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This Page Last Updated:

November 26, 2003


Vol. 43, Issue No. 139

Jesus Living in Mary

Abridged from Bethlehem by
Father Frederick William Faber

        God is incomprehensible. When we speak of Him, we scarcely know what we say. Faith is our medium, instead of either thought or tongue. In like manner those created things, which lie on the edges of His insupportable light, become indistinct through an excess of Divine brightness, and are seen confusedly as He is Himself. Thus, He has drawn the Blessed Virgin Mary so far into His light, that although she is our fellow-creature, there is something inaccessible about her. She participates in a measure in His incomprehensible Godhead. It is just as we cannot look for a moment at the noonday sun, whose shivering flames of black and silver drive us backward in blindness and in pain.

        Who, then, could hope to see plainly a little blossom floating like a lily on the surface of that gleaming fountain, and topped everywhere by its waves of fire? So is it with the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She lies up in the fountain-head of creation, almost at the very point where it issues from God; and amid the unbearable flashes of God’s primal decrees she rests, almost without color or form to our bedazzled eyes; only we know that she is there, and that the Divine light is her beautiful clothing, "a Woman clothed with the Sun." The longer we gaze upon her, the more invisible does she become, and yet at the same time the more irresistible is the attraction by which she draws us toward herself. While her personality seems to be almost merged in the grandeur of her relationship to God, our love of her own self becomes more distinct, and our own relationship to her more sweetly sensible.

        It was a wonderful life which the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, led in the Bosom of the Father. It fascinates us. We can hardly leave off speaking of it. Yet behold! He seeks also a created home. Was His eternal home wanting in anything of beauty or of joy? Let the enraptured Seraphim speak, who have lain for ages on the outer edge of that uncreated Bosom, burning their immortal lives away in the fires of an insatiable fulfilment, fed ever from the Vision of that immutable Beatitude. Quite obviously, there could be nothing lacking in the Bosom of the Father. God would not be God, if He fell short of self-sufficiency. Yet deep in His unfathomable Wisdom there was something which appears to our eyes like a need. There is an appearance of a desire on the part of Him to Whom there is nothing left to desire, because He is self-sufficient. This apparent desire of the Holy Trinity becomes visible to our faith in the Person of the Word. It is as if God could not contain Himself, as if He were overcharged with the fulness of His own Essence and Beauty, or rather as if He were outgrowing His own unlimited dimensions. It seems as if He must go out of Himself, and summon creatures up from nothing, and fall upon their neck, and overwhelm them with His love, and so find rest. Alas! How words tremble, and grow wild, and lose their meanings, when they venture to touch the things of God! God’s love must flow. It seems like a necessity; yet all the while it is an eternally pondered, eternally present, freedom-glorious and calm-as freedom is in Him Who has infinite room within Himself. What looks to us so like a necessity is but the fullness of His freedom. He will go forth from Himself, and dwell in another home, perhaps a series of homes, and beatify wherever He goes, and multiply for Himself a changeful incidental glory, such as He never had before, and scatter gladness outside Himself, and call up world after world, and bathe it in His light, and communicate His inexhaustible Self inexhaustibly, and yet remain immutably the Same, awesomely reposing in Himself, majestically satiating His adorable thirst for glory from the depths of His Own Self. Abysses of Being are within Him, and His very freedom with a look of imperiousness allures Him into the possibilities of creation. Yet, this freedom to create, together with the free decree of creation, is as eternal as that inward necessity by which the Son is ever being begotten, and the Holy Ghost ever proceeding from the Father and the Son. All this becomes visible to us in time, and visible in the Person of the Word, and only visible by supernatural Revelation, which reason may corroborate, but never could discover.

        The Word in the Father’s Bosom seeks another home, a created home. He will seem to leave His uncreated home, and yet He will not leave it. He will appear as though He were allured from it, while in truth He will go on filling it with His delights, as He has ever done. He will go, yet He will stay even while He goes. Whither, then, will He go? What manner of home is fit for Him, Whose home is the Bosom of the Father, and Who makes that home the glad wonder that it is? All possible things lay before Him at a glance, as on a map. They lay before Him also in the sort of perspective which time gives, and by which it makes things new. His home shall be wonderful enough; for there is no limit to His wisdom. It shall be glorious enough; for there is no boundary to His power. It shall be dear to Him beyond word or thought; for there is no end to His love. Yet even so, nothing short of an infinite condescension can find any fitness for Him in finite things. Nevertheless, His created home shall be such as a God’s power and wisdom and love can choose out of a God’s possibilities. Who then shall dream, until He has seen it, what that thrice infinite perfection of the Holy Trinity shall choose out of His inexhaustible possibilities? Who, when he has seen it, shall describe it as he ought?

        The glorious, adorable, and eternal Word, in the ample range of His unrestricted choice, predestined the Bosom of Mary to be His created home, and fashioned, with well-pleased love, the Immaculate Heart which He Himself was to tenant. O Mary, O marvelous mystical creature, O resplendent speck, lost almost to view in the upper light of the supernal fountains! Who can sufficiently abase himself before thee, and weep for the want of love to love thee properly, thee whom the Divine Word so loved eternally?

        There were no creatures to sing anthems in Heaven, when that wondrous choice was made. No angelic thunders of songs rolled ‘round the Throne in oceans of melodious sound, when the Word decreed that primal object of his adorable predilection. No creations of almost divine intelligence were there to shroud their faces with their wings, and brood in self-abasing silence on the beauty of that created Home of their Creator. There was only the silent song of God’s own awesome life, and the eternal voiceless thunder of His Divine good pleasure. Forthwith—we must speak in our own human way—the Holy Trinity begins to adorn the Word’s created home with a marvelous outpouring of creative skill and love. She was to be the head of all mere creatures, having a created person as well as a created nature, while her Son’s created nature, with the Uncreated Person, was to be the absolute Head of all creation, the unconfused and undivided junction of God and of creation. She was to be a home for the Word, as the Bosom of the Father had been a home for Him, realized and completed in unity of nature. The materials which the Word was to take for His created Nature were once to have been actually hers, so that the union between the Divine Word and herself should be more exalted than words can express.

        Each Person of the Holy Trinity claimed her for his own by a special relationship. She was the eternally elected daughter of the Father. There was no other relationship in which she could stand to Him, and it was a reflection of the eternal filiation of His uncreated Son. She was the Mother of the Son; for it was to the amazing realities of that office that He had summoned her out of nothing. She was the Spouse of the Holy Ghost; for He it was Who was espoused to her soul by the most transcendent union of which the kingdom of grace can boast, and it was He Who out of her spotless Blood made that undefiled Flesh which the Word was to assume and to animate with His human Soul. Thus she was marked with an indelible character by Each of the Three Divine Persons. She was Their eternal idea, nearest to that Idea which was the cause of all creation, the Idea of Jesus; she was necessary, as They had willed it, to the realization of that Idea; and she came before it in priority of time and in seeming authority of office. Such is the barest statement of the place which the Immaculate Virgin Mary occupies in the decrees of God. All we could add would be weak compared with this. Words cannot magnify her whom thought can hardly reach; and our compliments are almost presumption,— as if what lies so close to God could be honored by our approval. Our praise of Mary, in this one respect like our praise of God, of which it is in truth a part, is best embodied in our wonder and our love.

        It was on the eighth of December that those primeval decrees of God first began to spring into actual fulfillment upon earth. Like all God’s purposes, they came among men with veils upon their heads, and lived in unsuspected obscurity. Yet the old creation of the material world was an event of far less importance than the Immaculate Conception. When Mary’s soul and body sprang from nothingness at the word of God, the Divine Persons encompassed Their chosen creature in that selfsame instant, and the grace of the Immaculate Conception was Their welcome and their touch. The Daughter, the Mother, the Spouse, received one and the same pledge from All in that single grace, or fountain of graces, as was befitting the grandeur of her Predestination, and her relationship to the Three Divine Persons, and the dignity she was to uphold in the system of creation. In what order her graces came, how they were enchained one with another, how one was the cause of another, and how others were merely out of the gratuitous abundance of God, how they acted on her power of meriting, and how again her merits reacted upon them,—all this it is beside our purpose to speak of, even if we could do so fittingly. We know that even the slightest grace of the lowest of us is a world of supernatural wonders itself; how, then shall we dare venture into the labyrinth of Mary’s graces, or hope to come forth from it with anything more than a perplexed and breathless admiration? It was no less than God Who was adorning her, making her the living image of the August Trinity. It was that she might be the Mother of the Word and His created home, that omnipotence was thus adorning her.

        To the eye of God her beautiful soul and fair body had glided like stars over the abyss of a creatureless eternity, discernible amid the glowing lights and countless glimmerings of the angelic births, across the darkness of chaos and the long epochs of the ripening world, and through the night of four thousand years of man’s fall and wandering. How wonderfully she must have come into being, if she was to be worthy of her royal predestination, and of the decrees she was obediently to fulfil, and yet with an obedience entirely free!

        Out of the abundance of the beautiful gifts with which God endowed her, some colossal graces rose, like lofty mountaintops, far above the level of the exquisite spiritual scenery which surrounded them. The use of reason from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception enabled her to advance in grace and merits beyond all calculation. Her infused science, which, from its being infused, was independent of the use of the senses, enabled her reason to operate, and thus her merits to accumulate, even during sleep. Her complete exemption from the slightest shade of venial sin raised her as nearly out of the imperfections of a creature as was consistent with finite and created holiness. Her confirmation in grace made her a heavenly being while she was yet on earth, and gave her liberty and merit a character so different from ours that in propositions regarding sin and grace we are obliged to make her an exception, together with our Blessed Lord. So gigantic were the graces of that supernatural life, which God made contemporaneous with her natural existence, that in her very first act of love her heroic virtues began far beyond the point where those of the highest saints have ended.

        All this is but a dry theological description of the Word’s created home, as it was when the Divine Persons clothed and adorned it as it rose from nothingness. Yet how surpassingly beautiful is the sanctity which it implies! Fifteen years went on, with those huge colossal graces, full of vitality, uninterruptedly generating new graces, and new correspondences to grace evoking from the abyss of the Divine Word new graces still, and merits multiplying merits, so that if the world were written over with its figures it could never represent the sum. It seems by this time as if her grace were as nearly infinite as a finite thing could be, and her sanctity and purity have become so constrainingly beautiful that their constraints reach even to the Eternal Word Himself, and He yields to the force of their attractions, and anticipates His time, and hastens with inexplicable desire to take up His abode in His created home. This is what theology means when it says that Mary merited the anticipation of the time of the Incarnation.

        But let us pause for a moment here. St. Dionysius, when he saw the vision of Our Blessed Lady, said with wonder that he might have mistaken her for God. We may say, in more modern and less simple language, that Mary is like one of those great scientific truths, whose full magnificence we never master except by long meditation, and by studying its bearings on a system, and then at last the fertility and grandeur of the truth seem endless to us. So it is with the Immaculate Mother of God. She teaches us God as we never could else have learned Him. She mirrors more of Him in her single self, than all intelligent and material creation beside her. In her the prodigies of His love toward ourselves became credible. She is the hill-top from which we gain distant views into His perfections, and see fair regions in Him, of which we should not else have dreamed. Our thoughts of Him grow worthier by means of her. The full dignity of creation shines bright in her, and standing on her, the perfect mere creature, we look over into the depths of the Hypostatic Union, which otherwise would have been a gulf whose edges we never could have reached.

        The earthly place, where the Divine Word’s assumption of His created nature was to be effected, was the inner room, or woman’s apartment, of the Holy House of Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph dwelt. It was an obscure dwelling of humble poverty in a rustic and sequestered village of a small land, whose days of historic glory had passed away, and whose destiny in the onward march of civilization would seem, as philosophical historians would speak, to be exhausted. The national independence of the people had come to an end. The questions, which divided their sects, were narrow and trivial. Jerusalem, long since eclipsed by Athens and outgrown by Alexandria, sat now, humbled and silent, beneath the somber shadow of Rome. Even in this land Nazareth was almost a byword of contempt. Fold of pastoral green hills shut it up within itself, and its men were known beyond their own hills only for being coarse and fierce rustics, with perhaps a reputation for something worse. The Eternal God was about to become a Nazarene. He, Whose Eye saw down into every wooded hollow and penetrated every sylvan glen upon the globe, Who saw the white walls of fair cities perched jealously on their hill-tops or basking in the sunshine by the blue sea, chose that ill-famed, inglorious Nazareth for the scene of His great Mystery. Who can question that, with God, nothing is accidental, and that nothing happened as it were by chance with the central wonder of the Incarnation? It was His choice; and to us Nazareth and its Holy House, exiled, wandering, and angel-borne, Syrian, Dalmatian, Italian (Loretto), all by turns, are consecrated places; doubly consecrated by their old memories, and also by their strange continued life of local graces and the efficacious balm of a Divine Presence, awesome and undiminished.

        This is a picture to us of the moment of the Incarnation. Innumerable decrees of God, decrees without number, like the waves of the sea, decrees that included or gave forth all other decrees, came up to the midnight room at Nazareth, as it were, to the feet of that most wonderful of God’s creatures, with the resistless momentum which had been given them from eternity, all glistening with the manifold splendors of the Divine perfections, like huge billows just curling to break upon the shore; and they stayed themselves there, halted in full course, and hung their accomplishment upon the young Virgin’s word.

        It was a stupendous moment. It was fully in Mary’s power to have refused. Impossible as the consequences seem to make it, the matter was completely in her hands, and never did free creature exercise its freedom more freely than did she that night. How the angels must have hung over that moment! With what adorable delight and unspeakable complacency did not the Holy Trinity await the opening of her lips, the Fiat of her whom God had evoked out of nothingness, and whose own fiat was now to be music in His ears; Creation’s echo to that fiat of His at Whose irresistible sweetness creation itself sprang into being! Earth only, poor, stupid, unconscious earth, slept in its cold moonlight.

        That Mary should have any choice at all is a complete revelation of God in itself. How a creature so encompassed and cloistered in grace could have been free in any sense to do that which was less pleasing to God is a mystery which no theology to be met with has ever yet satisfactorily explained. Nevertheless the fact is beyond controversy. She had this choice, with the uttermost freedom in her election, in some most real sense of freedom. But who could doubt what the voice would be, which should come up out of such abysses of grace as hers! There had not been yet on earth, nor in the angels’ world, an act of adoration so nearly worthy of God as that consent of hers, that conformity of her deep lowliness to the magnificent and transforming will of God.

        But another moment, and there will be an act of adoration greater far than that, in the Person of the Incarnate Word. Now God is free. Mary has made Him free. The creature has added a fresh liberty to the Creator. She has unchained the decrees, and made the sign, and in their procession, like mountainous waves of light, they broke over her in floods of golden splendor. The eternal Sea bathed the queenly creature all around, and the Divine complacency rolled above her in majestic peals of soft mysterious thunder, and a God-like Shadow falls upon her for a moment, and without shock, or sound, or so much as a tingling stillness, God in a created nature dwelt in His immensity within her Bosom, and the Eternal Will was done, and creation was complete. Far off a storm of jubilee swept far, flashing through the angelic world. But the Divine Mother heard not, heeded not. Her head sank upon her bosom, and her soul lay down in a silence which was like the peace of God. The Word was made Flesh.

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