HOW SAINT ANNE COMPUED WITH THE LAW OF MOSES IN REGARD TO CHILDBIRTH ; AND HOW MOST HOLY MARY ACTED IN HER INFANCY.
345. It was a precept of the law, given in the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, that a woman who had given birth to a daughter should be deemed impure for two weeks and should remain in the state of purification for sixty six days after the birth, just double the time required for purification in case of a man-child Having completed the days of her purification. she was to present herself in order to offer a lamb one year old as a holocaust for the daughter or the son, and also a young pigeon or turtle-dove as atonement for the sin.
This she was to do at the door of the tabernacle, beseeching the priest to offer them to the Lord and to pray for her; thereupon she was accounted pure. The parturition of the most happy Anne was pure and undefiled, as befitting her heavenly Daughter, in whose purity the mother was a sharer.
Although on this account there was no need of a special purification, she nevertheless complied with the obligation of the law to the very last point. Though not subject to its penalties, she considered herself bound in the eyes of men.
346. Sixty days of the purification having passed, saint Anne departed for the temple, her mind inflamed with divine ardor and bearing in her arms her blessed Daughter and Child. With the offerings prescribed by law and accompanied by innumerable angels, she betook herself to the gate of the temple and spoke with the high priest, who was none other than Simeon.
He was accustomed to spend much time in the temple and enjoyed the privilege and favor of seeing the child Mary, not only when She was offered and presented to the Lord in the temple, but on other occasions. Although this holy priest was not on each of these occasions fully aware of the dignity of our heavenly Mistress, as I will say farther on(No. 423, 710, 742), yet he always experienced great promptings and impulses of the spirit regarding the greatness of this Child in the sight of God.
347. Saint Anne offered to him the lamb and the turtle-dove with the rest of the gifts, and with tears of humility she asked him to pray for herself and the Child, her Daughter, that the Lord forgive them any fault of which perhaps they might be guilty.
His Majesty certainly had nothing to forgive in a Daughter and mother, who were so full of grace ; but He found Himself bound to reward the humility, with which notwithstanding their holiness they presented themselves as sinners. The holy priest received the oblation and in his spirit he was in flamed and moved to extraordinary joy.
Careful not to manifest anything exteriorly and communing with himself, he said; “What strange feeling is this within me? Are these women perhaps the parents of the Messias, who is to come?” Moved by this joyful suspense he showed them great benevolence. The blessed mother Anne entered the temple, bearing her most holy Daughter on her arms, and She offered Her to the Lord with most devout and tender tears. For she alone in all the world knew what Treasure was given into her charge.
348. Saint Anne renewed the vow, which she had already made, to offer her Firstborn to the temple on arriving at the proper age. In renewing this offer she was enlightened by new graces and promptings of the Most High, and in her heart she heard a secret voice urging her to fulfill this vow and offer her Child to the temple within three years.
It was as it were the echo of the voice of the most holy Queen, who in her prayer touched the heart of God, in order that it might resound in the bosom of the mother. For when both entered the temple, the sweet Child seeing with her bodily eyes its grandeur and magnificence, dedicated to the worship and adoration of the Divinity, experienced wonderful effects of the Spirit and wished to prostrate Herself in the temple, to kiss its floor, and adore the Lord.
But as She could not execute these desires in external actions, She supplied the defect with interior fervor, and She adored and blessed the Lord with a love more ardent, and a humility more profound than ever before or ever after was possible to be rendered by any creature.
Addressing the Lord in her heart, She offered the following prayer :
349. “Most high and incomprehensible God, my King and my Lord, worthy of all glory and reverence, I, abject dust, but also a creature of thine, adore Thee in this thy holy place and temple. I magnify and exalt Thee on account of thy infinite Being and perfections, and I give thanks in as far as my insignificance is worthy of thy regard.
For Thou hast vouchsafed to permit my eyes to see this holy temple and house of prayer, where thy holy Prophets and my forefathers have worshipped and blessed Thee, and where thy generous mercy has wrought so many wonders and mysteries in their behalf.
Accept me, O Lord, in order that I may serve Thee in this holy house according to thy blessed will.”
350. Thus She who was the Queen of heaven and of the universe, offered Herself as if She were the lowest slave of the Lord. As a testimony of its acceptation by the Most High, a most resplendent light shone down from heaven, enveloping the mother and Child, and filling them with new splendors of grace.
Again saint Anne was made aware that she would be expected to devote her Daughter to the temple within three years; she was given to understand that the delight with which God looked forward to such an offer, and the love with which the heavenly Child desired its consummation would not permit a longer delay.
The holy angels of her guard and innumerable others who were present on this occasion sang sweetest songs of praise to the Author of these wonders ; but they did not therefore have a more perfect knowledge of these happenings than saint Anne or her most holy Daughter, who perceived interiorly what was spiritual, and felt exteriorly what was subject to the senses in these things.
Saint Simeon saw dimly the sensible light. Thereupon saint Anne, rich in her Treasure and endowed with new gifts of the most high God, returned to her home.
351. The ancient serpent eagerly observed all these events. Yet the Lord concealed from him what he was not to know, and permitted him to obtain knowledge only of what was necessary for his own undoing in his desire of destroying others and only so much as might serve to make him an instrument in the execution of the secret judgments of the Most High.
This enemy was full of conjectures in regard to the unheard of things, which had come to pass in connection with this Mother and Child. But when he saw that they brought offerings to the temple and that they, like sinners, observed the prescriptions of the law, even begging of the priest to intercede for their forgiveness; he was deceived and assuaged in his fury, believing that this mother and her Daughter were of ordinary condition although they might be more perfect and holy than other women.
352. The sovereign Child was treated like other children of her age. Her nourishment was of the usual kind, though less in quantity; and so was her sleep, although her parents were solicitous that She take more sleep.
She was not troublesome, nor did She ever cry for mere annoyance, as is done by other children, but She was most amiable and caused no trouble to anybody. That She did not act in this regard as other children caused no wonder; for She often wept and sighed (as far as her age and her dignity of Queen and Mistress would permit) for the sins of the world and for its Redemption through the coming of the Savior.
Ordinarily She maintained, even in her infancy, a pleasant countenance, yet mixed with gravity and a peculiar Majesty, never showing any childishness. She sometimes permitted Herself to be caressed, though, by a secret influence and a certain outward austerity, She knew how to repress the imperfections connected with such endearments.
Her prudent mother Anne treated her Child with incomparable solicitude and caressing tenderness; also her father Joachim loved Her as a father and as a saint, although he was ignorant of the mystery at that time.
The Child on its part showed a special love toward him, as one whom She knew for her father and one much beloved of God. Although She permitted more tender caresses from her father than from others, yet God inspired the father as well as all others, with such an extraordinary reverence and modesty towards Her whom He had chosen for his Mother, that even his pure and fatherly affection was outwardly manifested only with the greatest moderation and reserve.
353. In all things the infant Queen was most gracious, perfect and admirable. Though She passed her infancy subject to the common laws of nature, yet this did not hinder the influx of grace.
During her sleep her interior acts of love, and all other exercises of her faculties which were not dependent on the exterior senses, were never interrupted.
This special privilege is possible also in other creatures, if the divine power confers it on them; but it is certain that in regard to Her whom He had chosen as his Mother and the Queen of all creation, He extended this special favor beyond all previous or subsequent measure in other creatures and beyond the conception of any created mind.
God spoke to Samuel and to other saints and Prophets in their sleep, (I Reg. 3, 4) and to many He sent mysterious dreams or visions (Genes. 37; 5, 9) for to his Omnipotence it is easy to enlighten the mind during the inactivity of the senses in natural sleep or during their ravishment in ecstasy; they cease to act in the one as well as in the other, and without their activity the soul hears, accepts and transacts the things of the Spirit.
This was the rule which the Queen followed from the moment of her Conception till now and for all eternity ; for the activity of grace in Her during Her pilgrimage through life was not intermittent, like in other creatures.
When She was alone, or when She was laid to sleep, which was in Her most moderate, She was engaged in the contemplation of the mysteries and the excellencies of the Most High, and in the enjoyment of the divine visions and the conversation of his Majesty.
Her intercourse with the angels was likewise very frequent and in the following chapter something will be said of the manner of their manifestation and of some of their eminent perfections.
354. My Queen and heavenly Lady, if without being offended, Thou wilt, as a kind Mother, listen to my ignorant talk, I will ask of thy kindness the solution of some doubts which have occurred to me in this chapter.
If my ignorance and boldness should transgress the limits, instead of answering me, my Mistress, correct me with maternal mercy. My doubt is : Whether in this thy infancy Thou didst feel the necessities and hunger which according to the natural order, children do feel?
And if Thou didst feel them, how didst Thou suffer these annoying inconveniences? And how didst Thou ask for the nourishment and the other help necessary, since Thou wast so wonderfully patient that Thou wouldst not make use of tears, which serve other infants as speech and words?
I am also ignorant, whether the hardships of that age were not most irksome to thy Majesty, such as to have thy virginal body clothed and unclothed as infants are, to be fed with the food of other children, and to undergo the other experiences of that age?
For other children undergo them bereft of reason, while nothing was concealed from Thee, O Lady. When I look upon Thee as a child in age and yet as grown up in thy capacity of judging of things, it seems to me almost impossible that there should have been no inconveniences in this matter, in the time or the measure, or in other circumstances regarding the treatment allotted to Thee during thy infant life.
Thy celestial prudence taught Thee to preserve dignity and composure, yet Thou didst not intimate the wants and needs of thy age and condition either by crying, as an infant, or by word of mouth, as one grown up.
Thus they could not know thy needs and could not treat Thee as one endowed with reason; for even thy mother could not know all these things, nor could she provide for all that was necessary, since she knew not the time nor the manner of serving thy Majesty in all things. All these considerations excite my admiration and arouse in me the desire of knowing the mysteries thus concealed.
ANSWER AND INSTRUCTION OF THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN.
355. My daughter, since thou art full of wonder, I will inform thee in all kindness. It is true that I was in possession of grace and of the use of reason from the first instant of my Conception, as I have so often shown thee ;
I underwent the hardships of infancy as other children and I was reared and treated as others of the same condition. I felt hunger, thirst, sleepiness and other infirmities of the body, and as a daughter of Adam I was subject to these accidental necessities;
for it was just that I should imitate my most holy Son, who subjected Himself to these hardships and defects, in order that He might merit so much the more and in order that He might be an example to the rest of mortals for their imitation.
As I was governed by divine grace, I made use of eating and sleep in moderation, allowing myself less than others, and only so much as was proper for the augmentation and the preservation of my life and health.
Disorder in these things is not only against virtue, but against the well-being of nature itself, which is invaded and ravaged by it. On account of my exquisite composition I was affected by hunger and thirst more painfully than other children;
and the want of nourishment was more dangerous to me; but if it was given to me at unseasonable times, or in excess, I bore it with patience, until by some befitting sign I could manifest my needs.
I felt less the want of sleep on account of the opportunity which it furnished me for the presence and the heavenly conversation of the angels.
356. That I was bound and wrapped in clothes was not painful to me, but it was a cause of much joy, for I understood by divine light, that the incarnate Lord was to suffer a most cruel death and was to be bound most shamefully.
Whenever I was alone during my childhood I placed myself in the form of a cross, praying in imitation of Him; for I knew that my Beloved was to die in that position, although I did not know then that the Crucified was to be my Son.
In all the difficulties, which I underwent after I was born into the world, I was resigned and contented, for I never lost sight of one consideration, which I desire thee always to keep in mind.
It is this : that thou ponder in thy heart and in thy soul the truths, which I saw, so that thou mayest form a correct judgment of all things, giving to each that esteem and value which is its due.
In regard to this the children of Adam are ordinarily full of error and blindness, but I desire that thou, my daughter, share it not with them.
357. As soon as I was born into the world and made aware of the light, which shone upon me, I felt the effects of the elements, the influence of the planets and of the stars, of the earth which sustained me, of the nourishments which preserved me, and of all the other things of this life.
I gave thanks to the Author of all things, acknowledging his works as benefits freely bestowed upon me, and not as dues, which He owed to me.
Therefore, when anything was wanting of the necessaries of life I remained in peace and contentedness and deemed it all perfectly reasonable and proper in my regard, since I had merited none of the gifts and could justly be deprived of all of them.
Hence, if I acknowledged this, thereby merely asserting a truth which the human reason cannot ignore nor deny, where have mortals their intellect, or what use do they make of their understanding when, at the refusal of things which they desire and of which perhaps they do not even profit, they begin to get sad and lash themselves into fury one against the other, and even against their God, as if they were suffering some injury at his hands? Let them inquire what treasures and riches they did possess before they came into life?
What services had they rendered unto God in order to merit them? And if out of nothing there cannot arise anything, and if they could not merit the being which they have received, what obligation is there on the part of God to preserve out of justice, what was given to them
entirely gratuitously ?
That God created man was of no benefit to Himself; but to man it was a benefit, and one as great as the being given to him, and as high as the object for which it was given.
And if in his creation man becomes indebted so much that he never can pay his debt, tell me what right can he invoke at present for his preservation? Has he not received his being without merit and many times forfeited it? How can he claim the guarantee and pledge of unfailing plenty?
358. If the first transaction and operation was a mortgage and a debt by which man binds himself, how can he with such impatience demand favors? And if in spite of all this, the supreme goodness of the Creator furnishes him graciously with what is necessary, why should he be agitated by the want of superfluities?
O my daughter, what an execrable disorder and what a despicable blindness of mortals is this? For that, which the Lord gives them gratuitously, they do not thank Him, or even give Him acknowledgment, and for that which He denies them justly and sometimes most mercifully, they are restless and proudly desirous, and they try to procure it by unjust and forbidden means, throwing themselves into the very destruction which flies from them.
The first sin alone, committed by man, was sufficient to cancel man's right to the friendly service of all the other creatures; and if the Lord himself would not restrain them, they would turn in vengeance upon man and refuse to render any service or help for sustaining his life.
The heavens would deny them their light and benign influences, the fire would refuse its heat, the air would cease to serve for respiration, and all the other things would in their particular way refuse their services, since they would in justice be bound to refuse them.
Then when the earth would deny its fruits, and the elements their moderation and their assistance, and all the other creatures would arm themselves to avenge the wrongs of their Creator(Sap. 5, 18), perhaps disgraced man would humiliate himself in his vileness and would not heap up the wrath of the Lord for the unerring day of accountance, when all his dreadful guilt will be exposed.
359. But thou, my dear friend, fly from such base ingratitude, and humbly acknowledge that thou hast received thy being and life gratuitously, and that, gratuitously, its Author preserves it for thee.
Freely dost thou receive all the other benefits, without any merit of thine ; and thus, receiving much and repaying little, thou makest thyself daily less worthy of favors, while the liberality of the Most High grows continually with thy indebtedness.
Let this thought be uppermost in thee always, in order that it awaken and move thee to many acts of virtue. If any of the irrational creatures fail thee, I desire thee to rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to his Majesty, and bless them for their obedience to the Creator.
If the rational creatures persecute thee, love them with all thy heart and regard them as the instruments of divine justice, which afford thee some opportunity of rendering satisfaction for thy deficiency.
Rather strengthen and console thyself in labors, adversities and tribulations, not only considering them as fully deserved by the faults committed, but deeming them ornaments of the soul and most rich jewels given thee by thy Spouse.
360. Let this be the answer to thy doubt: over and above this I wish to give thee an instruction, which may be found in all the chapters. Consider, my soul the punctuality of my mother Anne in fulfilling the precept of the law of the Lord, to whose Majesty this solicitude was very pleasing.
In this thou shouldst imitate her by observing inviolate each and every one of the precepts of thy rules and constitutions ; for God will reward most liberally this fidelity and severely punish any negligence in this matter.
Without sin I was conceived and it was not necessary to present me to the priest in order that the Lord might purify me; nor was this necessary for my mother, since she was very holy.
Nevertheless we humbly obeyed the law and thereby we merited great increase of virtue and grace. Despising just and wise laws and frequently dispensing with them, destroys the worship and fear of God, and fatally confuses government among men.
Beware of easily dispensing in the obligations of the religious state, either for thyself or for others. If infirmity or some other just cause make it advisable, let it be done with moderation and with the approbation of the confessor, thus justifying dispensation before God and before men by the approbation of holy obedience.
If thou findest thyself weary or weakened, do not at once become remiss in the strict observance, for God will give thee strength according to thy faith in Him. Do not give any dispensation on pretext of being overworked.
Make that which is less serve and advance that which is the greater, let the creatures serve the Creator. On account of thy position as superioress thou hast less excuse; for in the observation of the laws thou must give a good example, leading on the others.
Therefore, for thyself, no merely human motive can serve as an excuse, though thou mayest sometimes excuse thy sisters and subjects on such account. Note moreover, my dearest, that I desire thee to lead in perfection ; therefore this rigor is necessary, not even taking into consideration, that the observance of the precepts is a duty to God and men.
Let no one think that it is enough to fulfill all obligations toward the Lord, and at the same time tread under foot the duty towards his neighbor, to whom is due good example and avoidance of all real scandal.
O Queen and Mistress of all creation, would that I could attain the purity and the virtue of the supernal spirits, in order that this inferior part of my being, which weighs down the soul (Sap. 9, 15), may prompt me to fulfill thy celestial teachings.
I have become burdensome unto myself (Job 7, 20) ; but with thy intercession and the gracious favor of the Most High I will be able to obey thy will and his with a loving promptitude of heart.
Let not thy intercession and support, and the guidance of thy holy and wise counsels ever fail me!