Tribulations and sufferings have encompassed me on every side, and I have invoked the name of Mary.
Banished children of Eve, exiled from our native land, and compelled to wander in this valley of tears, how sad and downcast our soul sometimes feels. And if with the royal Prophet we interrogate it, and ask - "Why art thou sorrowful, O my soul, and why dost thou disturb me?" immediately each individual suffering of this soul presents itself to the mind: weariness, apprehensions, hopes deceived, subjection to the body, temptations, inconstancy, innumerable sins, graces abused, the uncertainty of salvation; the evils of the day; public calamities, domestic afflictions, loss of health, goods, relations, friends, honour, credit; our personal ills, the affliction of those of our brethren with whom we sympathize - is not all this sufficient to cast the soul into sadness? But in those moments, when all things in Heaven and on earth seem to fail her, when she finds herself without energy, without elasticity, without life, let her at least turn to Mary, let her still turn to the Comfortress of the Afflicted, let her say, in the words of Holy Church - "O Mary, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping," she shall soon behold help coming to her from on high.
Oh, yes; make the experiment - "Is any of you sad? Let him pray." (James 5:13) Let him pray to Mary, and then tell us whether he has not been com- forted, even more promptly, more amply, than he could have ventured to anticipate; whether he cannot also cry out in the transports of his gratitude - "Tribulations and sufferings have encompassed me on every side, but I invoked the aid of Mary, and I was at once relieved." Because it is not simply that the Blessed Virgin runs to succour us, she flies, with speed surpassing that of the Seraphim, she is borne wherever the wail of any of her children rises up to her. "What," says Saint Peter Damian, addressing Mary, "could it be that your elevation to the dignity of Queen of Heaven would cause you to forget the sad con- dition in which we languish? God forbid! On the contrary, if Mary's pity was great while she was yet exiled upon earth, greater far is it now that she reigns in Heaven, where she knows more perfectly the extent of our necessities." Justly, therefore, might Blosius cry out - "O Mary, who could help loving you? In darkness, in doubt, you are our light; our comfort in sadness, our refuge in danger. You are, after your Divine Son, the assured salvation of the Faithful. Hail, hope of the forlorn! hail, stay of those bereft of earthly support! hail, you to whom your Son has given such power, that whatever you will is forthwith accomplished."
The devout Lanspergius represents our Lord Himself as speaking thus - "Children of Adam, dwelling amid enemies, subject to manifold miseries, honour with special devotion My Mother and yours; I have given her to the world as an example, as an impregnable fortress, that she may be your asylum in the many tribulations by which you are encompassed. Let no one fear her, none dread to approach her, for I have created her so meek, so merciful, in order that she may despise none, that she may not refuse her services to any who beseech them, but rather that, opening the bosom of her compassion to all, she should allow no one to depart from her with an afflicted heart."
Take confidence, then, O my soul! "In the world you shall have distress" (John 16:33) - but Jesus, Mary, have overcome the world, and the bitter waters of tribulation shall never be able to extinguish charity in your heart, if you know how to recur to the tender Comfortress of the Afflicted.
Mary does not come to our assistance in afflictions because we exhaust all human resources in a measure before we turn to her. Let her henceforth be our first refuge, and she will herself direct us in the employment of those human means to which on certain occasions we may and ought to have recourse.
Comfortress of the Afflicted, take pity on your poor children.
At the time when the Turkish Sultan, Schin, having conquered the island of Cyprus, was equipping a formidable fleet in order to resist the Pope and Christendom, Uchiali, Dey of Algiers, a Calabrian renegade, going to join the army of the Grand Seignor, pillaged the Isle of Cerigo on his way. Among the inhabitants was a youthful widow of twenty, named Angelica Gaggioli, whose piety and good works were remarkable. She was the mother of three children, two boys, and a girl, aged six, named Anne. When she saw the Turks on the point of forcing open her house, Angelica, without thinking of her wealth, ran to a picture of the Blessed Virgin, before which she was accustomed to pray with her children; she concealed it about her person fearing its profanation, trusting that Mary would be her safeguard in return. The infidels, however, carried away Angelica and her little ones. Uchiali gave orders that they should be well cared, and did everything possible for a man of his character towards softening their sad fate. The society of her three children was Angelica's only comfort; she used to secretly assemble them, show them the picture of the Blessed Virgin, make them pray before it, then in terms suitable to their years, she impressed upon them never to forget Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother.
Uchiali having been created Grand Pacha of the sea, in requital of his services at the battle of Lepanto (1571), the prisoners he had captured were sold and dispersed, the children of Angelica among the number. Her two boys, of whom the elder was only five, fell to the lot of a corsair of Tripoli. She had the pain of witnessing the sale of her daughter to a merchant, formerly a Jew, now on his way to Algiers, whilst she was herself purchased by a Spanish renegade named Momi. The Blessed Virgin was her only refuge, and through her intercession God gave her truly supernatural strength. For a time Momi treated her with much kindness, hoping to induce her to abjure Christianity and marry him, but seeing all his pains superfluous, he put her in irons. She passed fourteen years, sometimes set at liberty by Momi, sometimes confined in dungeons, beholding the empaling or burning of some Christian, whom the barbarian took pleasure in torturing. At length Momi, wearied with Angelica's constancy, resolved to sell her again. Hearing that a neighbour of his, a merchant named Cato-Mahomet, sought a slave to care his little daughter, a child of two or three, he treated with him, and disposed of Angelica. When she was handed over to her new master, she had a confused idea of having seen him before. He brought her to his house and said to his wife - "Anne, here is a slave I have purchased for you, she will tend our little girl, and I have chosen a Christian, because persons of this religion bring up children much better than the women of this country."
During this discourse Angelica and the young woman, equally amazed, looked at each other with astonishment and a secret joy. Cato having departed, the mother and daughter soon recognized each other, and yielding together to the feelings of their hearts, both rushed forward to a mutual embrace; tears fell in abundance from their eyes, and, after a few moments of silence and bewilderment, Angelica related to her daughter by what means God had brought her under her roof. Anne in her turn told her how, having been brought up with invariable kindness by Cato, he had obliged her to marry him at the age of thirteen, that she had never had a child but the little girl she beheld, that she found herself compelled to profess Mahometanism, although she had not forgotten the instructions of her mother, and remained at heart a Christian - in fine, that she had always desired to find herself once again among those of her own faith and renounce that impious worship she had been constrained to adopt. Angelica consoled her, she inspired her with the hope that God and His holy Mother would vouchsafe to take care of them; and they agreed mutually not to discover their secret to Cato, but await patiently till Heaven would furnish them with an opportunity of escape.
One day Cato, speaking to his wife about Christians, said, "The obstinacy of this sect regarding belief in their creed is invincible. There is in the baths here a young slave scarcely seventeen or eighteen years of age, who during the last week has been bastinadoed three times, because he was surprised in the act of reciting some of his prayers; and notwithstanding this punishment, he has just now been detected in a repetition of the same act." Anne pretended to be angry with the slave, and begged her husband to show him to her. They went to the window, and she saw a young man stretched upon straw, who with clasped hands and eyes raised to Heaven, seemed to pronounce some words. "I wager," said Cato, "that he still repeats the same prayers; if such a slave belonged to me I would have him empaled on the spot." Anne and her mother judged they might confide in one who suffered with such constancy for Jesus Christ, so despatched a letter to him in these terms - "Christian, the courage you have displayed convinces us that you are well instructed in your religion, and that being faithful to God you will also be true to us. Reflect if there be one among your comrades on whom you can rely; we will forward whatever sum may be necessary for your ransom: on this condition, however, that you promise to exert yourself according to our directions in procuring the liberation of two Christian females. We await your answer. God bless you, Christian."
This letter was the source of much joy to the young slave. His reply was as follows - "May God preserve you in the sentiments which at present animate you, and may He reward you in your charity in my regard. I am equally impatient with you to behold myself once more among Christians, not so much to be freed from slavery as to obtain instruction in my faith, having been carried off by the infidels at the age of five. I can nevertheless assure you I am a Christian, though I know only one prayer, which is addressed to the Blessed Virgin, and was taught me by my mother. I frequently repeat it, therefore it is I experience the bad treatment of the Turks; but the Holy Virgin has enjoined me to continue faithful. I often see her in my dreams, and a short time since she told me I should soon be set at liberty. Doubtless it was you she had in view in speaking thus. I am ready to carry out all your orders and can swear for two Neapolitans and myself that we will sacrifice our lives to fulfil your designs." This reply sustained the hopes of Anne and Angelica, but it renewed the mother's grief - "This slave," she said, "lost his liberty at the age of five; my eldest boy was precisely that age when he was torn from my arms." "If it were he," rejoined Anne. "God is omnipotent, my daughter," she returned; "He has brought me to you, He can restore to me my elder boy, He can enable me to recover the second; but how many children of the same age have been carried off by these barbarians!"
In the meantime they found an opportunity to interrogate the slave: he answered that he had a very faint recollection of his parents, he remembered only that his name was Anthony, that he, his mother, sister, and a younger brother, had been carried away together; that his mother was accustomed to make them pray in common before a picture of the Blessed Virgin. "It is my son," cried Angelica; "he was named Anthony, he prayed with you before the picture I had brought with me. It is he, my heart tells me, I have no further doubt." The young slave informed them that he and his brother had been taken by a corsair from Tripoli, they had continued in his service till the present year; that this pirate having been attacked about three months since by a Neapolitan vessel, they had boarded each other, when his brother had thrown himself among the Christians, while he had been unable to do so, and the vessels ungrappling with mutual loss, his master's had put in at Algiers, where, renouncing his piratical career, he sold all his effects and slaves, among whom were the Neapolitans, of whom he had spoken, as well as himself. "God has restored me one son," said Angelica, when Anne had concluded the letter, "He will also send me the other. I dare hope it of His goodness, and the confidence with which He inspires me assures me thereof."
At this time the Bishop of Ampurias arriving with a view to treat about the redemption of captives, Anne narrated to him her history, had her little girl baptized, and gave him all the money requisite for the ransom of Anthony and the two Neapolitans. The latter agreed among themselves the measures they should adopt after their release, to arm a bark and carry off Anne and Angelica. Anthony learned then who were his benefactresses. Already had Angelica shown him the picture of the Blessed Virgin from a window; he had at once recognized it and placed himself on his kness to pray. Subsequently he received the following letter - "The time for dissimulation is passed, my son; it is not two strangers who rescue you from slavery, and who in return ask you for liberty; it is your mother and sister; the Bishop of Ampurias will tell you more on the subject. We are going with Cato to his country house, situated at a distance of three miles from this towards the west, about a mile from the sea. Let the Neapolitans remain in Algiers after their release, in order to keep a look out for you, and apprise us of your return. For you, my son, go and employ this gold, these jewels, to equip a vessel, then come and rescue us from the unhappy state in which we are. God and His holy Mother be your guides, my son; think of our impatience and hasten to give life to her to whom you owe existence. Adieu."
Anthony was overjoyed on reading these lines. He and the two Neapolitans being set at liberty the next day, at once set out for Cato's country house, and spent some nights examining its situation; they visited the roadstead, and took notice of a spot behind some rocks where they could effect a secret landing. It was arranged that the Neapolitans should remain at Algiers to give intelligence of Anthony's return to the Bishop. This last reached Naples in safety, and the Bishop having spoken favourably of him to the Viceroy, a frigate was placed at his disposal, which he armed without delay. Whilst the Bishop related to the Viceroy the adventures of Angelica and her family, he was interrupted by a nobleman, who said - "I greatly mistake or this Anthony's brother is one of my galley slaves. I commanded the ship that attacked the corsair, and amongst those who threw themselves on board my vessel was a youth who told me a part of what I now hear, but I regarded his recital as a tissue of falsehoods." The Viceroy commanded that the young man should be brought before him. The brothers being confronted, recognized each other and embraced. The Viceroy emancipated the slave, to whom Anthony imparted his design, and informed him of all that had occurred in Algiers. The frigate was equipped in less than a week; the crew consisted of forty men, accompanied by whom, the two brothers set sail for the purpose of delivering their mother and sister, an enterprize which, thanks to the two Neapolitans who had remained in Algiers, happily succeeded. The joy of Angelica can easily be imagined when she descried her second son among her liberators. She took the little Mary in her arms, nor did she forget the picture of the Blessed Virgin to which she owed so much happiness; in fine, they all reached the frigate, which soon receded from the shore. From Leghorn they proceeded to Rome, where they were welcomed by a vast concourse of people. They were presented to Sixtus V, who wished to receive in person Anne's abjuration. Cato, who had died most opportunely a little previous to her flight, left her a little son, who was baptized in Saint Peter's, Cardinal de Joyeuse and Camilla Peretti, the Pope's sister, acting as sponsors. The little Mary having attained the age of sixteen, made her profession in the Third Order of Saint Francis, in the monastery of Saint Margaret beyond the Tiber, whither she carried the picture brought from Cerigo by Angelica and preserved by her during her captivity; it might still be seen there in 1767. Angelica, Anne, and her brothers lived and died true Christians, and left a striking example of the protection accorded by the Blessed Virgin to those who in danger place in her entire confidence.
Visit to the Blessed Sacrament
Love is strong as death. - Canticle 8:6
Love triumphs over all difficulties, clears all barriers, overturns all obstacles; to it nothing is difficult, nothing bitter, provided it attains its end. Such has been Your love for us, my God; it has been stronger than death, which is but the sacrifice of an instant. For You, love has been a continual grief of three-and-thirty years; an uninterrupted death to all joy of mind, of heart, of sense; a death to honour, life, repose. Love makes You continue in this Sacrament the same life of incessant death. Thus, my Jesus, I hear You say to me from this tabernacle - "Seek your repose where I have found it in death by love." O daily death, O uninterrupted death, if 1 do not embrace you I do not love.
If love be at this price, let us die daily, hourly. O Jesus! you leave to worldlings their frivolous joys, their insipid delights, but they are deprived of the great, the ineffable beatitude. They do not love You - You Whose affection alone merits the name, You Whose love can alone satiate the heart!
O Mary! who have loved and suffered so much, obtain that love may give me death, that death may give me love.
- taken from The Month of May Consecrated to the Glory of the Mother of God, The Queen of Heaven