Towards the end of the fourth century in Rome, there were various groups of noblewomen and widows who consecrated their lives to Christ, trying to unite themselves with him through prayer, asceticism, and the diligent study of Scripture. These consecrated women were at the origins of Western feminine monasticism and lived on the Aventine Hill, where even today there remains a spirit of prayer and monastic silence. One of the great saints and doctors of the ancient Church, St. Jerome, guided these nuns in their study of the sacred sciences and accompanied them on their spiritual journey. Being a true spiritual father, St. Jerome tried to guide his spiritual daughters to an ever deeper and ever more complete holiness.
To achieve this goal, the saintly doctor made it a habit to place before their eyes the example of the most Blessed Virgin Mary. “For me”, said St. Jerome, “virginity is consecrated in Mary and in Christ” (Epistle 22, Ad Eustochium). He writes, in Mary the fullness of all grace came which is in Christ (Epistle 11, ad Paulam et Eustochium). Thus, the Angel Gabriel greeted her with the words Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women (Lk 1:28,42). Due to the singular grace which she received, the blessing of Mary erased any trace of a curse which had crept upon us due to the fall of Eve. The Blessed Virgin Mary is completely Immaculate since she hasn’t been corrupted in any way: in fact, all that has been accomplished in her is purity and simplicity, truth and grace, mercy and justice. Because she is full of grace and all holy, the Virgin Mary has put an end to vice and brought discipline to our habits.
This has great significance for us. In means that our purification from sin is intimately connected with the purity of our Holy Mother, Mary. We find this truth in the Oration of today’s Mass: in fact, we pray to the Lord that, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary has been preserved from every stain to become a dwelling worthy of Christ, so may we come to Christ purified by her maternal intercession.
It was necessary that the Virgin be spotless in order to receive the Son of God, who is perfect, inviolable, and eternal purity. It was necessary that the Tabernacle of the Most High be pure and unblemished. It was of this Tabernacle that the prophet spoke when he said in Psalm 131: Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of they might. But, even we, following the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin, have become abodes of Christ and his Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is necessary that we, too, be purified dwellings worthy of God. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God; you are not your own (1 Cor 6:19). Our Lady is all holy; but her holiness must embrace and purify us, too; that is, we must allow ourselves to be cleansed by her intense, chaste, and wholly-deified love. We must contemplate her extraordinary beauty, which has no comparison with any beauty on this earth, and say with confidence: you are all beautiful, Mary, and there is no stain in you.
We live in a time in which the virtue of chastity has little value. Our society does not know patience, and wants everything now, without waiting. Modern man is assaulted in every direction by impurity and fornication, and lacking the virtue of patience, he is unable to master himself, to keep himself whole and complete, and therefore to give himself to others in a responsible, mature, and fruitful way. Is this not the root of his misery: his impatience and his desire for instant gratification, without waiting and without depriving himself of the pleasures that come his way? What makes matters worse is the supreme distraction of the internet. The television—says American Franciscan Fr. Benedict Groeschel—is a tabernacle of the devil, because it corrupts man’s soul. If this is the case for television, what would we say of the internet? Is it not the strongest force corrupting souls today, turning our hearts towards a continual succession of false and deceitful images?
But today’s liturgy calls us to abandon the ways of the world, and to embrace the God whom the world cannot receive, the God who became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and came to dwell among us. How can we draw nearer to this God? Let us begin by drawing near to Mary, the Tabernacle chosen by God to be his dwelling place: Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool! (Ps 132:7). Let’s stop being distracted by the world; instead, let us completely trust in the contemplation of Our Lady. Let our hands take up the beads which she left us, the Holy Rosary in which the mysteries of her Son Jesus are remembered. Let us place on her immaculate head this crown, an expression of our fidelity and filial piety. Let us turn our contemplation to Mary, whose clothes are white like the snow and whose face shines like the sun, in order to enjoy her immense light, the light of which the Psalmist speaks when he says: For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light do we see light (Ps 35:10).
(translated from the Italian by B. Gonzalez)