After the fall of Adam,
man's senses became rebellious to reason. As a consequence, chastity is the most difficult of
all the virtues
to practice. Saint Augustine says: "Of all inner conflicts the most
arduous are concerned with chastity. These battles are of daily occurrence,
but victory is rare." May God be praised eternally, however, because in Mary
he has given us such a shining example of this virtue. "Mary is with
good reason called the Virgin of virgins," says Saint Albert the
Great. "Without the advice or example of others, she was
the first to consecrate her virginity to God." In this way, she led to
God all who imitated her virginity, as David had foretold: After her
shall virgins be brought...into the temple of the king (Ps 44:15).
Without advice and without any example! Saint Bernard says: "O Virgin,
who taught you to please God by your virginity and to lead an angel's
life on earth?" Saint Sophronius replies: "God chose a pure virgin for
his mother, that she might be an example of chastity to everybody."
That is why Saint Ambrose calls Mary "the standard-bearer
Because of Mary's purity
the Holy Spirit declared that she is as beautiful as the turtledove: Your cheeks
are beautiful as the turtledove's (Cant 1:9). "A most pure
turtledove" is what Aponius calls her. For the same reason,
Mary is also called a lily: As the lily among the thorns,
so is my love among the daughters (Cant 2:2). On this passage Denis
the Carthusian remarks: "Mary was compared to a lily among thorns
because all other virgins were thorns, either to themselves or to others;
but the Blessed Virgin was not so, either to herself or to others." She
inspired everybody who saw her with chaste thoughts. Saint Thomas
confirms this when he says that the beauty of the Blessed Virgin incited
to chastity all who looked at her. Saint Jerome maintains that
Saint Joseph remained a virgin as a result of living with Mary. Writing
against the heretic Helvidius who denied Mary's virginity, Saint Jerome
said: "You say that Mary did not remain a virgin. I say that not only
did she remain a virgin, but that even Joseph preserved his virginity
through Mary." Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that the Blessed Virgin loved
chastity so much, that to preserve it she would have been willing to renounce
even the dignity of Mother of God. This seems evident from her reply
to the archangel: How shall this happen, since I do not know man?
(Lk 1:34). And from the words she added then: Be it done to me according
to your word (Lk 1:38), signifying that she gave her consent
on the condition that, as the angel had assured her, she should become
a mother only by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Ambrose says that "anyone
who preserves chastity is an angel; anyone who loses it is a devil."
Our Lord assures us that those who are chaste become angels: They...shall be
as the angels of God in heaven (Mt 22:30). But the unchaste become hateful to God,
like devils. Saint Remigius used to say that the majority of adults are lost by
We have quoted
Saint Augustine as saying that a victory is very seldom gained in this combat.
Why is this? Because the means by which the victory may be gained are very
seldom used. These means are threefold, according to Bellarmine and the masters
of the spiritual life: fasting, the avoidance of dangerous occasions of sin, and prayer.
1. By fasting we mean especially mortification of the eyes and the appetite.
Although our Blessed Lady was filled with divine grace, she nevertheless practiced mortification
of the eyes, according to Saint Epiphanius and Saint John Damascene. Her glances were always modest
and she never gazed fixedly at anyone. She was so unassuming, even
from childhood, that everyone who saw her was charmed by her reserve. Saint Luke
remarks that when she went to visit Elizabeth, she went with haste (Lk 1:39), in order
to avoid the public gaze. Philibert relates that it was revealed to a hermit named Felix that
as far as her food was concerned, when she was a baby she took milk only once a day. Saint Gregory
of Tours maintains that she fasted throughout her life. Saint Bonaventure explains
this: "Mary would never have found so much grace if she had not been moderate in her meals,
for grace and gluttony do not go together." In short, Mary was mortified in everything,
so that it was true to say of her: My hands dripped with myrrh (Cant 5:5).
2. The second means is avoidance
of the occasions of sin: He that is aware of the snares shall be secure (Prov 11:15).
Saint Philip Neri coined the expression: "In the war of the senses,
cowards conquer." By cowards he means those who flee from dangerous occasions.
Mary fled as much as possible from the gaze of men. Remember Saint Luke's
remark that, in going to visit Elizabeth, Mary went with haste into the
hill country. One author calls attention to the fact that
Our Lady left Elizabeth before Saint John was born: And Mary remained with her
about three months and returned to her own house. Now Elizabeth's
time was fulfilled that she should be delivered, and she brought forth
a son (Lk 1:56-57). Why did Mary not wait for Saint John's birth? Because
she wanted to avoid the hubbub and excitement that usually accompany
such an event.
3. The third means is prayer.
The Wise Man said: And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent
except God gave it...I went to the Lord and besought him (Wis 8:21).
Mary revealed to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary that she did not acquire
any virtue without effort and without continual prayer. Saint John Damascene
calls our Immaculate Mother "a lover of purity." She cannot endure those who are
content to be unchaste. And if anybody appeals to her to be delivered from
unchastity she will certainly help him. All he has to do is call upon her
confidently. The Venerable John of Ávila used to say that many have conquered
impure temptations merely through devotion to Mary Immaculate.
O Mary, most pure dove,
how many are now in hell on account of impurity! Most gracious Lady, obtain
for us the grace always to fly to you in our temptations, and always to invoke
your name, pleading: "Mary, Mary, help us!" Amen.