring to experience the least as well as the greatest. When the Word of God was not preached, she spoke or listened to others, speaking of God and of the Divine Life; or she read the Scriptures till Vespers. Then she sang her Psalms and said her prayers till Compline.
Then, when night came on, she communed with herself in holy meditation, and meditated on the perfect Life of her Child and her Lord, and on this sweet doctrine; and her heart was filled with joyful and eternal sweetness. Afterwards she would thank God on her knees that He had so graciously looked upon her on that and every day; and then, in meekness and thankfulness, the blessed Virgin Mary laid herself to rest. Hosts of Angels surrounded her holy bed, so that no evil spirits might torment her; therefore she had no vain fancies or evil dreams, nor any other vision that that which God Himself gave to her; for the Holy Trinity was ever her defense and shield. The blessed Virgin never lay down without first dedicating her sleep with her whole heart to the glory of God; and, thus united with God, she bowed her blessed head on the Heavenly Father's Breast, and rested in peace. At midnight she began to pass the day again, as she had passed it before, in all holiness and virtue.
This is related of a portion of her holy life, as in a mirror, that we may place it before us as our example, and, following it, may also remain faithful to God, and offer up ourselves wholly in the inner temples of our souls, according to our power. But that we may be able to do this, we must call on God unceasingly for His divine grace and help, and also on His dear Mother, to whom we should, at least once every day, give especial honour and service. She will then, on her part, help us faithfully in our need, and especially in our last trial; for she is a mother of mercy and cannot reject any sinner who desires her help. Therefore St Bernard says: "He alone can keep silence about thy mercy, O blessed Virgin, who has called upon thee in his distress and has been forsaken by thee. For we, thy unworthy servants, rejoice with thee in thy other virtues, but in this virtue we rejoice for ourselves. We praise thy virginity, we marvel at thy lowliness, but we embrace thy mercy more willingly; the oftener we think of it, the oftener we appeal to it. Thou upholdest us, and forsakest not the miserable sinner, until thou seest that the terrible Judge is propitiated." May we thus honour and follow this blessed Virgin and her Child, that we may attain to a portion with them in eternity. May God help us thereto. Amen.