The exalted privileges of Mary render her worthy of our veneration, her saintly influence renders her worthy of our invocation, her personal life is constantly held up to us as a pattern worthy of our imitation. If she occupies so prominent a place in our pulpits, this prominence is less due to her prerogatives as a mother, or to her intercession as a patroness, than to her example as a Saint.
After our Lord Jesus Christ, no one has ever exercised so salutary and so dominant an influence as the Blessed Virgin on society, on the family and on the individual.
The Mother of Jesus exercises throughout the Christian commonwealth that hallowing influence which a good mother wields over the Christian family.
What temple or chapel, how rude soever it may be, is not adorned with a painting or a statue of the Madonna? What house is not embellished with an image of Mary? What Catholic child is a stranger to her familiar face?
The priest and the layman, the scholar and the illiterate, the prince and the peasant, the mother and the maid, acknowledge her benign sway.
And if Christianity is so fruitful in comparison with Paganism, in conjugal fidelity, in female purity and in the respect paid to womanhood, these blessings are in no small measure due to the force of Mary’s all-pervading influence and example. Ever since the Son of God chose a woman to be His mother man looks up to woman with a homage akin to veneration.
The poet Longfellow pays the following tribute to Mary’s sanctifying influence:
“This is indeed the blessed Mary’s land, Virgin and mother of our dear Redeemer! All hearts are touched and softened at her name Alike the bandit with the bloody hand, The priest, the prince, the scholar and the peasant The man of deeds, the visionary dreamer Pay homage to her as one ever present!
And if our faith had given us nothing more Than this example of all womanhood, So mild, so merciful, so strong, so good, So patient, peaceful, loyal, loving, pure, This were enough to prove it higher and truer Than all the creeds the world had known before.”(270)
St. Ambrose gives us the following beautiful picture of Mary’s life before her espousals: “Let the life,” he says, “of the Blessed Mary be ever present to you in which, as in a mirror, the beauty of chastity and the form of virtue shine forth. She was a virgin not only in body, but in mind, who never sullied the pure affection of her heart by unworthy feelings. She was humble of heart, serious in her conversation, fonder of reading than of speaking. She placed her confidence rather in the prayer of the poor than in the uncertain riches of this world. She was ever intent on her occupation, … and accustomed to make God rather than man the witness of her thoughts. She injured no one, wished well to all, reverenced age, yielded not to envy, avoided all boasting, followed the dictates of reason and loved virtue. When did she sadden her parents even by a look?… There was nothing forward in her looks, bold in her words or unbecoming in her actions. Her carriage was not abrupt, her gait not indolent, her voice not petulant, so that her very appearance was the picture of her mind and the figure of piety.”
Her life as a spouse and as a mother was a counterpart of her earlier years. The Gospel relates one little circumstance which amply suffices to demonstrate Mary’s super-eminent holiness of life, and to exhibit her as a beautiful pattern to those who are called to rule a household. The Evangelist tells us that Jesus “was subject to them”(271)—that is, to Mary and Joseph. He obeyed all her commands, fulfilled her behests, complied with her smallest injunctions; in a word, He discharged toward her all the filial observances which a dutiful son exercises toward a prudent mother. These relations continued from His childhood to His public life, nor did they cease even then.
Now Jesus being the Son of God, “the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance,”(272) could not sin. He was incapable of fulfilling an unrighteous precept. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from these facts is, that Mary never sinned by commanding, as Jesus could not sin by obeying; that all her precepts and counsels were stamped with the seal of Divine approbation, and that the Son never fulfilled any injunction of His earthly Mother which was not ratified by His Eternal Father in heaven.
Such is the beautiful portrait which the Church holds up to the contemplation of her children, that studying it they may admire the original, admiring they may love, loving they may imitate, and thus become more dear to God by being made “conformable to the image of His Son,”(273) of whom Mary is the most perfect mirror.
(Faith of our Fathers- Bishop James Gibbon)