Advent Retreat (Fiat Mihi) - Second Meditation (Our Lady's Humble Response)

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FIRST POINT: But She was Troubled at His Saying


You who deigned to clothe your immortality in mortal flesh, born from the flesh of the humble virgin. When the angel came to announce to the Blessed Virgin Mother that she was to become the very Mother of God, it was, without doubt, the greatest honour that could have ever been bestowed upon a human being.
For any ordinary person, we could probably excuse a brief moment of pride at being chosen for such an exalted duty, but Our Lady, free from any sinful inclinations, free from self-love, used these events as an opportunity to perform three heroic acts of humility.
When the angel appeared to the humble virgin, he greeted her with the phrase we repeat every time we too greet her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” A poor humble young woman, from a humble village has just been visited by a messenger of Almighty God, has been called “full of grace” also translatable as “favoured one”, and has been called blessed among all women. What then is her response, St. Luke tells us, “Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.”
She was troubled at the angel’s greeting, because she felt herself unworthy of such high praise, even though this greeting was from a heavenly messenger from who she could fear no deception, in other words, this was not flattery, not exaggeration, this was the very word of God relayed by His messenger, put simply it was the undisputed truth.
Nevertheless, in her holy humility, Our Lady could not allow herself to enjoy such praise, because she recognized the truth that we so often forget, whatever about her was blessed and worthy of praise was not her doing, it was by God’s grace alone.


In the Life of St. Gregory the Great we read that a certain hermit, who had lived alone in the desert for many years, in the practice of all the virtues inseperable from the life of a solitary — prayers, penances, and mortifications — besought God with great fervour to make known to him the reward prepared for him in Heaven, since He had promised to grant a high place in that kingdom to those who had left all things to follow Him.
An answer was vouchsafed to him one night during his sleep that the reward prepared for him in Heaven woud be equal to that which was to be accorded to Pope St. Gregory, on account of his life of poverty.
Hearing these words, the hermit was astonished and disturbed in mind, fearing that the poverty he was endeavouring to practice could not be pleasing to God, if it did not procure for him a greater reward than that which was to be given to St. Gregory — a man so highly placed in the Church and surrounded with the pomp and grandeur of his dignified position.
And as he was day and night deploring his unhappy condition, Our Lord was pleased a second time to appear to him, to console him. He said: “It is not the goods of the world which a person may possess that makes one rich, but it is the affection he has in his heart for them. You have contented yourself with comparing the riches of Pope Gregory with your poverty, you who are much more attached to the branches and the humble covering of your cell than Gregory is to all his possessions, which from his heart he despises; and which he makes use of only to help the needy and the poor. Therefore, in my eyes he is even more poor in his wealth than you are in your poverty.”
The hermit was given a glimpse of the great reward that awaited him in the next life, but thought he deserved more. Our Lady on the other hand, when told of the great esteem in which God held her, knew that she, in herself, was completely undeserving of praise.

SECOND POINT: The Lowly Handmaid


It was, of course, not only in her own thoughts that Our Lady abased her own nothingness, but in her words and actions also. As the angel expounded upon God’s Plan of Salvation and the role she would play in it, she declares, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.”
For us, speakers of modern English, the word handmaid may not have much meaning, in fact since this passage of St. Luke’s Gospel is likely the only place we ever hear the word we may not understand the meaning. In the original greek of the New Testament, the word used by Our Lady is doulē, the feminine form of doulos, a bondservant or slave.
She has just been told that she is to become the mother of a King, who would inherit the throne of his father David. In the tradition of Israel, it was the King’s mother who acted as Queen of the Kingdom. As the King would have many wives, there was not a single wife to occupy that position. Our Lady has essentially just been told that she will be the Queen of an eternal Kingdom of Israel. Not only this, but she has also been told that she is to become the mother of the Messiah, the Saviour, and the very mother of God Incarnate.
What then is her reaction to suddenly being proclaimed royalty, the Queen of an eternal Divine Kingdom, her reaction is to refer to herself as a slave.
When the angel departs, she then puts her humility into action, upon hearing the news that her aged cousin is six months with child, she departs immediately to the hill country, to put her role as bondservant into action, by serving the needs of Elizabeth for the next three months.
It is this humility, this self-effacing abasement, that merited so exalted a dignity for Our Blessed Mother. Christ exemplified humility in His Incarnation, by hiding His Divinity beneath His Humanity, and continues to do so by hiding beneath the Sacramental Veil of the Holy Eucharist, and so humility is one of the virtues he best loves in others. How could He not reward the humility of Our Lady with the sublime honour of being His Mother.


Of course, in true humility, this is not the only time that Our Lady abased herself. We read in the holy Gospel of St. Luke, after the narration of the Presentation of Our Lord in teh Temple, that Our Lady fulfilled all the things that were prescribed by the law. St. Vincent Ferrer writes the following on this pious subject:
“There was a custom in the Temple,” he says — “and this custom at the present day exists among the Jews — that there was a place in the Temple set aside for noble and rich women, to come thither and present their children, and another for those who were of a humbler condition, besides the third, which was entirely reserved for the virgins who were spending their earlier years in the House of God.
“On entering the Temple, Our Lady looked from one group to the other, considering to which one she would attach herself. On the one hand, she belonged to the highest family in the land, being the direct descendant of David; but she was poor and simply attired, for she had already bestowed upon the needy all the riches she had received from the wise men, as she desired in her humility to possess nothing but what she procured by the work of her hands. She thought, therefore, that if she sat amidst those who were endowed with the splendours of the world, they would say to her: ‘Go to the place which your poverty assigns you. What! the wife of a common workman to presume to sit amongst the noble ones of Israel!’
“She had the right to place herself among those virgins who were consecrated to God, because she was the most excellent of them all. But then these would have said: ‘How can you dare to place yourself amongst us, seeing that you have a husband and child?’
“She went, therefore, and sat down among the poor, whom the world has always despised. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of the Book of Canticles: ‘As the lily among the thornds, so is my Beloved amongst the daughters of Israel.’
“Then she gave to the world a second proof of her humility by kneeling at the feet of the priest, and making the offering which the law ordained, saying: ‘Behold my oblation, and offer for me a sacrifice unto God, that He may purify me from my sins.’ The priest received her offering, gave her his benediction, and then she retired.
“She then offered him before her departure two turtle-doves and two young pigeons, asking him to pray for her. Oh, what profound humility!” exclaims the Saint in meditating on this mystery.
“The most holy one of all God’s creating beseeches a sinner to pray for her! The priest knew not who she was; but the prophet Isaiah knew her, when he prophesied of her: ‘Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bring for a Son, and His name shall be Emmanuel.’”
My child, since the virtue of humility was so dear to Our Lady, and so much recommended by her beloved Son Jesus, the more you endeavour to practise it, the more dear you will become to them.

THIRD POINT: Our Lady of Humble Sorrows


At the announcement of the angel Our Lady displayed perfect humility in her thoughts, in her words, and in her actions, but she also made a third act of heroic humility, in her foreknowledge of what was to come.
The Blessed Virgin was deeply versed in the Holy Scriptures and instructed by God. She knew that the Prophet Isaiah who prophesyed, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel” also prophesyed:

3 Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.

Our Lady knew very well all of the sufferings and ill-treatment that her Divine Son would meet in His Holy life and most especially at the hour of His Holy death. In offering herself as His handmaid, she understood that she was offering herself as His inseperable companion in His labours and His ignominies. She was accepting with equal readiness a participation in the sufferings of Christ.
The Sacred Tradition expounded upon by the Fathers of the Church tell us that in the miraculous birth of Christ, Our Lady experienced no pain (as pain in childbearing is a punishment due to Original Sin). The Savior passed through the closed womb of the Virgin Mary as light passing through glass, in the same manner that the Risen Christ passed out of the tomb on Easter morning before the stone had been rolled back.
This does not mean, however, that Our Lady did not suffer the pains of childbirth. As Dr. Pitre again explains in his book, on Calvary, Our Lady suffered with the greatest intensity, beyond anything we could possibly imagine (it is in this way that she can be said to have given birth to the Church along with Christ, and gained for herself the title of co-redemptrix).
All of this suffering she humbly consented to at the Annunciation of Our Lord.


One day the Archbishop of Parish held a council in his palace, which was attended by all the principal clergy of his diocese. St. Vincent de Paul was present among them.
Now it happened that the Archbishop had confided to the Saint a very important work, for he had great confidence in his prudence and wisdom. But someone had gone to the prelate, and told him that Vincent had neglected this word, or that he had not done it with the care and diligence that it required.
As soon, therefore, as the Archbishop saw Vincent standing in his place among the other clergy, he reprimanded him in very harsh words before the whole assembly. Vincent could easily by a few words have justified himself, but he saw this was a good opportunity for the exercise of humility, so he made no answer. On the contrary, although he was a man at that time fifty years old, he went on his knees like a little child, and publicly begged his Superior’s pardon for a fault of which he knew himself to be innocent.
The rest of the priests were surprised when they saw him do this, because they thought it to be an acknowledgment that he was really guilty, and they were astonished that one so good as Vincent was thought to be, should have been so careless in any works confided to him. But at the same time they were greatly edified by his humility in thus publicly asking pardon for it.
Not long afterwards it became known that he had not only performed the work which had been given to him, but had done so with the greatest perfection. Then those who had witnessed his humility, in asking pardon just as if he had been at fault, were now filled with the highest admiration. One of them, on hearing of it, cried out: “This man is indeed a great Saint.”


St. Augustine said of humility: “Humility is the foundation of all other virtues; there is no virtue more powerful than this one for obtaining God’s choicest favours.” St. Thomas of Villanova often said: “Humility is the mother of many virtues: of it are born obedience, the fear of God, patience, modesty, and peace.”
Our Lady is a model of humility which is abundantly evident just by looking to the events of the Annunciation. She was greatly disturbed in mind at the high praise lavished upon her by the angel. She abased herself in word by declaring herself a slave dispite the great dignity with which God had endowed her. She abased herself in action by rushing to serve her aged cousin with the very Son of God having just become incarnate in her blessed womb. She willingly accepted the great sufferings that would be part of her role as mother of the Saviour for the benefit of Christ’s followers and the fledgling Church.
As we draw our reflections to a close today, may our Blessed Mother intercede on our behalf that we may be endowed with the great desire to imitate her in her humility, and so grow in virtue and in the favour of the Lord.
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