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Mary, The Woman the World Loves | Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen | From
The World's First Love: Mary, Mother
Love Begins with a Dream
Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What
seems to be "love at first sight" is actually the fulfillment of
desire, the realization of a dream. Plato, sensing this, said that all
knowledge is a recollection from a previous existence. This is not true as he
states it, but it is true if one understands it to mean that we already have an
ideal in us, one that is made by our thinking, our habits, our experiences, and
our desires. Otherwise, how would we know immediately, on seeing persons or
things, that we loved them? Before meeting certain people we already have a
pattern and mold of what we like and what we do not like; certain persons fit
into that pattern, others do not.
When we hear music for the first time, we either like or dislike it. We judge
it by the music we already have heard in our own hearts. Jittery minds, which
cannot long repose in one object of thought or in continuity of an ideal, love
music that is distracting, excited, and jittery. Calm minds like calm music:
the heart has its own secret melody, and one day, when the score is played, the
heart answers: "This is it." So it is with love. A tiny architect
works inside the human heart drawing sketches of the ideal love from the people
it sees, from the books it reads, from its hopes and daydreams, in the fond
hope that the eye may one day see the ideal and the hand touch it. Life becomes
satisfying the moment the dream is seen walking, and the person appears as the
incarnation of all that one loved. The liking is instantaneous—because,
actually, it was there waiting for a long time. Some go through life without
ever meeting what they call their ideal. This could be very disappointing, if
the ideal never really existed. But the absolute ideal of every heart does
exist, and it is God. All human love is an initiation into the Eternal. Some
find the Ideal in substance without passing through the shadow.
God, too, has within Himself blueprints of everything in the universe. As the
architect has in his mind a plan of the house before the house is built, so God
has in His Mind an archetypal idea of every flower, bird, tree, springtime, and
melody. There never was a brush touched to canvas or a chisel to marble without
some great pre-existing idea. So, too, every atom and every rose is a
realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all
eternity. All creatures below man correspond to the pattern God has in His
Mind. A tree is truly a tree because it corresponds to God's idea of a tree. A
rose is a rose because it is God's idea of a rose wrapped up in chemicals and
tints and life. But it is not so with persons. God has to have two pictures of
us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be. He has the model,
and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music
and the way we play it. God has to have these two pictures because in each and
every one of us there is some disproportion and want of conformity between the
original plan and the way we have worked it out. The image is blurred; the
print is faded. For one thing, our personality is not complete in time; we need
a renewed body. Then, too, our sins diminish our personality; our evil acts
daub the canvas the Master Hand designed. Like unhatched eggs, some of us
refuse to be warmed by the Divine Love, which is so necessary for incubation to
a higher level. We are in constant need of repairs; our free acts do not
coincide with the law of our being; we fall short of all God wants us to be.
St. Paul tells us that we were predestined, before the foundations of the world
were laid, to become the sons of God. But some of us will not fulfill that
There is, actually, only one person in all humanity of whom God has one picture
and in whom there is a perfect conformity between what He wanted her to be and
what she is, and that is His Own Mother. Most of us are a minus sign, in the
sense that we do not fulfill the high hopes the Heavenly Father has for us. But
Mary is the equal sign. The Ideal that God had of her, that she is, and in the
flesh. The model and the copy are perfect; she is all that was foreseen,
planned, and dreamed. The melody of her life is played just as it was written.
Mary was thought, conceived, and planned as the equal sign between ideal and
history, thought and reality, hope and realization.
That is why, through the centuries, Christian liturgy has applied to her the
words of the Book of Proverbs. Because she is what God wanted us all to be, she
speaks of herself as the Eternal blueprint in the Mind of God, the one whom God
loved before she was a creature. She is even pictured as being with Him not
only at creation but also before creation. She existed in the Divine Mind as an
Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of
mothers—she is the world's first love.
"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything,
from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth
was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived; neither had
the fountains of waters as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk
had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth. He had
not yet made the earth, or the rivers, or the poles of the world. When He
prepared the heavens, I was present; when with a certain law and compass He
enclosed the depths; when He established the sky above and poised the fountains
of waters; when He compassed the sea with its bounds and set a law to the
waters that they should not pass their limits; when He balanced the foundations
of the earth; I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day,
playing before Him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to
be with the children of men. Now, therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are
they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth me and that watcheth daily at my gates and
waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me shall find life and
shall have salvation from the Lord" (Prov 8:22-35).
But God not only thought of her in eternity; He also had her in mind at the
beginning of time. In the beginning of history, when the human race fell
through the solicitation of a woman, God spoke to the Devil and said, "I
will establish a feud between thee and the woman, between thy offspring and
hers; she is to crush thy head, while thou dost lie in wait at her heels"
(Gen 3:15). God was saying that, if it was by a woman that man fell, it would
be through a woman that God would be revenged. Whoever His Mother would be, she
would certainly be blessed among women, and because God Himself chose her, He
would see to it that all generations would call her blessed.
When God willed to become Man, He had to decide on the time of His coming, the
country in which He would be born, the city in which He would be raised, the
people, the race, the political and economic systems that would surround Him,
the language He would speak, and the psychological attitudes with which He
would come in contact as the Lord of History and the Savior of the World.
All these details would depend entirely on one factor: the woman who would be
His Mother. To choose a mother is to choose a social position, a language, a
city, an environment, a crisis, and a destiny.
His Mother was not like ours, whom we accepted as something historically fixed,
which we could not change; He was born of a Mother whom He chose before He was
born. It is the only instance in history where both the Son willed the Mother
and the Mother willed the Son. And this is what the Creed means when it says
"born of the Virgin Mary." She was called by God as Aaron was, and
Our Lord was born not just of her flesh but also by her consent.
Before taking unto Himself a human nature, He consulted with the Woman, to ask
her if she would give Him a man. The Manhood of Jesus was not stolen from
humanity, as Prometheus stole fire from heaven; it was given as a gift.
The first man, Adam, was made from the slime of the earth. The first woman was
made from a man in an ecstasy. The new Adam, Christ, comes from the new Eve,
Mary, in an ecstasy of prayer and love of God and the fullness of freedom.
We should not be surprised that she is spoken of as a thought by God before the
world was made. When Whistler painted the picture of his mother, did he not
have the image of her in his mind before he ever gathered his colors on his
palette? If you could have preexisted your mother (not artistically, but
really), would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever
lived—one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women,
and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to
imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise?
When Whistler was complimented on the portrait of his mother, he said,
"You know how it is; one tries to make one's Mummy just as nice as he
can." When God became Man, He too, I believe, would make His Mother as
nice as He could—and that would make her a perfect Mother.
God never does anything without exceeding preparation. The two great
masterpieces of God are Creation of man and Re-creation or Redemption of man.
Creation was made for unfallen men; His Mystical Body, for fallen men. Before
making man, God made a garden of delights—as God alone knows how to make
a garden beautiful. In that Paradise of Creation there were celebrated the
first nuptials of man and woman. But man willed not to have blessings, except
according to his lower nature. Not only did he lose his happiness; he even
wounded his own mind and will. Then God planned the remaking or redeeming of
man. But before doing so, he would make another Garden. This new one would be
not of earth but of flesh; it would be a Garden over whose portals the name of
sin would never be written—a Garden in which there would grow no weeds of
rebellion to choke the growth of the flowers of grace—a Garden from which
there would flow four rivers of redemption to the four corners of the
earth—a Garden so pure that the Heavenly Father would not blush at
sending His Own Son into it—and this "flesh-girt Paradise to be
gardened by the Adam new" was Our Blessed Mother. As Eden was the Paradise
of Creation, Mary is the Paradise of the Incarnation, and in her as a Garden
were celebrated the first nuptials of God and man. The closer one gets to fire,
the greater the heat; the closer one is to God, the greater the purity. But
since no one was ever closer to God than the woman whose human portals He threw
open to walk this earth, then no one could have been more pure than she. In the
words of Lawrence Housman:
A garden bower in flower
Grew waiting for God's hand:
Where no man ever trod,
This was the Gate of God.
The first bower was red—
Her lips which "welcome" said.
The second bower was blue—
Her eyes that let God through.
The third bower was white—
Her soul in God's sight.
Three bowers of love
Now Christ from heaven above.
This special purity of hers we call the Immaculate Conception. It is not the
Virgin Birth. The word "immaculate" is taken from two Latin words
meaning "not stained." "Conception" means that, at the
first moment of her conception, the Blessed Mother in the womb of her mother,
St. Anne, and in virtue of the anticipated merits of the Redemption of her Son,
was preserved free from the stains of Original Sin.
I never could see why anyone in this day and age should object to the
Immaculate Conception; all modern pagans believe that they are immaculately
conceived. If there is no Original Sin, then everyone is immaculately
conceived. Why do they shrink from allowing to Mary what they attribute to
themselves? The doctrine of Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception are
mutually exclusive. If Mary alone is the Immaculate Conception, then the rest
of us must have Original Sin.
The Immaculate Conception does not imply that Mary needed no Redemption. She
needed it as much as you and I do. She was redeemed in advance, by way of
prevention, in both body and soul, in the first instant of conception. We
receive the fruits of redemption in our soul at Baptism. The whole human race
needs redemption. But Mary was de-solidarized and separated from that sin-laden
humanity as a result of the merits of Our Lord's Cross being offered to her at
the moment of her conception. If we exempted her from the need of redemption,
we would also have to exempt her from membership in humanity. The Immaculate
Conception, therefore, in no way implies that she needed no redemption. She did!
Mary is the first effect of redemption, in the sense that it was applied to her
at the moment of her conception and to us in another and diminished fashion
only after our birth.
She had this privilege, not for her sake, but for His sake. That is why those
who do not believe in the Divinity of Christ can see no reason for the special
privilege accorded to Mary. If I did not believe in the Divinity of Our
Lord—which God avert—I should see nothing but nonsense in any
special reverence given to Mary above the other women on earth! But if she is
the Mother of God, Who became Man, then she is unique, and then she stands out
as the new Eve of Humanity—as He is the new Adam.
There had to be some such creature as Mary—otherwise God would have found
no one in whom He could fittingly have taken His human origin. An honest
politician seeking civic reforms looks about for honest assistants. The Son of
God beginning a new creation searched for some of that Goodness which existed
before sin took over. There would have been, in some minds, a doubt about the
Power of God if He had not shown a special favor to the woman who was to be His
Mother. Certainly what God gave to Eve, He would not refuse to His Own Mother.
Suppose that God in making over man did not also make over woman into a new
Eve! What a howl of protest would have gone up! Christianity would have been
denounced as are all male religions. Women would then have searched for a
female religion! It would have been argued that woman was always the slave of
man and even God intended her to be such, since He refused to make the new Eve
as He made the new Adam.
Had there been no Immaculate Conception, then Christ would have been said to be
less beautiful, for He would have taken His Body from one who was not humanly
perfect! There ought to be an infinite separation between God and sin, but
there would not have been if there was not one Woman who could crush the
If you were an artist, would you allow someone to prepare your canvas with
daubs? Then why should God be expected to act differently when He prepares to
unite to Himself a human nature like ours, in all things, save sin? But having
lifted up one woman by preserving her from sin, and then having her freely
ratify that gift at the Annunciation, God gave hope to our disturbed, neurotic,
gauche, and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person
of God! There ought to be, on the human level, Someone who would give humans
hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us
and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father. One look at her, and we
know that a human who is not good can become better; one prayer to her, and we
know that, because she is without sin, we can become less sinful.
And that brings us back to the beginning. We have said that everyone carries
within his heart a blueprint of his ideal love. The best of human loves, no
matter how devoted they be, must end—and there is nothing perfect that
ends. If there be anyone of whom it is possible to say, "This is the last
embrace," then there is no perfect love. Hence some, ignoring the Divine,
may try to have a multiplicity of loves make up for the ideal love; but this is
like saying that to render a musical masterpiece one must play a dozen
Every man who pursues a maid, every maid who yearns to be courted, every bond
of friendship in the universe, seeks a love that is not just her love or his
love but something that overflows both her and him that is called "our
love." Everyone is in love with an ideal love, a love that is so far
beyond sex that sex is forgotten. We all love something more than we love. When
that overflow ceases, love stops. As the poet puts it: "I could not love
thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." That ideal love we see
beyond all creature-love, to which we instinctively turn when flesh-love fails,
is the same ideal that God had in His Heart from all eternity—the Lady
whom He calls "Mother." She is the one whom every man loves when he
loves a woman—whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants
to be when she looks at herself. She is the woman whom every man marries in
ideal when he takes a spouse; she is hidden as an ideal in the discontent of
every woman with the carnal aggressiveness of man; she is the secret desire
every woman has to be honored and fostered; she is the way every woman wants to
command respect and love because of the beauty of her goodness of body and
soul. And this blueprint love, whom God loved before the world was made, this Dream
Woman before women were, is the one of whom every heart can say in its depth of
depths: "She is the woman I love!"
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
The Virtually Venerable Fulton J. Sheen | Charles F. Harvey
Mary in Byzantine Doctrine and Devotion |
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
Fairest Daughter of the Father: On the Solemnity
of the Assumption | Rev. Charles M. Mangan
The Blessed Virgin in the History of
Christianity | John A. Hardon, S.J.
"Hail, Full of Grace": Mary, the Mother of Believers |
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Mary in Feminist Theology: Mother of God or Domesticated Goddess? |
Fr. Manfred Hauke
Excerpts from The Rosary: Chain of Hope | Fr.
Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
The Past Her Prelude: Marian Imagery in the Old
Testament | Sandra Miesel
Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
Mary | Dr. James Hitchcock
Born of the Virgin Mary | Paul Claudel
Assumed Into Mother's
Arms | Carl E. Olson
Contemplates the Mother | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) is considered by many to be the most influential
Catholic of the 20th century in America. Millions of people watched his
incredibly popular television series every week, "Life is Worth Living",
and millions more listened to his radio program, "The Catholic Hour".
Wherever he preached in public, standing-room-only crowds packed churches
and halls to hear him. He had the same kind of charisma and holiness that
attracts so many people to Pope John Paul II, who called Sheen "a loyal
son of the Church." Learn more about Archbishop Sheen by reading his
In Clay, or visiting the Archbishop
Fulton J. Sheen Foundation website.
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