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The Virtues of the
Blessed Virgin Mary

by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori

St. Augustine says that if we wish to win the favor of the saints with greater certainty and in greater abundance, we must imitate them. When they see us imitating their virtues, they are more inclined to pray for us. As soon as the Queen of saints and our chief advocate, Mary, delivers a soul from the grasp of Lucifer and unites it to God, She wants it to imitate Her. Otherwise She cannot enrich the soul with graces. Mary called blessed those who imitate Her life diligently: Now, therefore, children, hear Me; blessed are they that keep My ways (Prov. 8:32).

Mary’s Poverty

Our Redeemer chose to be poor on earth, so that we could learn from Him to despise worldly things. Being rich, says St. Paul, He became poor for your sake, that through His poverty you might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus exhorts each one who wishes to be His disciple: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor ... and come, follow Me (Mt. 19:21). Mary, His most perfect disciple, imitated His example most perfectly. St. Peter Canisius shows that Mary could have lived in comfort on the property She inherited from Her parents, but She preferred to remain poor. Retaining only a small portion for Herself, She distributed the rest to the Temple and the needy.

Many authors even believe that Mary made a vow of poverty. Perhaps the basis for this is what She said to St. Bridget: “From the beginning I vowed in My heart that I would never possess anything on earth.” The gifts She received from the wealthy Magi were surely not of little value. But we are assured by St. Bernard that She distributed them to the poor through the hands of St. Joseph.

It is quite clear that Mary immediately disposed of these gifts from the fact that at Her purification in the Temple She did not offer a lamb, as was prescribed in Leviticus for those who could afford it (Lev. 12:6), but two turtle-doves or two pigeons, which was the offering prescribed for the poor (Lk. 2:24). Mary told St. Bridget: “I gave to the poor all that I could, and only kept a little food and clothing for Myself.” Because of Her love of poverty She was willing to marry St. Joseph who was only a poor carpenter.

She needed to maintain the family by working with Her hands, by spinning or sewing, as St. Bonaventure assures us. The angel told St. Bridget that “worldly riches were of no more value in Mary's eyes than dirt.” She always lived poor, and She died poor.

Metaphrastes and Nicephorus tell us that at Her death She left nothing except two simple dresses. She left these to the two women who had served Her during the later years of Her life.

St. Peter Canisius said that Mary could have lived in
comfort ... but She preferred to remain poor.

St. Philip Neri used to say that “no one who loves the baubles of the world will ever become a saint.” We may add that St. Teresa said on the same subject: “It follows that anyone who chases after perishable things is in danger of perishing himself.” But, on the other hand, she adds that the virtue of poverty is a treasure that comprises in itself all other treasures. She says the “virtue of poverty,” for as St. Bernard remarks, poverty does not consist of merely being poor, but in loving poverty. Therefore Jesus Christ said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3). Such persons are blessed because they do not desire anything but God and find everything in God. Poverty for them is paradise on earth.

Let us then, as St. Augustine exhorts us, “love that one good in which all good things are found.” Let us address Our Lord in the words of St. Ignatius: “Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, and I shall be rich enough.” “When we have to suffer from poverty,” says St. Bonaventure, “let us console ourselves with the thought that Jesus and His Mother were also poor like ourselves.” Ah, my most holy Mother, Thou hadst indeed reason to say that in God was Thy joy: and My spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior; for in this world Thou didst desire and love no other good but God. Draw Me ... after Thee (Cant. 1:3). O Lady, detach me from the world, that I may love Him alone, Who alone deserves to be loved.