The truth fortifies
Starting from a text by Chesterton, Peter Gallagher SJ explains us how Our Lady's love, although not comforting, strengthen us in our daily battles.
At the end of the first book of Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, Our Lady appears to King Alfred to encourage him in his seemingly hopeless struggle against the invaders of Wessex. She says:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Sometimes it seems that there is ‘nothing for our comfort’. Furthermore, we can be so dismayed that we have difficulty even imagining things improved.
The Blessed Virgin Mary always conveys Christ to us. Hers is tough love: not a straightforward comforting. The Jesus that she presents to us holds the world in his hands. However, it is a world full of suffering. The Lord himself endures terrible things as the paschal mystery unfolds. We think gratefully of Our Lady and what she has shown us even though there is ‘naught for our comfort’. This is because like King Alfred in the poem, we are encouraged and uplifted by the truth. What is true, be it ever so terrible, inspires and persuades and fortifies. Our faith encourages us because it allows us to glimpse a vast providence in which the saving work of the suffering Christ re-orders the cosmos.
Mary presents her Son. Since he holds the world and its pains, she presents those also in all their comfortlessness. Chesterton describes how Alfred was so moved by Our Lady’s presenting the truth to him and by her rejection of any other comfort except Jesus that he was able to re-launch himself and to inspire others for a long struggle.
A paschal providence
When we are told the truth, we can be struck by how complete and unified it is. It is as if everything about our life in relation to God were settled already although we don’t know the details. Chesterton explains our place in the history of God’s providence thus:
For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgement day.
We can feel that we are stuck in a process over which we have little control. It is as if the last judgement had already taken place. It is as if our fate was already long fixed. Yet when Mary holds out to her little one she is also showing us the true providence. It is a paschal providence. The Son of God remedies all ills. He goes back to the very beginning to transform everything. Thanks to what the Lamb of God has suffered we can go forward in joy to a judgement for which we have been prepared and strengthened not by our own good lives than by his.
naught for your comfort
Our joyful discipleship of Christ is full of challenges. The grace of God impels us to strive upwards in hope. We are strengthened for the fight but not left under any illusion about its difficulty. The Lord’s victory is assured, but what will be our share in His victory? Our part in the mystery of salvation, although planned and desired by God from the beginning, is not yet fully embraced by us. The Blessed Virgin Mary reveals to us that we do not as yet even know what to seek.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire.
Is there not comfort in our submission to God in Jesus? One comfort is the Holy Spirit. Saint John’s Gospel speaks of the Holy Spirit as a paraclete. We might render this word as ‘counsellor’, as ‘helper’, as ‘encourager’, as ‘advocate’ or as ‘comforter’. When the Son returns to the Father, they send a ‘comforter’. The paraclete will remind us of what we have been taught. If ye love me keep my commandments and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may bide with you for ever, ev’n the spirit of truth. Our obedience to the commandments is the proof of our love of Christ. Why would we need a paraclete if we are already giving such proof? Partly it is because love of such quality is hard to maintain, even with the grace of God. Our failures might be helped by an advocate. Jesus himself has been our brilliant defender. He has persuaded the judge, his Father, to not to hold us to the full measure of our responsibility. He has done so not by the sort of advocacy which is in brilliant speeches. We have been acquitted thanks to what the advocate has done not by what he has said. The advocate, the paraclete, the helper, Jesus, has laid down his life for us and saved us. Now he promises to send another paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, who will remain with us forever.
Do not fear judgement
Our Blessed Lady revives and strengthen our apostolic faith. She offers us naught for our comfort but she shows us what our life could be like if we too were completely under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. The Spirit of God addresses us in whatever struggle we are presently engaged or in which we are resolved, with the help of grace, to re-engage. His counsel recalls us to an old obedience. The comforter teaches us not to fear judgement. The Holy Spirit explains to us that our acquittal by God is more even that our being set free of sin. God never troubled our liberty. A vision is being shared with us. The Blessed Virgin Mary stands beside us on the parapet of the New Jerusalem. She brings the point-of-view of heaven to our ordinary life. She points out to us the details of the landscape of our faith. She, who was overshadowed by the comforter, reassures us that even though
the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher
we are already safely in a peace which the world cannot give. ‘Do what my son tells you’, she says.
Peter Gallagher SJ