Mystical City of God - Virgin Mary

By Sor Maria of Agreda


  INDEX   Book 5  Chapter  17    Verses:  184-197

184. Christian perfection is all included in the two
states of life known to the Church: the active and the
contemplative life. To the active life belong all the opera
tions of the body and the senses, practiced in our inter
course with our neighbor in temporal affairs. They
embrace a wide field and include the practice of the
moral virtues, which constitute the perfection of our
active life. To the contemplative life belong the interior
activities of the understanding and will, aiming at the
most noble and the spiritual objects proper to the rational
creature. Therefore, the contemplative life is more
excellent than the active, and, as it is more quiet, more
delightful and beautiful, it is also more desirable in
itself. It tends more directly toward the highest end,
that is God, since it consists in the deepest knowledge and
love of God, and thus participates of the qualities of
eternal life, which is entirely contemplative. These two
lives, the two sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10, 41),
the one quiet and thoughtful, the other solicitous and
bustling; or those other two sisters and wives, Lia and
Rachel : the one, fruitful, but ugly and with sore eyes,
the other beautiful and gracious, but sterile in the
beginning. For the active life is more productive,
though in it the soul .is taken up with numerous and
various occupations, during which it is kept in disturb-
ance and cannot raise itself up to penetrate the high
things of God ; while the contemplative life is most beau
tiful, although, in the beginning, not so productive, be
cause its fruits are to be the result of prayer and merits.
These presuppose great advance in the perfection and in
the friendship of God, which draw down the liberality
of God in favor of other souls, and produce the fruits
of benediction, very copious and very precious.
185. The combination of these two lives is the acme
of Christian perfection. But this combination is very
difficult. We do not see both kinds of life united in one
person, but existing in a remarkable degree separated in
Martha and Mary, in Lia and Rachel, representing singly
either the active or the contemplative life. In none of
them could both the active and the contemplative life be
properly represented on account of the difficulty of com
bining the practice of both in one subject to any great
extent. Although the saints have labored much to attain
this perfect combination, and all the teachers of spiritual
life have sought to direct souls toward it; although there
are so many instructions of learned and apostolic men
and the examples of the Apostles and of the Founders
of the holy religion, who have sought to join contem
plation with action as far as is possible with divine grace ;
yet they always knew, that the active life, on account of
the multitude of its interests and occupations concerning
inferior objects, dissipates the heart and disturbs it, as
the Lord tells Martha. Although those engaged in it
may seek quiet and repose in order to raise themselves to
the highest objects of contemplation, they never succeed
in doing so during this kind of life without great diffi
culty and only for a short time, except by a special privi
lege of the Most High. On this account the saints that
wished to give themselves up to contemplation sought the
deserts and solitudes, which are more favorable to that
kind of life; and the other, that pursued the active life,
and the care of souls by teaching and exhortation, set
aside some of their time for retirement from exterior
activity, and divided their days between contemplation
and active life. By thus attending to both with perfec
tion, they attained the merits and reward of the two
kinds of life, founded on love and grace as their prin
cipal support.
186. The most blessed Mary alone joined these two
lives in a perfect manner : the highest and most ardent
contemplation was not hindered by her occupations in
the active life. In Her was the solicitude of Martha
without its excitement, and the quiet and rest of Mary
without idleness of the body; She possessed the beauty
of Rachel and the fruitfulness of Lia; and only this
great and prudent Queen truly exemplified what these
sisters mysteriously typified. Although She attended
upon her ailing spouse, and supported him and her most
holy Son by her labor, She did not on that account inter
rupt or curtail her heavenly contemplations, nor was
She under any necessity of seeking solitude or retire
ment, in order to restore the quiet and peace of her
heart and raise it beyond the seraphic regions. Yet,
when She found Herself alone and deprived of the
company of saint Joseph, She so arranged her exercises,
as to spend her time entirely in the interior activity of
divine love. She immediately perceived, by her insight
into the interior of her most holy Son, that such was his
will, that She should relax her labors by which She had
attended to the wants of saint Joseph through night and
day, and that instead of this hard labor, She should now
join his Majesty in his prayers and exalted works.
187. The Lord also reminded Her that for the moder
ate nourishment necessary to Them it would be sufficient
to engage in labor only for a short time each day; for
from that time on they were to eat only once a day
at eventide, having until now followed another custom
out of regard to saint Joseph and in order to keep him
consoling company at mealtimes. Thenceforward Jesus
and Mary ate but once a day at about six o clock in the
evening; many times their meal consisted merely of
bread, at other times the blessed Lady added fruits or
herbs, or perhaps fish ; and this formed the only refresh
ment of the Sovereigns of the heaven and earth. Al
though their frugality and abstinence had always been
great, yet it was greater after they were left alone, and
They never dispensed Themselves except in regard to
the kind of food and in regard to the time of taking it.
When They were invited they ate a little of what was
offered to Them, without abstaining entirely, commenc
ing to practice the advice which Jesus was afterwards to
give to his disciples for their conduct while preaching
the Gospel. The simple food used by the heavenly
Sovereigns was served by the great Lady to her divine
Son on her knees, having asked permission thus to serve
it. Sometimes She also prepared it in that posture,
moved thereto by the thought that it was to serve as
nourishment of the true Son of God.
188. The presence of saint Joseph was no hindrance
to the most blessed Mother in treating her Son with all
due reverence, not missing the least point of what this
reverence toward Him demanded. But after the death
of saint Joseph the great Lady practiced prostrations
and genuflections much more frequently; for there was
always more freedom for such actions in the presence
of her holy angels, than in the presence of her spouse
who was man. Many times She remained prostrate upon
the ground until the Lord commanded Her to rise ; very
often She kissed his feet, at other times his hand, usually
She was filled with tears of the profoundest humility
and reverence. She always stood in the presence of
her divine Son in posture of adoration and most ardent
love, awaiting his divine pleasure and intent upon imitat
ing his interior virtues. Although She had no faults,
and was not guilty of even the least imperfection or
negligence in the service and love of her most holy Son,
her eyes (like those of the servant and of the anxious
handmaid mentioned by the Prophet, only more de
votedly) were continually upon the hands of her Master,
in order to obtain the graces She desired for assisting
Her to greater perfection. It cannot enter into human
thought what divine science aided Her in understanding
and performing so many and so great works in union
with the incarnate Word during the time They both lived
alone together, without any other company than that of
the holy angels of their guard and service. They alone
were the eye-witnesses and were moved to admiration
and to highest praises, to see themselves so inferior in
wisdom and purity to a mere Creature who was worthy
of such holiness : for She alone made a full return for
the graces She received.
189. With the holy angels the Queen of heaven entered
into a sweet emulation and strife in regard to the ordi
nary and humble services which were necessary for the
comfort of the Word of God and the well-ordering of
their little dwelling, for there was no one to attend to
these things except the heavenly Lady and those most
noble and faithful vassals and ministers, who, for this
purpose assisted in human forms ready and anxious to
attend to all the work. The great Queen wished to per
form all the humble work Herself and with her own
hands to scrub the house and arrange its poor furnish
ings, wash the dishes and cooking utensils, and set the
rooms in order; but these courtiers of the Most High,
being truly courteous and more expeditious, though not
more humble in their operations, usually anticipated
these services before the Queen could find time to per
form them. Sometimes, and at certain periods, often,
She would find them thus at the work which She was
about to perform, the holy angels having begun it before
hand ; but at her word they desisted and allowed Her to
satisfy her humility and devotion in completing it Her
self. In order that they might not interfere with her
affectionate desires, She said to the holy angels : "Min
isters of the Most High, you are such pure spirits that
you reflect the light of the Divinity for my illumination,
and, therefore, these low and servile occupations are not
suitable to your state, your nature and condition. These
pertain to me, who, besides being only of earth, am the
lowest of the mortals and the least of the servants of my
Lord and Son. Permit me, my friends, to perform the
service to which I am bound, since I can thereby gain
merits which, on account of your station and dignity,
you do not need. I know the value of these servile
works which the world despises, and the Lord has given
me this knowledge not in order that I may allow them to
be done by others, but that I may perform them myself."
190. "Our Queen and Lady," answered the angels, "it
it true that in thy eyes and in the estimation of the
Lord these works are as valuable as Thou knowest them
to be; but if Thou dost thereby earn the precious re
wards of thy humility, take notice that we would be
deficient in obedience to the Lord if we would know
ingly omit any of these works permitted us by the Most
High. The merits which Thou losest in not perform
ing this service, Thou, O Lady, canst easily make up by
the mortification of denying thyself the desire of execut
ing them." The most prudent Virgin answered these
arguments by saying: "No, my masters and sovereign
spirits, you must not look upon these works in such a
light ; for if you consider yourselves bound to serve me as
the Mother of your great Lord, whose creatures you are,
remember that He has raised me from the dust to this
great dignity and that therefore my debt of gratitude
for this benefit is greater than yours. As my obligation
is so much the greater, my return must also be greater
than yours. If you desire to serve my Son as his crea
tures, I likewise must serve Him on this account, and I
am more bound to do so because I am the Mother of
such a Son. Thus you will always find me more obliged
than yourselves to be humble, thankful and annihilated
to the very dust in his presence."
191. These and similar sweet and admirable conten
tions were going on between most holy Mary and her
angels ; and the palm of humility always remained in the
hands of their Queen and Mistress, The world is
justly ignorant of these mysteries, being unworthy of
knowing them on account of its vanity and pride. Its
foolish arrogance deems insignificant and contemptible
these humble and servile occupations, while the courtiers
of heaven who know their value appreciate them, and
the Queen of creation eagerly sought after them as very
precious. But let us leave the world to its intentional or
unconscious ignorance. Humility is not for the proud of
heart, nor lowly service for purple and fine linen, nor
scrubbing and washing for costly gems and silks, nor are
the precious jewels of these virtues intended indiscrimi
nately for all men. But if the contagion of worldly
pride enters into the schools of humility and contempt of
the world, namely, into religious communities, and if
this kind of humiliation is looked upon by them as a
disgrace, we cannot deny that such sentiments are
nothing but a most shameful and reprehensible pride.
If we religious men and women despise the benefits of
such humble occupations and count them a degradation
like worldly people, how can we appear before the angels
and our Queen, who esteemed as greatest honors those
very works which we look upon as contemptible and dis
honorable ?
192. My sisters, daughters of this great Queen and
Lady, to you I speak, who are called and transported to
the bridal-chamber of the great King to true joy and
exaltation (Ps. 44, 16) ! Do not allow yourselves to be
robbed of your right to be called children of such a
Mother! If She, who was the Queen of angels and men,
humbled Herself by engaging in such lowly and trivial
occupations, in scrubbing and busying Herself in the
most common handiwork, what presumption shall the
haughtiness, vain pride and want of humility of mere
slaves appear to be in her sight and in the sight of the
Lord God himself? Far from our community be such
treason, fit only for Babylon and its inhabitants. Let us
feel honored by that which the exalted Queen esteemed
as a crown of merit, and let it be for us a subject of most
shameful confusion and a cause for dreadful reprehen
sion to be found wanting in the same zealous conten
tion of humility which She entertained with the holy
angels. Let us eagerly seek after humble and servile
occupation and let us cause in the angels and heavenly
companions the same emulation, which was so pleasing
to our Queen, and to her most holy Son and our Spouse.
193. We must understand that without real and solid
humility, it is audacious to seek the reward of uncertain
spiritual or sensible consolations, and to strive after them
is daring foolishness. Let us rather look upon our
heavenly Teacher who is the perfect example of a holy
and perfect life. In the great Queen the favors and
delights of heaven alternated with her humble and serv
ile occupations for it happened many times when She
was engaged in prayer with her Son, that the holy
angels in sweet, harmonious voices sang the hymns and
canticles composed by Mary herself in praise of the
infinite Being of God and of the hypostatical union of
the Word with human nature in the second Person of
the Trinity. The Blessed Lady often asked the angels
to repeat these hymns to her Lord and Creator and,
alternating the verses with them, She added new hymns.
They obeyed Her, lost in admiration at the profound
wisdom manifested in what She thus said and composed
for them. Then, whenever her most holy Son retired
to rest, or during his meals, She commanded them, as the
Mother of their Creator, solicitous to entertain Him,
that they furnish sweet music in her name and the Lord
permitted it whenever She so ordered, therein yielding
to the ardour of her love and veneration, with which
She served Him in his last years. In order to narrate
all that has been revealed to me in this regard, a much
longer discourse were necessary and much greater ability
than mine. From what I have insinuated one can judge
to some extent of other deep mysteries of this intercourse
and find motive and occasion to magnify and extol the
great Lady and Queen whom may all nations know and
praise as blessed among creatures, as the Mother of the
Creator and Redeemer of the world.
194. My daughter, I wish that, before proceeding to
narrate other mysteries, thou understand well all that
the Lord commanded in regard to my intercourse with
my holy spouse, saint Joseph. When I espoused myself
to him, God commanded me to change the order of my
meals and other exterior duties in order to accommodate
myself to his circumstances; for he was the head of the
family, and, according to the common rule, I was the
inferior. The same conduct was also followed by my
most holy Son, though He was true God, yet He sub
jected Himself before the eyes of the world to him who
was thought to be his father. As soon as We were
alone after the death of my spouse, who was the occa
sion of this change in our lives, we returned to our
former way of living. The Lord did not expect saint
Joseph to accommodate himself to us, but that We should
accommodate ourselves to him as the common order
among men required. Nor did the Lord resort to
miracles in order to escape the necessity of taking food
or of following ordinary human occupations; for in
all things, He acted as the Teacher of all virtues, and of
all perfection, being an example to parents and children,
to prelates, superiors and superioresses, to subjects and
inferiors; to parents, in order that they may learn to
love their children, help them, nourish them, exhort
them, correct them and lead them on in the way of
salvation without remissness or carelessness; to chil
dren, in order that they may learn to esteem, love and
honor their parents as the instruments of their existence,
diligently obey them according to the natural law, which
requires and teaches obedience and repudiates the oppo
site as monstrous and horrible ; to prelates and superiors,
in order that they may love their subjects and direct them
as their children; to inferiors, that they obey without
resistance, even if they should in other respects be of
higher and better condition in life; for in so far as the
superior represents God, the prelate is always superior
in dignity ; but real charity must always teach both to be
of one spirit.
195. In order that thou mayest acquire this great
virtue, I desire that thou conform and accommodate
thyself to thy sisters and inferiors without affection of
formality, and that thou treat them with dove-like meek
ness and sincerity. Do thou pray when they pray, work
and eat, and take thy recreation with them. For real
perfection in a convent consists in conforming with the
common spirit, and if thou act thus, thou wilt be guided
by the holy Spirit, who governs all well-regulated com
munities. Following this order thou canst make progress
in abstinence, eating less than the others, though the
same amount of food is placed before thee. Without
being singular thou canst, with a little discretion, abstain
from what thou desirest for the love of thy Spouse and
of me. If thou art not hindered by some grave infirmity,
never absent thyself from the common exercises unless
perhaps obedience to thy superiors sometimes prevent
thee. Be present at all common exercises with special
reverence, attention and devotion, for at such times thou
wilt most frequently be visited by the Lord.
196. I wish also that thou learn from this chapter
to conceal carefully the special works thou undertakest
in imitation of my own ; for, although I had no need of
refraining from any work in the presence of saint Joseph,
yet I was eareful to add retirement as an additional
observance of perfection and prudence, since retirement
of itself makes good works more praiseworthy. But this
is not to be understood of ordinary and obligatory works,
since thou must give a good example and let thy light
shine, avoiding any danger of scandal or cause for cavil.
There are many works which can be done in secret and
unobserved by the eyes of creatures, and which are not
lightly to be exposed to the danger of publicity and
ostentation. In thy retirement thou canst make many
genuflections ; prostrate in the dust, thou canst humiliate
thyself, adoring the supreme Majesty of the Most High
and offering thy mortal body, which oppresses thy soul,
as a sacrifice for the disorderly inclinations against
justice and reason. Thus thou wilt not reserve any part
of thy being from the service of thy Creator and
Spouse, and thou wilt force thy body to make up the
loss which it causes to the soul by its passions and earthly
197. With this object in view seek to keep it always
in strict subjection, allowing it to partake only of those
comforts which serve to keep it in proper condition for
the activity of the soul and not to pander to its passions
and appetites. Mortify and crush it until it is dead to all
that is delightful to the senses, so that even the common
actions necessary for life shall appear to thee more
painful than agreeable, taste more of bitterness than
of dangerous enjoyment. Although I have already on
other occasions spoken to thee of the value of this morti
fication and humiliation, thou shouldst now, by this
example which I have given thee, be still more convinced
of their great value. I now command thee not to despise
any of these acts or deem them of little consequence, but
esteem all of them as precious treasures to be gained for
thyself. In this thou must be covetous and avaricious,
eagerly grasping the occasions of doing servile work,
such as scrubbing, cleaning the house, engaging in the
most menial services, and attending upon the sick and
infirm as I have said before. In all of these works place
me before thy eyes as an example in order that my care
fulness and humility may urge thee on, full of joy to
be able to imitate me, and shame for any negligence
therein. If I, who never had displeased or offended the
Lord since the beginning of my existence, judged this
virtue of humility so necessary in order to find grace in
his eyes and be raised up by his right hand, how much
more is it necessary for thee to humble thyself to the
dust and annihilate thyself in his sight, who wast con
ceived in sin and hast so often offended Him? (Ps. 50,
7). Humiliate thyself to nothingness, and acknowledge
that what being the Most High has given thee, thou hast
but ill employed, and that, therefore, thy very existence
should be a subject of humiliation to thee. Thus wilt
thou at last find the treasure of grace.
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