Immaculate Conception and the Infancy of Jesus
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
During this month of December, the month dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and the Infancy of Jesus, let us pray for the grace our hearts need to be prepared for the gifts of Grace our Lord wills to give each of us! This Sunday we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent. I share with you a reflection on the Virgin Mary’s Virginity and our purity. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Mary’s Virginity - Our Purity, Virginity, apostolic celibacy and marriage: Mary’s virginity is a privilege intimately united with her Divine Maternity, which is in perfect harmony with her Immaculate Conception and her glorious Assumption. Mary is Queen of virgins: the dignity of virginity stems from the Mother of God. (St. Augustine, Sermon 51)
The Blessed Virgin is the most perfect example for every life that is completely dedicated to God.
The renunciation of human love for God’s sake is a Divine Grace which drives and encourages a person to surrender body and soul to Our Lord with all the possibilities that the heart possesses. God is thus the one and only focus of this unshared love. It is in God that the heart finds its fulfillment and its perfection, without the intervention of any earthly love. The result is that God grants a bigger heart which, in Him, is capable of loving all creatures.
The vocation to apostolic celibacy, for the love of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 19:12), is a special Grace from God and one of His greatest gifts to His Church. In the words of St. John Paul II, virginity keeps alive in the Church the awareness of the mystery of marriage and defends it against all attempts to impoverish it or reduce its importance. It frees the heart of man in a special way… bearing wit-ness to the fact that the Kingdom of God and its justice is a pearl of great price to be preferred to any other treasure however great its value may be. Moreover, virginity should be sought as the only real object of value. The Church, therefore, throughout its history, has defended the superiority of this Divine Gift over matrimony, because of its particular link with the Kingdom of God. Even though a person has renounced physical parenthood, as a virgin he or she can assume a spiritual parenthood towards many by co-operating in the development of the family according to God’s plan. (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio)
From those who are called by a specific vocation to renounce human love, God asks that they give their whole heart, and they find in Him the fulfillment of loving. To live virginity or apostolic celibacy means to live the perfection of love.
Celibacy and perfect chastity give the soul, the heart and the external life of those who profess them that freedom which the apostolate needs so much if it is to serve with maximum generosity the good of other souls. This virtue which makes men spiritual and strong, free and agile, helps them to see around them other souls and not merely bodies, souls who hope for the light of their word and of their prayer, and the charity of their time and of their affection. We should have a great love for celibacy and chastity, because they are concrete and tangible proofs of our love of God, and are at the same time sources which make us grow continuously in that same love. (S. Canals, Jesus as Friend)
Virginity and apostolic celibacy not only do not contradict the dignity of marriage but presuppose and confirm it. (cf. John Paul II, ibid.)
The Church always needs people who offer to God an undivided heart as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. (Rom. 12:1) The Church also needs saintly families, Christian homes, which will be the true leaven of Christ and be themselves the source of many voca-tions of complete self-surrender to God.
Holy purity in and outside marriage. The fruits of this virtue. Purity is necessary for love: For both single and married people, Mary’s virginity is also a call to live with finesse the virtue of holy purity, which is essential if we are to see God and serve our fellow men. Perhaps this virtue will clash with our environment and be mis-understood by many, blinded as they will be by a materialistic out-look. In fact, it will be scorned and its utility called into question. Nevertheless, holy purity is absolutely necessary for us, even from the point of view of being a little more human, and of being able to look at God. Without the virtue of purity it is simply impossible to be a contemplative soul.
The Holy Spirit acts in a special way on the soul that is refined in its chastity. Holy purity produces rich fruit in the soul. It enlarges the heart and helps in the normal growth of the affections. It gives rise to deep internal happiness even in the midst of many obstacles. It makes apostolate possible. It makes us more human, with a greater capacity for understanding and sympathizing with other people’s problems.
On the other hand, impurity gives rise to insensitivity of heart, to mediocrity and selfishness. It makes a person incapable of real love and produces in the soul all the necessary conditions for it to germinate like weedy growths and nurture every kind of vice and unfaith-fulness.
Don’t forget that when someone is corrupted by concupiscence of the flesh, he cannot make any spiritual progress. He is unable to do good works. He is a spiritual cripple, fit to be cast aside like an old rag. Have you ever seen patients suffering from a progressive paralysis and unable to help themselves or even to get up? Sometimes they cannot as much as move their heads. Well, in the spiritual order, the same thing happens to people who are lacking in humility and have made a cowardly surrender to lust. They don’t see, or hear, or under-stand anything of primary importance. They are, as it were, paralyzed. They are like men gone mad. Each of us here ought to invoke Our Lord, and His Blessed Mother, and pray that He will grant us humility and the determination to avail ourselves frequently and devoutly of the Divine Remedy of Confession. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 181)
Today let us ask Our Lord in our prayer to have mercy on us and to help us have a more purely refined attitude towards Him. Jesus, guard our hearts! Make them big and strong and tender hearts, affectionate and sensitive, overflowing with love for You and ready to serve all mankind. (ibid., 177)
How to live this virtue: Today we can offer our hearts to Our Lady and resolve to strive for greater care in living this virtue. Holy purity is so pleasing to her, and produces so many fruits in our interior life and in the apostolate.
The Church has always taught that, with the help of grace, and especially in this case with the help of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, it is possible to live this virtue at every moment and in all the circumstances of life. All we have to do is make use of the appropriate means at our disposal.
What do you want us to do? Go up into the mountains and become monks? - St. John Chrysostom was asked. W hat you say is enough to make me weep, he replied. That you should think modesty and chastity proper only to monks! No. Christ laid down the same laws for everyone. So when He said ‘every one who looks at a woman lustfully’ He wasn’t speaking only to monks, but to men everywhere. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 7, 7)
Holy purity entails a daily self-conquest, for it is not acquired once and for all. There may be times when the struggle becomes more intense, so that it is necessary to have more frequent recourse to the Blessed Virgin and to use, perhaps, some more unusual remedy. To acquire this virtue it is first necessary to be very humble, a condition clearly shown by sincerity in spiritual direction, for sincerity itself leads to humility. Remember the poor boy who was possessed by a devil, and was unable to be helped by the disciples. Only Our Lord could free him, by prayer and fasting. On that occasion the Master worked three miracles. The first enabled the boy to hear, because, when the dumb devil gets control, the soul refuses to listen. The second made him speak and the third expelled the devil. (J. Escriva, op. cit., 188)
Other ways of caring for and cultivating this virtue are those small, customary mortifications which help to keep the body under control. If we want to keep intact the most beautiful of all the virtues, which is chastity, we must realize that it is a rose that only blooms in the midst of thorns, for which reason it is only to be found, as are the other virtues, in a mortified person. (St. Jean Vianney, [The Cure d’Ars], Sermon on Penance)
Take very special care of the virtue of chastity and also of the virtues which accompany it - modesty and refinement. They are, as it were, the safeguard of chastity. Don’t take lightly those norms of conduct which help so much to keep us worthy in the sight of God: keeping a watchful guard over our senses and our hearts; the norm of courage - the courage ‘to be a coward’ - to flee from the occasions of sin; of going to the Sacraments frequently, particularly the Sacrament of Confession; of complete sincerity in our own spiritual direction; the norms of sorrow, contrition and reparation after one’s falls. And let all this be imbued with a tender devotion to Our Lady, so that she may obtain for us from God the gift of a clean and holy life. (J. Escriva, op. cit., 185)
We carry this great treasure of purity in vessels of clay, fragile and vulnerable. But we have all the weapons needed to conquer temptation, so that with the passage of time this virtue may go on increasing in its refinement, that is, in a greater tenderness towards God. Let us end this period of conversation in which you and I have been praying to Our Father, asking Him to grant us the Grace to live the Christian virtue of chastity as a joyful affirmation. We ask this of Him through the intercession of Our Lady, she who is Immaculate Purity itself. Let us turn to her, ‘tota pulchra’, all beautiful, taking to heart that advice that I gave many years ago to those who felt uneasy in their daily struggle to be humble, pure, sincere, cheerful and generous. ‘All the sins of your life seem to be rising us against you. Don’t give up hope! On the contrary, call to your holy Mother Mary, with the faith and abandonment of a child. She will bring peace to your soul.’ (ibid. 189)” (From In Conversation with God,
by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. Paul, and all the Holy Angels, may God grant us the grace to be pure in heart through the intercession and help of the Blessed Virgin Mary! In Christ through Mary,