SERMON THE ELEVENTH.

For the Feast of the Annunciation.

 

” Et verbum caro factum est.” “And the word was made flesh.” — John i. 14.

The angelic doctor St. Thomas, calls the mystery of the incarnation of the eternal word, the miracle of miracles, ” miraculum miraculorum.” And what greater miracle could be exhibited to the world, than that of a woman becoming mother of God, and a God clothed with human flesh? Let us, to-day, consider the following great prodigies.

First, Mary by her humility made mother of God ; secondly, the Creator transformed by his goodness, into a son of the creature. God having resolved to manifest to the world his immense goodness, by humbling himself so far as to become man, in order to redeem lost man ; and being to choose a virgin for his mother, looked out for the most humble. He found that the Virgin Mary excelled all others as much in humility, as in sanctity, and her he made choice of for his mother. ” Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.” — Luke i. 48. ” He does not say,” writes St. Laurence Justinian, “that he regarded the virginity, or the innocence, but the humility of his handmaid ; and before him St. Jerome said : ” Maluit Deus de virgine incarnari propter humilitatem quern propter aliam virtutem.” God preferred the virgin for his mother, on account of her humility more than any other virtue.

Let us now consider how Mary was prefigured in the Canticles, by the spikenard there spoken of. The spikenard is a small and lowly plant, but of sweet odour, and thus did the odour of Mary’s humility draw the King of Heaven from the bosom of his eternal Father, where he was reposing, and bring him down to her womb, there to put on human flesh. ” While the King was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odour thereof.” — Cant. i. 77. Hear how St. Austin explains the passage : ” The spikenard is a lowly but fragrant herb, and signifies the blessed Virgin, who exhaled the odour of humility.” And before him, St. Bernard : ” Truly worthy was she of the divine regard ; truly worthy to attract the King of Heaven by her beauty, and by her sweet odour to draw him from his repose in the bosom of the Father.” — Serm. iv. de Ass. Thus God induced by the humility of the holy Virgin, chose her for his mother when about to become man for the redemption of the world. Nevertheless, he did not wish to become her Son without first having obtained her consent, and he acted thus for the greater glory and merit of that mother : ” Noluit carnem sumere ex ipse nolente ipse,” says William the Abbot. — In cant. iii. And behold, whilst the humble Virgin in her poor dwelling, sighs and prays for the coming of the Lord, (as was revealed to St. Elizabeth, a Benedictine virgin,) the Archangel Gabriel, entrusted with the great embassy of God, approaches and salutes her : ” Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women.” — Luke i. 28. Hail Mary, full of grace, since thou art rich with grace, exceeding that of men and angels ; the Lord is with you, and shall ever remain with you by his grace ; thou art blessed amongst all women, since all others have been born under the curse of original sin ; but you have been kept free from every stain, and have always been, and ever shall be blessed.

This salutation so full of praise, how is it met by the humility of Mary ? She makes no reply, but astonished at so much praise, remains disturbed and confused ; ” Who, having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought within herself what manner of salutation this should be.”— Luke L 29. What should disturb her? Perhaps the fear of illusion ? That cannot be, she knows full well that her visitant is a heavenly messenger ; perhaps through modesty, seeing that the angel had the form of man. No, for the text, says she, ” was troubled at his saying for, as Eusebius Emissenus, expresses it : “non in vultu sed in sermone.” This trouble then, all arose from her humility, which was confounded by those great praises which were so far from her thought. Hence, the more she is exalted by the angel, the more she humbles herself, and sinks into her own nothingness. St. Bernardine of Sienna writes, that if the angel had told her she was the most guilty mortal in the world, she should not have been so much astonished ; by that she was astonished, and troubled at hearing so many encomiums, of which she deemed herself unworthy : ” Si dixisset, 0 Maria tu es major ribalda quae est in mundo non ita mirata fuissit; unde turbata fuit de tantis laudibus.” — Serm. 35. de An. inc. part 3. But the holy Virgin who was already well versed in the sacred scriptures, knew that the time of the coming of the Messiah was at hand ; she knew that the weeks of Daniel had been completed, and that the sceptre of Juda, according to the prophecy of Jacob, had passed into the hands of a foreign king ; she knew also that the mother of the Messiah was to be a virgin. Knowing all this, she heard herself saluted by the angel in a strain of praise, which could only be addressed to her who was to be the mother of God, and then, perhaps the thought, or at least the suspicion, first struck her, that she was that chosen mother. No, her humility never could have suggested such a thought. No, these praises threw her into a state of fear, from which the angel was obliged to draw her by encouraging her not to fear, as St. Peter Chrysologus writes. ” Christ was ministered to by an angel, and so it was befitting that the Virgin should be encouraged by an angel likewise.” The angel Gabriel encouraged her by saying, ” fear not Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” As if he had said, why should you fear Mary ? do you not know, that God exalts the humble? You look upon yourself as something low and base, and therefore, God in his goodness, means to exalt you to the dignity of his mother. ” Behold ! thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son ; and shalt call his name Jesus.”

The angel now pauses to receive her answer, and know from her whether she be willing to become mother of God. Here St. Bernard appeals to her in these words : ” The angel awaits his answer, and we also, 0 Lady, on whom the sentence of damnation weighs so grievously ; we also await the word of pity.” — Horn. 4. sup. missus. ” Behold ! the price of our salvation is offered to you, we shall be delivered at once if you consent.” 0 holy Virgin, to thee is offered the price of our salvation, that is, the blood which the Son made man in thy womb will shed, to pay the forfeit of our sins, and free us from death ; if you consent we shall be delivered.” The same who has desired to have you for his mother, desires equally to have your consent, by which he has resolved to save us.” And, ” why,” says St. Austin, ” why, 0 sacred Virgin, do you retard the salvation of the world ?” — Serm. xxi. de temp. Mary gives answer to the angel: “Behold the hand-maid of the Lord ! be it done to me according to thy word.” — Luke i. 38. 0 admirable answer, which rejoicest Heaven, and pourest upon the earth a treasure of blessings ! Answer, which hast drawn from the bosom of the father, his eternal Son, that he may become man ! Scarcely had the Virgin spoken, when ” the Word was made flesh P and the Son of God became the Son of Mary. ” 0 powerful fiat, exclaims St. Thomas of Villanova ! 0 efficacious fiat ! 0 most venerable fiat !” by that fiat heaven was lowered to earth, and earth exalted to heaven.

But, let us look more narrowly into the reply of Mary: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” By this answer, the humble virgin meant to say, I am prepared to do dl the Lord requires of me ; if he see my nothingness, and if all I have be his, who can say that he has chosen me by reason of my merit? ” Behold the handmaid of the Lord !” How can a servant deserve to be the mother of her Lord? Let not then, the handmaid receive praise, but only the goodness of God who has deigned to look upon a creature so lowly, and exalt her so much. ” 0 humility,” says the Abbot Guerico, ” angusta sibi, ampla divinitati, insufficiens sibi, sufficiens ei quern non capit orbis.” 0 the humility of Mary, which makes her little in her own eyes, but great in the eyes of God ; unworthy in her own opinion, but in the esteem of God, worthy to bear in her womb, him whom the whole world cannot contain. Let us hear the expressions of admiration with which St. Bernard speaks of the humility of the blessed Virgin. “What exceeding humility, in union with such purity, such innocence, such fulness of grace.” He then addresses himself to the divine Virgin, and says : ” Whence hast thou received this humility, 0 thou blessed one, and such humility?” Lucifer, seeing himself endowed by God with great glory, would fain place his throne above the stars, and make himself equal to God, saying: ” I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High:— Isa. xiv. 13, 14. But, what would the proud angel have said, had his privileges been equal to those of Mary ? He, when exalted by God, became proud and was cast into hell ; but the humble Mary, the more she saw herself enriched with the gifts, of God, shrunk back the more into her own nothingness, and God exalted her to such dignity, that except God, there is no being comparable to her ; as has been said by St. Andrew Cretense : ” Excepto Deo, omnibus est akior.” — – Orat. de dormit. Deip. Hence St. Anselm says, ” nothing 0 Lady is equal to thee, for whatever is, must either be above or below thee, God alone is above thee, and all else below thee.” — Pelbart. stellar. 2. par. 3. art. 2.

And to what greater dignity can a creature be exalted, than to that of mother of God ? To be mother of God,” says St. Bonaventure, ” is the most exalted dignity that can be conferred upon a pure creature ; God might have made a greater earth, a greater heaven ; but a greater creature than the mother of God he could not make.” — Spec. B. V. sec. 10. And this the Virgin herself meant to convey when she said, ” he that is mighty hath done great things to me.” — Luke i. 49. Here the Abbot Cellense addresses her. ” God,” he says, made thee not for himself alone ; ” but for men, that through thee the ruin brought upon them by sin might be repaired.” Let us now come to the second point.

Adam our first father sinned, and ungrateful to God for all the favours conferred upon him, rebelled by eating the forbidden fruit. God was therefore obliged to drive him out from his face, and condemn him with all his posterity to eternal death. But having compassion upon him, and the bowels of his mercy being moved, he resolved to come on earth and satisfy the divine justice, by paying with his own suffering person, the forfeit of our sins. ” He came down from Heaven,” as the holy church teaches us, ” and was made man.”* 0 prodigy ! 0 excess of the love of a God ! a God to become man ! If a prince of the earth seeing a worm die in its hole, wished to restore it to life, and was told he could do so, on condition that he should humbly become a worm, and enter that hole in which the worm lay dead, and there giving up his life, make a bath of his blood, being immersed in which alone, the worm could be restored to life ; what could the prince reply ? would he not say, what should I care whether the worm live or die, that I should shed my blood to restore life to a worm ? How should it concern God if men be lost as they had deserved to be by their sins ? He perhaps should have lost some of his happiness without man.

No, it was by reason of his excessive love for me that he came upon the earth, and dwindled into the form of man, which he took in the womb of a virgin. He became man, that is to say, a worm like one of us : he ” emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” — Phil. ii. 7. He, like the Father, is God, immense, sovereign, omnipotent, and in all things equal to the Father, but having been made man in the womb of Mary, he became a creature, a servant, weak, and less than the Father. Behold him humbled in the womb of Mary, taking upon him the duty of obedience to his Father, who would have him die as a criminal upon a cross, after thirty-three years of sufferings. ” He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross.” Let us with astonishment contemplate him in the womb of his mother ; his will united to that of the Father, and his heart inflamed with love for us : let us behold him offering himself voluntarily for us. ” He was offered because it was his own will.” — Isa. xliii. 8. He offers himself to suffer everything for our salvation. He foresees the scourge and offers his flesh, he foresees the thorns and offers his head, he foresees the nails and offers his hands and feet, he foresees the cross and offers his life. Why has he wished to suffer so much for us ungrateful and sinners as we are ? Why has he so much loved us ? he ” hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” — Apoc. i. 5. He beholds us in the filth of sin, and prepares for us a bath of his own blood, in which to cleanse ourselves and make ourselves dear to God. Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us.” — Ephes. v. 2. He saw us condemned to death, and he prepares to die that we may live ; and seeing us accursed of God by reason of our sins, he loaded himself with all our iniquity that he might remove the curse from us. ” Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” — Gal. iii. 13. St. Francis of Paul, contemplating a God made man, and dying for our salvation had reason to exclaim often : 0 charity ! 0 charity ! 0 charity ! If faith did not assure us of all that the Son of God had done and suffered for us, who could believe it ? Ah, my brethren, the love which Jesus Christ had for us, constrains us to love him. “For the charity of Christ presseth us.” How tender is not the sentiment of St Francis of Sales, with regard to the above mentioned words of St. Paul when he says : ” Knowing as we do that Jesus the true God, loved us even unto death, the death of the cross, is not this knowledge a torch as it were, applied to our hearts ? do we not find them, bound and strained, and love pressed into them, by a violence which is as powerful as it is amiable. But here come the complaints of St. John: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” — John i. 2. And why should the Only Begotten of God ever have come upon the earth to suffer and to die for us, if not in order that we should love him ? Deus factus est homo writes Hugh of St. Victor, ut familiarius ab homine diligeretur.” — In lib. sent. To this end, chiefly,” says St. Austin, has Jesus Christ come into the world, that he might make known to men how much he loved them.” — C. 4. de Catech. And if God has so much loved us, he claims with justice a portion of love from us. Notam facit dilectionem suam,” says St. Bernard, ut experiatur et tuam.” — Serm. 43. in Cant. To this end has he manifested his great love for us, that he might experience ours for him, who has come from heaven to become man and die for men, that they might love him ; how comes it then that so few amongst men love him? Infinite beauty ! — infinite loveliness ! worthy of all love, behold I am one of those ungrateful beings whom thou hast so much loved, without meeting a return ; who, instead of loving, have offended you. But, 0 Lord, you have become man, and died in order to obtain pardon for such sinners as should do penance, and detest their sins. Behold ! I am a sinner, it is true, but I repent me of my sins, and wish to love you ; have pity on me. And you, 0 holy Virgin, whom your humility has rendered worthy of being the Mother of God, and who, as such, are the mother, the refuge, and the advocate of sinners ! pray to Jesus for me ; recommend me to that Son, who so much loves you, and denies you nothing. Tell him to pardon me ; tell him to give me his holy love ; tell him to save me, that face to face I may one day love him in Paradise. Amen.