Our Blessed Lady told St. Bridget that she was the Mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they are willing to repent. O how prompt does a sinner (desirous of amendment, and who flies to her feet) find this good Mother ready to embrace and help him, far more so than any earthly mother! Pope St. Gregory VII wrote in this sense to the princess Matilda, saying: “Resolve to sin no more, and I promise that undoubtedly thou wilt find Mary more ready to love thee than any earthly mother.”
But whoever aspires to be a child of this great Mother must first abandon sin, and then may hope to be accepted as such. Richard of St. Laurence remarks, on the words of Proverbs, up rose her children (Prov. 31:28), that the words “up rose” come first, and then the word “children,” to show that no one can be a child of Mary without first endeavoring to rise from the fault into which he has fallen. For he who is in mortal sin is not worthy to be called the son of such a Mother.
And St. Peter Chrysologus says that he who acts in a different manner from Mary declares thereby that he will not be her son. “He who does not the works of his mother, abjures his lineage.” Mary humble, and he proud; Mary pure, and he wicked; Mary full of love, and he hating his neighbor. He gives thereby proof that he is not, and will not be, the son of his holy Mother.
The sons of Mary, says Richard of St. Laurence, are her imitators, and this chiefly in three things: in “chastity, liberality, and humility; and also in meekness, mercy, and such like.”
Whilst disgusting her by a wicked life, who would dare even to wish to be the child of Mary? A certain sinner once said to Mary, “Show thyself a mother”; but the Blessed Virgin replied, “Show thyself a son.” Another invoked the divine Mother, calling her the Mother of mercy, and she answered: “You sinners, when you want my help, call me Mother of mercy, and at the same time do not cease by your sins to make me a Mother of sorrows and anguish.” He is cursed of God, says Ecclesiasticus (3:18), that angereth his mother. “That is Mary,” says Richard of St. Laurence. God curses those who by their wicked life, and still more by their obstinacy in sin, afflict this tender Mother.
I say, by their obstinacy; for if a sinner, though he may not as yet have given up his sin, endeavors to do so, and for this purpose seeks the help of Mary, this good Mother will not fail to assist him, and make him recover the grace of God. And this is precisely what St. Bridget heard one day from the lips of Jesus Christ, Who, speaking to His Mother, said, “Thou assistest him who endeavors to return to God, and thy consolations are never wanting to anyone.” So long, then, as a sinner is obstinate, Mary cannot love him. But if he (finding himself chained by some passion that keeps him a slave of hell) recommends himself to the Blessed Virgin, and implores her, with confidence and perseverance, to withdraw him from the state of sin, there can be no doubt but this good Mother will extend her powerful hand to him, will deliver him from his chains, and lead him to a state of salvation.
The false teaching, that all prayers and works performed in a state of sin are sins, was condemned as heretical by the sacred Council of Trent. St. Bernard says that although prayer in the mouth of a sinner is devoid of beauty, as it is unaccompanied with charity, nevertheless it is useful, and obtains grace to abandon sin. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, the prayer of a sinner, though without merit, is an act that obtains the grace of forgiveness, since the power of impetration [imploring] is founded not on the merits of him who asks, but on the divine goodness, and the merits and promises of Jesus Christ, Who has said, Every one that asketh, receiveth (Luke 11:10).
The same must be said of prayers offered to the divine Mother. “If he who prays,” says St. Anselm, “does not merit to be heard, the merits of the Mother, to whom he recommends himself, will intercede effectually.”
Therefore, St. Bernard exhorts all sinners to have recourse to Mary, invoking her with great confidence. For, though the sinner does not himself merit the graces which he asks, yet he receives them, because this Blessed Virgin asks and obtains them from God, on account of her own merits. These are his words, addressing a sinner: “Because thou wast unworthy to receive the grace thyself, it was given to Mary, in order that, through her, thou mightest receive all.”
“If a mother,” continues the same saint, “knew that her two sons bore a mortal enmity to each other, and that each plotted against the other’s life, would she not exert herself to her utmost in order to reconcile them? This would be the duty of a good mother.”
“And thus it is,” the saint goes on to say, “that Mary acts. For she is the Mother of Jesus and of men. When she sees a sinner at enmity with Jesus Christ, she cannot endure it, and does all in her power to make peace between them. O happy Mary, thou art the Mother of the criminal, and the Mother of the Judge; and being the Mother of both, they are thy children, and thou canst not endure discords amongst them.”
This most benign Lady only requires that the sinner should recommend himself to her, and purpose amendment. When Mary sees a sinner at her feet, imploring her mercy, she does not consider the crimes with which he is loaded, but the intention with which he comes. And if this is good, even should he have committed all possible sins, the most loving Mother embraces him, and does not disdain to heal the wounds of his soul. For she is not only called the Mother of Mercy, but is so truly and indeed, and she shows herself such by the love and tenderness with which she assists us all.
This is precisely what the Blessed Virgin herself said to St. Bridget: “However much a man sins, I am ready immediately to receive him when he repents. Nor do I regard the number of his sins, but only the intention with which he comes: I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds; for I am called, and truly am, the Mother of Mercy.”
Mary is the Mother of sinners who wish to repent, and as a Mother she cannot do otherwise than compassionate them. Nay more, she seems to feel the miseries of her poor children as if they were her own. When the Canaanite woman begged Our Lord to deliver her daughter from possession by the devil, she said, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil. (Matt. 15:22.) But since the daughter, and not the mother, was tormented, she should rather have said, “Lord, take compassion on my daughter,” instead of on herself. But no, she said, “Have mercy on me,” and she was right; for the suffering of children are felt by their mother as if they were her own.
And it is precisely thus, says Richard of St. Laurence, that Mary prays to God when she recommends a sinner to Him who has had recourse to her. She cries out for the sinful soul, “Have mercy on me!” “My Lord,” she seems to say, “this poor soul that is in sin is my daughter, and therefore, pity not so much her as me, who am her Mother.” Would that all sinners had recourse to this sweet mother! For then certainly all would be pardoned by God.
“O Mary,” exclaims St. Bonaventure in rapturous astonishment, “thou embracest with maternal affection a sinner despised by the whole world, nor dost thou leave him until thou hast reconciled the poor creature with his Judge.” Meaning that the sinner, whilst in the state of sin, is hated and loathed by all, even by inanimate creatures. Fire, air, and earth would chastise him, and avenge the honor of their outraged Lord. But if this unhappy creature flies to Mary, will Mary reject him? Oh, no! Provided he goes to her for help, and in order to amend, she will embrace him with the affection of a mother, and will not let him go, until by her powerful intercession, she has reconciled him with God, and reinstated him in grace.