Mary’s Love for Her Neighbor
by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Love of God and love of neighbor are commanded by God in the same precept: And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also (1 Jn. 4:21). St. Thomas says that the reason for this is that the person who loves God loves all that God loves.
One day St. Catherine of Genoa said: “Lord, You say that I should love my neighbor, but I can love no one but You.”
But since there never was and never will be anyone who loved God as much as Mary did, so there never was and never will be anyone who loves her neighbor as much as She did. Father Cornelius a Lapide commenting on this passage from the Canticles: King Solomon hath made him a litter of the wood of Libanus ... the midst he covered with charity for the daughters of Jerusalem (Cant. 3:9-10), says that “this litter was Mary’s womb in which the Incarnate Word dwelt, filling it with charity for the daughters of Jerusalem. Christ, Who is love itself, infused in the Blessed Virgin the greatest possible amount of charity, so that She could be helpful to all who appeal to Her.”
While Mary was on earth, Her charity was so great that She was on the alert to help the needy even without being asked. We see this clearly in the case of the marriage feast at Cana when She reminded Jesus of the family’s distress: They have no wine (Jn. 2:3). She asked Him to perform a miracle. How quickly She always acted when there was need to relieve Her neighbor!
When She went to the house of Elizabeth to fulfill a duty of charity, She went into the hill country with haste (Lk. 1:30).
But She could not display Her overflowing charity more fully than She did when She offered the death of Her Son for our salvation. With regard to this, St. Bonaventure says: “Mary so loved the world as to give Her only-begotten Son.” This also inspired St. Anselm to exclaim: “O blessed among women, Thy purity surpasses that of the angels, and Thy charity that of the saints!” “And this love of Mary for us,” says St. Bonaventure, “has not diminished now that She is in Heaven. On the contrary, it has rather increased, for She is now in a better position to see the miseries of men.” And therefore, the saint goes on to say, the mercy of Mary towards those in distress when She was still on earth was prodigious, but it is far greater now that She reigns in Heaven.
St. Agnes assured St. Bridget that there was no one who ever prayed for grace who did not receive it through the charity of the Blessed Virgin. We would be extremely unfortunate if we did not have Mary to intercede for us! Jesus Himself, speaking to St. Bridget, said: “Were it not for the prayers of My Mother, there would be no hope of mercy.”
Blessed is he that listens to My instructions, who imitates My charity, and practices that charity toward his neighbor, says Mary. Happy the man who obeys Me … happy the man watching daily at My gates, waiting at My doorposts (Prov. 8:33-34). St. Gregory Nazianzen assures us that there is no better way to make Mary love us than by practicing charity toward our neighbor. Just as Jesus exhorts us with the words: Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful, so Mary seems to say to us: “Be merciful, even as your Mother is merciful.”
We may take it for granted that our charity toward our neighbor will be the measure by which God and Mary will show charity toward us: Give, and it shall be given to you. For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you (Lk. 6:38). St. Methodius used to say: “Give to the poor and get paradise in return.” St. Paul maintains that charity toward our neighbor makes us happy both in this world and in the next. Godliness is profitable in all respects, since it has the promise of the present life as well as of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8). St. John Chrysostom commenting on these words of Proverbs: He that hath mercy on the poor lendeth to the Lord (Prov. 19:17), says: “Whoever helps the needy makes God his debtor.”
O Mother of mercy, You have everybody's welfare at heart. Be mindful of my troubles. You know them very well. Recommend me to God, Who will give You everything. Ask Him to let me imitate You in holy love, love for God and for my neighbor.