The Immaculate Virgin, who enjoyed use of her reason
from the moment she was born, understood the significance of this act.
Saints Joachim and Anne proved their gratitude to God Who, against all hope, had satisfied their innermost desire.
They promised, probably with a vow, to consecrate their daughter to the service of the Temple. Such a practice was nothing out of the ordinary for the chosen people of God. For generations, a given number of young girls would devote their lives from childhood until their wedding day in the House of the Lord. There they received the education commonly given to women of Israel in their day. Several passages of Holy Scripture refer to them spending their days praying and working. Indeed, they embroidered the fine linen and the sumptuous purple ornaments bordered with gold used in the liturgy. They enhanced the magnificence of the liturgical celebration with their singing. Finally, as the book of Kings tells us, they formed an honor guard before the Tabernacle.
The 3-year old Blessed Virgin
enters the Temple.
Holy Family Gifts
When the Virgin Mary attained the age of three, her pious parents fulfilled their promise to the Lord.
Despite the immense sorrow of losing their daughter, such a tender, gracious, and gentle child, they took her to Jerusalem. The Immaculate Virgin, who enjoyed use of her reason from the moment she was born, understood the significance of this act. On that day, she who had already been entirely consecrated to the Lord, gave herself fully to Him with all the élan of her will and love.
Her devotion, however, did not prevent her from acutely experiencing the bitterness of her sacrifice. As souls draw closer to God, they become more loving and good. Indeed, the affectionate heart of Mary was torn when she left her parents, but, even at such a young age, she ascended the long stairway to the Temple unhesitatingly and disappeared into the House of God.
* * *
For twelve years the Queen of Heaven dwelled in the shadow of the sanctuary, leading a hidden and very ordinary life. Let us bow respectfully before her and ask permission to draw near her soul that we might study her virtues in the Temple, which made her the favorite garden of the Most High.
How did the Blessed Virgin consider herself, she who was such an incomparable masterpiece of the Lord and the most beautiful of all creatures aside from the holy humanity of our Savior? Assuredly, Mary knew she had received exceptional favors. She sensed the absence of any interior temptation, the fire of love burning within her heart, and the incomparable and frequent ecstasies, without ever calling attention to herself. All this proved without a doubt the immensity of God’s divine mercy for her.
In the Temple of Jerusalem, however, she was not aware of the grandeur that was hers. It seems unlikely that she would have known of the unique privilege of her Immaculate Conception. In any case, she was not cognizant that the Son of God had chosen from all eternity to take on flesh in her womb.
She would have thought herself fortunate to have become the humble servant of this glorious virgin who would one day be the Mother of the Messias. Little did she suspect the honor that awaited her.
Give heed to what she revealed to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary: “Be certain that I saw myself as the lowliest creature and most unworthy of God’s graces.”1 Do not be astounded to hear such an affirmation! After Our Lord, only Mary understood more profoundly the immensity of the Most High and the lowliness of mankind. She knew that by her human nature she was nothing. She attributed the virtues adorning her heart to God alone, taking no merit for them whatsoever. In the presence of the Heavenly Father, she immersed herself in an unfathomable abyss of humility.
Her exterior manner reflected this humility. No other child showed herself more docile to her tutors. She learned much that she did not know through infused knowledge. She was taught to read the Scriptures, to sew and embroider, and made rapid progress. The priests also taught her about divine things, although she was incomparably more advanced than they! Yet, she listened to their lessons with respectful attention and submitted in every way to their opinions.
The Virgin Mary’s humility made her attentive and helpful toward her little companions. She revealed to Saint Mechtilde that as she immersed herself in the consideration of her nothingness, she liked to admire their youthful virtues. It never occurred to her to prefer herself over the least among them.
This rare humility enchanted the adorable Trinity. Indeed, it merited a sublime response, attracting the Incarnate Word to reside within Our Lady’s chaste womb. If the Immaculate Virgin pleased the Most High by her spotless purity, said Saint Bernard, it was by her humility that she became the Mother of God: “Virginitate placuit, humilitate concepti.”2
This study should not be merely speculative. It must have practical applications. Let us then speak with frank brutality and merciless cruelty. I pray this humble and gentle Virgin will deign to give me just and propitious words!
All men are naturally vain. There is, however, a pride that is more subtle, more dangerous, and more difficult to cure than any other, that of pious souls. In the Temple, Mary did not cling complacently to the favors she received. Some devout persons lose considerable time scrutinizing their progress in virtue. If they experience some sweetness or consolation in prayer, they become ecstatic and immediately see themselves as favored by God. Yet, these insignificant feelings often come from purely natural sources.
In the Temple, Mary preferred herself to no one. Certain pious souls judge their neighbor with extreme severity. It is not that they occasionally let loose biting remarks about the exterior faults of others. Indeed, their conscience forbids them to utter such caustic remarks—regrettable without doubt—but which are not in themselves grave sins. They do not do this, but instead very candidly and sincerely think themselves superior to those who do not cast sighing looks of longing towards the Blessed Sacrament.
In the Temple, Mary had no suspicion of the sublime mission God had reserved for her. Occasionally one finds pious souls who think they have some special mission. They apply themselves to a thousand devotional practices that God has not asked of them but neglect the most essential aspects of their state in life.
The seventeenth century produced one of these false saints who believed herself called to finally make “pure love” known to the world. She unabashedly described herself as the most perfect image of the spouse from the Canticle of Canticles. For a while, she led astray even the enlightened mind of Fenelon3 by her dangerous delusions.
Let us sincerely examine our consciences. If we find some complacency or fail to consider our complete nothingness, then we are undoubtedly dragging along miserably at the basest level of mediocrity.
God cannot pour His gifts into a proud heart. When He discovers a soul that is full of itself, either He lets it stagnate or He uses the only means of healing it, allowing it to fall prey to its own faults—at times considerable—in order for it to open its eyes and recognize its miserable state.
In fact, Saint Peter preferred himself to the other apostles when he said: “Although all may abandon Thee, I will never leave Thee.… Even though I should die with Thee…” In vain the Master reminds him of his weakness, but Peter stubbornly replies, “I will not deny you.”4 Poor Saint Peter! How harshly he learned the lesson so necessary to humility.
If you seriously want to progress in the way of perfection, beg the Queen of Heaven to inspire you with true humility. Never think yourself better than others. Recall the words of Our Lord Himself to the Pharisees, so self-righteous with their exterior acts of justice. I would not dare refer to such words had the Master not pronounced them Himself. “There are sinful souls whom you despise,” He declared to these proud men. “But because they recognize the depth of their depravity, My grace will one day touch them. They will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before you.”5
* * *
I would like to have continued studying the other excellent virtues Mary practiced during her childhood. I would like to have shown Our Lady waiting with impatience for the coming of the Messias. She knew that the time fixed by the Prophets approached. She meditated with particular fervor on the chapter of Scripture wherein Isaias foretells the humiliation and suffering of the Man-God. She ardently asked Our Heavenly Father for the particular favor of serving the Lord. Her prayers were granted far beyond her expectations.
I would also like to have studied the vow by which she consecrated her virginity to the Lord. Through such a radiant example, we would have learned how the Most High crowns Christian virginity with admirable fecundity. To develop these topics would exceed the confines of the present work. We have chosen the virtues of the Immaculate Virgin that we deemed most appropriate for souls desiring to lead a profound interior life.
* * *
When speaking of the Savior’s childhood at Nazareth, the Gospel tells us that He grew in age, wisdom, and grace before both God and men. Our Lady’s childhood, like that of her Divine Son, was also a time of growth. The Virgin quickly rose to peaks of holiness.
During the years she lived in the Temple, she blossomed fully in physical beauty and especially in the radiant splendor of her incomparable virtue. She was now ready for the great designs of the Lord’s divine mercy. The luminous radiance of divine maternity would soon engulf her.
Let us ask the holy Virgin to be not only our model but, even more, our guide along the way of perfection. Under her guidance, we will have neither illusions nor dangers to fear, as Saint Bernard assures us.6 She will lead us on the surest and most direct route to God, and in hearts, shaped by her maternal hands, she will place her divine Infant.
1. “Me reputabam vilissimam et gratia Dei indignam.” Quoted by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in The Glories of Mary in discussing her humility. [back to text]
2. St. Bernard, Homilia…super Missus est. [back to text]
3. Transl. Note: Fenelon was a priest and writer of the seventeenth century. He is known for his criticism of the political regime of Louis XIV. His Explanations of Maxims of the Saints was condemned by the Church for its quietism. He is nonetheless considered one of France’s great thinkers of that time. [back to text]
4. Matt 26:33-35. [back to text]
5. Cf. Matt 21:28-32. [back to text]
6. Homilia 2 super Missus. [back to text]
This devotional article is taken from Crusade Magazine, November-December, 1999; a Special Edition dedicated almost entirely to the Most Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the form of a work by Fr. Raymond de Thomas de Saint-Laurent as a token of reparation for the many blasphemies and insults that are continuously hurled against them.