Virgin, Wife, and Mother
The intent and purpose of this conference is to develop some considerations, based on the Gospel and on Catholic doctrine, and to raise and direct our gaze beyond the sad and suffocating reality that surrounds us towards the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—and in a special manner to the Most Holy Virgin Mary, model and guide of every Christian, but most especially, of the Christian wife and mother.
It is our lot to live through times never before imagined in the history of humanity and in the history of the Church: a total and systematic attack on the institution of the family, on marriage and the spouses, and on parents and children. This is an attack on the natural order and above all on the supernatural order, that is, on the sacrament of matrimony and on the sanctity of the family. This is an attack, finally—and this is the most surprising—emanating from within society and from within the very bosom of the Church.
It is evident—it is, as they say, public and notorious—that a very important number of shepherds, those who comprise the hierarchy of the Church, in their eagerness to be reconciled with the modern world and to arrive at the ultimate consequences of the liberal principles adopted by the Second Vatican Council, are totally dedicated to a real moral revolution within the Church.
Now is not the right time to expand on this subject. Suffice it to keep in mind for the purpose of this conference that, in the Church—and this supremely concerns us as Catholics—we are living through a most grievous attempt to subvert the doctrine on the family and to attack in an unprecedented manner the sanctity of matrimony and, what is far worse, the sanctity of the Church Herself, Her doctrine, Her discipline, Her institutions and Her members.
You would then understand how, in the face of these joint attacks of impiety and heresy, it is very useful for us to contemplate, defend, and above all, to live the ideal of the Holy Family, to imitate the example of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, God’s masterpiece among purely human creatures, and at the same time to direct our gaze and our prayers towards Her who is the protector and the guardian of faith and of virtue, of truth, and of holiness.
Here someone might object: But Hers is an ideal which is so perfect that it is unrealizable, so high that it is not of this world. To which we simply answer with the words of Our Lord in the Gospel: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) As St. Jerome says, “God does not ask the impossible, but teaches and commands perfection.”
St. Augustine teaches that the unique example of the Holy Family of Nazareth highlights concretely the spiritual and supernatural aspect of Christian marriage. While maintaining the value of the primary end of married life, which is to give children to the Church, the Holy Family’s example manifests the excellence and even the superiority of the union of hearts and orientates the spouses to the most elevated practice of the evangelical virtues.
Thus, the ideal that we are about to consider reveals to us that which is highest and most perfect in matrimony and motherhood, that perfection which each wife is to imitate and practice according to her own condition, in order to tend steadily to the perfection of the Christian wife and mother, whose model is the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
For this, we shall consider Our Lady firstly as the spouse of St. Joseph, then as mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, we shall draw some conclusions, applying them to the Catholic wife and mother.
The Most Holy Virgin as Spouse of St. Joseph
The first question that comes to mind is why did the Most Blessed Virgin voluntarily choose matrimony? The ultimate reason is in fulfillment of her perfect conformity with the Will of God and the total abandonment of self into the hands of God. She was following Divine Providence rather than anticipating it. Besides, she chose matrimony because it presented itself not only as reconcilable with, but very well-suited to, her vow of virginity, given the conditions in those days of a young Hebrew maiden who was descendent and heiress of David. The marriage to St. Joseph was in view of the common ideal of purity and virginity that animated those two hearts.
The plans and designs of Divine Providence were admirably ordered towards the virginal conception of the Messias, to the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Redemption.
Why was this marriage suitable with regard to our human condition? Among the reasons St. Thomas gives, there are two that are of greatest importance to our theme.
It was suitable, in the first place, to symbolize the union of Christ and the Church, a union in which, while the Church Herself remained a virgin, She was united to Her spouse, Christ. If every matrimony symbolizes this union, the marriage of the Virgin and St. Joseph symbolizes it perfectly. As Mary is figure and archetype of the Church, so like her, the Church, remaining virgin, is nonetheless fertile by the Holy Ghost. This admirable image sheds light on the greatness of Christian marriage, just as does St. Paul, who says: “Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church, being Himself Savior of His Body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be subject to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: That he might sanctify it…” (Eph. 5:22-26). Certainly Mary and Joseph fully accomplished this ideal, giving an example to Christian couples.
It was suitable, secondly, that in one person, Mary most Holy, virginity and matrimony should be honored at the same time, to the everlasting reproof of those who would hurl invectives and attacks against one or the other, or against both, as in our current times. And we may also add that this second reason gives to wives an example of the spirit of chastity and purity which should animate them.
There are some who, unable to reconcile virginity and matrimony, have cast doubts upon and even denied the reality of the matrimony between Mary and Joseph. Nonetheless, it is necessary to say that this fact is beyond all doubt, since Sacred Scripture provides clear and explicit testimony.
St. Matthew says, “Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:16), and in the verses that follow he says, “Joseph her husband, being a just man…” (1:19). The evangelist gives to the Most Holy Virgin the name of wife: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife,” and he gives us the reason: “for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.” (1:20)
St. Luke says, referring to the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census ordered by Augustus, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child” (Lk 2:4-5).
The Gospels call Joseph the father of Christ. And, likewise, Jesus is called the son of Joseph. Besides, Mary and Joseph are named the parents of Jesus. And the only explanation for this is that Joseph, by a true and lawful matrimony, was the husband of Mary. St. Augustine says concerning this, “They were both worthy, by their faithful marriage, to be called parents of Christ, and not only was she worthy to be called mother of Christ, but he also father, as the spouse of His mother; and he is father and spouse through affection, not through the flesh.” Thus, there was between Joseph and Mary a true marriage.
St. Thomas, for his part, says that between “the Virgin, Mother of God, and St. Joseph there was an absolutely true marriage, because it realizes the primary perfection of matrimony, which consists in an indissoluble union of souls, in virtue of which the spouses are to keep for each other an unalterable fidelity.
After pointing out that their marriage also realized the second perfection as to the education of children, St. Thomas concludes with the classic text of St. Augustine, “We see all the goods of marriage realized in the parents of Christ: offspring, fidelity, and the sacrament. The offspring is the same Lord Jesus; fidelity in that there was no adultery whatsoever; the sacrament in that neither was there divorce. “
It is precisely these goods of matrimony, lived and kept in an eminent way by St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, which are attacked even in the bosom of the Church, as for example: “paternal responsibility” and communion to “divorced and remarried persons.”
It is fitting for us to reflect now on the sublime union of the Virgin with St. Joseph; there had to exist between them an extraordinarily perfect harmony of hearts and of affections.
It is impossible to imagine that the Lord, who had prepared for Himself such a perfect mother, would not also have prepared with a superabundance of grace the “spouse” of His mother, the head of the family, and him whom Jesus would call “father.”
There would necessarily have been harmony of hearts and wills, of affections and of mutual understanding. Now, then, to say harmony and understanding with respect to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is to affirm the most sublime excellence in St. Joseph and the most ineffable union of hearts. The perfection of Mary demanded also the perfection of Joseph and the greatest harmony with Mary’s heart, from which we can deduce how perfect and sublime was their marital union.
How can we reconcile the marriage of Mary Most Holy with the vow of virginity? According to St. Thomas, as well as in the opinion of the best mariologists, God made it known to Mary the certainty that this marriage would not only bring no blemish whatsoever to her purity, but was also indispensable to her. And Mary accepted from the very Hand of God the hand of Joseph, who in turn was animated by the same sentiment as his most chaste spouse.
In fact, the marriage of the Virgin, far from casting a shadow over her virginity, does nothing but make its incomparable splendor stand out forcefully. Bossuet describes it admirably:
“In the union of Mary and Joseph, St. Augustine sees above all the contract which binds them mutually, and it is precisely here, in the mutual self-donation, that we must admire the triumph of purity together with the reality of that marriage. For Mary truly belongs to Joseph and Joseph to the heavenly Mary, and this through real marriage; in virtue of which, the one gives himself to the other. But, in what way does one give one to the other? Purity, behold your triumph! Each gives to the other his virginity, and over this virginity they reciprocally yield a mutual right. Which right? That of preserving each other’s virginity. Yes, Mary has the right to guard Joseph’s virginity, and Joseph has the right to guard the virginity of Mary. Neither the one nor the other can dispose of it, and all the fidelity of this marriage consists in the custody of virginity. This is the promise that joins them; this is the pact that unites them. It is two virginities which unite to be mutually preserved for eternity, through a chaste correspondence of modest desires, like two stars that do not collide, except to radiate their light. Such is the bond of this marriage, says St. Augustine, so much more stable as more inviolable must be its promises, precisely because they are holier.” (1st Panegyric of St. Joseph)
The gospel of the loss and finding of Jesus in the Temple clearly shows us what was the practice of authority and of obedience in the Holy Family. Giving the primacy to St. Joseph, the Virgin says to Jesus: “Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing”; and the evangelist sums up the relationship between parents and Child with these few profound words, “and he was subject to them.” (Lk. 2:48 and 51)
The holy Gospels indicate in many other ways the special preeminence of St. Joseph: for example, in giving the genealogy of the Savior or in the account of the flight to Egypt, in which the obedience of the Virgin Mary shines forth. The predominant character of all these accounts is the perfect and lasting subjection of Mary to Joseph and of Jesus to Joseph and Mary. In this there is the evocative and enlightening inversion of two orders, that of perfection and that of hierarchical authority. In the order of dignity the chain is: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; in the order of family hierarchy, it is to the contrary: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
The obedience and humility of this voluntary subjection of Our Lord and of Mary Most Holy will be, for all ages, the best response to rebellious souls who neither respect nor obey the hierarchies and authorities constituted by God Himself.
Let us now consider the mutual love of the spouses.
The Most Holy Virgin freely and fully consented to take St. Joseph for her husband. Her Immaculate Heart surely loved St. Joseph with the true love of a fiancée and a wife.
Under the divine impulse and following the designs of divine Providence, she went ahead with matrimony and motioned her heart to love Joseph. She did this with simplicity, respecting the order of charity, and following the Will of God, an admirable example for young Christians in the choice both of a state in life and of a particular spouse!
This love, then, of Mary and of Joseph, was a real love of wife and of husband. St. Augustine celebrates the harmonies of this marriage, in which nothing was missing in the union of thoughts and desires, of hearts and of wills. Within this love they shared the joys and the sorrows—as detailed in the gospel of the Infancy—and within which they were one in loving Jesus, in perfect harmony and, as it were, fused together as parents.
We may draw a spiritually useful conclusion from what we have said: St. Joseph is at the same time the model of husbands and of souls consecrated to Mary.
As St. Thomas teaches, when God gives someone a mission, He gives him also all the appropriate graces to fulfill it well. Surely it was so with St. Joseph, as spouse of the Virgin Mary. And so it is with all spouses, principally through the sacrament of matrimony.
However, the indispensable grace needed to become the ideal spouse of Mary is precisely that of a consecration, which is a total and perpetual dedication to Mary, with the consequent intimate life of union with her. In marriage one affirms, in fact, a total and perpetual dedication, one affirms a full and perpetual community of life.
St. Joseph gave himself totally to Mary, just as Mary gave herself to Joseph. He who loves gives himself, and the purer is his love, so the more total is his gift. The Virgin Mary was the pivot around which life revolved; Joseph was united to her in mind, heart, and action.
Thus, he lived completely and continuously with Mary and for Mary. With Mary: in her company, in her presence. With her, in fact, he lived, he prayed, rejoiced, and suffered; with her in life and in death. For Mary: he always did everything for love of Mary, to please her, to support her, to protect her, to honor her.
That is why St. Joseph is the perfect model of the good husband, the patron and example of every person consecrated to the Blessed Virgin.
The Most Holy Virgin as Mother of Christ
The Most Holy Virgin Mary is really and truly the Mother of God, since she brought forth, according to the flesh, the Incarnate Word of God. This can be deduced with certainty from two truths expressly revealed in Sacred Scripture: that Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and that Jesus is God.
One of the effects of this Divine Maternity is the establishment in the Virgin Mary of a true affinity with God and a very special relationship with each Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. That is why she has been called “the complement of the Trinity.”
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of her relation with the Son, with Jesus, is that of her perfect likeness to and harmony with Him.
In the first place, theirs was a supernatural harmony. We know what richness of virtue and plenitude of grace inundated the soul of the Virgin Mary. Although one’s sanctity is essentially a reflection of that of Our Lord, the Common Model, this reflection presents a different expression in each soul and in each saint. By contrast, the one that shines admirably in the Virgin is precisely an integral likeness, capable of harmonizing integrally with her Divine Son—a spiritual harmony—and it allows her to completely understand His Heart, as is the case of every maternal heart. The greatness and perfection of Jesus was profoundly interior; that of the Most Blessed Virgin had to be interior too, that is to say, of grace, of wisdom, of virtue.
Just as there was in the supernatural order a correspondence between Jesus and Mary, so was there harmony in the natural order. The action of the Holy Ghost fully realized the motherhood of Mary Most Holy: with supreme perfection the life of the Virgin poured itself out on her Son, communicating to Him her natural qualities.
If the communication of the life of the mother creates, in accordance with the natural law, a physical and psychological likeness between mother and child, this must have taken place with particular intensity in this case, as there was no paternal concourse.
Jesus was, then, physically very like the Virgin: the perfection of His body was a reflection of the perfection of the immaculate body of Mary. And, since the specific temperament is joined to the corporal element, so also there was an admirable psychological likeness.
Divine Providence, in forming the body of Mary, had in mind the humanity that the Word would assume in her, just as in forming her most pure Heart, It had in mind the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
There was a harmony of sentiments between Jesus and Mary, the harmony of love. In Mary love and devotion to God were united, in the measure of her plenitude of grace, with the affection full of tenderness towards her Son, as in the most tender of mothers towards the most lovable child, in the measure of the unlimited natural and supernatural perfection, and the infinite grandeur and perfection of her Son.
To give a singular intensity to her maternal tenderness, there was the exceptional sensibility of her Immaculate Heart, full of grace and prepared by God to make her—as Coredemptrix—the co-sufferer with Jesus in His suffering. There was also the special fact that the Divine Son, without a natural father, was in a special way wholly hers.
He was both God and her Son! All hers and an infinite treasure, the masterpiece of God, the God-Man.
But in the Most Holy Virgin, her love for Jesus could not be separated from her love for us. She could not for an instant forget Jesus as our Savior and victim for our redemption, which is the very reason for her motherhood.
Her maternal tenderness, therefore, overflowed—from the Annunciation through Calvary and to heavenly bliss—to each one of us. And as things that are equivalent are equally loved, in the grand vision of redemption and of the love in which Jesus was presented to her as victim to be totally immolated for each soul, each one of us in her eyes acquired, in a certain way, as much value and became as lovable as was Jesus Himself to her. She loved us then and she loves us now with the same love as she loves Jesus and as she loves our being part of Our Lord, the Head of the Mystical Body. In a certain way, the love and tenderness that she had for Jesus overflowed upon us all.
From the aforesaid and from all passages of the Gospel that speak of the Blessed Virgin, we can deduce the most important traits of her heart’s motherly love: a love supernatural and natural, superabundant and full of tenderness, communicative and expansive, disinterested to the point of total surrender, strong and self-sacrificing.
Keeping in mind these reflections concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary and about the dispositions of her Immaculate Heart, we can trace the outline and draw the portrait of the Catholic wife and mother.
This portrait can be summarized in the love, in the vocation to love that gives and gives itself generously and totally. It shall be a family life devoted to husband and children, to be the heart of the home and the family’s bond of unity.
Towards the husband it shall take the form of a love that is faithful, serviceable, chaste and modest, and respectful and obedient.
To the children it shall be, before and above all, spiritual and supernatural. And I would like to insist on this, which is also a grave obligation for the father. St. Augustine says boldly that “indeed, one has the intention to engender in order to regenerate, that is to say, that those who are born children of this world, be reborn as children of God.” And he adds elsewhere: “This intention in the union of Christians is not ordained for the purpose of giving life to children so that they go no farther than this world, but that they be regenerated in Christ, so that they may never part from Him.” And in another complementary text: “In providing for the children, it is needed to receive them with love and to educate them religiously.”
It is particularly the honor and privilege of the mother to transmit faith and religion; to form Jesus in the hearts of her children; to educate them in piety, in the fear and the love of God. Her main mission shall be to elevate them to the supernatural order in such a way that they remain in it, with a solid spiritual foundation. It is not a matter merely of having children, but to bring forth children for the Church and for heaven.
And given the weak and vulnerable condition of children, in both body and soul, her love towards them shall need to be at once merciful, solicitous, strong, and self-sacrificing.
Her love towards all members of the family should be sweet, kind, tender, discrete, and cheerful. It is mainly the mother who makes the house a home and the family a refuge of peace.
Finally, charity shall be extended in sacrifice, even to the point of separation and the giving of the children to God or in matrimony, and, perhaps, in some cases, by shedding abundant tears for the conversion of a child, as did St. Monica: “The son of so many tears offered to God cannot be lost.” And she merited for us St. Augustine.
The vocation of the Christian wife and mother is a vocation to charity that is both sublime and demanding. It is a vocation to be in the family and in the world a mirror of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.
I shall finish with the words of St. Bernard:
“She is therefore that glorious Star which arose from Jacob, and which cast its radiance over the whole world, the Star whose splendor rejoices heaven, terrifies hell, and sheds its mild and beneficent influence on the poor exiles of earth. She is truly the Star which, being placed over this world’s tempestuous sea, shines forth by the lustre of her merits and example.”
“O you who find yourself tossed about by the storms of life, turn not your eyes from the brightness of this Star, if you would not be overwhelmed by its boisterous waves. If the winds of temptations rise, if you fall among the rocks of tribulations, look up at the Star, call on Mary. If anger, covetousness, or other passions beat on the vessel of your soul, look up to Mary. If you begin to sink in the gulf of melancholy and despair, think on Mary. In dangers, in distress, in perplexities, think on Mary, call on Mary. Let her not depart from your lips, let her not depart from your heart, and, that you may win the suffrage of her prayers, never depart from the example of her life. Following her, you will never go astray; when you implore her aid, you will never yield to despair; thinking on her, you will not err; under her patronage you will never wander; beneath her protection you will not fear; she being your guide, you will not weary; if she be your propitious Star, you will arrive safely in the port, and experience for yourself the truth of the words, ‘And the Virgin’s name was Mary.’” (Homily II “Missus est” #17).