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 Header-The Marvelous World of Our Lady's Flowers

 

While modern men look for happiness in instant gratification, there was once a time in Christendom when men believed happiness came from a true understanding of the order of the universe. They saw the universe as a great lesson book which, through symbols, one could come to know, love and serve God. One beautiful and touching page in this book was their perception of flowers.

Painting of a flower marketWith great practical sense born of observation, people of those distant times believed flowers to be symbolic of virtues and qualities that ultimately reflected the perfections of God, but which could be seen more directly in that most perfect of all God’s creatures – the Blessed Virgin.

Flowers belonged to Mary, the Mother of God.  In those times when spiritual life and daily life were so intertwined, flowers were a veritable catechism for the faithful.  Flowers transformed abstract virtues into easily understood symbols found in daily life and linked them to Our Lady, the perfect human model of Christian virtue.

Thus, there were at least a thousand flowers and herbs named after Our Lady, her qualities, and episodes in her life. In medieval times, each country circulated its own names and legends adapting to the local culture and flora.  Art, poetry and literature celebrated this intimate link between flowers and the Blessed Mother. To better contemplate these marvels, there were enclosed “Mary Gardens” with those flowers and herbs that spoke of her to the faithful.

 

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Flower image 1Some of the flower names make this link easy to trace. The marigold comes from the idea that this bright yellow flower is “Mary’s gold.”  Carnation is a corruption of the word “coronation” since the flower was often used to crown statues of Our Lady.  The herb Rosemary is said to honor Mary, the Mystical Rose. “Lady’s Slipper,” like many other flowers that now begin with the word “lady,” was originally “Our Lady’s Slipper.”

However, other flower names have not survived to our times. The lily of the valley was called "Our Lady’s Tears"; since from afar the white flowers seemed like tear drops falling. The humble sweet violet used to be known as “Our Lady’s Modesty.” The enchanting forget-me-nots were reminders of the “Eyes of Mary.”  Even the lowly dandelion with its bitter tasting greens came to be called “Mary’s Bitter Sorrow.”  And the names go on and on, since nearly every familiar flower or herb known today had its equivalent Marian name.

Some flowers gained their name because they bloomed close to feast days. The snowdrop, for example, was called “Candlemas Bells” since it often bloomed early on Candlemas – the feast of the Purification. The Assumption lily bloomed near the feast of the Assumption.  It represented her immaculate purity, virginity and innocence that were rewarded by her assumption into heaven.

Of course, the rose came to symbolize Mary from the earliest times of the Church since it is a flower so rich in expression that it encompassed her purity, sorrow and glory. Numerous varieties of roses are associated with the Blessed Mother: the Rose of Sharon, Christmas Rose, or Scotch Rose. A collection of roses in a garden was called a rosarium. Later, a collection of Hail Mary prayers became known as a Rosary.

From this vision of flowers came lore and pious legend full of innocence and wonder. Legend has it, for example, that the tiny flower columbine sprang up wherever Our Lady’s foot touched the ground when on her way to visit her cousin Saint Elizabeth and was thus called “Our Lady’s Shoes.”  It was said the carnation (also called “Mary’s Love of God”) first appeared when it sprang from the tears of the Blessed Mother that fell upon the ground upon seeing her Son carry the Cross.  The lily, it was said, was originally yellow and came from the sorrowful tears of Eve upon being expelled from paradise. When Our Lady stooped to pick a lily, the lily became white and fragrant.  It is told that the stars of the heavens came down to earth in their desire to glorify the Christ Child in Bethlehem and planted themselves around the manger as radiant buttercups.

Flower image 2While such stories were but mere legend, they spoke of great truths. They served to enchant, instruct and inspire the faithful to greater devotion and love of God. They made more human that tender connection between the Blessed Mother and fallen humanity.  In this way, common flowers united all in virtue, speaking through poetry and song to saint and sinner, rich and poor, old and young, learned and ignorant.

Such was the marvelous world of Our Lady’s flowers that we have lost.  It is but one of many pages of that great lesson book where even the most common things in Creation were a source of simple joys accessible to all.  Indeed, even sorrow in this vale of tears was made meaningful and beautiful.

For our sad days, it is a lesson for us.  If we are to return to some kind of order, it must not have as its basis the sterile statistics of a society where money alone rules.  It cannot have as its foundation the frenetic intemperance of rushed lifestyles.  Such things lead to frustration not happiness.

Doubtless we must provide amply for material needs.  However, this order should have as its aim the desire to understand the meaning of things by seeking out their final and highest causes, which is called wisdom.  In an order based on wisdom, men derive great happiness in naturally seeking God or the likeness of God in all things – even in common flowers.  

 


  

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 17, 2019

I want to adorn myself, not out of worldly pride, but for th...

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November 17

 

I want to adorn myself, not out of worldly pride,
but for the love of God alone – in a fitting manner, however,
so as to give my husband no cause to sin, if something about me were to displease him.
Only let him love me in the Lord, with a chaste, marital affection,
so that we, in the same way, might hope for the reward
of eternal life from Him who has sanctified the law of marriage.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth’s mother was murdered by Hungarian nobles, proba...

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St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Also known as Elizabeth of Thuringia, she was born in Hungary in 1207. She was a daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and his wife Gertrude, a member of the family of the Counts of Andechs-Meran; Elizabeth’s brother succeeded his father on the throne as Bela IV; St. Hedwig, the wife of Duke Heinrich I, the Bearded, of Silesia was her mother’s sister, while another saint, Queen St. Elizabeth of Portugal, the wife of the tyrannical King Diniz, was her great-niece.

In 1211 a formal embassy was sent by Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia to Hungary to arrange a marriage between his eldest son Hermann and Elizabeth, who was then four years old. This marriage was the result of political considerations and intended as a ratification of an alliance against the German Emperor Otto IV, a member of the house of Guelph, who had quarreled with the Church. Not long after the little girl was taken to the Thuringian court to be brought up with her future husband and, in the course of time, to be betrothed to him.

The court of Thuringia was at this period famous for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately castle of the Wartburg, splendidly placed on a hill in the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach, where the Landgrave Hermann lived. Notwithstanding the turbulence and purely secular life of the court and the pomp of her surroundings, little Elizabeth grew up a very religious child with an evident inclination to prayer and pious observances and small acts of self-mortification. These religious impulses were undoubtedly strengthened by the sorrowful experiences of her life.

In the year 1213, Elizabeth’s mother was murdered by Hungarian nobles, probably out of hatred of the Germans. On December 31, 1216, the oldest son and heir of the landgrave, Hermann, who Elizabeth was to marry, died; after this she was betrothed to Ludwig, the second son. It was probably in these years that Elizabeth had to suffer the hostility of the more frivolous members of the Thuringian court, to whom the contemplative and pious child was a constant rebuke. Ludwig, however, must have soon come to her protection against any ill-treatment and his mother, the Landgravine Sophia, a member of the reigning family of Bavaria and a deeply religious and very charitable woman, became a kindly mother to the little Elizabeth.

The political plans of the old Landgrave Hermann involved him in great difficulties and reverses; he was excommunicated, lost his mind towards the end of his life, and died on April 25, 1217, still unreconciled with the Church. He was succeeded by his son Ludwig IV, who, in 1221, was also made regent of Meissen and the East Mark. The same year, Ludwig and Elizabeth were married, the groom being twenty-one years old and the bride fourteen. The marriage was in every respect a happy and exemplary one, and the couple were devotedly attached to each other. Ludwig proved himself worthy of his wife. He gave his protection to her acts of charity, penance, and her vigils, and often held Elizabeth’s hands as she knelt praying at night beside his bed. He was also a capable ruler and brave soldier.

They had three children: Hermann II (1222-41), who died young; Sophia (1224-84), who married Henry II, Duke of Brabant, and was the ancestress of the Landgraves of Hesse; and Gertrude (1227-97), Elizabeth’s third child, who was born several weeks after the death of her father and later in life became abbess of the convent of Altenberg.

The followers of St. Francis of Assisi had made their first permanent settlement in Germany the year of Elizabeth’s marriage to Ludwig. For a time, the German Franciscan Caesarius of Speier was her spiritual director and through him she became acquainted with the ideals of St. Francis. These strongly appealed to her and she began to put them into practice: she observed chastity, according to her state of life, and practiced humility, patience, prayer, and charity. Her position, however, prevented her from living one she ardently desired: voluntary and complete poverty. In 1225, with Elizabeth’s assistance, the Franciscans founded a monastery in Eisenach.

Shortly after their marriage, Elizabeth and Ludwig made a journey to Hungary; Ludwig was often after this employed by the Emperor Frederick II, to whom he was much attached, in the affairs of the empire. During the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and the plague wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig was in Italy attending the Diet at Cremona on behalf of the emperor. Under these disastrous circumstances Elizabeth assumed control of affairs, distributed alms, giving even state robes and ornaments to the poor. In order to care personally for the unfortunate she built below the castle of Wartburg a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to their needs; at the same time she aided nine hundred poor daily. It is this period of her life that has preserved Elizabeth’s renown as the gentle and charitable chételaine of the Wartburg. Upon his return, Ludwig confirmed all that she had done in his absence.

The following year he set out with Emperor Frederick II on a crusade to Palestine but died of the plague on September 11 at Otranto. The news did not reach Elizabeth until October, just after she had given birth to her third child. Upon hearing the news the queen, who was only twenty years old, cried out: “The world with all its joys is now dead to me.” In that winter of 1227, Elizabeth directed the Franciscans to sing a Te Deum and left the castle of Wartburg, accompanied by two female attendants. Her brother-in-law, Heinrich Raspe, now acted as regent for her son Hermann, then only five years old.

At Pope Gregory IX’s recommendation, Master Conrad of Marburg, a well known preacher of the crusade and inquisitor, had become Elizabeth’s spiritual guide. He directed her by the road of self-mortification to sanctity, and after her death was very active in her canonization. Although he forbade her to follow St. Francis in complete poverty as a beggar, by the command to keep her dower she was enabled to perform works of charity and tenderness.

Elizabeth’s aunt, Matilda, Abbess of the Benedictine convent of Kitzingen near Würzburg, took charge of the widowed landgravine and sent her to her uncle Eckbert, Bishop of Bamberg. The bishop, however, was intent on arranging another marriage for her, although during the lifetime of her husband Elizabeth had made a vow of chastity in the event of his death; the same vow had also been taken by her attendants.

While Elizabeth was maintaining her position against her uncle the remains of her husband were brought to Bamberg by his faithful followers who had carried them from Italy. Weeping bitterly, she buried his body in the family vault of the landgraves of Thuringia in the monastery of Reinhardsbrunn. With the aid of Conrad she now received the value of her dower in money, namely two thousand marks; of this sum she divided five hundred marks in one day among the poor. On Good Friday, 1228, in the Franciscan house at Eisenach Elizabeth formally renounced the world; then going to Master Conrad at Marburg, she and her maids received from him the dress of the Third Order of St. Francis, thus being among the first tertiaries of Germany. In the summer of 1228 she built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and on its completion devoted herself entirely to the care of the sick, especially to those afflicted with the most loathsome diseases. Conrad of Marburg still imposed many self-mortifications and spiritual renunciations, while at the same time he even took from Elizabeth her devoted domestics. Constant in her devotion to God, Elizabeth’s strength was consumed by her charitable labors, and she passed away in 1231 at the age of twenty-four.

Very soon after the death of Elizabeth miracles began to be worked at her grave in the church of the hospital. By papal command examinations were held of those who had been healed and at Pentecost of the year 1235, the solemn ceremony of canonization of the “greatest woman of the German Middle Ages” was celebrated by Pope Gregory IX at Perugia.

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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