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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present conference is on the second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation of Our Lady. This mystery is really two mysteries in one. First the Visitation itself and then the Magnificat which Mary said - or as we may believe - sang on the first day she visited Elizabeth. Our conference plans to cover both mysteries and in both cases simultaneously as we go along, first the Visitation and then the Magnificat, reflect on the meaning and apply the mystery to our lives.
Charity Has Eyes to See Peoples Needs
First then, the Visitation. St. Luke devotes six verses to the actual Visitation before he narrates what Mary surely told him - the Magnificat. Then theres one verse covering the Visitation after Marys Magnificat. In sequence: Mary on hearing from the Angel that Elizabeth was in her sixth month went immediately and she went with haste - on several occasions. This is the first one. St. Luke has people running. And she left one part of Palestine namely, Galilee, to another part, Judah, commonly now identified as Ain-Karin not far from Jerusalem. We should remind ourselves that Mary was not told to visit Elizabeth. Charity does not have to be told what to do. Charity has eyes to see peoples needs. She hurried - one translator says she ran as fast as she could. I think the Greek allows us to say that. Evidently she was still very young.
An Unborn Child Is a Human Being
Mary entered Zechariahs house. In the meantime remember, Zechariah had become speechless. Mary greeted Elizabeth. Were now told what words she used in greeting her kinswoman. Immediately on hearing Marys voice, the unborn child, John, leaped in his mothers womb. Johns being able to recognize who Jesus really was came evidently from infused Knowledge while still unborn and Christ still unborn. Faith does not have to have eyes of flesh to see. Immediately on hearing Marys voice the unborn child, as we said, leaped. In another words, an unborn child is a human being! An unborn child - how many mothers in either bearing a child or having brought children in the world have told me - the unborn child is affected by the mothers state of body and state of soul. Here Elizabeths joy affected John. Ive told married women, you begin to instruct your child the moment that baby is conceived in your womb.
Marys Voice Brings the Holy Spirit
Fourth reflection in the Visitation. Elizabeths reaction was, as Luke tells us, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. She was filled with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the moment she heard Marys voice - Marys voice brings the Holy Spirit - and the unborn child in Marys womb began His work of Redemption before He was born. It is the humanity of the Son of God that is THE capital T, capital H, capital E it is THE humanity of Christ which is the channel of all the graces for the human family.
Mary Is the Mediatrix of Graces
But of course Elizabeth having been enlightened on Whom Mary was carrying - she had to believe! In a few moments Elizabeth will compliment Mary for believing. Elizabeth believed too! Faith is the foundation for all the graces we expect to receive from God. Christ then, began to give His graces through His Mother Mary. This were told by the Church is the first proof that Mary is the Mediatrix of graces. And judging by the amount and frequency and depth that Our Holy Father is using in talking about the mediation of Mary I expect, maybe not in this Popes lifetime but not too far away, there will be another definition besides the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption; Marys Mediation of Grace. As weve been saying and will keep repeating throughout the retreat - Grace comes from Christ who is God through His Mother Mary to us. The Church commonly holds that John was delivered from sin in his mothers womb. Unlike Mary, who was conceived without sin, John the Baptist was born without sin. And the means of removing that sin was the Presence of the humanity of Christ. And we have to add, through the voice of Mary.
John Was Sanctified by Christ through the Words of Mary
Elizabeth was thus filled with the Holy Spirit and it had several consequences. The first weve just said: John the Baptist leaped in his mothers womb. But the second: Elizabeth made a profession of faith. She was the moment Mary spoke, enlightened in her mind. Thats what faith is. Faith provides light for the mind to see what human reason could never see except for the grace of God. What did Elizabeth learn? She learned who Mary was and she learned who Jesus was. And her enlightenment (this is Marys) came because Christ came close to Elizabeth and Mary spoke. As a consequence of Marys words, Elizabeth was enlightened. Notice the second dramatic effect. First effect: John was sanctified. Sin was removed. By Whom? By Christ. How? Through the words of Mary. First effect. But secondly Johns mother, Elizabeth, was enlightened in mind. That is the second marvelous effect of Christs Presence and Marys voice. What was the effect? Elizabeth learned. She received the grace in her mind to see, though Christ was still unborn, to recognize who Jesus was and to fathom who Mary was.
Jesus Is the Incarnate God
Number six. Elizabeth then proceeded to tell Mary first, Blessed are thou among women; what you have been reciting as Christians for two thousand years. Moreover, Elizabeth told Mary that not only she, Mary, was Blessed among women; but the fruit of her womb, Jesus, was also Blessed. The expression fruit of your womb as Im sure you know in Latin the verb for to enjoy is frui and the joyful product of your womb, Jesus. Elizabeth then goes on speaking, rhetorically asked herself, How have I deserved, deserved that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? Anytime anyone dares to even intimate, even suggest that either Mary did not know Whom she had conceived, that she did not know that the Child she conceived was the Son of the Living God - anyone who doubts that Mary knew that, anyone who doubts that Elizabeth knew that, and worse still, anyone who doubts that Jesus, from the first moment of His Conception knew who He was; Anyone who claims that either Mary or Elizabeth or Jesus did not know that the Child that Mary conceived at Nazareth is the Living God in human form - and that Christ had that knowledge, Mary and Elizabeth had that knowledge from the first moment of the Annunciation - that person (and I mark my words carefully) is a demonic liar, even though that writer has an Imprimatur and has degrees dripping off the page after his name. I repeat: Anyone who doubts that Jesus or Mary or Elizabeth did not know that the Child that Mary conceived and brought with her to Elizabeth; that they did not know that already that unborn Child was the Living God: Anyone who claims that, is not I repeat, telling the truth. Watch your reading. Mark the language that people use. The least shadow of doubt as to whether either Christ Himself or His Mother knew that Jesus is the Incarnate God is not, I repeat, is not a believing Catholic.
Mary Is the Mother of God
Elizabeth therefore exclaimed, How did I ever deserve that the Mother of my Lord, the Mother of my God should visit me? All the prerogatives of Mary, all the qualities, all the titles by which we address her are finally founded on one truth of our faith that Mary is the Mother of God. Anything and everything else we say about Our Lady has her Divine Maternity as its foundation.
The Holy Eucharist Began in the Womb of Mary
Then were told, because Elizabeth said so, that John the Baptist not only leaped in his mothers womb but was filled with joy - was filled with joy. We could now start the retreat all over again and spend the next six days on what should be the greatest source of joy for us on earth: To have the Living God in human form in our midst. And whatever grace you pray for, I beg you to pray for the grace of experiencing joy in being near to Jesus now on earth. Ive been telling my students both in Sacramental Theology and Christology, The Holy Eucharist began in the womb of Mary, the same identical, mathematically, historically, geographically, physically, bodily (pardon another adverb) metaphysically, same Jesus that Mary carried in her womb. Elizabeth did not see Jesus. Neither do we. Am I clear? We believe with the mind. We dont believe with the eyes. Ah, but the mind has eyes of its own! And a good measure of the depth of our faith in Gods becoming Man and being among us in the Blessed Sacrament is the joy we experience. Thats an embarrassing barometer for our faith.
Blessed - Made Happy by God
We go on. Elizabeth then told Mary that she, Mary, was Blessed, that is made happy by God. Remember that. Whenever Sacred Scripture uses the word blessed someone being blessed, it always means made happy by God. And Elizabeth even tells Mary why she is Blessed. First, because Mary believed. God will make us as happy as our faith is strong. Been ordained forty-two years. In these years Ive met, some for a short time, some Ive known, well, for forty-two years; Ive yet to meet a happy unbeliever. They dont exist. One reason, I honestly believe, that the genius of modern science has invented so many (what shall we call them) time-saving devices, pleasure-giving devices is to provide some substitute to unbelievers for the lack of genuine happiness that comes only by God conferred by Him and depending on our faith.
Marys Faith was The Most Demanding Possible
But Elizabeth gives another reason why Mary was Blessed, made happy by God: both because she believed, and because everything that God had promised her would be fulfilled. How this needs saying! There are two kinds of joy that God confers on us here in this valley of tears. The first is the joy given by our faith in the experience of doing Gods Will. That is present joy. But there is another joy which we are to experience already here in anticipation of the Beatitude that God still has in store for us. Take the season of Christmas. In Detroit I noticed theyre putting up Christmas wreaths and lights especially in the business district of the city from, and I can prove it, before Thanksgiving. Is there joy in anticipation? Is there? Mary, then, was made happy by God both because she believed and she saw what the eyes of her Body did not show her. She saw that the Child she was carrying was her God. But she also hoped. You see, there are three sources of joy; weve just touched on two now. Weve got more days coming in the retreat. The first source of joy is faith. The second source of joy is hope. The third source of joy is charity. Marys faith was the most demanding possible. Yet she was happy because she had the faith. She saw beyond, beneath, below, the working of God, indeed, the Presence of God. God will try us thats a safe statement. The secret is to know that God is behind it. Im in pain. I dont like the pain; nobody does. But would you believe it? Im happy! Why? Because ah, but my faith must be clear! I see God behind that pain, in that pain. Im not being poetic in saying this. There is profound - I would use the superlative - the profoundest joy on earth is the happiness that comes from enduring pain which my faith tells me is sent me by a Loving God. I wouldnt have the gall to say this unless I believed it.
Faithful People Are Hopeful People
Marys faith was the foundation for her hope. We can look forward to all that God has promised us only in the measure of our faith. Faithful people are hopeful people. Faithless people are hopeless people. We are as hopeful as we are faithful. Mary knew she would be rewarded and she was happy over the anticipation of the reward that awaited her.
One of the Great Mysteries of Our Catholic Faith
Then, the sixth reference in Lukes Gospel at the end of the Magnificat, Luke adds, and Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months; that is, we may believe until John was born. And then she went back home, Luke says, to Nazareth. The Visitation is one of the great mysteries of our Catholic faith; teaches us many things in all that weve said and much more than we could say. Just one more observation before we leave the Visitation and reflect on Marys Magnificat.
Charity Is Always in a Hurry
The Fathers of the Church emphasize Marys, listen, contemplative charity. So far from being incompatible - working, serving, helping others - so far from that be incompatible with contemplation. Charity is the logical fruit of contemplation. And the qualities of Marys charity (we could start all over again) have never been revealed more than in her rising and going in haste to help her kinswomen in need. Charity sees peoples needs. At a distance! Charity, St. Ambrose says, is always in a hurry. Because peoples needs can be immediate. But watch it! Like Our Lady, we will be only as charitable toward others, only as kind toward others, only as self-giving to others as we are near Christ and Christ is near us. In other words, the pre-condition for practicing charity toward other people is living in the Presence of God, believing He is within us always by His grace, and believing He is always near us in the Holy Eucharist. Now the Magnificat.
I counted them; there are ten verses to the Magnificat which is the first of three hymns surrounding the coming of Christ. Talk about celebration. First Marys hymn, the Magnificat. Then Zacharys hymn, the Benedictus. Then the angels hymn, the Gloria in Excelsis. Each of the ten verses of the Magnificat contains a mystery. I thought, asked the Lord, what shall I do? Should I give two conferences, one on the Visitation and another on the Magnificat? Should I try to combine them? As you see I decided to combine them. Each one of these ten verses contains enough Truth for ten years of meditation. But since the retreat is on the Rosary, some of us will have ten more years. Im beginning with the speaker, some of us may not have ten more years to meditate on the Magnificat which in Divine Wisdom as weve been doing, well count.
Recognize the Greatness of God
First, My soul magnifies the Lord. And that, by the way, is the literal translation of both the Greek and the Churchs official Latin. Why, indeed, this hymn is called the Magnificat. Hold on to your Catholic vocabulary. Im not even sure, I really am not. I didnt check it whether Websters Third International Unabridged has Magnificat as one of the words that are defined or magnify. Well maybe if they have the word magnify, you know, you know for people whose sight is weak, use a piece of glass to magnify. O how we have cheapened the Treasury of Divine Wisdom. Magnificare, of course means to make magnum, make big. Meaning what? Is it possible to magnify something which is objectively small? Yes. But in the Churchs vocabulary, when Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord what she meant was, my soul recognizes the greatness of the Lord. There is none greater than God. What a cheap almost blasphemous comparison. No one greater than the Lord. This is God! Talk about greatness - except for Him, there wouldnt be anyone else! Thats pretty great! To magnify, therefore, means to recognize the greatness of God. But in order to magnify as Mary did, our minds must first recognize who God is.
For fourteen years, I was teaching in the Graduate School in St. Johns University. By the way, the largest Catholic University in the United States: regular enrollment now over seventeen thousand students. But I was told by the Holy See to go to New York, team up with a convert from Judaism to start a Graduate Department in a Catholic University. Whats the name of the department? The Department of Catholic Doctrine. That there would be at least one, and we were not a big department, that would concentrate on Theology. On God. As I walked to my classroom at the University, I would have to go past the large, mammoth Law School.
To Magnify the Lord means, first, that my mind knows Who God is! Any comparison I make, Im sure wed be safe. Most people know a hundred times more about creatures and the things of this world especially that one delightful, oh, beautiful creature that has our name. A hundred times more, a thousand times more than people know about God. But then, if magnifying the Lord begins in the mind, recognizing His greatness, it is expressed first by the will, in loving this Great God and then in telling others about Who God really is.
To magnify the Lord means to praise the Lord.
Find Joy in God
Mary continues: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Just as most people, most of the time magnify everybody else, praise everybody else and are just looking around to have somebody praise me and then life becomes worth living because somebody has complimented us. So, even as people spontaneously praise, admire and the word magnify everyone else, beginning with themselves before it even dawns on them to magnify or praise God. So people will find joy. You name it. What we weak human creatures can find enjoyment in make the angels, symbolically speaking, shake their heads and if they could shed tears. What should be, were making a retreat, were meditating on the Magnificat and were reflecting on Our Lady as our model. And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! She does not say; and my spirit rejoices in myself or my spirit rejoices in you, dear Elizabeth. Now, God does not forbid us to find satisfaction in creatures, but every satisfaction we experience in creatures must be - if were going to be truly followers of Mary - must be founded on the joy we find in God. Every satisfaction, every happiness, every pleasure that creatures give us must, I repeat, must be only a means to an end. Whats the end? To find joy in God. No creature satisfaction dare be an end in itself. We are therefore, mainly, to rejoice in God. For the gifts He has given us!
Joy That Our Sins Have Been Forgiven
Mary (strange language) she said, My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. I thought Mary was conceived without sin. Did Mary have to be redeemed? Yes! The language the Church uses she was pre-redeemed, pre-saved. We are needless to say, are post-redeemed or post-saved. Meaning what? Christ first had to be born of Mary and then die on the Cross for us to be redeemed. But Mary had no difficulty in saying, My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. What perfect synonym could Mary have used? She could have said, My spirit rejoices in God my Jesus: Thats what Savior means. In my years in the priesthood Ive dealt with, I want to say, more than my share of sinners especially if you go out in search of them. When you call a sinner up, on occasion Ive had them hang up. So what do I do? I call back. Can I come over? What for? Look, what for, I just want to, to meet you. I hear you are a nice person. I use what we call a broad mental reservation. The joy that comes from the realization that our sins have been forgiven. We go on.
Marys Joy Came from Her Profound Humility
This is Mary speaking. Because He has regarded the lowliness of His Handmaid, for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed. Marys joy was over Gods goodness to her. Recognized, watch it, that she was nothing in her own eyes. Marys humility was not a blind humility. She realized the graces that she had been given by God. In other words, Marys joy first came from her profound humility in recognizing how blessed and generous God was to her. Can we rejoice over the graces God gives us? Sure! Ah! But the secret is, we never give ourselves credit. Am I clear? I could exhaust my own vocabulary, talk for the next century and I could not begin to exhaust the importance of a humility that sees itself as nothing, and that praises God for everything that we have and possess. Moreover, Mary foresaw how all future generations would praise her because she was blessed by God. Were going to touch on this and this, as you see, will be one of the longer meditations. The secret is not to be blind either to the natural talents that God gave us or to the supernatural graces He confers. But then, if we want God to use us and He will, we must remain absolutely humble. As I know youve heard before, humilis, in Latin comes from the noun humus which is dirt! Nothing! And let me tell you, if we are genuinely humble, God will people walk over us and I mean what Im saying, treat us as dirt. Look, Im as human as you are. I want to be respected and accepted and loved as much as you do. But if Im truly humble and I expect God to use me as He surely used Mary as a channel of His grace, the key is to be - and I use the adjective - dirt humble. We go on.
Humility Is Not Blind
Because He Who is Mighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name. We repeat, humility is not blind. Let me tell you, the secret of genuine humility is not in not realizing who I am or what Ive got. The secret of Humility is not giving myself credit for whatever Ive got. Am I clear? Thats the key. In the last several months in the fall season, Ive been giving lectures in different cities and people want to sell some of the books that this sinner has published. So depending on how many bought books, I didnt sell any of my books, other people did but I was asked to, I wasnt sure quite what to do. I figure you dont endorse a book, you dont sign a book, you autograph. I say this and I trust the Lord is helping me say the right thing. Ive got to keep telling myself as I autograph these books, Hardon, youre a fool, youre an idiot! Except for Gods mercy you should be in hell! You know what Im trying to get across? We recognize what God has given us. But we make sure that, with Mary, we identify the source of whatever we have. And we never act as though whatever we possess is our own. Never! Never!
Holiness Is Selfless Charity
It was for this reason that Almighty God had done such great things for her that Mary said that God is Holy. Over the centuries the Church has come up with many definitions of holiness. Here is Marys definition of holiness: God is Holy because He is totally unlike anyone and anything else. But how is God so totally different from everyone and everything else? Because of His utterly, selfless Goodness. Even we, no matter how generous we may be to others, do we actually benefit by our love of others? Do we? Yes! Does God benefit from His Love for us? No! Holiness is selflessness. Holiness is selfless charity, Marys definition of Holiness in God. Oh! How much work we all have to do and those of us who are older almost wish we could start all over again. Selfless Charity is both the source and the definition of holiness. We go on.
We Are to Fear God
For generation upon generation is His Mercy to those who fear Him Divine Mercy that is what Mary is talking about. He is, especially His Love for sinners and, in Marys language, the condition for obtaining mercy is to fear the Lord. How this needs saying nowadays. When, I dont have to guess I know, in one textbook or series of textbooks in religion, nominally Catholic religion, after another and have a hard time finding even mention of sin or fearing God. Everything is love. Love this and love that. Ive had people call me and have people write to me, Father, Ive just buried whoever they just buried a near relative. A priest gave a short homily at the funeral. Not one word of praying for the soul of the departed! We are to fear God! And Mary tells us, well obtain mercy from God in the degree to which we fear God. When you think of all the things that we fear, lets make sure and lets examine our consciences, is a laudable fear of God one of the strong motives in my life? Now immediately we distinguish between what the Church calls filial fear (fearing to offend a loving God) and servile fear (fearing to be punished by God). But then this servile fear can be holy. If the fear is authentic. I dont fear God just because Im afraid of being punished. All true Fear of God is founded on the Love of God Whom I fear to offend. We continue.
The Root of All Sin Is Pride
He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. Lets see what Mary is telling us. Gods Omnipotence is not only in creation and bringing the world out of nothing into being. Gods Omnipotence is also constantly shown in His justice toward sinners. The root of all sin is pride. The root of all pride is in the heart. And the root of all pride in the heart is self-conceit. What are we being told? If we want to please God and reach the Heaven for which we were made, we must be more conscious than any of us are (beginning with the speaker) the constant, spontaneous tendency of each one of us is and Ive got a series of words beginning with self. Self-satisfaction, gosh I did well! Self-admiration and the most dangerous temptation to self-admiration are not mirrors made of glass with silver so we can see our faces. Self-admiration in the mirror of our own minds, not admiring from one side, from another side, ah! Self-preoccupation. I believe every language has the expression to describe a kind or generous person. We say that he or she is thoughtful. What do you mean, thoughtful? Thoughtful of others because we assume that everyone is constantly thoughtful of himself. Pre-occupied with self. Self-indulgence. Self-seeking. Self-interest. Self-conversation. We even have a word for it, monologue or soliloquy. The hardest and most important examination of our conscience is examination of our hearts, in their constant, spontaneous, pre-occupation with ourselves.
Only Humble People Are Channels of Gods Grace
Seventh. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the humble.This is the first of two comparisons that Mary makes between Gods dealings His dealings with the proud and His dealings with the humble. He humiliates the proud in this life to bring them back to Himself. Anytime you hear or read about a sinner being in trouble, thank God! Recite the Magnificat. Because maybe, just maybe, the sinner will come back to his senses. But then, if the sinner does not come back to his senses in this life, then God humiliates the proud in the life to come - punishment in Purgatory and even in Hell. And we should all legitimately ambition not having to go to Purgatory. How can you avoid it? By working, slaving, digging, exhausting yourself and removing pride from your hearts. But then, Mary says, He exalts the humble. How does God exalt the humble? In this life, He uses the humble to achieve His purposes. Only humble people are channels of Gods grace. We shall be used by God to bring grace to others in the measure of our humility. In the life to come, thats what Heaven is all about. Heaven is the home for the humble. Pride is in hell. Only humility reaches Heaven.
The Whole Human Race Is Hungry
Eighth. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. There is a profound sense in which we can say that the whole human race is hungry, hungry for love, hungry for acceptance, hungry for being thought well of, hungry for being spoken to. The hungry will be filled with good things provided they are humble and look finally to God to satisfy their hunger. Let me tell you, if you expect human beings to satisfy you in this life, youre following a mirage. They wont. They just dont. God fills those who humbly seek to be filled by Him with Faith, with Grace, with Peace and with True Interior Happiness. The rich, Mary says, He sends away empty. This does of course include the materially wealthy. They must share their wealth. Otherwise, as Ive told enough of them, youre going to go to hell. That, by the way, is Mother Teresas philosophy. She doesnt quite use that language but she tells rich people - if you want to save your souls, share what youve got! But the rich people are also - in Marys vocabulary - those who are rich in their own eyes, who think theyve got, theyve got it made and lack the humility of recognizing that whatever they have is from God. Theyre going to be deprived, first, of true happiness in this life and then of Heaven in the life to come, unless, they become humble before their body dies.
God Is Merciful to His Chosen People
Ninth. He has given help to his servant Israel mindful of His Mercy. This Israel - of which Mary is speaking - was, first of all, the chosen people. They were so often unfaithful as we read in the Old Testament. When the Messiah came, they rejected Him. Yet, God chose to become Man from among the chosen people. Mary was a Jewish woman. Gods plan, as we know, was to use the Jews to evangelize the rest of the world. They rejected Him so He did not use them. But this Israel is also the new Israel, we belonging to Christianity. God is constantly providing His grace. Specially, we are the spoiled children of God. And the foundation of our being the really chosen people is our Faith in His becoming Man, provided we believe clearly and strongly our sins are removed. Naturally we are afraid and the closer we approach eternity, the more frightened we become, naturally. But this where supernatural grace should overcome our nature, keep reminding ourselves in Marys words, that God is Merciful to His chosen people. We are in His Friendship. We will be saved.
We Are to Generate Offspring
Last and tenth statement of Mary. Even as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his posterity forever. There are two kinds of posterity because as we know there are two kinds of generation physical posterity in regenerating oneself in body and a spiritual posterity, in regenerating ourselves in soul. Im talking to the right audience. Lets make sure we believe and are convinced; we are to generate offspring. Indeed, its a command! We are to reproduce ourselves, some and the majority of the human race physically, but everyone, beginning with Mary, surely every priest and every religious. That is why - do you hear it - that is why we take a vow of chastity or celibacy that we might be, and this is the Churchs language, more fruitful even as Mary was and remains the Queen of Apostles, having reproduced herself by now in countless millions of souls, so we, like her, providing we follow her example of deep humility and selfless charity - we too, will have our posterity going back to our father Abraham, our father in Faith. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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