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As the month of May has been traditionally dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary, I thought this would be a good time to touch on her extraordinary humility by delving into some intriguing examples of this writ large from various private revelations!
As I have done in previous podcasts and other pages on our site , I must stress here, as a quick reminder of the difference between private and public revelations.
Our faith holds that what we call Public Revelation, God’s word revealed through such means as the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the New, ended with the death of the apostle St. John the Evangelist, around 100AD.
Both Jesus and Mary (and also God the Father) have nonetheless continued to communicate their thoughts to various over the centuries since. Yet the church has been fastidious in vetting these, sometimes over a long period of time, to make sure there is nothing in them that contradicts faith and morals, in what we call the Magisterium, that is to say the teaching authority of the Church.
A good sign as to the veracity of a private revelation is that it will include in its publication both an Imprimatur (authorization) and a Nihil Obstat (which is Latin for “Nothing obstructs”) attesting to this for the work in question.
Please note here, that we Catholics are not required to believe any of these accounts as we would the Nicene Creed for example. You do not have to accept any of them as gospel, but they can be quite helpful for meditations in mental prayer and while praying the Rosary, for example.
Many approved private revelations include scripture references that enhance rather than contradict Gospel writings for example, with additional details concerning various events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.
There are a couple of pages from our site, both in print and podcast, concerning our Lord’s Nativity and our Blessed Mother’s Assumption into Heaven, that include food for thought. I highly recommend checking these out for more information than I’m presenting here.
I would now like to focus on some intriguing incidents in the life of our Blessed Mother that are not found in scripture. Many of our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters have some sad misconceptions about Mary. I’ve heard from friends of mine whose relatives feel somewhat...uncomfortable...when our Blessed Mother’s name comes up.
They say they don't “get” Mary somehow or our devotion to her. It seems to be a stumbling block for them to understand our faith somehow. What’s....what’s with Mary? She’s not mentioned much in scripture after all. Why are we treating her like some..some Goddess?
While we by no means do so, we nonetheless acknowledge her unique role in salvation history as the Mother of God, born without the stain of original Sin, fiercely devoted to her Divine Son, and helping us to carry out His wishes. As such, she is an intercessor par excellence for us with Jesus.
As a necessary reminder, we honor Mary, we do not worship her, fully aware of her desire for us to “do whatever He [Jesus] tells you” (John 2:5). Those last spoken words of hers in the Gospels, at the wedding feast in Cana, almost serve as her creed!
We live in an age of the “tell-all” books, interviews, and other such media appearances. “Let it all hang out” became a mantra a few decades ago. And yet, the Blessed Mother, a portrait of true humility, not the false kind so often on display these days, featuring celebrities all too willingly telling you how humble they are, waited centuries to fill in details of her story.
She acquiesced willingly and lovingly to keeping many of her experiences out of the Gospel narratives so as not to take the focus off of her Divine Son, His church and His message and mission for our salvation!
As Mary herself told St. Bridget of Sweden in the 14th century “That my Assumption was not known to many persons was the will of God, my Son, in order that faith in His Ascension might first of all be firmly established in the hearts of men, for they were not prepared to believe in His Ascension, especially if my Assumption had been announced in the beginning.”
The second book covers accounts our Blessed Mother gave to Ven. Mary of Agreda, a 17th century Spanish nun, entitled The Mystical City of God. This title is available in its original 4 volumes and in a couple of abridged versions, including audio and ebooks, from the publisher, Tan Books.
Consider as well this passage from Brown’s compilation, covering a time period encompassing a few decades after our Lord’s Passion
“Later, when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in turn began to write the Gospels, the Blessed Virgin not only prayed for them, but also appeared to each and requested him not to mention her except when absolutely necessary (emphasis added). Only St. Luke received her permission to write somewhat more freely about her, and he drew much of his information from her direct inspiration. Even when St. John wrote his Gospel some years after Mary’s death, she appeared to him and told him that it was still not opportune for him to reveal the mysteries which he knew concerning her part in the plan of the Redemption, in order that many of the new Christians who had been idolaters should not make a goddess of the Holy Mother of their God (emphasis added).”
Doesn’t this reflect an irony of ironies!?! Mary’s wonderful humility has become an impediment to many non-Catholic Christians who, because of a lack of scriptural narrative about her, dismiss extra-Biblical events that are part of our Sacred Tradition as idolatrous nonsense, as if we’re indeed making a Goddess out of her when nothing could be further from the truth! Their dogma includes sola scriptura (scripture alone) not Mary’s Immaculate Conception or her Assumption into heaven, both of which are recognized as fundamental beliefs in the Catholic faith because they actually happened.
Now, I would like to share some more moving accounts from private revelations. Again I must emphasize that you don’t have to believe any of these. However, I hope they can help you with rosary meditations or other such devotions.
May our Blessed Mother inspire you to greater holiness, especially in these trying times in any case. And never be afraid to ask for her help, in prayer!
Let’s start off with a beautiful recollection our Blessed Mother shared with Ven. Mary of Agreda concerning the Annunciation. We are all familiar from Luke’s account about the Angel Gabriel telling Mary she is to be the Mother of God (Luke 1:26-38).
As befitting her modesty, she was indeed startled by Gabriel’s announcement! Yet, as we all know, she gave her assent. Here’s a quick look at what Mary of Agreda wrote about this from The Mystical City of God.
Mary, finding Herself in excellent condition to receive the message sent to Her, her purest soul was absorbed and elevated in admiration, reverence and highest intensity of divine love. By the intensity of these movements and supernal affections, her most pure heart, as it were by natural consequence, was contracted and compressed with such force, that it distilled three drops of her most pure blood, [emphasis added] and these, finding their way to the natural place for the act of conception, were formed by the power of the divine and holy Spirit, into the body of Christ our Lord. Thus the matter, from which the most holy humanity of the Word for our Redemption is composed, was furnished and administered by the most pure heart of Mary [emphasis added] and through the sheer force of her true love. At the same moment, with a humility never sufficiently to be extolled, inclining slightly her head and joining her hands, She pronounced these words, which were the beginning of our salvation: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (Luke 1, 31).[Be it done to me according to Thy Word”]
Isn’t that extraordinary? We so often use the expression “my flesh and blood” in describing our children. In this case the Word made flesh (as Jesus is called in John 1:14) became so with our Blessed Mother’s blood!
I’d like to bring up another example of the “hidden Mary” at work for others’ benefit. You might remember that in scripture soon after the Annunciation Mary, true to form, went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth to help her as she was pregnant with John the Baptist.
We read of her joyful meeting and her praying the Magnificat and then, well she stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then went home (Luke 1:56). No big deal, right?
Well, consider this little nugget from The Mystical City of God. You may recall that Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was struck dumb in the Jerusalem Temple by the angel Gabriel after he expressed doubts as to how he and Elizabeth could be the parents of John the Baptist, considering their advanced age.
We read further on in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:64) how Zechariah was able to start talking again, that his tongue was loosened, soon after John was born. But how this happened is a detail left out of the Gospels, in a further testament to Mary’s humility. We take up our story from the scriptural account of what to name the new baby.
The relatives then appealed by signs to Zacharias, who, being unable to speak, asked for a pen and declared his will by writing upon the tablet: “Johannes est nomen ejus.” “John is his name.” At the same time most holy Mary, making use of her power over all nature, commanded the dumbness to leave him, his tongue to be loosened, as the moment had arrived when it should bless the Lord. At this heavenly command he found himself freed from his affliction, and, to the astonishment and fear of all present, he began to speak, as narrated by the Evangelist. What I say here is not adverse to the Gospel narrative; for, although it is there related, that the angel foretold Zacharias that he should remain mute until his message should be fulfilled, yet God, when He reveals any decree of his will, absolutely unfailing as they are, does not always reveal the means or the manner of their fulfillment, foreseen by Him in his infinite foreknowledge. Thus the archangel announced to Zacharias the punishment of his unbelief, but he did not tell him that he should be freed from it by the intercession of most holy Mary (emphasis added), although this also had been foreseen and decreed. Therefore, just as the voice of our Lady Mary was the instrument for the sanctification of the child John and his mother, so her secret mandate and her intercession had the effect of loosening the tongue of Zacharias, filling him with the holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy.
There are quite a few more good examples of Mary’s devotion and service to our Lord and her pivotal role in salvation history as the Mother of God. I could fill up quite a few podcasts and webpages on these in addition to the ones I've done, mentioned previously, on the Assumption and the Nativity. Calling her just some woman or mother is like calling Beethoven just some musician!
Now I would like to briefly focus on Mary as our Lady of Sorrows (the Sorrowful Mother) who emerges in one of the Joyful Mysteries, ironically enough, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple when he was a little baby.
We read in scripture on how the devout Simeon blessed God there when he saw the baby Jesus and told his mother both good and bad news: the good, as you may recall, is that Jesus would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for Israel. The bad: that her Divine Son would be a sign that would be contradicted (resisted) and that her own soul would be pierced with a sword of sorrow at this resistance manifested at Calvary years later and elsewhere as well, even to this day.
We have a well-known devotion to our Sorrowful Mother covering this in the church. We read in scripture that Mary and Joseph felt wonder or amazement, depending on which translation you follow, at Simeon’s good news, but there is nothing about Mary’s reaction to the more somber message. Consider this, however from Raphael Brown’s book:
At the moment when the priest mentioned the sword and the sign of contradiction, which were prophetical of the Passion and death of the Lord, the Child Jesus bowed His head, thereby ratifying the prophecy and accepting it as the sentence of the eternal Father pronounced by His minister. All this was understood by Mary, and she began to feel sorrow, for as in a mirror her spirit was made to see the mysteries included in this prophecy. All these things remained indelibly impressed on her memory.
A little further on, Brown shares this quote of our Lady to St. Bridget of Sweden:
“On that day (of the Purification) my pain was increased. For though by divine inspiration I knew that my Son was to suffer, yet this grief pierced my heart more keenly at Simeon’s words. And until I was assumed in body and soul to Heaven, this grief never left my heart, although it was tempered by the consolation of the Spirit of God.
But he also quotes Mary’s words to Ven. Mary of Agreda, one of the mystics he sourced for his compilation, about the importance of equanimity in our spiritual lives:
“Remember the sorrow that pierced my heart at the prophecies of Simeon, and how I remained in peace and tranquility, even though my heart and soul were transfixed by a sword of pain. Seek ever to preserve inward peace. Full of trust in me, whenever tribulation comes over thee, fervently exclaim: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?’ ”
Can we not marvel at her stoic restraint in not pouring her heart out in fitting grief all over the pages of sacred scripture? There is not one word about this in any of the Gospels. Not. One. Word!
Now, before wrapping up, I’d like to share some other insights from Brown’s book concerning Mary’s incredible devotion to her Divine Son, His church, and fallen humanity, (that includes you and me!)
During the Ascension of Christ, the Blessed Virgin underwent a marvelous mystical experience: by the will and power of Almighty God her soul was raised with her divine Son, and she was told to choose between remaining henceforth in the glory of Heaven or returning to the world to guide and assist the new Church. But when she looked down and saw the pitiful condition of the bewildered followers of Christ just after His Ascension, she was stirred by compassion for them and for all mankind, and prostrating herself before the Holy Trinity, she said: “Eternal God, I accept this task, and for the time being I renounce the peace and the joy of Thy presence. I sacrifice it to further the love which Thou hast for men. Accept this sacrifice, my Lord, and let faith in Thee be spread, and let Thy holy Church be enlarged!” Thus, by her own free choice and with the blessing of God, Mary returned to help in founding the Church Militant on earth.
(As a quick reminder the Church Militant is the church on earth (including you and me). The Church Triumphant encompasses the saints in heaven. And the Church Suffering is made up of the Holy Souls (also known as the Poor Souls) in Purgatory.)
And in the days leading up to Pentecost, the narrative continues:
“She also prayed regularly with the Apostles and disciples, and gave them helpful instruction on mental prayer. Gradually they all realized that their departed Master had left them an ideal guide in His modest and holy Mother, and more and more they came to look upon Mary as their Mediatrix with Him and as the Consoler and Mother of His spiritual family, the Church."
We read further in Brown’s chapters how Mary played an important catechetical, spiritual, and, most importantly an intercessory role in the growth of this new church, which we know was first called the Way as a branch of Judaism in the years to come before her Assumption into heaven.
She frequently prayed to God for help and guidance for His flock and her prayers brought forth much fruit! But again, there is not one word about this in scripture, probably for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Could any of us, unlike Mary, born with the stain of original sin not feel some resentment in all this? Most of us at one time or another have relatives or friends who make no secret of their displeasure at being snubbed when they feel neglected.
Think of Marie Barone in the popular series Everybody Loves Raymond, in this regard, the mother-in-law from hell! Yet the Madonna was not and is not a Prima Donna!
As Mary's time of departure from this world approached, we read:
The Lord gave her His blessing and said to her: "My dearest Mother, the hour has come in which thou art to pass into the glory of My Father. And since, by My power and as My Mother, I have caused thee to enter the world exempt from sin, therefore also death shall have no right to touch thee at thy exit from this world. If thou wishest not to pass through it, come with Me now to partake of My glory, which thou hast merited. "
But Mary joyfully replied: "My Son and my Lord, Thou didst suffer death without being obliged to do so. It is proper therefore that as I have tried to follow Thee in life, so I follow Thee also in death." The Saviour approved her last, generous sacrifice…while a number of cherubic little angels hovered about her, and the choir of angels and archangels was singing the verses of the Canticle: "Behold, my beloved speaketh to me 'Arise make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one and come, the winter has passed…’” Mary whispered “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
Then the eyes of the Mother of God gently closed. And her soul, without effort, left her body. She died of love. (Emphasis added)
I hasten to add here that while the church has proclaimed Mary’s Assumption as a dogma of our faith they have made no definitive statement as to whether or not our Blessed Mother passed away before her Assumption body and soul into heaven.
Still, notice once again Mary’s moving humility in this revelation! She says, in effect, if you who are God Incarnate suffered an actual physical death, who am I as a mere human being to do differently?
Summing all this up, we can take great comfort knowing that in our Blessed Mother was and still is, judging from her many church approved apparitions, able to show love and devotion to God on a truly heavenly scale, serving Him and others with no thought of what would be in it for herself personally.
All she’s ever wanted, as we see from scripture, these private revelations, and the apparitions, was for us to love and obey her Divine Son and each other in accordance with His Will for us. And we can only imagine the number of times and ways she has interceded to God on our behalf, as queen of heaven and earth.
Take heart, that she is our Spiritual Mother (John 19:26-27) as well as the Queen of Heaven. Yet, as such, she is not just sitting around eating some kind of heavenly bon bons superciliously on some distant throne past the Pearly Gates! Nothing could be further from the truth!
Be inspired by the extraordinary devotion with which she served and continues to serve her Son! She’s not looking for any praise or credit here. Only that we love and serve her son and not be afraid to ask for her help and intercession on our often troubled earthly pilgrimage towards Eternal Life in heaven.
Fully cognizant and sorrowful nonetheless that many will not make it there from stubborn adherence to their own sinful proclivities, she nonetheless prays, intercedes for us and asks us to feel free to ask as much as possible for her grace to “do whatever He [again, Jesus] tells you”.
Let us keep in mind what Our Lady of Guadalupe told Juan Diego in one of our Lady’s most celebrated apparitions, in the 16th century in Mexico to calm his anxiety over his uncle’s illness, “Do not fear this nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my protection?” Pray for her help in cultivating your own spirit of humble service to her Divine Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!