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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                        

September 10, 1961


Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)


Mary and the Illuminative Way


What a happy coincidence that two Feasts:  the Nativity (September 8) and the Holy Name of Mary  (September 12) should fall at approximately the same time at this point in our series of instructions on Spiritual Theology when it behooves us to begin treating of the Illuminative Way.  Happy because the Illuminative Way is that phase in the evolution of a man’s spiritual life which is distinguished by diligent and assiduous efforts to acquire virtue, i.e., to achieve a moral resemblance to Jesus Christ.  Since it is Mary alone to whom God has given the faculty of bringing forth Jesus Christ, whenever we speak of Jesus’ entrance upon the scene, we must of necessity speak first of Mary, for He comes to us by no other way.  And so a man who has terminated his journey over the Purgative Way does not enter or proceed along the Illuminative Way unless he takes Mary for his mother by surrendering himself freely to her empire.


By surrendering himself to her empire!  This means, of course, more than merely recommending himself to her intercession. Taking her for his advocate.  We know that this is required of him if he wishes to reach Heaven, but it does not suffice if he wishes to attain spiritual perfection, which is total transformation in Christ.  In recommending himself to her powers of intercession, a man reserves to himself the final say in those things that pertain to his spiritual life, so that, though he may continue to ask specific favors and to apportion his spiritual assets and good works, it is always done conditionally, subject to the good will and pleasure of Mary.  To her is reserved the final say.


Two reasons may be adduced to justify this claim.  First of all, a mother enjoys over the children she is guiding unto maturity the power to make decisions of vital consequence to their future lives.  She has, over them for all practical purposes, a power greater than power of attorney.  We ought not, then, begrudge Our Blessed Mother the same power over her children, those she is guiding to perfect spiritual maturity, which is to resemble Jesus her Son.  The second reason is more fundamental.  It is based upon the close parallel that exists between the mechanism of Mary’s spiritual Motherhood and her physical Motherhood.  The Blessed Virgin formed the body of Jesus only after having absorbed and incorporated into her own body the elements that were to constitute the flesh of Jesus; it had to become part of her own substance first.  Similarly, unless we give ourselves entirely into the jurisdiction of Mary, unless all we have and are is really and truly ‘hers’, we can’t expect her to bring forth Jesus in our souls.


To deliver ourselves up to Mary’s empire demands a positive act of the will.  We might be tempted to think not, because on Calvary Jesus said to us (in the person of St. John the Evangelist):  “Son, behold thy mother!” This sounds like an unconditioned decree, one that has its effect whether we will it or not.  Such is not the case.  Elsewhere in Scripture we read that the angel declared unto Mary: “Behold thou shalt conceive and shalt bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”  This sounds like an unconditional decree, also, but it was not.  It needed Mary’s ‘fiat’.  Our fiat, one that subjects us to Mary as she subjected herself to God, must be forthcoming or else she will not be truly our Mother.  Neither ought we to fear, that, in giving Mary dominion over us, we secede from the dominion of God the Trinity.  Mary is the daughter par excellence of God the Father, and the Spouse of God the Holy Ghost.  On those two counts, it is clear; whatever belongs to Mary belongs to God.


A mother’s influence on the formation of her children does not cease with their birth.  There remains the monumental task of bringing them to perfect psychological maturity, of inculcating in them wisdom and virtue.  Reference to the manner in which Mary fulfills a similar office on our behalf is found in both Feasts.  The Feast of the Nativity of Mary puts these words of gladness on our lips (Antiphons of Vespers and Lauds): “Today is the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose splendid life has illumined all the Churches (the whole Church)”.  And in the lessons of the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, St. Bernard tells us that Mary means ‘Star of the Sea’.  Note well these two significant facts:  Mary’s life, though splendid (shining) was secret, hidden veiled by the obscurity of the commonplace; and, a Star is something seen only at night.  The practice of this virtue instructs us in a dark manner, as St. John of the Cross points out, God introduces beginners (those who have traversed the Purgative Way) into the Way of Proficients by placing them in a night of dark contemplation.  Thus it is that the life or Mary illumines us, as she sets about the task of forming Jesus in us.  An analogy is found in the way a mother trains her small children.  In establishing in them well-defined modes and patterns of behavior, she has to tell them things and make them do things that exceed the capacity of their young minds.  Children remain ‘in the dark’ concerning all that is wrought in them, until they become fully adult.  Then they understand how right their mother was.  Now, as a mother discovers the wayward tendencies of her children by requiring them to live according to the demands of reason and virtue, so also, as we practice the Virtues of Mary we discover our hidden sinfulness.  We discover that the Capital Sins, which we thought we had expurgated, have ‘gone underground’.  Profound and subtle, they still infect the roots of our soul, all the more difficult to uproot because they are of the spirit.


The man, who, at the end of the Purgative Way, still seeks clear and precise knowledge, who seeks sensible assurance that he is becoming more like Jesus (which previously were necessary to offset the sense gratification offered by the enemies of his sanctification) has bogged down on the road to spiritual perfection.  He needs a change of heart before he will recognize Jesus Christ.  That is why John the Baptist had to preach a gospel of repentance (which means change of heart).  When, under the direction of Faith, which is dark to the intellect – he begins to practice the virtues, he finally shows himself to be a true son of Mary and has entered well into the Illuminative Way.

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