Mary in the Sacred Scriptures
Mother of Penitent Sinners
By St. Alphonsus Liguori
Our Blessed Mother told St. Bridget that She was the Mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they are willing to repent.
Whoever aspires to be a child of this great Mother, must first abandon sin, and then may hope to be accepted as such. Up rose Her children (Prov 31.28): the words up rose come first, and then the word children to show that no one can be a child of Mary without first endeavoring to rise from the fault into which he has fallen; for he who is in mortal sin is not worthy to be called the son of such a mother. He who acts in a different manner from Mary, declares thereby that he will not be Her son. Mary humble, and he proud; Mary pure, and he impure, immodest, vulgar, and wicked; Mary full of love, and he hating his neighbor. The sons of Mary are Her imitators, and this chiefly in three things: in chastity, liberality, and humility; and also in meekness, mercy, and such like. “You sinners, when you want my help, call me Mother of Mercy, and at the same time do not cease by your sins to make me a Mother of sorrow and anguish. He is cursed of God that angers his mother (Ecclesiasticus 3.18). That is Mary. God curses those who by their wicked life, and still more by their obstinacy in sin, afflict this tender Mother.
I say, by their obstinacy; for if the sinner, though he may not as yet have given up his sin, endeavors to do so, and for this purpose seeks the help of Mary, this good Mother will not fail to assist him, and make him recover the grace and friendship of God. So long then that as a sinner is obstinate, Mary cannot love him; but if he (finding himself chained by some passion which keeps him a slave of hell) recommends himself to the Blessed Virgin, and implores Her, with confidence and perseverance, to withdraw him from the state of sin in which he is, there can be no doubt but this good mother will extend Her powerful hand to him, will deliver him from his chains, and lead him to a state of salvation.
The doctrine that all the prayers and works performed in a state of sin are sins was condemned by as heretical by the sacred Council of Trent (Sess. VI, Can. 7). St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that although prayer in the mouth of a sinner is devoid of beauty, as it is unaccompanied with charity, nevertheless, it is useful, and obtains the grace to abandon sin; for, as St. Thomas teaches (II, II, Q. 178, a. 2), the prayer of a sinner, though without merit, is an act which obtains the grace of forgiveness, since the power of impetration is founded not on the merits of him who asks, but on the divine goodness, and the merits and promises of Jesus Christ, Who has said, Every one that asketh, receiveth (Lk 11.10). The same thing must be said of prayers offered to the divine Mother. “If he who prays,” says St. Anselm, “does not merit to be heard, the merits of the Mother, to Whom he recommends himself, will intercede effectually.”
Mary is the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Mother of all men. When She sees a sinner at enmity with Jesus Christ, She cannot endure it, and does all in Her power to make peace between them.
This most benign Lady only requires that the sinner should recommend himself to Her, and purpose amendment. When Mary sees a sinner at Her feet, imploring Her mercy, She does not consider the crimes with which he is loaded, but the intention with which he comes; and if this is good, even should he have committed all possible sins, the most loving Mother embraces him, and does not disdain to heal the wounds of his soul.
Mary is the Mother of sinners who wish to repent, and as a Mother She cannot do otherwise than compassionate them; nay more, She seems to feel the miseries of Her poor children as if they were Her own. When the Canaanite woman begged Our Lord to deliver her daughter from the devil who possessed her, she said: Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil (Matt 15.22). But since the daughter, and not the mother, was tormented, she should rather have said, “Lord, take compassion on my daughter;” and not, Have mercy on me, and she was right; for the sufferings of children are felt by their Mother as if they were Her own. And it is precisely thus that Mary prays to God when She recommends a sinner to Him who has had recourse to Her; She cries out for the sinful soul: Have mercy on me! “My Lord,” She seems to say, “this poor soul that is in sin is my daughter, and therefore, pity not so much her as me, who am her Mother.”
In the Second Book of Kings [2 Samuel in the New versions], we read that a wise woman of Thecua addressed King David in the following words: My Lord, I had two sons, and for my misfortune, one killed the other; so that I have now lost one, and justice demands the other, the only one that is left; take compassion on a poor mother, and let me not be deprived of both (14.5). David, moved with compassion towards the mother, declared that the delinquent should be set at liberty and restored to her. Mary seems to say the same thing when God is indignant against a sinner who has recommended himself to Her. “My God,” She says, “I had two sons, Jesus and man; man took the life of my Jesus on the Cross, and now Thy justice would condemn the guilty one. O Lord, my Jesus is already dead, have pity on me, and if I have lost the one, do not make me loose the other also.”