10.  The Annunciation

Sermon for a religious Profession on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1621, concerning Our Lady as the spouse described in the Song of Songs, God as the only true satisfaction for the heart of man, perfect dedication to God, the intimacy with God enjoyed by religious, Mary as the perfect religious, the excellence of Our Lady's virginity, virginity and humility, charity and humility, Our Lady's drawing of young girls to the life of virginity, the difference between the religious life as practiced by men and by women, and Our Lady as exemplar of religious.

"Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth! For Your breasts are better than wine, and pour forth perfumes of sweet ointments."— Song 1:1-2, Douay

 

The divine lover,[1] heaving a deep sigh, begins by saying: Let Him kiss me, this dear Friend of my soul, let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth! For Your breasts are better than wine, giving forth odors of delicious fragrance. Your Name is as oil poured out which, being composed of all the most precious perfumes, gives forth odors delightful above all others; and that is why the young maidens love You. Then continuing, she adds: Draw me and we will run after Your ointments. [Song 1:3, Douay].

 

The Fathers, considering this word of the Song of Songs which the spouse addresses to her Spouse: "Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth," say that this kiss which she so ardently desires is nothing else but the accomplishment of the Mystery of Our Lord's Incarnation, a kiss so awaited and desired during the long flow of years by all souls who merit the name of lovers. But at length this kiss, which had been so long refused and deferred, was granted to this sacred lover. Our Lady, who, above all others, merits the name of "spouse" and "lover" par excellence. It was given to her by her Heavenly Spouse on the day of the Annunciation, which we celebrate today, at the same moment that this most loving sigh burst from her heart: "Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth!" Then that divine union of the Eternal Word with the human nature, represented by this kiss, was made in the sacred womb of this glorious Virgin.

 

See how delicately this divine lover expresses her love; Let Him kiss me—that is to say: "Let this Word, which is the Word of the Father coming forth from His mouth [Sir. 24:3; cf. Matt. 4:4, Douay], come to unite Itself with me through the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the Eternal Sigh of the love of the Father for His Son and, reciprocally, of the Son for His Father." But when was this divine kiss given to this incomparable spouse? At the same moment that she gave this greatly desired response to the angel: "Let it be done to me as you say" [Lk. 1:38]. 0 consent worthy of great rejoicing among men, for it is the beginning of their eternal happiness! Let this be considered as a preface for what follows, for we will make a little meditation on the subsequent words which the divine lover spoke to her Beloved, by which she gave Him admirable praises.

 

After having first asked for this loving kiss she adds; For Your breasts are better than wine, pouring forth very sweet odours. Consider, please, how marvellously she expresses her love. The breasts of Our Lord are His loves. Your milk—or "Your loves," she means—are better than wine. In fact, the breasts represent the affections because they are placed over the heart and, as physicians say, the milk with which they are filled is as the marrow of the maternal love of mothers for their children, that love producing it for their nourishment.[2]

 

Now, says the dear lover: Your loves, which are Your breasts, O my Beloved, produce a certain fragrant liquor which so marvellously refreshes my soul that I have no esteem for the excellence of the most precious and delicate wines of earthly pleasures. In comparison they are nothing; they are, rather, weariness. According to Church Doctors, the wine which delights and strengthens the heart [Jgs. 9:13; Ps, 104:15] represents earthly joys and satisfactions. More than all earthly pleasures, the loves of Our Lord have an incomparable strength and indescribable power to refresh the human heart—not only more than anything else, but nothing is capable of giving it perfect satisfaction except the love of God alone. Consider, if you will, all the great ones of the earth and consider their condition one after another; you will see that they are never really satisfied. If they are rich and raised to the highest dignities of this world they always desire more.

 

The example of Alexander, whom worldlings call "the Great," is sufficient proof of what I say. He had almost universal dominion over the whole earth. He seemed to be absolute master of it, so that the earth fell silent before him [1 Mace. 1:3], and princes dared not whisper a word. All trembled, so to speak, under his authority because of the great reverence they had for him. Yet having once heard a certain foolish philosopher declare that there are many worlds which he had not conquered, Alexander began to cry like a child. But for what? Alas, he said, there were so many worlds and he had not entirely conquered a single one. He was in despair at not having them all under his dominion.[3] What great foolishness!

 

Man takes great pleasure in trafficking in this life to find satisfaction and repose, and generally this trafficking is vain, because he derives no advantage from it. If a merchant should labor much at a certain trade which would bring him only trouble, would he not be considered very foolish and lacking in judgment? Therefore, I ask you, do not those whose understanding, being enlightened by the heavenly light, know with certainty that God alone can give true satisfaction to their hearts, carry on a very useless traffic in fixing their affections on inanimate creatures, or even on men like themselves? Worldly advantages, houses, gold and silver, riches, even honors, dignities, which our ambition makes us seek so madly — are they not vain pursuits? All these being perishable, are we not foolish to fix our hearts on them? Instead of giving true repose and tranquility, they cause eagerness and great anxiety, to preserve or increase them if we have them, or to acquire them if we do not possess them.

 

If we fix our love and affections on men who are living creatures capable of reason, of what profit will it be? Our traffic will still be vain since, being men like ourselves, equal in nature, they can only make us an exchange by loving us because we love them. This will be all, for not being greater than we they will be of no advantage to us and we shall receive no more than we give. We shall give them our love and they will give us theirs, one for the other. I say more: If we love the angels what shall we gain, ordinarily speaking, for they are creatures like ourselves, equally subject to God, our common Creator. Can they add anything to our stature? [Matt. 6:27, Douay]. Nothing. The cherubim and seraphim have no power to make us greater or to give us perfect satisfaction, because God has reserved that for Himself, not wishing us to fix our affections outside of Him, so jealous is He of them.

 

I will give you a very appropriate example on this subject. His Holiness had a singer whom he loved exceedingly, for he sang marvelously well. Although this singer was so beloved by his master, he was nevertheless inconstant, and one day he took a fancy to leave his court and go away, which he did; and his good master was much upset at his departure. Now, the Pope, devising a way to recall him, adopted this artifice. He wrote to all the princes and all the great men that if this singer should present himself they should not receive him into their service, hoping that if the poor singer found no better retreat he would return to him. It came to pass as the Pope desired, for seeing himself rejected everywhere, the singer returned to serve in the incomparable chapel of His Holiness.

 

The human heart is a singer infinitely loved by God, who is the Supreme Holiness, but this singer is changeable and more inconstant and fickle than can be expressed. You cannot imagine what pleasure God takes in hearing the praises that are given Him by the heart that loves Him. He delights exceedingly in the outbursts of our voices and the harmony of our music.[4] Nevertheless, this inconstant heart takes a fancy to go elsewhere, not being satisfied to please its Lord unless it pleases itself also. Intolerable folly! For what a happiness — rather, what an honor, what a favor, and what a source of perfect satisfaction to be loved by God and to dwell in the house of His Divine Majesty, that is to say, to have placed in Him all our love and to have no ambition but to be pleasing to Him! And yet this human heart allows itself to be carried away by its fancies and goes from creature to creature, from house to house, to see if it cannot find someone who will receive it and give it perfect satisfaction. But in vain, for God — who has reserved this singer for Himself alone — has commanded all creatures, of whatever nature they may be, not to give him any satisfaction or consolation whatever, that by this means he may be compelled to return to Him who is that good Master of incomparable goodness. And although this singer returns more frequently by force than by love, instead of reproaching him God does not fail to receive him and give him the same office in His chapel as before — or, it seems, even a higher one.

 

Oh, how great is the goodness of our God! Therefore the spouse rightly exclaims: 0 my Beloved, better are Your breasts beyond compare; Your loves and Your delights are a thousand times more pleasing than those of earth, for creatures, were they the highest and the most exalted, and even angels, were they brothers or sisters, could not satisfy or content us.

 

God has placed in our power the acquisition of His pure love which can exalt us infinitely above ourselves. He gives it to whosoever gives Him his. Why, then, do we amuse ourselves with creatures, hoping for something in the traffic that we carry on in seeking their affections?

 

Oh, how fully did this holy lover. Our Lady and Mistress, enjoy the sweetness of these divine breasts when, in the abundance of the consolations which she received in contemplation, transported with gladness and inexpressible happiness, she began to praise them! Oh, by her example she invites us to lay aside all desires for the satisfactions of earth, that we may have the honor and grace of drawing from them and receiving the milk of mercy, which distils drop by drop upon those who approach them to receive it.

 

But the spouse does not stop here for, continuing, she says that the Name of her Beloved is as an oil poured out, composed of many excellent odors which cannot be imagined, wishing to signify: My Beloved is not only perfumed, but He is perfume itself;[5] that is why, she adds, the young maidens love You.

 

What does the divine lover wish us to understand by these young maidens? Here young maidens represent certain young souls who, having not yet given their love anywhere, are marvelously suited to love the Heavenly Lover of our hearts, Our Lord Jesus Christ.[6] I do not mean to say, however, that if those who have given their hearts to someone withdraw them to consecrate them to God, this Sacred Spouse will not receive them heartily and accept this gift of their affections. But nevertheless He is greatly pleased with these young souls who dedicate themselves entirely to the perfection of His love. Your Name, continues the holy spouse, pours forth such delicate odors that the young maidens love You, dedicating to You all their love and all their affection. Oh God! What a grace to reserve all your love for Him who recompenses us so well by giving us His! In giving our love to creatures we receive no advantage because they return us no more than we give. But our Divine Saviour gives us His love which is as a precious balm which diffuses a sovereign fragrance through all the faculties of our soul.

 

Oh, how supremely did this young maiden, Our Lady, love the Divine Spouse! And how supremely was she loved by Him, for at the same time that she gave herself to Him and consecrated her heart to Him — which was when she pronounced these words: I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me as you say, or as it will please Him — Immediately He descended into her chaste womb and became 'the Son of her who called herself His servant. Now I know very well that no one can ever attain to so high a degree of perfection as to dedicate her love to God and her submission to His divine will as absolutely as Our Lady. But we ought to desire it and to begin to do so as soon and as perfectly as possible according to our capacity, which is incomparably less than that of this holy Virgin. She is that unique maiden who loved the Divine Spouse more excellently than any creature ever did or will do; for she began to love Him from the moment of her glorious Conception in the womb of the good St. Anne, giving herself to God and dedicating her love to Him as soon as she began to exist.

 

The sacred spouse, continuing the conversation with her Divine Spouse, said: Draw me, and we will run. The holy Fathers pause to consider what this spouse means by these words: Draw me and we will run, for it is as if she said: "Although You draw only me, we shall be many who will run." Some think that when she asks her Beloved to draw her, she thus protests that she needs to be assisted by His prevenient grace, without which we can do nothing;[7] but when she adds: "We will run," that means: "You and I, my Beloved, will run together." Or as some others think: "Many will run with me in imitation of me, following me; many souls will run after You to the odor of Your ointments."[8]

 

We come now to the other pan of our exhortation, which is the Profession, and the dedication which young ladies make of their hearts to the Divine Majesty, a dedication and offering which they would never have had the desire to make if the Sovereign Spouse of our souls had not drawn them and assisted them with His grace. Likewise, without the aid of this divine grace and the Constitutions which are observed here under the guidance of our sacred Mother and Mistress, the holy Virgin, they would never have attained to this high rank of spouses of Jesus Christ, Oh, happy are the religious who live in the congregation of this divine Abbess and are instructed by this great Doctor, who drew her knowledge from the very Heart of her dear Son, our Saviour, who is the Wisdom of the Eternal Father [Sir. 1:4].

We shall make our third consideration on this point:[9] that Our Lady was alone in her room when the angel came to salute her and bring her the blessed and gracious tidings of the Incarnation of the Word of God in her holy and chaste womb. What do religious do but remain in their cells and, not satisfied with that, withdraw into themselves to remain more alone and thus render themselves more capable of enjoying the conversation of their Spouse? They retire into the depths of their hearts as into a heavenly cabinet where they live in solitude. But in vain do you hide yourselves; the angels will know well how to find you. Do you not see that Our Lady, being all alone, was yet found by the angel Gabriel?

 

Virgins and religious are never better pleased than when they are all alone to contemplate at leisure the beauty of their Heavenly Lover. They withdraw within themselves because all their care is in this interior beauty, and to preserve and increase it they are ever attentive to remove anything which could tarnish or disfigure it in the slightest degree. The beauty of the Daughter of Sion is within, says the Psalmist [Ps. 44:14, Douay], because she knows well that the Divine Spouse beholds only her interior, while men see only the exterior [7 Sam. 16:7; Ps. 7:10]. Now this beloved spouse is the soul who consecrates herself to follow His divine loves and who desires to please only Him; therefore she withdraws entirely into herself to prepare for Him an agreeable dwelling place. Thus in religion the exercise of the presence of God is so highly recommended and is of incomparable help. We see the proof of this in the fact that Our Lady, when practicing it and remaining recollected, merited at the same time to be chosen to be Mother of God.

 

This sacred Virgin was, then, a very perfect religious, as we have said, and she is the special Protectress of souls who dedicate themselves to Our Lord. But let us consider a little the virtues which she practiced and manifested more excellently than all others on the day of her glorious Annunciation, virtues which I will only mention in passing and then I will conclude. First, a virginity and purity which has nothing like it in all creation. Secondly, a sovereign and profound humility, joined and united inseparably to charity.

 

Virginity and absolute chastity is an angelic virtue; but though it belongs more especially to angels than to men, yet the purity of Our Lady infinitely surpassed that of the angels, having three great perfections above theirs, even that of the cherubim and seraphim. I will touch on only those three points, leaving the rest to the considerations which each of you will make in private during this octave.

 

The purity and virginity of Our Lady had this excellence, this privilege and supereminence above that of the angels, that it was a fruitful virginity. That of the angels is sterile and can produce no fruit. On the contrary, that of our glorious Mistress was not only fruitful because she produced for us this sweet Fruit of Life, Our Lord and Master, but in the second place she has begotten many virgins. It is in imitation of her, as we have said, that virgins have vowed their chastity. But the virginity of this divine Mother has also the property of restoring and repairing those who had been stained and defiled at some period of their life. Holy Scripture testifies that during her lifetime she called a great number of virgins, so that many accompanied her wherever she went: St. Martha, St. Marcella, the Marys, and many others [Cf. Lk. 8:2-3; Jn. 19:25;Acts 1:14]. But in particular, was it not by means of her and by her example that St. Mary Magdalene, who was a cauldron blackened by a thousand impurities and the receptacle of impurity itself, was afterwards enrolled under the standard of the purity of Our Lady and convened into a crystal vial, resplendent and transparent, capable of receiving and retaining the most precious liquors and most salutary waters?

 

Therefore the virginity of our divine Mistress is not sterile like that of the angels, but is so fruitful that from the moment it was vowed to God until the present time, it has always brought forth new fruit. And not only is it fruitful itself, but it also begets a fruitful virginity in others; for a soul who dedicates herself perfectly to the divine service will never be alone, but will draw many after her example to follow the "perfumes" which have attracted her. Therefore the sacred lover says to her Beloved: Draw me, and we will run.

 

Moreover, the virginity of Our Lady surpassed that of the angels because they are virgins and chaste by nature. It is not customary to praise a person for what he has naturally because, being without choice, that does not merit praise. We do not praise the sun because it is luminous, for this property being natural to it, it cannot cease to shine. The angels are in no way praiseworthy because they are virgins and chaste, for they cannot be otherwise. But our sacred Mistress has a virginity worthy to be exalted because it is chosen, elected, and vowed. Although she was married, it was not to the prejudice of her virginity, because her husband was a virgin, and like her had vowed to remain so always. Oh, how dearly did this holy Lady love this virtue. Therefore she bound herself to it by vow. She is always accompanied by virgins and she favors them in a special manner.

 

Her virginity also surpassed that of the angels because it was tried and tested, which could not be the case with that of the heavenly spirits, for they could not fall from their purity nor receive any attack or trial whatsoever. Our glorious Father, St. Augustine, speaking to the angels, says; It is not difficult for you, O blessed spirits, to be virgins, since you are not and cannot be tempted.

 

Some may think it strange if I say that the purity of Our Lady was tried and tested, but this is true; she was tested with a very great trial. God forbid that we should think that this trial resembled ours, for being all pure and purity itself, she could not receive the attacks to which we are subject and which torment us who bear temptation within us. These temptations would not have dared to approach the impregnable walls of her integrity. They are so importunate that the great Apostle St. Paul writes that three times he besought Our Lord to take them away, or else to moderate their violence so that he could resist them without offense and without yielding [2 Cor. 12:7-8].

 

The sacred Virgin was tested when she saw the angel in human form. Do we not notice that she began to fear and be troubled, so that St. Gabriel, knowing it, said to her: "Do not fear, Mary" [Lk. 1:29-30]; for he meant to say: Although you see me in the form of a man, I am not a man, nor do I wish to speak to you from a human perspective. He said this because he noticed that the virginal modesty of Our Lady was disturbed. A holy man writes that modesty is, as it were, the sacristan of chastity. As the sacristan of a church is very careful to lock the doors lest its altars should be robbed, and always looks about to see if anything has been stolen, so the modesty of virgins is always on the watch to see that nothing comes to attack their chastity or endanger their virginity, of which they are extremely jealous; and as soon as they perceive anything questionable, though it should be only the shadow of evil, they are troubled as was the august Mary.

 

But she was not only virgin par excellence above all others, angels as well as men — she was also more humble than all others. This was manifest excellently on the day of the Annunciation. She then made the greatest act of humility that was ever made or ever will be made by a pure creature; for seeing herself exalted by the angel who saluted her, saying that she was full of grace and that she would conceive a Son who would be both God and man, she was troubled and began to fear [Lk. 1:28-32]. Certainly she was familiar with angels, but she had never before been praised by them, for it is not their custom to praise anyone except sometimes for encouragement in some great undertaking [Jgs. 6:12,14]. Therefore, hearing holy Gabriel offer her such extraordinary praise, she was anxious, thereby teaching maidens who take pleasure in being flattered that they expose themselves to great danger of receiving some blemish to their virginity and purity; for humility is so truly the companion of virginity that virginity will never remain long in the soul that has no humility. Although one may be found without the other, as is often seen in the world where many married persons live humbly, yet it must be confessed that these two virtues cannot exist, one without the other, in virgins, that is, in maidens.

 

Our Lady, being reassured by the angel and having learned what God willed to do with her and in her, made this supreme act of humility, saying: I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say. She saw herself raised to the highest dignity that ever was or will be, for though it should please God to create anew many worlds, He could never make a pure creature be greater than the Mother of God. This dignity is incomparable; and yet the sacred Virgin is not puffed up, but declares that she will always remain the servant of the Divine Majesty. And to show that she was so and willed to be so, she said: Let it be done to me, all according to His good pleasure — abandoning herself to the mercy of His divine will, protesting that by her own choice and election she will always remain in lowliness, and will preserve humility as the inseparable companion of virginity.

 

But if these two virtues, humility and virginity, may be found one without the other, this separation cannot exist between humility and charity. They are indivisible, and so joined and united together that one is never found without the other, if they are true and unfeigned. When the activity of the one ceases, it is followed immediately by the activity of the other; as soon as humility has abased itself, charity raises itself up toward Heaven.[10] These two virtues are like Jacob's ladder, upon which the angels were going up and coming down [Gen. 28:12-13]. This does not mean that of themselves they could ascend and descend at the same time; these angels did not do this, for they ascended in order to descend again. Humility would seem to remove us from God, who abides at the top of the ladder, because it always makes us descend, in order to lower, despise, and abase ourselves; nevertheless, it is quite the contrary, for in proportion as we abase ourselves, we render ourselves more capable of ascending to the top of this ladder where we shall meet the Eternal Father.

 

Our Lady humbled herself and acknowledged herself unworthy of being raised to the high dignity of Mother of God; therefore she was made to be His Mother, for she had no sooner uttered the protestation of her littleness than, having abandoned herself to Him by an act of incomparable charity, she became the Mother of the Most High, who is the Saviour of our souls.

 

If we act thus, my dear daughters, and unite virginity with humility, immediately accompanying it with most holy charity, which will raise us to the top of Jacob's mystical ladder, we shall certainly be received into the bosom of the Eternal Father, who will cover us with a thousand heavenly consolations. Then, in the enjoyment of these we will sing, after Our Lady and most holy Mistress, the canticle of praise to this God who has given us so much grace to follow Him in this world and to combat under His standard. Amen.

Addition[11]

 

When the divine lover says: "Draw me," she assures us we cannot do anything without grace, for she immediately adds: "We will run." [Song I:4J.

 

The most holy Virgin alone was the first to be drawn by the Heavenly Spouse to consecrate and dedicate herself totally to His service. For she was the first to consecrate her body and soul to God by the vow of virginity. But as soon as she was drawn she drew a host of souls who offered themselves to God, to advance under her sacred protection in the observance of a perfect and inviolable virginity and chastity. Ever since she led the way it has always been filled with souls who come to consecrate themselves, by vows, to the service of the Divine Majesty. Most dear souls, whom the glorious Virgin regards when she says: "We will run".' Thereby she assures her Beloved that many will follow her standard, striving under her authority against all kinds of enemies for the glory of His Name [Ps. 79:9].

 

O what an honor for us to do battle under this valiant captainess! Women seem to have a particular obligation to follow this courageous warrior, who has so infinitely ennobled and honored them.[12] Oh! If God's Mother had an angelic nature, how the cherubim and seraphim should glory in it and consider themselves honored! Our Lady is indeed the honor, prototype, and patron of men and of women who live virtuously and of widows. However, no one can deny that young girls, more than all others, have a certain more particular alliance with her. Their similarity to her virginity, belonging to their sex and condition, gives them a great capacity and advantage in approaching her more closely.

 

As for myself, I think the reason for making, during all ages, a greater solemnity of their entrance and Profession in religion than that of men is this: Their sex being more fragile, their very courageous act of entering religion should be all the more honored. Also, on these feasts God is pleased to be more honored than in the Profession which men make of living in religion. To tell the truth, men do not make so great a renouncement of their liberty as do women. These latter enclose themselves in celestial prisons of Our Lord — the religious orders — to pass the rest of their days. They are never permitted to go abroad except for certain very rare and special occasions, as to found and establish monasteries.

 

Men entering religion intend, indeed, to live in obedience according to its Rules and statutes. But, it must be confessed, the renouncement they make of their liberty is not so extreme as that of women. Men still have the freedom to go out, to go from convent to convent, to preach, to hear confessions, and to perform many other exercises of their ministry, which are really diversions for them. They, indeed, leave the world in affection, for all religious ought to do this. Nevertheless, they always have some contact with persons in the world, and this relieves somewhat the rigorous law of monastic enclosure.

 

When young girls dedicate themselves to God they reject and abandon all that. They renounce even the very thing to which nature clings most tenaciously, their liberty. Thus, it can well be said that these young girls perform an act above nature, and need God's supernatural strength to make so perfect an act as that of dedicating themselves to His divine service by such a complete renouncement. For we do not deceive them, telling them that in religion Our Lord will give them sugar, like children, to coax them. Nor are they told that they will be led to Mount Tabor where they will say with St. Peter: "How good that we are here'" [Matt. 17:4]. On the contrary, they are warned before the novitiate and Profession: You must go to "Mount Calvary," where, with Our Lord, you must be "crucified." You must crucify your understanding, restraining all your thoughts, not admitting any voluntarily but those consonant with your chosen vocation. You must likewise crucify your memory, never dwelling upon any remembrance of what you have left in the world. Finally, you must crucify and attach your own will to the Cross of Our Lord, never using it for your own pleasure, but living in perfect submission and obedience for the rest of your life.

 

Tell me, please, having represented to young girls only the cross, thorns, lances, nails and, finally, the mortifications of the religious life, is not this a very considerable act which they make, and worthy to be honored? O extremely generous souls who truly manifest that you do battle and advance under the auspices of our holy and glorious Mistress, the most holy Virgin! Oh, doubtless, these young women must have considered that it is the property of love to render the burden light; the bitter, sweet; and the insupportably difficult, easy. Your glorious Father St. Augustine[13] expressed this truth very well, saying[14] that he who loves finds nothing vexatious, unpleasant or too troublesome. "There is no toil," he says, "where there is love, or if there is, it is loved."

 

Go then, my dear daughters, or rather, come with love to dedicate yourselves to God and to the service of His most pure love. Although you will meet with trials you will love this trouble, being well assured that you will please God and render yourselves acceptable to your dear Patroness who, though she had not the name of religious, nevertheless practiced the exercises of religion. Although she is the Protectress of all people and each vocation in general, she has made herself nevertheless Protectress in a special way of virgins who are dedicated to the service of her Son in religion, seeing that she has been like an abbess who showed by example all that they must do to live religiously. For your consideration I shall touch upon only three points concerning today's Gospel to prove what I say. h tells us that, in addressing himself to this holy Virgin to announce the incomparable Mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the angel found her retired and alone in her room, in Galilee, in the city of Nazareth [Lk. 1:26-38].

 

As to the first point; Our Lady was in the country of Galilee. "Galilee" is a Hebrew word meaning "migration." You know there are two kinds of birds: birds of passage or migrating birds, and those that are not. The former migrate because they go from one country to another, like the swallows and nightingales, which ordinarily are found in these parts only in spring and summer. In winter they migrate, withdrawing to countries where it is spring and warm weather when the cold of winter is here. When our springtime returns they return and once again migrate, that is, pass from one country to another, coming here to recreate us with their pleasant warblings.

 

Are not religious, men and women, in a country of migration? Do they not make a passage from the world into religion, as into a place of springtime, to chant the divine praises, and to avoid the bitter cold of the world? Oh! Is it not for this that they enter religion where it is always springtime and warm, the Sun of Justice [Mat. 3:20] most usually darting His rays upon religious hearts — not warming less in enlightening them than He enlightens in warming them? What is the world but an extremely cold winter where there are only frozen and icy souls? I mean those in the world and of the world, for I know well enough that one can live perfectly in any kind of vocation, in the world as well as in religion, and provided one is so resolved, one can attain a high degree of perfection anywhere. But ordinarily speaking, in the world one almost always meets only icy hearts. They are so cold and so slightly warmed by this Supreme Fire from which all other fires draw their origin and their heat! As it is the sun that gives heat to everything on earth, yes, even to fire which without it could not produce heat,[15] so the love of God is this Sun which gives heat to the human heart when it is disposed to receive it. Without this Sacred Fire it would remain unspeakably cold.

 

Our Lady, then, like religious, was in a country of migration. But, 0 God! How admirably well she made this migration, passing from one degree of perfection to a higher. Briefly, her life was nothing else but a continual passage from virtue to virtue [Ps. 84:6,8]. In this all religious ought to imitate her as perfectly as they can, since they are the ones who are closer to her than all others. For doubtless, they are those virgins of whom the Psalmist says: Behind her the virgins of her train are brought to the King [Ps. 45:15]. Love never says; "Enough, sufficient." It desires to have the courage always to progress on the way of the will of the Beloved.

 

My second remark upon the Gospel is this: Our Lady was found by the angel in the city of Nazareth. Now, "Nazareth" means "flower." She was then in the city of flowers — or flowery city. Oh, how well this city represents religion! For what is religion but a flowering city, or a house all strewn with flowers, since the Rules and statutes which religious observe are as so many flowers? Mortifications, humiliations, prayers — in short, all the exercises are nothing else than the practice of virtues which are like beautiful flowers shedding their exceedingly sweet perfume before the Divine Majesty. Now what is religion but a garden sown with flowers, very pleasing to the sight, and with fragrance very healthful to the scent of those who notice them?

 

So it is said of the most holy Virgin that she was in a flowery city. What is she herself but a flower chosen from among all others for her rare beauty and excellence? A flower which, because of its incomparably sweet fragrance, has the property of engendering and producing other flowers. And do you not know that she is that garden, enclosed and shut tight in the Song of Songs, all empearled and enamelled? [Song 4:12]. An enclosed garden, my sister, my bride, an enclosed garden. This repetition is not without mystery. To whom belong, I ask you, so many flowers with which the Church is filled and so embellished and adorned, if not to the most holy Virgin, whose example produced them all? Is it not through her that the Church is strewn with the roses of martyrs, invincible in their constancy; marigolds of so many holy confessors; violets of so many holy widows who are little, humble, lowly like these flowers, but who spread abroad a good and fragrant perfume? Finally, is it not to her that in a special way belong so many white lilies, so many pure souls, and so many virgins so innocent and guileless, since it has been to imitate her example that so many virgins have consecrated their hearts and bodies to the Divine Majesty by a determination and an indissoluble vow to preserve their virginity and purity.

 

There are some Doctors who hold that she instituted congregations of young girls, and that when she went to Ephesus with her dear adopted son, St. John, she founded one to which she herself gave Rules and Constitutions. Oh, what a divine Abbess! Oh, what happy religious to have been established by this divine Doctor![16]

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[1] The Blessed Virgin Mary. Refer also the note on The Assumption.

[2] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 5, Chapter 2.

[3] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 3, Chapter 10.

[4] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 9, Chapter 9.

[5] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 5, Chapter 11; Sermon for Nov. 21, 1617.

[6] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 10, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.

[7] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 2, Chapter 13, Chapter 21; Conferences, I; Sermon for Nov. 21, 1617.

[8] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 2.

[9] The second point which St. Francis de Sales developed is missing from the original manuscripts.

[10] Cf. Conferences, VIII.

[11] As was noted above, St. Francis' second point is missing from the original manuscripts. The editor of the 1641 edition of his works added this fragment from another of St. Francis' sermons. The editor of the Annecy edition, from which this translation is made, kept this addition. We are doing the same. — Editor.

[12] Cf. Sermon for Sept. 10, 1620.

[13] Refer note on Sermon for September 10, 1620.

[14] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 5.

[15] Cf. Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 5.

[16] The fragment ends here, somewhat abruptly.

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SERMONS OF St. FRANCIS DE SALES