The Humility of Mary
"Humility," says St. Bernard, "is the foundation and guardian of virtues;" and with reason, for without it no other virtue can exist in a soul. Should she possess all virtues, all will depart when humility is gone. But, on the other hand, as St. Francis de Sales wrote to St. Jane Frances de Chantal, "God so loves humility, that whenever He sees it, He is immediately drawn thither." This beautiful and so necessary virtue was unknown in the world; but the Son of God Himself came on earth to teach it by His Own example, and willed that in that virtue in particular we should endeavor to imitate Him: Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart. Mary, being the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus Christ in the practice of all virtues, was the first also in that of humility, and by it merited to be exalted above all creatures. It was revealed to St. Matilda that the first virtue in which the Blessed Mother particularly exercised herself, from her very childhood, was that of humility.
The first effect of humility of heart is a lowly opinion of ourselves: "Mary had always so humble an opinion of herself, that, as it was revealed to the same St. Matilda, although she saw herself enriched with greater graces than all other creatures, she never preferred herself to anyone." St. Teresa remarks: and Mary knew that she had never offended God: nor was it that she did not acknowledge that she had received greater graces from God than all other creatures; for an humble heart always acknowledges the special favors of the Lord, to humble herself the more: but the Divine Mother, by the greater light wherewith she knew the infinite greatness and goodness of God, also knew her own nothingness, and therefore, more than all others, humbled herself, saying with the sacred Spouse: Do not consider that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my color. [Cant. 1:5] St. Bernardine says, that "after the Son of God, SAINT JOSEPH no creature in the world was so exalted as Mary, because no creature in the world ever humbled itself so much as she did." Moreover, it is an act of humility to conceal heavenly gifts.
A part of humility to serve others. Mary did not refuse to go and serve Elizabeth for three months. Hence St. Bernard says, "Elizabeth wondered that Mary should have come to visit her; but that which is still more admirable is, that she came not to be ministered to, but to minister."
Those who are humble are retiring, and choose the last places; and therefore Mary, remarks St. Bernard, when her Son was preaching in a house, as it is related by St. Matthew, [12:46] wishing to speak to Him, would not of her own accord enter, but "remained outside, and did not avail herself of her maternal authority to interrupt Him." For the same reason also when she was with the Apostles awaiting the coming of the Holy Ghost, she took the lowest place, as St. Luke relates, All these were persevering with one mind in prayer, with the women, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus. [Acts 1:14] Not that St. Luke was ignorant of the Divine Mother's merits, on account of which he should have named her in the first place, but because she had taken the last place amongst the Apostles and women; and therefore he described them all, as an author remarks, in the order in which they were. Hence St. Bernard says, "Justly has the last become the first, who being the first of all became the last."
In tine, those who are humble, love to be contempted; therefore, we do not read that Mary showed herself in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when her Son was received by the people with so much honor: but on the other hand, at the death of her Son she did not shrink from appearing on Calvary, through fear of the dishonor which would accrue to her when it was known that she was the Mother of Him Who was condemned to die an infamous death as a criminal.
The Venerable Sister Paula of Foligno was given to understand, in an ecstasy, how great was the humility of our Blessed Lady; and giving an account of it to her confessor, she was so filled with astonishment at its greatness, that she could only exclaim, "O, the humility of the Blessed Virgin! O, Father, the humility of the Blessed Virgin, how great was the humility of the Blessed Virgin! In the world there is no such thing as humility, not even in its lowest degree, when you see the humility of Mary." On another occasion our Lord showed St. Bridget two ladies. The one was all pomp and vanity. "She," He said, "is Pride; but the other one whom you see with her head bent down, courteous towards all, having God alone in her mind, and considering herself as no one, is Humility: her name is Mary." Hereby God was pleased to make known to us that the humility of His Blessed Mother was such that she was humility itself.
There can be no doubt, as St. Gregory of Nyssa remarks, that of all virtues there is perhaps none the practice of which is more difficult to our nature, corrupted as it is by sin, than that of humility. But there is no escape; we can never be true children of Mary if we are not humble. "If," says St. Bernard, "you can not imitate the virginity of this humble Virgin, imitate her humility." She detests the proud, and only invites the humble to come to her: Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me. "Mary," says Richard of St. Laurence, "protects us under the mantle of humility." The Mother of God herself explained to St. Bridget what her mantle was, saying, "Come, my daughter, and hide thyself under my mantle; this mantle is my humility." She then added that the consideration of her humility was a good mantle with which we could warm ourselves; but that as a mantle only renders this service to those who wear it, not in thought but in deed, "so also would her humility be of no avail except to those who endeavored to imitate it." She then concluded in these words: "Therefore, my daughter, clothe thyself with this humility."
"O, how dear are humble souls to Mary," says St. Bernard; "this Blessed Virgin recognizes and loves those who love her, and is near to all who call upon her; and especially to those whom she sees like unto herself in chastity and humility." Hence the Saint exhorts all who love Mary to be humble: "Emulate this virtue of Mary, if thou lovest her." Marinus, or Martin d' Alberto, of the Society of Jesus, used to sweep the house, and collect the filth, through love for this Blessed Virgin. The Divine Mother one day appeared to him, as Father Nieremberg relates in his life, and thanking him, as it were, said, "O, how pleasing to me is this humble action done — for my love."
Then, O my queen, I can never be really thy child unless I am humble; but dost thou not see that my sins, after having rendered me ungrateful to my Lord, have also made me proud? O my Mother, do thou supply a remedy. By the merit of thy humility obtain that I may be truly humble, and thus become thy child. Amen.
Taken from “The Glories of Mary” by Saint Alphonsus Liguori