Chapter IV: The Rosary and Heroic Holiness.
The degree of charity demanded of religious constitutes a sort of perfect charity. However, the fecundity of the Church is not exhausted. Nature has exhausted all her energies, grace itself seems to have reached its zeniths, when suddenly it surpasses itself in such a way that the human seems to disappear, only the divine stands out. This is heroism.
Heroism is a sort of mean between the human and the divine, or rather it is humanity transformed by the divinity. This heroism, as St. Thomas says, renders certain men divine: Secundum quam dicuntur aliqui divini viri (S.T. I. II. Q. 68, art. I, adl.). This is the climax of sanctity.
The whole life of the Church is, as it were, formed of heroism from the days of the first martyrs down to the time of modern missionaries. Twelve million martyrs! This is surely the triumph of holiness. Paganism and hell reap their harvest too, they also have their victims, but the Church reaps a harvest of heroism. Every century has re-echoed the glorious cry of the first centuries. A hero is one who subdues nature so completely that every other love is sacrificed for the love of Jesus Christ. Every epoch has witnessed this prodigy. We see young souls sacrificing that filial love and devotion which they owe their parents in order to follow a persecuted Christ, and sometimes to die for Him. The first separation of a child from the home and happiness of its childhood is truly a wrench, but the love of the Savior makes heroes of His followers. Again, we see maternal affection which, so to speak, lives on sacrifices and devotedness, immolating its offspring generously and willingly for the love of Jesus. We are told of a mother about to be martyred, who led her child with her to martyrdom. Exhorting the child to remain steadfast to the faith she whispered words of encouragement in its ear: Because I love you, my child, and you love me, I offer you to Jesus as a victim. Come, my child, and die. The mother and child marched joyously forward to death which united them in a happy embrace for eternity.
From the commencement of the Church down to our own days there have been souls so passionately in love that they gave their very blood and life itself. It was truly heroism which filled the great soul of St. Paul, when he wished to be anathema for his brethren. It was heroism which impelled the apostle of the poor, St. Vincent de Paul, to call out to the rich ladies of Paris for alms with which to clothe and feed his abandoned poor.
Heroism engenders in the soul a Christ-like love of our enemies. It has urged the saints to kiss the bloody hand of the murderers of their kinfolk; it caused Saint Grignion de Montfort to utter this cry: O my God, take my life, but pardon my enemies.
Heroic souls are still to be found in our own days, and ever will be found. While misery and distress exist in the world to be relieved, we shall find hearts overflowing with love, souls ready and willing to pour out their blood.
We, who feel ourselves unworthy to be named brethren of the saints, must never forget that every Christian, in certain circumstances, may be called to heroism. Baptism, by creating noble aspirations in the soul, imposes grave obligations on us. There may arise in our lives occasions, combats, struggles, when ordinary holiness will not suffice for us to triumph, nothing less than heroism will do. But the just are not taken by surprise at such moments; they are ready for the combat. In reality, every soul in the state of grace possesses the germs, the seeds of heroism, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. According to St. Thomas, the gifts do not, in fact, differ from heroism; they are the seed, heroism is the flower. In some souls the seeds never blossom forth into flower, but it is within the power of every soul to do so. All that is needed is a ray of the sun to open the bud; and this ray is the impulse of the Holy Spirit, which at once overwhelms us and leads us to sublimity.
Humility cannot conceal this truth from us. Contemptible beings as we are, it is in our power, aided by the Holy Spirit, to rise even to the heights of the divinity. The Rosary will initiate us into the art of this ascent.
Theologians teach that every virtue was practiced by the Word Incarnate in a perfect and heroic degree. His whole life was unceasing heroism. But the Rosary is the story of the life of Jesus; we see His heroism in each one of the fifteen Mysteries. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seeds hidden within Him, budded forth into abundant flower. Therefore, in order to contemplate virtue in its perfection, its zenith, we have only to meditate on the Rosary: for all those predestinated to heroism are by that very fact predestinated to become comfortable to Christ our Lord, Who reveals Himself in its Mysteries.
This devotion is truly a school wherein saints are formed. A young man, John Gaulbert by name, set out one day accompanied by a large escort to avenge the murder of his brother. John surprised the murderer at a lonely spot. He was defenseless and powerless to escape and extended his hands in the form of a cross imploring mercy for the sake of Him Who was crucified for us. It was Good Friday. Such remembrance aroused the germs of heroism latent in John’s soul. Not content with forgiving his enemy, he took him unto himself as a brother. Shortly afterwards, on entering a Church, the crucifix inclined its head towards him in reward for his heroic act.
The Mysteries are not only examples of heroism; they possess a special efficacy in making us practice what they teach. We have already said more than once that contact with the soul of the Word disposes us for the reception of those graces which can make us like unto Him. If we unite ourselves, then, with the heroism of Our Blessed Lord in the Rosary, we shall receive grace to be heroic like Him, when occasion requires. These special graces are, as it were, a ray of the sun which is sufficient to draw forth into flower the seeds of that heroism already in our souls. They are the divine breath which breathes over our souls and leads them whithersoever it wills. At least for some instants we no longer perceive our faults and imperfections. Words of Scripture seem to be fulfilled in us: Saul is become a prophet. Thus the Rosary is quite capable of making a soul rise to the very highest summits of holiness. Heroism is not of rare occurrence in the lives of the children of Mary.
But if heroism is a divine virtue, it must have a divine language. God lends to the heroes of sanctity a voice namely the voice of miracles. The true Church in every age produces workers of miracles. Miracles were, so to speak, the thunder and lightning in the midst of which the New Law was promulgated. They were very numerous in the first centuries, because the voice of paganism still dominated the voice of truth, but they are necessary for every age to demonstrate the holiness of the Church and as a means of converting souls. There are always unbelievers to be found. Every day we hear of unbelievers rising against Christ and His Church in countries where the Gospel has been preached for centuries. God silences these insolent revolutionaries; by His power and mercy He has recourse to the voice of miracles. Each year at Lourdes, and in other places throughout the world, the voice of the miraculous peals out like a thunder-clap in protest to the cry of unbelief, and sometimes even the most incredulous are forced to yield their submission. Miracles are not wanting to the Church. Christ himself promises that they would be granted to every age and every people. He that believe th in me, and the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do (John 14:12). These words have been literally fulfilled. During every century down to our own day the Church has bestowed on her saints the signal honor and dignity of canonization. But from each and all she exacts the tribute of miracles; and the examination preceding canonization is almost excessively severe in this respect. However, saints have continued to pass the test, working the miracles required by the Church as they likewise paid the tribute of heroism during their lives.
The Rosary, which teaches us the practice of holiness and inspires us with the desire of heroism, has also been fruitful in miracles, thus giving proof of its divine origin and sanctity. We recall those words of Pope Pius IX: Among all the devotions approved by the Church, none has been favored by so many miracles as the devotion of the Most Holy Rosary. It is worthy of note that the Virgin of Miracles, Our Lady of Lourdes, is also the Virgin of the Rosary; she holds up the Rosary before the eyes of the people, as a pledge of their hope and salvation.
The miracles worked by the Rosary have a social importance that is really tremendous. One of their outstanding characteristics is the fact that they won decisive victories for the Church. This is a point deserving of attention. The very first encounter of the Rosary with the Albigensians resulted in the enemy being laid low and defeated. As a rule, great heresies are never entirely overcome by a single blow; their effects last during several generations and centuries after the death of their authors. They give rise to various minor heresies. The Albigensian heresy, on the contrary, was extinguished immediately, although it had as leaders some of the most famous of the clergy and laymen of the time. The institution of the Rosary completely confounded the heretics, and St. Dominic, while still alive, saw the enemy dying of its fatal wound without hope of recovery.
At a later period the Rosary gained another victory for the Church when Christianity triumphed over Islam at the battle of Lepanto. The Mother of God appeared in the heavens, terrible as an army in the battle array, encouraging the Christians and terrifying the infidels. Here again the victory was decisive: the empire of Mohammed never recovered its past glories from this defeat; today it lies smouldering in insignificance. *
In more recent times the Rosary crushed the power of Protestantism in France at the siege of La Rochelle.
We have mentioned the great historical miracles worked by the recitation of the Rosary. How many others, both spiritual and temporal, are wrought by Mary’s intercession at every hour and moment of the day: miracles of healing, of conversion, of protection? Miracles and heroism enter into the life of every canonized saint and are a proof of his holiness; miracles and heroism are also intimately connected with the history of the Rosary; they bear witness to the holiness of the true Church.
Although these miracles were wrought by the intercession of the Mother of God, yet they are worked in the Church and for the Church; they serve to distinguish her from all the heretical sects. They are a mark of holiness.
We see, now, how the Rosary, rightly understood, can initiate us into all the various degrees of the spiritual life. Let us implore of Mary the grace to be able to grasp some of its teaching; for if we have this practical understanding of the Rosary, we have acquired the science of the saints.
* Editor's Note: This reference is to the Ottoman Empire which no longer exists. We would do well to remember that it was the Holy Rosary which defeated the forces of Islam when they attempted to invade Christendom in times past. Today, as we battle militant Islam on many fronts, let us take up this weapon yet again. With our Lady at our side, we cannot fail.