PILATE, on presenting to the Jews, Jesus crowned with thorns, and clothed in a purple garment, said: |Behold the Man!
| Jesus frequently calls Himself the Son of man in the Gospel, that is, the Man par excellence
, the Man who is the model and type of all others. To women, we can also say of Mary: |Behold the woman!
| the honor, glory, joy, crown, type and model of your sex. Such is the manner in which Jesus presented her from the cross on Calvary, when He said to her, a few moments before expiring: |Woman, behold thy Son!
It is, indeed, remarkable that the Saviour of the world, when addressing Mary in public, did not call her mother, but woman, as if, by that, He would declare to us that she is the model of all other women. It is as if He said to us: Behold THE woman; and, although she was His mother -- principal title of her glory -- nevertheless she is woman before all. She merited to become the most glorious of all mothers only because she had been the purest and holiest of all women. You should therefore have your eyes constantly fixed upon Mary, as a servant who watches her mistress in order to observe and obey her commands. If you can see yourself in Mary, you will entertain an exalted idea of the dignity of your sex; for it is in her and by her that you are great; it is to her you owe the honor and respect that the world pays the woman who knows how to respect and appreciate herself according to her just value. If you would understand all that you owe to Mary in this regard you need but consider what was the social condition of woman in society before the birth of Christ, and what her condition is to-day among people on whom the light of the Gospel has not yet shone. You are now too young to appeal to your own experience, but, according as you advance in life, observing closely what passes around you, you will learn -- and God grant that it may not be at your own expense -- what an immense difference there is with regard to the esteem in which woman is held between those who adore God as the Son of Mary, and those who regard her as common with other women.
Among men of social standing, whose habits, condition and character are so different, you can easily discern those whose faith discloses to them a reflection of the glory of Mary in you, from those who behold in you simply a daughter of Eve. Their conversation, deportment and looks, everything in them, will serve you as an index to this discernment. It is very difficult for man to disguise his real sentiments -- dissimulation costs nature too dearly -- but there are two circumstances wherein his moral character betrays itself in a striking manner, namely, in the presence of God, and in the presence of woman. It is neither permitted nor possible to a man truly religious and chaste to be bold or trivial in presence of either.
The woman illuminated by the sweet reflections of the glories of Mary, and imitating her virtues according to her state of life, enjoys the singular privilege of commanding the deferential respect of men of the most decided character. In her presence vice is silent, audacity is confounded, virtue, innocence and candor are at ease. The holy emanations of her heart purify the moral atmosphere around her, imparting to it a sweet and charming serenity, converting the place in which she appears into a kind of sanctuary.
By a contrary effect, resulting from a want of self-respect, woman becomes an easy prey to men of vain hearts and frivolous minds, who, not thinking themselves more obliged to respect her than she respects herself, without any reserve, give expression to the vanity of their hearts and thoughts. Everywhere and always ignorance or contempt of the Christian religion has begot contempt for woman, or disregard for her sacred rights and exalted dignity. Every where and always, irreligion has produced libertinism, the immediate and necessary effect of which is a depreciation of woman; and in those countries where the habits and institutions of the people have been deprived of the precious culture of Christianity, woman's condition is so abject that it differs in nothing from that of the brute, save that in her the sacred rights established by divine Providence are most shamefully violated.
That woman is worthy of glory or ignominy is the logical consequence of her being regarded as a daughter either of Eve or of Mary. In the one she is the poisoned source whence sin with all the evils that attend it flowed into the world, in the other she is the blessed source whence the Salvation of the world has issued forth. And, what she has been once for the entire human race in the garden of Eden and at Nazareth, she is yet every day for a people, a city, a family, or for each man in particular, according to the elevation of her position in society, and the extent of her influence.
The greater part of Christian nations owe to the prayers and examples of some holy woman, some pious queen, for instance, the gifts of Christianity and civilization -- in this regard France has been, among all nations, singularly fortunate, and the name of Clotilda shall forever be revered in the pages of its history; while on the other hand, woman has often been instrumental in depriving the church of a kingdom, and in plunging into darkness and error a long succession of generations. For instances of this we have only to recall the names of Anne Boleyn and her cruel daughter, queen Elizabeth.
Countless numbers are indebted to woman for a knowledge of the truth, or the misfortune of forsaking it. Is there one who, in recalling the memories of the past, does not either bless or curse a woman, seeing in her an instrument of God's mercy, or of the seduction of Satan? Is there one who has not realized in that woman either a daughter of Eve or of the Blessed, Virgin -- an Eden or a Nazareth? Behold the two poles between which the history of peoples and the life of each man in particular continually oscillate. Eve and Mary these are two guiding stars, either of which man must follow; the light of the one is deceitful and treacherous, while that of the other is true and beneficent; the one leads humanity along the paths of righteousness, while the other lures to the commission of sin. Hence it is that the church has given Mary those beautiful names, so significantly true: |Morning Star!| |Star of the Sea!|
This world is, indeed, like a stormy sea, in which are rocks and shoals, upon which man runs the risk of being wrecked unless he keeps his eyes steadfastly fixed upon this star whose brightness no storm can dim, and which, at the most perilous moment, shines with greater brilliancy, as the cheering sign of grace, hope and happiness. It is by turning our eyes toward Mary with her divine Son in her arms, presenting Him to us as our Saviour, that our troubled souls find the polar star which will quiet all their movements, and tranquilize the fluttering beatings of our troubled hearts. But, woe to us if, instead of fixing our attention upon Mary, virgin mother of God, we turn to Eve, infected with the contagion of the serpent, and offering to our hearts the doleful fruit of temptation and sin!
At the entrance to every path that leads to heaven or to the abyss of hell you will find a woman -- the image of Mary, at the former, the image of Eve at the latter. It almost invariably happens that it is woman who deals out to mankind sin and death like Eve, or life, redemption and salvation like Mary. If you meet with one of these privileged men, chosen by God to be an instrument of His mercy, intimately associated with Jesus in the work of the salvation of His people, you may rest assured that this man owes to a woman, to a mother or a sister, the development of the great qualities which distinguish him. While, on the contrary, if you see one of those men tainted by the curse of some hereditary vice, very often more pernicious than original sin in its effects, you will discover that its source is the lesson or examples of a woman, whose poisoned influence shall oppress generations, just as that of Eve has oppressed the human race. Once again, I repeat it, that, as the corrupt and incredulous generation is the offspring of mothers modeled after Eve, so the holy and faithful generation traces its origin to mothers modeled after Mary.
You must choose between these two models, and on your choice will depend not only your own happiness and salvation, but also that of many yet unborn, whom God will confide to your care, and who will be dear to your heart. There remains no alternative; you will be either a cause of temptation and sin, or an instrument of grace and benediction for those who will live with you. You will either offer them the forbidden fruit like your mother Eve, or you will give spiritual birth to the Word of Life for them. As one of the greatest torments of the reprobate woman in hell will be to see the woeful misery into which she has brought those whom she had loved so dearly upon earth, and to hear the maledictions and reproaches which they shall hurl against her, so, also, one of the greatest joys of the faithful woman in heaven, will be to see those whom she sanctified by word and example now grouped around her, crowning her with a diadem of glory as a mark of everlasting gratitude.
Would you deprive your soul of this saintly joy, and condemn it to suffer the punishment reserved for those women who will be the cause of the ruin and eternal perdition of many? Divine justice shall vindicate itself, even in this life, by making your heart a most cruel torment to itself, that you may expiate, in agonizing torture your infidelity to grace. The cause of your sin shall be the very means of your punishment. God will employ, to avenge His outraged honor and His violated laws, those whom you have turned away from Him, and who, recognizing in you the cause of their evils, will end, perhaps, by hating you, or, what is still worse, by despising you. Oh, may it never be your sad fate to feel the withering contempt of those who have been led away from God by your bad or undue influence, that is, by loving them for yourself and not for God and themselves! Do not, I pray you, store up such bitterness for your old age, such anguish for your death-bed, since, instead of bitter regrets, you can experience a sweet joy, which is a foretaste of never-ending happiness, a special consolation for God's faithful friends at that last and dreadful moment when the soul stands trembling on the threshold of eternity; may it be your envied privilege to leave after you upon earth souls edified by your example, and grateful for the good you have done them.