It is said on the one side that Our Lady revealed to S. Mechtilde that the malady of which she died was no other thing than an impetuous assault of divine love; but S. Bridget and S. John Damascene testify that she died an extremely peaceful death: and both statements are true, Theotimus.
The stars are marvellously beautiful to see, and send forth a fair light; but, if you have taken notice, it is by flushes of light, by sparks and flashes, that they produce their rays, as if they brought forth light with effort, at distinct intervals; whether it is because their feebler light cannot so continuously shine with evenness, or because our weak eyes do not allow us a constant and firm view of them, on account of the great distance there is between them and our eyes. In the same way, generally speaking, the saints who died of love felt a great variety of accidents and symptoms of love, before it brought them to death; many sudden movement, many assaults, many ecstasies, many languors, many agonies; and it seemed that their love with many renewed efforts brought forth their blessed death: this happened on account of the weakness of their love, not yet absolutely perfect, which could not continue its loving with an even fervour.
But it was quite otherwise with the most holy Virgin. For, as we see the lovely dawning of day grow, not at intervals and by shocks, but by a certain dilating and continuous brightening, which is almost insensibly perceptible, so that we truly see it grow in clearness, but so evenly that no one perceives any interruption, separation or discontinuance in its growing; -- thus divine love grew at each moment in the virginal heart of our glorious Lady, but by sweet, peaceable and continuous growths, without any agitation, or shock, or violence. Ah! no, Theotimus, we must not suppose an impetuosity of agitation in this celestial love of the maternal heart of the Virgin; for love, of itself, is sweet, gracious, peaceful and tranquil. If it sometimes deliver assaults, if it give shocks to the spirit, this is because it finds resistance there: but when the passages of the soul are opened to it without opposition or contradiction, it makes its progress peaceably, with an incomparable sweetness. It was so, then, that holy love employed its force in the virginal heart of the sacred Mother, without effort of violent impetuosity, because it found no resistance or hindrance whatever. For as we see great rivers boil and leap, with a mighty roaring, in rough places where the rocks make shoals and reefs to oppose and prevent the flowing of the waters, but, on the contrary, finding themselves on the plain, sweetly glide and flow without effort; -- so divine love, finding in human souls some hindrance and resistance (as in truth all have in some degree, though differently), does violence there, combating bad inclinations, striking the heart, pushing the will by divers agitations and various efforts to get room for itself, or at least to pass these obstacles. But in the sacred Virgin, everything favoured and seconded the course of heavenly love; its progress and increase were incomparably greater than in all other creatures, yet a progress infinitely sweet, peaceful and tranquil. No, she swooned not away, either with love or with compassion, by the cross of her Son, although she then experienced the most ardent and painful attack of love that can be imagined: for although the attack was extreme, yet, at the same time, it was at once equally strong and gentle, mighty and tranquil, active and peaceful, consisting in a heat which was sharp but sweet.
I am not saying, Theotimus, that in the soul of the most holy Virgin there were not two portions, and consequently two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, the other according to the senses and inferior reason, so that she could feel repugnances and contradictions of the one to the other appetite, for this burden was felt even by her Son; -- but I say that in this celestial Mother all the affections were so well ranged and ordered, that divine love exercised in her its empire and domination most peaceably, without being troubled by the diversity of wills and appetites, or by the contradiction of the senses, because neither the repugnances of the natural appetite nor the movements of the senses ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin; but, on the contrary, all was employed holily and faithfully in the service of holy love, for the exercise of the other virtues, which, for the most part, cannot be practised save amid difficulties, oppositions and contradictions.
Thorns, according to the vulgar opinion, are not only different from, but even contrary to, flowers; and it seems as if things would go better if there were none in the world: which has made S. Ambrose think that but for sin there would be none. But still, as here they are, the good husbandman renders them useful, making from them, about his fields and young trees, hedges and enclosures which serve as defence and rampart against cattle. So the glorious Virgin, having had a part in all human miseries, saving such as directly tend to sin, employed them most profitably for the exercise and increase of the holy virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence, poverty, humility, patience and compassion: so that these were so far from hindering, that they even assisted and strengthened heavenly love by continual exercises and advancements. And, in her, Magdalen is not distracted from the attention wherewith she receives from her Saviour the impressions of love, by all Martha's ardour and solicitude. She has made choice of her Son's love, and nothing deprives her of it.
The loadstone, as every one knows, Theotimus, naturally draws iron unto it, by a secret and most wonderful virtue: yet five things there are which hinder this operation. 1°. A too great distance. 2°. A diamond interposed. 3°. If the iron be greased. 4°. If it be rubbed with an onion. 5°. If it be too weighty. Our heart is made for God, who continually allures it, never ceasing to throw into it the baits of his celestial love. But five things hinder the operation of his holy attraction. 1°. Sin, which puts us at a distance from God. 2°. Affection to riches. 3°. Sensual pleasures. 4°. Pride and vanity.5°. Self-love together with the multitude of inordinate passions which it brings forth, and which are to us an overcharging load which weighs us down. But none of these hindrances had place in the glorious Virgin's heart. 1°. She was ever preserved from all sin. 2°. Ever most poor in spirit. 3°. Ever most pure. 4°. Ever most humble. 5°. Ever peaceful mistress of all her passions, and totally exempt from the rebellion which self-love raises against the love of God. And therefore as iron, if clear of all obstacles and freed from its own weight, would be powerfully, yet gently and equably, drawn by the loadstone, in such sort, however, that the attraction would ever grow more active and forcible as they came nearer the one to the other, and the motion nearer to its end: -- so the most holy Mother, having nothing in her which hindered the operation of the divine love of her Son, was united unto him in an incomparable union, by gentle ecstasies, without trouble or travail, ecstasies in which the sensible powers ceased not to perform their actions, without in any way disturbing the union of the spirit, as again the perfect application of her spirit did not much divert her senses. So that this Virgin's death was more sweet than could be imagined, her Son sweetly drawing her after the odour of his perfumes, and she most lovingly flowing out after their sacred sweetness even into the bosom of her Son's goodness. And although this holy soul extremely loved her most holy, most pure, and most love-worthy body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance; as the chaste Judith, though she greatly loved the weeds of penance and widowhood yet forsook them and freely put them off, to put on her marriage garments when she went to be victorious over Holofernes; or as Jonathan did when for the love of David he stripped himself of his garments. Love had given at the foot of the cross to this divine Spouse the supreme sorrows of death, and therefore it was reasonable that at length death should give her the sovereign delights of love.