C324_On the Assumption of the BVM Sermon I
St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P._On the Assumption of the BVM Sermon I C 324-332
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."
Mary hath chosen the best part. Luke 10. Just as the present feast and solemnity is of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this feast is the end and the closure of the life of the Virgin Mary, so therefore it is to be spoken about her life. And we have not only intellectual speculations but also moral instructions. But if in our other sermons we turn to the Virgin asking for grace, how much more now ought we return to refer to her because we intend to preach about her, so that we might call forth devotion, let us now salute the Virgin Mary etc. And the theme is resumed.
For a shorter explanation and introduction of the matter it should be known that the human life of man or of woman has three parts, gradually rising., namely the first is good, the second is better, and the third is the best. The first part is the life of nature. And this is good temporarily. The second is the life of grace, and this is spiritually better. And the third is the life of glory. And this is celestial and the best. And because the Virgin Mary was not content that she would have a life of nature and grace, but also of glory, therefore, about her the theme says "Mary has chosen the greatest part."
The first part of human life is called the life of nature because as long as the soul is essentially joined to the body, this is good. Because it is in effect a creature of God, because "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected " it as is said in I Tim 4:4.
The second life is the life of grace, and this is better. And it is through the union of grace of God with the soul. As long as the grace of God is with the creature, it illuminates his understanding, to believe truly, inflames the will for loving sincerely, and it governs all the members of the body for functioning usefully. And of this David says in Ps 62:4 "For thy mercy is better than lives: thee my lips shall praise." "My Lips," here he begins the construction, "For thy mercy is better," namely glory, prevening or justifying which is called here mercy, the reason is because there is not given merits of the creature but only the mercy of God. There are other graces following or cooperating, and they are acquired through ones own merits, but prevenient grace is not that kind. And so it is said Your mercy is better, i.e. prevenient grace or justifying.
The third life is the best and this is the life of glory. If it is asked why is it called the best, the Response is because the first life, i.e. of nature is lost by death. Also the life of grace can be lost through mortal sin. But the life of glory not. Because from the fact that the soul enters paradise it is thus confirmed that it is impeccable, therefore that life is the best. And so Paul says, "For it is best that the heart be established with grace" at Heb. ult.(13:9). Behold the three parts of the human life.
The Virgin Mary has a life of corporeal nature, because according to some teachers she lived 40 years. Epiphanius says that she lived 72. She had a life of spiritual grace above all other creatures. But she was not content with this, but daily she sought the life of glory. She desired to be with her Son in the life of glory to which today she has been assumed. And of this life is said the theme. The best part etc.
She held on to a good life. She kept a better life, but she chose the best life.
When you ask How is it the proposed theme of today's gospel about the Virgin Mary since it speaks only of the Blessed Mary Magdalen and Martha, therefore the text seems impertinent and improper today. But I respond to this question you shall see that all this material today will be in this gospel. I say that if you wish to receive the gospel today according to the literal understanding it is not to our point. But if you choose to take it in an allegorical understanding according to which the church receives it today there is no gospel more appropriate to the Virgin Mary in the whole bible. because the whole life of the Virgin Mary is included in this gospel.
For the holy gospel literally says three things of holy Martha, namely about her active life. And says the other three things about Mary Magdalen, i.e. of the contemplative life, but according to the spiritual meaning these six virtues touch the most glorious Virgin Mary.
The first, that the gospel treats of blessed Martha and says that Jesus entered into a certain village and the woman Martha by name accepted him into her home.
I. Behold now the first work of the active life of blessed Martha about Christ but allegorically. Behold the conception of the Son of God, because then Jesus entered the village of this rebellious world to subject it to himself. And this certain woman Martha, that is the lady, who is a lady and who is a greater lady than the Virgin Mary who received him in her home, namely into her virginal womb.
Three things should be noted.
First, why this world is called a village.
Second, that the woman received Christ.
and Third in which house did she receive him.
Of the first, it must be noted that this world is called a village because of the conditions and qualities of an impregnable village which are seven. All these were in the village of this rebellious world. First it is necessary that the village be on a high location. And so this world has been located high especially through pride, and so David speaking of the dwellers of this village says " the pride of them that hate thee ascendeth continually."(Ps. 73:23). Second, that it be in a well walled circle, so the village of this world was walled with walls of earth because avarice needs only earth. Third, that it have a good moat, so the village of this world was circled with a moat through lust, because just as in a deep valley wickedness is congregated, so about the sin of lust many corruptions are gathered, etc. on account of which Augustine says. "God seeing such a quagmire of corruption in human nature, he almost, that is for a moment, thought about not becoming incarnate." Fourth, that it be well provided with supplies, so the village of the world was well provided through gluttony. Philippians 3:19 "whose God is their belly; " etc. Fifth, that it be well located on a rocky impregnable ridge, so the village of the world was well situated because it was therefore inaccessible through envy, ...Behold the high village. Whence Wisdom says I have thought about all the labors of man and I have considered his industries...envy of their neighbors Ecc. 4. Sixth, that it be well ordered with weapons for defense. So the world is armed through anger. Seventh, that it is possessed by trustworthy people, but it was the opposite because they did not prefer to be moved by penitential and meritorious works.
God, seeing the rebellion of this village said, "I must personally go to wage war. And on the day of the Incarnation Jesus entered into a certain village, i.e. the world. etc. Of this village Jesus allegorically says to his disciples, "Go ye into the village," namely by battling it with the fusillades of preaching, "that is over against you," Matt. 21:2.
And a certain woman, Martha by name, -- Martha means "lady". There is no lady of heaven and earth, but the Queen of Angels, the Virgin Mary, who received him into her home, namely into her virginal womb. Of this home the church sings, "The mansion of the modest breast, becomes a shrine where God shall rest, the pure and undefiled one, conceived in her womb the Son." when, she said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." Luke 1. Then she received him in her home. It is clear, therefore, how the first part of the gospel writes of the Virgin Mary.
Moraliter: Note here. For the great excellence was of the Virgin Mary because she received the Son of God into her home. This is like those who today receive communion, because just as he came into the Virginal womb, so he comes properly in the consecrated host, and we receive him more perfectly than the Virgin Mary, because she received him as mortal and vulnerable, and we receive him immortal and invulnerable. She only once, we however often. It is said here for the information of the people how someone should choose ten or twelve principal feasts for receiving communion. So against those who do not receive and do nor receive him, it is said, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." John 1:11-12.
The second work of the active life of Blessed Martha is shown when the evangelist says, "But Martha was busy about much serving. For when Christ was in Martha's home, then Martha was unrestrainedly [incontinenti] running through the house, ordering the handmaidens and servants, Give some bread and wine and the rest for refreshments. She was so eager to serve the Lord.
But someone might say, This has nothing to say about the Blessed Virgin. I reply, That's true, but not literally, but there is always much that is appropriate allegorically. Because just as the first work of Martha made for the Virgin with respect to the incarnation, so the second work she does for the Virgin Mary with respect to her actions for the Son of God after she had given birth. It is said how the Virgin Mary, at age 15 gave birth to Him, and she didn't have milk. And a woman who does not know man does not have milk. "O," Joseph said to Mary, "I shall go and find a woman to nurse the baby," etc. But the Virgin Mary would have none of it. On bended knees, as the devout doctors report, praying she said, "Father and Almighty Lord, you have given me this son, you who provide in every way for the animals on earth, the fish in the sea, give me milk for your son, and unrestrainedly God the Father sent milk for her from heaven. About this we have the authority of the church which sings "Not knowing man the Virgin Mother, Painlessly gives birth to the Saviour of the ages, The Virgin alone nursed the King of Angels, With breasts filled from heaven." See how she was busy about serving Christ. She also served him in many other things. For you know how much mothers do things for their sons in clothing them and caring in other ways. Because she was not able to warm him properly because of the cold, she laid him in a manger that he might be warmed by the animals. Also by brushing his hair and washing him when he was in exile in Egypt, weaving and sewing she provided for herself, her Son and for the old Joseph. Also when Christ went out to preach, the Virgin Mary followed his sermons. And when they were in a certain place, she prepared lunch for her Son. See therefore Martha, i.e. the lady, busy about many services. So today the church sings in the person of the Virgin Mary, "and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him." Sirach 24:14
Moraliter. Does it not seem to you a great excellence to receive Christ into your home and to minister to him? This grace you can have through a similar action, because when out of love and honor of Christ you receive the poor and persons of good life, you can say that you are receiving Christ into your home and when you give and minister to the poor, you can say I have ministered to Christ......
And to give nothing to the poor is to give nothing to Christ.
The third work of the active life of Blessed Martha is shown when it is said, ", "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. Literal meaning. Blessed Martha was very solicitous of the service of Christ, it seemed to her that all from the house was had not been sufficient, so she ordered about her servants, relatives and friends. Allegorically this is properly appropriate to the virgin Mary because just as the first work of Martha for the Virgin Mary for procreation, and the second for conservation, so this third in the passion of Christ, in which Martha, i.e. the lady was solicitous. O who can express [Mary's] anxiety and turmoil which she had in the passion of her son.
1) First the Virgin Mary was solicitous of the salvation of the human race, but because she know no other future way but through the ignominious death of her son, she was devastated by maternal compassion, and was between two millstones, when she thought that no one could be freed from the bond of sins nor from the chains of the devil unless her son was bound by the Jews. etc. Behold her emotional turmoil.
2) Also she knew that no man could escape that hard sentence of eternal damnation which shall be given in the [last] judgment -- "Depart from me, you cursed," Mt. 21:41-- unless her son had tasted death. So she was disturbed.
3) She was also solicitous lest anyone be speared on the fork of hell, but because it could not happen unless first her sun was suspended on the fork of a tree, etc. So she was disturbed.
4) She was solicitous because no one could be released from the company of the devil, but this could not happen unless first her son was associated with robbers. And so her turmoil.
5) And she was solicitous that men, exiled from heavenly paradise could enter there --see her disturbed spirit -- because it could not happen unless her son would be raised up from Jerusalem.
6) Also she was solicitous that men would have the crown of glory, -- behold her turmoil -- because her son first had to be crowned with thorns.
7) Finally, she was solicitous, because men could not have eternal life, -- behold her turmoil -- in order for them to have it, her son had to die.
It is clear why it is said "Martha Martha, i.e. lady, lady, you are solicitous...etc.
Moraliter We have already heard of the solicitude and turmoil of the Virgin Mary. In this same way we should imitate her, which happens through repentance, in which a man has solicitude and turmoil. Solicitude, because through repentance eternal glory is acquired, but turmoil, when from fasting or hair shirts the head or the stomach aches. Also, solicitude in the discipline or other penitential acts by which one evades the disciplines and punishments of hell, but disturbance follows when one perceives wounds in the body etc "Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice," Heb. 12:11 "Chastisement" stands for all penitential actions.
It is clear here the whole active life of the Virgin Mary.
Now let us examine the contemplative life of the Virgin Mary which she had most perfectly and is indicated through [Mary] Magdalen, about which the gospel today says three things.
First, Mary sitting at the feet of the Lord was listening to his word. Behold the contemplative life. Now we see whether this pertains to the Virgin Mary. It is said here how the Virgin Mary knew that Jesus, her son from the instant of his conception, had such understanding, of the kind which he has now in heaven. And this is the general teaching of all the doctors in theology. Think therefore when Christ was six or seven years old, how the Virgin Mary would make him sit in a chair, as some outstanding teachers, especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin say, and would seat herself at his feet. You believe that Christ would say to her that she should sit next to him, but she out of humility wouldn't do it. Finally she said to him, "My Son, tell me something." He replied, "Mother, I would be happy to. What do you want me to say to you?" And the Virgin said, "My Son I desire to know the glory of the blessed souls, how shall they be after your Ascension. Whether they will be at your right hand in heaven or at your left. Also whether they will be below the angels or above." And Jesus replied, "My mother, neither shall it be , nor the other, but for all there will be one congregation, because, then there will be one flock and one shepherd."
It is said that Christ told the Virgin that there will be nine orders or nine streets
according to John Apoc. 16.
1. The first street ascending is of the Angels, and in this order are gathered the repentant sinners, who from their sins through works of penance, etc.
2. The second order is of the Archangels, whose prince is Gabriel, he my mother , who announced to your my incarnations and in this will dwell the merciful, and devout persons. O the Virgin Mary said, how in a good place are born those who show mercy.
3. The third street is of the Principalities. And so of the others look in the sermon on All Saints, which begins Your reward etc.
The second work of the contemplative life of Magdalen is when Martha was solicitous of the service to Christ, Martha said to her sister "Help me," etc. and Magdalen gave her a deaf ear. And so she complained to Christ, not out of impatience, but --says the commentary that Martha saw that all the help in the house was not sufficient to serve Christ. But Blessed Magdalen rejected that active works so that she would have time for contemplation. So the Virgin Mary in the Ascension of Christ, when she saw her son being raised from the earth and she perceived the souls of the saints, she asked her Son that she could ascend with him. And Christ said to her, "My Mother, you, for a short time shall take my place, and shall console my brother apostles, that in doubts they can come to you." From that day the life of Blessed Mary was contemplative in this way. For every day she was visiting the holy places. First to Nazareth, in the room where the Son of God was conceived, thinking how the angel had greeted her and contemplating those events she wept etc. Next she went to Bethlehem, where he was born, where the kings of the Orient had come. Then to the Temple where after 40 days she presented him. Next to the place of the Baptism. Then to the desert where he fasted. Then to the place of his passion and burial. She lived twelve years after the Ascension -- 24 according to others -- and each day she visited such a place.
There is an objection here against the idea of the visitations, because Blessed Ambrose says that the Blessed Mary was not a vagabond, nor did she go about in public, but at home, quietly, she loved to be by herself. This he says in his book On virgins. How therefore does the History say that she visited these places. A good reconciliation is this, keeping both. This visiting happened every day, as the History says, but it was spiritual and contemplative, and she did not leave her home, as Ambrose says. She traveled in spirit. O blessed pilgrimage, without danger. About which St. Paul writes, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
This is said against those men and women who in going on pilgrimage break their neck, and become wretched, and because sometimes they set off as chaste virgins, but they return as prostitutes. It is reported of women going to Rome at the time of the indulgence and sleeping with other pilgrims in the streets, that many were corrupted and violated. This a foreign woman told master Vincent.
And beyond the physical dangers there are many dangers of the soul for religious and clergy going to Jerusalem, who cannot say their Divine office nor mass. So, make that pilgrimage spiritually, today and every day you can go to Nazareth to the room where the Son of God became incarnate, and so of the other places.
The third work of the contemplative life of Blessed Magdalen is that which the theme says, "Mary hath chosen the best part." Behold here is today's story. It is said that when after 12 years passed and -- according to others 24 -- the virgin once was praying, saying "O son for how many years have I been among the Jews, and the apostles are dispersed throughout the world, and so [now] may you receive me with you." She was weeping. Christ here gives an example in his mother of desiring paradise, because he wished that paradise be ardently desired.
Then, suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared to her saluting her and carrying a branch of palms. So great was the brightness of the angel, that the virgin at first did not recognize him, and she even asked his name. The branch signifies victory which the virgin had achieved over the world through humility, over the devil through poverty, over the flesh through most pure virginity. It is reported how she asked for two things. First that the apostles would be present at her burial. Second that no devil would be present to her death. Do not believe that she feared them, but she did this out of a sense of her honor, because they have done so much evil. Just like a king, who doesn't tolerate a criminal to walk before him, not that he fears him, but because he abhors him.
And the Virgin Mary got her wish, that all the apostles by divine power were gathered there. It is said how the people were in wonder when the apostles passed before their view through the clouds, and they found themselves all at the Virgin's door saying to each other, "Why has the Lord gathered us?" Note this [bene legenda]. And John who came first told them the reason, that it was because of the death of the Virgin Mary. And Paul and Denis were there, as Denis and Hierotheus report. It is said how in procession, two by two they presented their reverence to the Virgin. First Peter and Andrew etc. And the Virgin Mary received them with great joy indicating to each the service which they had performed for Christ her son, and the punishments which they had suffered, especially to Blessed Paul she said, "O Paul, in such a place you had been captured for my son" etc.
And as the Virgin spoke, Christ appeared, saluting his mother saying, "Hail blessed one, you who have conceived life, and discovered glory. To whom the Virgin [said] "My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready."(Ps 56:8) " In the head of the book," namely of predestination, "it is written of me that I should do thy will: O my God." It is reported how she was greeted by the holy angels and blessed who had come with Christ, as some say.
And the question is, whether this joy is greater than other joys. For the Annunciation was a great joy, in which she had become the mother of God, and the Nativity and the Epiphany, and the Resurrection etc. The answer is given through a story. It is like the beautiful girl or young woman who rejoiced much when she became engaged to be married, but rejoiced more when she got married, and even more, as married, when she was visited by her husband, and more when her husband sent her precious jewels, even more when her spouse was given an important office in the house of the king, and above all she rejoiced most on the day of their coming together.
About which the Virgin Mary rejoiced greatly. For the engagement she was drawn along on the day of the Annunciation, the conception of the Son of God. On the day of the Nativity she was shown publicly. Espoused on the day of the Epiphany, in the presence of the three kings. Her spouse [Jesus] visited the spouse, his mother [Mary], on the day of Resurrection. He accepted the office in the curia of the empyreal heaven on the day of the Ascension. He sent most precious jewels on the day of Pentecost. But today is the day of the wedding, when without pain and punishment she handed over her soul into his hands, and the ministers, i.e. the angels singing psalms walked before, and so she was led to the house of the spouse to the glory of paradise, not only in her soul but Christ raised her up in body and soul. Thus she lives and reigns in eternity. Therefore Mary chose the best part for herself.
It is said here morally how each ought to desire this glory. We are not like beasts which look downwards, but God made us upright, that we might desire paradise. So David said, "As the deer longs after the fountains of water," etc. Ps 41:2.