[Mr. Likoudis as] The Administrative Assistant to the President of CUF gave this address at the Holy Year Forum of CUF in Los Angeles, Dec. 5-7, 1975. It had as its theme, "Behold Your Mother, Woman of Faith."
WHEN I WAS FIRST given this topic "My Soul magnifies the Lord... and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour," I knew that this would be perhaps the most difficult talk that I have yet been called on to give – not because of any inherent difficulty in the exegesis of a most beautiful verse of Scripture – but because any speaker would be conscious of his own deficiencies in treating of the Mother of God. The greatest poets, writers, preachers, theologians, hymnographers, and saints have all stammered in speaking of the Glories of Mary. There is a degree of relief, however, in noting that some of the most renowned Fathers of the Church have shrunk from such a task as that I have been called upon to do:
"Whoso would celebrate the Holy Virgin and Mother of God will find abundant materials for praise. But I, knowing mine own weakness to be unequal to the mightiness of the reality, have for a long time refrained from very awe. For I have not my lips purified with coal from heaven, like Isaiah who saw the Seraphim, nor have I, like the divine Moses, the feet of my soul bared of their covering.
... For, as it is no easy matter either to conceive or speak of God – yes rather it is a thing utterly impossible – so is the great Mystery of the Mother of God above all thought and speech."
(St. Paul of Seleucia in the 5th century: Orat. X on the Annunciation)
Incapable of Honoring Mary Adequately
It is a simple datum of Christian experience that no created intellect is able to fathom all that is meant by the title "Mother of God". No human tongue is equal to the task of glorifying or magnifying our Blessed Lady adequately – Her humility, Her obedience, Her purity, Her majesty, Her wisdom, Her loveliness, Her faith, Her mercy – all attributes of a tender holiness absolutely beyond adequate description. Chosen by God Himself to be the Mother of the Divine Son of God, this highest of all creatures gifted with the greatest graces God can bestow, continues from the glory of heaven to look lovingly upon us poor wayfarers here below and to intercede for us with Her Son (Hers and our Savior) in our many wants and cares. And how many wants and cares we have! But none seems to me to be more important in our day than the need for "joy" in our lives. For I do think so many of our contemporary, modern people are living in an age of near-despair, living lives of quiet desperation.
Joy in the Hearts of Christians, Saints
In his beautiful Apostolic Exhortation 'On Christian Joy' our Holy Father Pope Paul VI has addressed himself to this terrible problem. He makes ample reference to the note of "joy" which characterizes the true Christian spirit – no matter what crises and tribulations may beset us in the pilgrimage of this life. For twenty centuries, he points out, holy joy has not ceased to spring up in the Church, and especially in the Hearts of the Saints. And he remarks: "In the first rank, (of those illustrating the mystery of Christian joy) is the Virgin Mary, full of grace, the Mother of the Savior." In a superb passage (which I cannot resist quoting) our Holy Father sums up the witness of all Catholic tradition concerning this role of the Blessed Virgin in the economy of salvation:
"The first of the redeemed, Immaculate from the moment of Her conception, the incomparable dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, She is at the same time the Beloved Daughter of God and in Christ, the Mother of all. She is the perfect Model of the Church both on earth and in glory. What a marvelous echo the prophetic words about the new Jerusalem find in Her wonderful existence as the Virgin of Israel: ' I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels' (Isaiah 61:10). With Christ, she sums up in Herself all joys; She lives the perfect joy promised to the Church: Mater plena sanctae laetitiae -Mother full of holy joy-. And it is with good reason that her children on earth, turning to Her Who is the mother of hope and of grace, invoke Her as the cause of their joy: Causa nostrae laetitiae."
(L'Osservatore Romano, May 29, 1975)
Amidst the renewed paganism of our time, the Blessed Virgin Mary remains the "cause of our joy." For in Her we witness the "first fruits of the Resurrection." She reigns body and soul with Her Son in glory, and is for the Christian believer a most convincing proof of the singular triumph of Christ over pride, power, pleasure, suffering and death. Mother of the Church, She remains the incomparable Guide to Holiness for Catholics either already infected with the disease of secularism or tempted by its allures.
What Secularism Means
We all know what secularism means. It is that "radical materialism" or "radical worldliness" which today everywhere surrounds us and involves the practical denial of God. It represents the full development of a pragmatic American culture which now glamorizes a new way of life rejecting all absolutes and all transcendent realities as well as the spiritual authority of the Church built upon the Rock-man, Peter. Secularism has been aptly described by a Russian Orthodox theologian as "the love of this life that we live in the flesh coupled with the desire to create a world without God – indeed the socialist dream." (Fr. Michael Azkoul). It would be impossible here to recount the horrors which the various intellectual swindles of the twentieth century – Nazism, Fascism, Communism, and, yes, democratic socialism – have inflicted upon man in their demonic vanity to create a "Brave New World" without Christ and His Church. The horrors of Dachau, the Gulag Archipelago, and our own abortion mills are known too well to all of us.
Nevertheless, the main illusion of an anti-Christian philosophy of history continues to cast its spell over too many of us; it certainly undergirds the secularism of the West: namely, the idea that mankind can evolve or progress to a state of perfection by means of its own powers and without grace. This false philosophy proclaiming the glories of the "Secular City" and the false prophets of our times who preach the transformation of the Kingdom of God into the Kingdom of Man via science and education – are redolent with the spirit of Anti-Christ – "he who denies the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22). Not only does the secularist of our day deny the reality of sin, but he denies the need for a Savior.
Confronted by the new life-style of contemporary pagan secularism, it is our Immaculate Lady Who best explodes the hollow pretensions of its leading advocates. Full of Christ's grace, it is She Who teaches us sore-beset Christians how to pray, live, and love amidst the secular contagions of our time. In Her all the holiness and faith of God's chosen people is splendorously focused for all to contemplate – and to take courage. Yes, more than all the Saints, the Mother of Our Lord teaches us "What it means to follow Christ". As Pope Paul has stated in another place: "It is to Her that we turn our imploring gaze, for She is a most loving teacher of the way in which we must live." (Ecclesiam Suam).
It is She Whom Christ Himself asks that we turn to – to confront and more importantly, to confound the secularism of the modern world: "a secularism that detests truth, sanctifies hedonism, consecrates violence, denies liberty and justice and destroys life." (Pope Paul VI to American Cardinals and Bishops, September 15, 1975). It is Her powerful intercession which has always aided the Pilgrim People of God in all their vicissitudes and trials, and it is Her prayers and intercession before the throne of Christ our King which will again support the Church in these apocalyptic days when that great text of Scripture appears especially relevant. "Then the dragon was angry with the Woman and went off to make war on the rest of Her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev. 12: 17).
Image of the Church and of Mary
In an earlier verse we read: "When the dragon saw that
he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the Woman Who had borne the male
child." (Rev. 12: 13). We know Who this "Woman" is. The Fathers of the Church and
modern scholars have rightly seen in the Scriptural image both the Church and the Blessed
Virgin Mary. As the living type (and model) of the Church, She is always identified with
the Church's earthly fortunes and its heavenly destiny.
Here I would but emphasize that:
- the devil (symbolized by the dragon) is at war with the Blessed Virgin and Her offspring; and,
- the offspring are "those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus," i.e., the faithful members of the Church Militant.
Mary is depicted by the Apostle John as the perennial
adversary of the devil. (We can not but think back to those remarkable words
addressed to the devil at the very beginning of human history:
"I will place enmity between thee and the Woman, between thy seed and Her Seed" (Genesis 3: 15).
This same Woman is depicted in heavenly glory clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars, and the moon at Her feet. As one commentator (Fr. F. M. Braun) has perceptively written:
"She appears both glorious and militant.... From heaven where She is united to Her First Son, She continues to exercise on earth the mission (She) received on Calvary. For this, we recognize Her power of mediation."
In other words, from heaven the Mother of the Child exercises Her maternal action on "the rest of Her offspring." She is the Mother of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
We, thus see that Christ indeed has not left us orphans. Our Mother is in glory but She has not deserted Her children in prayer and intercession before the throne of Her Divine Son. In heaven She continues to intercede for us in our present spiritual struggle with the powers of darkness arrayed against the Kingdom of Christ on earth. We are assured by the Word of God that our heavenly Mother will assist us in the Church's present struggle against that suffocating worldliness called secularism which blots out all thoughts of the last things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory) – and all thoughts of that heavenly Kingdom where Christ reigns as King and Mary as Queen.
With the Incarnation, a new joy appeared in the world. Christ is our joy. The Word was made flesh in the womb of the Mother of God. How could She not rejoice - She Who is so highly favored, and honored by the Holy Trinity? How could She not rejoice – She Who was asked to cooperate in the work of the redemption of mankind? "My Soul doth magnify the Lord," She sang in thanksgiving and gratitude. Let us note that "the Handmaiden of the Lord, the Daughter of Israel", does not magnify pride, power, pleasure, science, education, or interpersonal relations or the other ideals of modern secular man. It is The Lord Whom the Daughter of Zion magnifies. She is quite aware of Her Son's divinity and conscious of being the Mother of the Savior. This does not, of course, prevent Her "Fiat" ('Let it be done to me according to Your will') from being an act of faith.
But not for Her is the delusion of some of our contemporaries that there is no sin. Not for Her are these tortuous explanations which would minimize the nature of original sin, or of personal sin as an offense against God or deny the need of our fallen race for a Savior. "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior," She cries. In the mystery of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel has come to One totally dedicated to the will of God – to One Whose life of humility, service and obedience has awed angelic choirs.
Christ's Saving Merits Also Applied to Mary
But the Blessed Virgin, Herself sinless, is also aware that She is still a member of a fallen race to whom heaven was closed. In the wonderful plan of God, the merits of Christ's Passion and Death were applied in advance at Her Conception to make Her worthy of Her divine maternity. Freed from the stain of original sin at Her Conception by the "preventive Redemption of Jesus Christ", and full of grace – and gifted with the most sublime gifts of the Holy Spirit, this young Jewish girl rejoices in God Her Savior. What a rebuke to the unbelievers of our day whose intellectual pride and apostasy from God have blinded them to the awful nature of sin and their need for a Savior. Could there be a more dreadful spiritual blindness than this? No wonder our Blessed Lady has chosen to appear in recent years NOT to the worldly wise, or sophisticated cosmopolitans, or proud technocrats and educators, but to simple, pure and innocent children who will reverence and obey the words of their heavenly Mother.
As we have seen, the texts of Scripture clearly set forth that our Immaculate Lady now lives the perfect joy promised to the Church. Her loving Immaculate Heart, moreover, intercedes now especially for the faithful who "keep the commandments and hold fast to the testimony of Jesus." It is through Christ Our Savior that the Woman "clothed with the sun, with the moon under Her feet, and on Her head a crown of twelve stars" (Apoc. 12:1) has triumphed and that victory is promised Her offspring.
What joy then should always be ours! We baptized sons and daughters of Holy Church are Her offspring! These "happy humanists" who do not believe in Jesus Christ, or in His divinity, Resurrection and Eternal Kingdom are surely the most miserable of men. For them nothing in the world was ever fundamentally changed by Christ's Incarnation and Rising from the dead. For them, as always, people live, suffer, sicken and die; evil continues to dominate the world. All we can do is to frantically thrash about for some measure of earthly satisfaction. Our Lord never promised that He would give His followers worldly well-being, but He did promise to give us His joy. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). True, only in the Kingdom to come, when this world ends, and earth and heaven are consumed in flames and time will be no more, and there will be "a New Heaven and a New Earth" – will we receive the fullness of beatitude.
But a foretaste of that blessedness can be tasted now – in advance – despite the power of evil at work in our world. For Christ Our Joy has brought us a joy and peace to mankind that "the world cannot give." He has given us His Church to be our infallible teacher. He has given us His holy truths to enlighten our intellects. He has given us His commandments, His Holy Sacrifice, and His other Sacraments, especially His Real Presence in the Eucharist to inflame our hearts with love. He has given us His Spirit to indwell our souls. He has given us His own Blessed Mother to be the "Cause of our Joy" – and "our life, our sweetness, and our hope."
It is but too evident that a spiritual struggle of titanic proportions affects the Church of Christ on many fronts today. A profoundly secularized world challenges us Christians in our basic loyalty to Christ Our King and in our fidelity to all the teachings of Holy Church. It is our joy that our Immaculate Lady, our "Mother in Faith," has given us the only really effective response to the challenges posed by "the world, the flesh and the devil":