"Sinners, the despairing, look upon Mary, and she will lead you into port." - Saint Bonaventure
Ten days have now elapsed since we entered on the Month of Mary; let us examine how we have spent them. Have we made them profitable? Let us thank God and His holy Mother. Have we anything to reproach ourselves with? Then let us redeem time lost, by the ardour of our faith, by our fidelity to the prescribed practices, by some courageous sacrifice. Regret for having been so slothful and tepid, at a time when so many hearts are so generous and fervent, will redouble our strength.
During the days of His sojourn amongst us, Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, ever evinced a marked predilection for sinners. Tender compassion for those poor souls He had come to save shone in His every act and word, and that the effects of this immense charity, with which His Divine Heart was consumed, might be perpetuated through the course of succeeding ages, He imparted it to the Heart of Mary, whom He has given for our Mother, for a secure refuge against the effects of His own justice. Alas! from this distant region of forgetfulness of God your Saviour in which you have dwelt, who was to bring you back to Him, who effect your reconciliation? How could you dare appear, alone and unprotected, before the outraged God, had He not given His Mother for your support? Come, then, sinners, to this secure haven, to this inviolable asylum, to Mary. Sinners - and which of us is not included in the term - who is so blessed as never to have offended God? Come, then, all to Mary! Oh, what is not her solicitude when she beholds us suspended over the abyss! What efforts does she not make use of to snatch from eternal ruin ungrateful children, whom she loves, although they have forgotten her very name of "Mother" - perchance never known, never invoked it. "My Mother," said our Lord to Saint Bridget, "is the gentle magnet with which I attract sinful souls." And, in effect, "If the sinner who prays is unworthy of being heard, the merits of Mary intercede for and save him."
The sinner is Mary's child of predilection. Why? Because he has cost her more than others. She loves him as a mother loves the child of whom death threatens to deprive her - with the same anguish, the same agony of heart. She perceives that, without more efficacious help, a more persevering diligence, this child will be wrested from her. Menaced with his loss, her bosom yearns;, she forgets all the wrongs he has inflicted on her, and seems to act, love, life for him alone.
"Have pity on me, Lord, Thou Son of David," said the Canaanean woman, whose faith Jesus extolled, "my daughter is grievously tormented by a devil." Why did she say, "Have pity on me" since it was the cure of her daughter, and not her own, she solicited? Ah! it was because a mother feels the sufferings of her children as if they were her own. It is thus Mary prays for the guilty soul. "Have mercy on me, my Lord," she says to God "this poor erring one is my child. Have pity, then, on me; save her - she has already cost me much." "Lord," can she say again, with that woman whom Joab sent to David to soften him towards Absalom the fratricide, "I had two sons, Jesus and the sinner; the latter crucified my Jesus, and now Your justice would bereave me of the second by smiting the culprit." Could the Lord be deaf to this prayer - He Who has committed sinners to Mary's guardianship, to be cared for as her children? What more consoling title than that of Refuge of Sinners, under which the Church teaches us to invoke her? Truly this Divine Mother is the city of refuge, in which the greatest sinners are sheltered from the pursuit of divine justice. "He Who is fortunate enough to enter this city needs no words to ensure his safety. Let us, then, hasten into this fortress, and there hold our peace. 'Let us enter into the fenced city and let us be silent there.' "If confusion for our faults seal our lips in presence of the Lord, Mary will speak, Mary will intercede for us."
The Saints and Fathers of the Church are unanimous in their endeavours to make sinners sensible of Mary's commiseration in their regard. Saint Augustine styles her the sole hope of sinners; Saint Ephrem, the safe port of the shipwrecked; and Saint Bernard, who terms her the ladder of sinners - it being by her they ascend anew to God - says to her: "O Mary, who but would hope in you, seeing that you come to the relief of even the despondent themselves? No, I feel no doubt that, in having recourse to you, we shall obtain all. Wherefore let him who despairs of himself - even of God - never cease from hoping in you." O sinner! did you but know the place you occupy in Mary's Heart, how lovingly she holds out her arms to you, you would rush to her knees; with her aid, you would deem nothing impossible.
Mary appeared one day to Saint Gertrude, with her mantle thrown back. Under this cloak a troup of wild beasts was sheltered - lions, tigers, bears, leopards, which Mary, far from driving away, welcomed, and stroked with her hand in a commiserating way. The Saint understood by that, how the greatest sinners, when they implore Mary's assistance, are rescued from eternal death. "No matter how numerous and grave the sins of him who turns to me," said Mary herself to Saint Bridget, "I lose all remembrance of his guilt; I see but the intention which leads him to my feet, and disdain not to dress and heal his wounds, because I am called - as in effect I am - the Mother of Mercy."
To insure her protection, Mary' requires but one thing: that the sinner invoke her. If subdued by some passion which renders him the slave of hell, he nevertheless recommends himself to the Holy Virgin, and begs her with confidence and perseverance to deliver him from sin, no doubt but this good Mother will extend her all-powerful arm to break his chains and lead him into the haven of salvation. But alas! poor sinners, perhaps - like Augustine - pressed by grace, you fear to be heard too soon. It may be that you dread being cured, preferring to peace of mind, whose delights are wholly unknown to you, the pleasure of self-grati- fication. Expose this new wound of your soul to Mary - the simple avowal will touch her heart. She knows your weakness, and her pity for it surpasses your utmost feelings of shame and despondency. She will change this lamentable disposition into a thirst after justice and holiness, the labours of which at present startle you. Unceasingly, and with desires still more ardent than those of Monica over her wandering son, she will present you to Jesus enshrined in her inmost Heart, like a dead body in its coffin, to the end that this Divine Son may say to you also, "I say to thee, Arise;" and thus, after having restored to you speech and life by the power of His omnipotent voice, He may restore to His Mother this son that was lost.
To wear constantly either the holy scapular or a medal of the Blessed Virgin, as an abiding testimony of our confidence in her. Oh, how many conversions, how many graces, have resulted from this practice, at once so simple and so easy! How many persons has it preserved from imminent perils!
O Mary! I am a sinner; nevertheless, say but the word, cast but a glance on me, and my soul shall be healed.
Monsieur de Quériolet, no less celebrated for the scandals of his life than for the penance to which he condemned himself in reparation thereof, was one of the most glorious conquests of the Mother of Mercy. Enslaved to vice from his very childhood, his heart was proof against the Christian maxims which his parents sought to instil into it. Full of aversion for their lessons, he asked to be sent to Rennes, under pretext of pursuing his studies, but in reality to enjoy his liberty. There he associated with the most depraved students, resorted with them to the theatres and haunts of vice, persecuted to the utmost all the virtuous pupils, and, in order to secure accomplices, steals all the money he can lay hold on. Though his family had carried indulgence so far as to defray his debts, yet, on returning home, he purloined from his father's desk the sum of two thousand francs. Caught in the fact, and no less exasperated than confused at his exposure, he undertook a journey of six hundred leagues to gain the Turkish frontier, with the design of becoming a Mahometan. A merciful Providence placed a thousand obstacles to this sacrilegious design. After having wandered for a long time, Quériolet returned to his native country, in which he was a scourge by his quarrelsome disposition and violent deeds. A greater foe even of God than man, the threats of Heaven, far from inspiring him with a salutary dread, served but to inflame his impiety. "One day" (it is himself that speaks), "one day, as I was returning home from Rennes, the flashes of lightning were so continued and the peals of thunder so stunning, that I could with difficulty hold in my horse. Scarcely had I entered my house than a tree, struck by a thunderbolt, falls behind me. Vomiting a thousand imprecations, I ascended to my chamber and ordered my arms to be brought to me. I loaded my pistols, and opening my window I fired against heaven; proud of this achievement as of a victory, I went to bed. I was sleeping profoundly, when suddenly the lightning struck my apartments and burned one of the posts of my bed."
This sinner remained insensible to these signal marks of the Almighty's patience. A dream made more impression on him. God caused him to descend alive into hell, by a representation so clear and vivid that, during the five or six hours it lasted, it was impossible for him to turn away his thoughts. He seemed to see the place that his crimes had prepared for him in the depth of the abyss. Fear got the better of him; he struck his breast, did penance, and even entered among the Chartreux. His passions were only lulled; they soon awoke again. He secretly scaled the walls of the cloister, and plunged headlong into every sort of crime with greater eagerness than ever. He was possessed by an infernal rage against everything connected with religion - the Sacraments, the Offices of the Church, its ministers. He blasphemed when the poor asked alms for the love of God, and sometimes gave them something provided they would not utter that holy name. Yet, despite so many excesses, through a lingering attachment to the Blessed Virgin imbibed from his virtuous mother, he never passed a day without reciting the Angelical Salutation; it was to this trivial homage rendered to Mary that he owed his conversion. His parents had long and fervently prayed for this, and had had Mass celebrated in a chapel consecrated to the Mother of God, under the invocation of our Lady of Mercy, for this prodigal son, nor were their prayers in vain.
In 1636 he came to Loudon; curiosity led him to the church at the moment the exorcisms were performed. The demon descried him in the crowd, and cried out by the mouth of the possessed - "Behold my brave fellow, there's my fine fellow." Then, addressing him, he said, in a vexed tone - "What are you doing here? Why do you not go away?" The spirit of darkness feared what was speedily to happen. Qudriolet, astonished, retired. The following day he reappeared in the church. The exorcist was then asking the demon why he had entered into the possessed - why he would not leave her. "How do you know?" replied the devil; "it may be for the conversion of this man." Saying this he pointed to Monsieur de Qu^riolet. The latter in his turn ventured to interrogate the fiend on some of the more hidden particulars of his life. He wished to know, amongst others, who had preserved him from the lightning when it struck his bed, and what was the cause of his leaving the Chartreux. To the first question the •demon replied - "I should have carried you off, were it not for the Virgin Mary and the Cherub your guardian." To the second he answered, after much entreaty, that it was for certain faults which he specified, "God not being able to suffer so impure a man in a house so holy."
"Then it was," says M. de Quériolet, "I became alarmed; I felt myself completely overthrown, something inexplicable was taking place within me. On one side I felt myself urged to change my. life, and to confess on the spot; on the other, I was withheld by a false shame - "What will they say if I confess, if I am converted?" Finally, grace triumphed. The new penitent, with tears streaming from his eyes, began to make aloud the avowal of his most enormous sins. In the course of the day he made a circumstantial confession of them, and found himself changed into a new man. Returning on the morning to where the exorcism was going on. "Hold!" cried the devil to the exorcist, "Behold your gentleman of yesterday. He is now in such a state, that if he persevere, he will be as high in Heaven as he would have been low down in hell with us." To whom is he indebted, after God, for his salvation? "The Virgin - she has put her arms up to the elbows in filth in her endeavours to withdraw him from his sinful habits." Who has finally brought him back to God? "Mary, this gentleman's great friend." Then eyeing him he said - "Your measure was filled up, but a spark of devotion to her still lived in you." Again, addressing Quériolet, the demon said - "Did you even lay down your life for her, never could you make a return for all she has done for you." After this, he cried out several times - "Ah! miserable that I am, if ever a change affected me it is that. I administered poison to him, which is sin, and now I am forced to swallow it myself. Wondrous change, to make of a man black as a devil a very deity. And I shall remain for ever miserable. Let me no longer hear of converting sinners, but rather of perverting souls." M. Qudriolet was thirty-four at the period of his return to God. His conversion was solid, and his penance was no less striking than his scandal had been notorious. That man, so haughty and brutal,, was seen of a sudden to soften the violence of his disposition, to repress the fire of his passions, and give himself up to the practice of incredible austerities. His castle became a hospital, always open to the poor, whom he served with his own hands, with an incomparable humility and charity. He fasted for several years on bread and water; often passed two and three days without taking any food. His residence was situated a league from Saint Anne, a celebrated pilgrimage near Auray. He went there frequently, and invariably went through the prescribed exercises of the pilgrimage, dragging himself along on his knees. In short, his penance was only equalled by his gratitude to Mary. Worn out with sufferings and austerities, he wished to breathe his last sigh in the Carmelite monastery of Saint Anne. His body reposes at the foot of the high altar, consecrated to the mother of the purest of Virgins, of her whom the Church styles the "Refuge of Sinners," the "hope of the departed."
Visit to the Blessed Sacrament
O amare! O ire! O sibi perire! O ad Deum pervenire! - Saint Augustine
These words were addressed to You, O Lord, by a heart fortunate enough to be inflamed with Your love. Oh, to love! Alas! it is You alone, my Jesus, knows how to do so - only You. of Whom love is the life! Love! it is Yourself, according to the definition of the Apostle - "God is charity." Oh, to go with giant strides from Heaven to the crib, from the manger to Calvary, from Calvary to this tabernacle! What steps will lead us to you? what sacrifices equal yours? Oh, to die to self! We shall be restored to life in coming to You. You alone had something to lose in abasing Yourself to a level with your creatures. In coming to us You have passed through successive annihilations, successive deaths, while here in this tabernacle You are in a state of continued immolation. See how You loved us!
Behold by what wonderful ways you have humbled yourself for us! See the example You have given us to come to You; it is contained in one con- tinuous act, in one single word - love. O my soul! love Him Who has so loved you, and then do as you please; there will be no labour, no sacrifices, no death that will not appear desirable to you. Oh, to love, to go, to die to self, to come to God!
O Mary! draw me after you; I know not how to advance a single step. Draw me and I shall come, shall attract others, and together we shall run in the odour of your perfumes.
- taken from The Month of May Consecrated to the Glory of the Mother of God, The Queen of Heaven