St Ambrose of Milan: Do You Imitate Mary?

Feast of the 40 Martyrs of Rome

Ambrose_Square_2.jpgFROM THE LIFE of Mary, the beauty of her chastity and her exemplary virtue shine out as from a mirror. Here you may well receive instruction on how to lead a life in which virtue, instructed by example, shows you what you must do, correct, or avoid.

The first impulse to learn is inspired by the nobility of the teacher. Now, who could be nobler than the Mother of God? Who more splendid than she, whom Splendor chose? Who more chaste than she, who gave birth to a body without bodily contact? What should I say, then, about all her virtues? She was a virgin, not only in body, but in her mind as well, and never mixed the sincerity of her affections with duplicity.

Lowly of heart, serious in her speech, prudent in spirit, sparing in words, devoted to reading, she did not place her hope in changeable riches but in the prayer of the poor. Industrious in her work, modest in her speech, she let God, not man, judge her thoughts. She offended no one; she had goodwill toward all; she respected her elders; she did not envy her peers. She fled ostentation, followed reason, and loved virtue. When did she ever offend her parents with so much as a glance? When did she ever disagree with her neighbors or despise the lowly? When did she ever make fun of the weak or avoid the needy? There was no leering in her glance, no arrogance in her words, nothing immodest in her movements. Never an agitated movement, never a hurried step, never a raised voice. The very appearance of her person reflected the holiness of her mind and expressed her goodness. A beautiful house has to appear beautiful even before you reach the front door, and as soon as you enter you have to know that there is nothing dark inside it. In the same way our mind, if not caught in the shadows of bodily obstacles, will disclose its interior light to the outside world. [. . .]

This is how the evangelist describes her; this is how the angel found her and how she was when the Holy Spirit chose her. But why should I prolong this discussion of details by saying that she was loved by her family and praised by strangers, if she was worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God? The angel found her alone in the most secluded room of the house, where she would not be distracted or disturbed. She did not desire the company of other women when she was being kept company by holy thoughts. She felt even less alone when she was by herself. Indeed, how could she have been alone when she enjoyed the company of so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets? [. . .]

The divine Scripture tells us how loving she was with her family. When she knew that God had chosen her, her humility became even greater, and she hurried into the hills, to see her cousin Elizabeth; not, however, to assure herself of the facts, since she had already believed the announcement: “Blessed are you” —Elizabeth would greet her—“because you believed” (Lk. 1.45). And she remained with her for three months. During this long period of time, she did not look to be confirmed in her faith but to show her charity. And this after the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who enjoyed grace even before he had nature, had already greeted Mary as Mother of the Lord by leaping up.

Mary who had been troubled by the sight of the angel, now remains calm before the succession of miracles as the pregnancy of the barren woman, motherhood in a virgin, speech from a mute, the adoration of the Magi, the expectation of Simeon, and the witness of the stars. And, the Gospel says, “She kept all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2.19). Even though she was the Mother of the Lord, she wanted to learn His precepts. She, who had given birth to God, desired to know God still better. [. . .]

This is the model of virginity; in truth, such was Mary, whose life alone is sufficient to instruct everyone. So, if we find the author pleasing, let us approve the author’s work, so that whoever desires her same prize may imitate her example. How many different virtues shine out in a single Virgin! Modest hiddenness, banner of faith, devout obedience. She was a virgin in her home, a companion in service, a mother in the Temple.

—St Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Virginity

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