Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


A Medieval Story on Our Lady’s Closeness with an Afflicted Mother

True Catholic Closeness in Daily Conviviality





Saint of the Day, Monday, July 9, 1973

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We have a text from the Légende Dorée by Jacques de Voragine, titled “The Intimacy of Two Mothers.”

“A widow had an only child whom she loved very much. As enemies had imprisoned him, she was deeply saddened and, turning to Our Lady, to whom she had a special devotion, asked insistently for her son’s freedom.

“Some time passed, and she did not see the fruit of her prayers. She went before a statue of Mary in a church and said, ‘Holy Virgin, I begged you for the freedom of my son, and you did not want to come to the aid of this unhappy mother. I implored your protection for my son, and you refused. Thus, just as they took my son, I will take yours and hold him hostage.’

“She approached, picked the Child’s statue from the Virgin’s lap, took him home, wrapped him in fresh linen, and locked him in a safe, glad to have such a good hostage to guarantee her son’s return.

“The following night, Our Lady appeared to him and opened the prison door to him, saying, ‘Tell your mother, my lad, to deliver my Son because I have now delivered hers.’

“The young man went to see his mother and told her of his miraculous deliverance. Beaming with joy, his mother hastened to deliver the Child Jesus to Our Lady: ‘Thank you, Heavenly Lady, for returning my son to me; here is yours.’”

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Someone may ask if the episode is genuine. I would say this is an idle question because that does not matter. The important thing is whether such an episode is possible according to Catholic teaching about Our Lady and a mother’s unique relationships with her child here on Earth. This story tells us about Our Lady and teaches us the attitude of soul we should have toward Her.

As you can see, this episode teaches extraordinary confidence in Our Lady and remarkable freedom of action with her. If the story is true, Our Lady wanted to delay the young man’s release to provoke his mother to take that holy license with her and show how She wants us to treat her.

Here it is necessary to distinguish between the original case and what could be a caricature of it. That woman did not take the Child Jesus as a reprisal or revenge. That would have been blasphemy, as if saying, “since my son is suffering, I will make your son suffer!” Instead, she took him hostage.

What was a hostage in the Middle Ages? He was a person given as a guarantee of something. For example, two kings signed a treaty, and the defeated king would give his son as a hostage to guarantee compliance with the treaty’s clauses. When the treaty was fulfilled, the king’s son was released. According to its clauses, if the treaty was violated, the hostage could undergo harsh penalties and even the death penalty. But as long as it was not violated, the hostage remained at the court of the victorious king and took part in the protocol, ceremonials and banquets along with other princes of the Royal House. He traveled and was the object of homage in the cities he passed. He acquired goods and sometimes even married. So a hostage was not a prisoner in the modern sense of the word, but only an individual who represents a guarantee. He is not treated as an enemy but only as a man guaranteeing something, and is therefore treated as a distinguished guest.

That is what the woman did with the Child Jesus. She took his statue from the lap of Our Lady’s statue, wrapped it in a spotless cloth, and locked it in the vault where precious things are kept. She might even have acted more poetically had she kept him amid flowers. But she held him hostage in the safe. Our Lady smiled at her candor, seeing that she confided enormously in her mercy to the point of figuring that she could take the Child Jesus’s statue with the ease that she did.

Our Lady crowned the episode with an act of liberality, sweetness, and extraordinary gentleness. She approached the prison and released the young man with this message: “Tell your mother that I have freed her son, so let her now release mine.” Thus, kindly and smilingly, Our Lady behaved as an equal – an affable attitude that showed Her immeasurable goodness.

Again I say: I do not care whether the case is genuine. What matters is knowing that it could have happened according to Catholic doctrine. St. Thomas Aquinas says that something that may or not happen may happen from time to time. I cannot say that about this rare case, but rare cases sometimes do happen. That means we too must act with Our Lady in this way: with great respect, with great freedom, with great ease, confiding in her mercy.

I believe I have recounted this episode more than once: During a journey on foot, Saint Teresa of Jesus passed over a single tree-trunk bridge, one of those that usually straddle an abyss. They are dangerous because the tree is cylindrical, and you need to know how to walk across. When she crossed the bridge (this is a historical fact narrated in her stories), she slipped and fell into the abyss. As she was falling, Our Lord appeared and supported her. She asked, “My Lord, why hast thou consented that I should slip?” (Meaning, giving me this scare?) Our Lord answered, “That is how I treat my friends.” She replied, “That is why you have so few!”

See how ready she was to receive anything from Our Lord – she died with her heart shot through by a seraph with a dart of love for God. So she was a victim of love but was, as it were, joshing with God, telling Him lovely things. That shows well what the spiritual environment of the Catholic Church is. At the same time, it is sublime, sacral, impregnated with the highest thoughts. It teaches us there is an infinite distance between God and us, an immeasurable distance between Our Lady and us. It also shows the opposite–though not contradictory–truth: that great God and this immeasurably superior Queen deign to have such conviviality with us.

You can see how this medieval story tries to present, as in a parable, an episode that gives profound teaching about God, Our Lady, and the spiritual ambiance of the Catholic Church. Here you feel the balance of the Catholic Church and see the difference in ambiance between her and other religions. I pass almost daily in front of a Protestant church on Tiradentes Avenue, close to the convent of the Conceptionist nuns. It is always icy cold! You need not enter to see that. You are sure that if you do, you will see a frown or smirk, something incredible!

Take the schismatic church. Its offices and liturgy are lovely but always have a background of thick and heavy melancholy, a sadness, a feeling of exile, something unbearable. In the Catholic Church, with much more elevation than the Protestant frown, you see a smile absent from the schismatic church. Pay attention to the images of schismatic churches. The ones I have seen do not smile. Our Lady always has a sad look, holding a gloomy Child. That somewhat fatalistic sadness is in the nature of the schismatic religion. Take Our Lady’s images in the Catholic Church, say the one behind me or the thousand expressions of the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the Seat of Her Reign. They show a certain smile from time to time, beckoning the affability, gentleness, and kindness that complete the Catholic spirit.

You can also see this in the Middle Ages when the Catholic spirit was highest. It was an era that built extremely imposing cathedrals, an epoch of protocol, solemnity, and dignity par excellence. However, it presents Our Lady to us so smiling and affable and recounts very many episodes indicating this amiable kindness that complements God’s relationship. Just as you see austere stone and stained-glass windows—real jewels—in a medieval cathedral, you see the serenity of principles and doctrine and the goodness of God and Our Lady illuminating the souls of the faithful. These are harmonic contrasts that complete perfection. That is the essence of what I wanted to say to you.

Cathedral of Chartres (France)

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(In a recent meeting, you talked about how we should treat one another. Can we apply this story in our daily life, something hard thanks to the influence of the French Revolution?)

Practically, this principle best applies in daily life to socializing among people who spend a lot of time together, as is often the case in the TFP, made up of small nuclei like the Buissonnets and others. It turns out that at least in 90 percent of cases, daily interaction destroys people’s prestige. There’s a phrase, perhaps by Anatole France: “no one is a great man for his valet.”

Spending a long time together in daily life makes us see prosaic aspects in an individual and often minor but annoying defects. That produces in our eyes a dwindling of the person with whom we live and, on the other hand, gives rise to an icy severity toward his defects mainly because they bother us.

We are particularly severe toward defects that bother us. That is when we must understand the role of generosity, indulgence, and, therefore, a smile. In the concrete case, we must see that God loves us infinitely, and Our Lady loves unfathomably despite our faults. They overlook our defects and give us all proof of kindness. That is what we should do with our neighbors. When we see in others small flaws—and sometimes big ones—that irritate us, we should not say they are not defects but forgive them.

What does forgiving mean in this case? First, it is to ask God to forgive, and, secondly, to not get angry but to willingly renounce the point in which he irritates us so we too may be the object of God’s forbearance. If we treat others like that, God will treat us like that. As God treats us kindly, He expects us to treat others the same. Accordingly, daily convivium becomes much more acceptable and milder than you could find in some other environment.

In this sense, well-conducted socializing is a kind of immolation. No close relationship is pleasant or comfortable. Every close relationship brings immolation and sacrifices on both sides. That is what gives convivium a dignity and amenity that makes it palatable. That is how close socializing is in this valley of tears.

We will have a close relationship in Heaven, but things will be completely different. It will be a convivium of infinite solemnity because God will be present. At the same time, it will have unfathomable closeness because we will see God face to face and know each other much better than on this Earth. Our souls will see each other but will only see qualities and be the object of good treatment from others. There, socializing will really be as we wish.

On Earth, human coexistence is arid and feeds on sacrifices. These sacrifices only become acceptable and bearable by generosity, magnanimity, forgiveness, and a smile. That would be the application.

(We have an erroneous concept of closeness. Could you say something about it and what relationship we should have with you in terms of closeness.)

The current concept of closeness is this: a close person is one with whom we deal very closely. As a consequence, he is equal to us, and we can treat him entirely as an equal. And because he knows our faults and we know his, a kind of complicity is formed in both, accepting each other’s defects. There is no fighting but a sort of complicity with defects where each is complicit in the other’s defects. They gladly get along because of this complicity. Such interaction is trivial and shows blatant egalitarianism. It often involves jokes and, underneath complicity and egalitarianism, from time to time, there are rivalries, tantrum-throwing, nicknames, and innuendoes dripping with gall. All this forms a half hybrid and half homogeneous set called closeness.

In Catholic doctrine, closeness is nothing like that. People can be close to each other to a certain degree. There is a closeness between people for commendable reasons: because they share the same Catholic faith, belong to the TFP or the same family, and have the same blood runs in their veins.

 This closeness is not always tightly-knit conviviality but invites trust based on discernment. An individual close to us deserves that closeness because of moral qualities we find entitle him to that closeness. That is why we trust him, and he trusts us. Trust is a condition of closeness. To make this closeness decorous, in addition to trust that generates mutual affection, there is mutual respect. There must be mutual respect even between two twin brothers lest their relationship becomes vulgar and disgusting. Why? Everyone must respect his equal because he respects himself. If I say, “I do not need to respect so-and-so because he is my equal,” then I do not deserve respect. If I want to earn respect, I must respect my peers. I must treat them with all distinction, as a person like me should be treated. This respect makes up the concept of closeness.

The word closeness includes something else. Longstanding conviviality and interaction give rise to mutual flexibility and benevolence that allow one to take small liberties with a smile. Let us say it is the salt and pepper of closeness, but mind you, just as in cooking, salt and pepper need to be used with moderation, for otherwise, they spoil the dish.

(What would closeness be like in a member’s relationship with Our Lady from the standpoint of the Secret of Mary?)

There is a very beautiful doctrinal principle: The greater the difference, the greater the mercy, and the greater the mercy, the greater the closeness. Now, as none of the mere creatures are as high as Our Lady, it so happens that, after a fashion, none is so close to us because none is so merciful.

What does Our Lady’s closeness to us consist of? First, She knows us profoundly – the first datum of closeness. Second, because She knows us in-depth, She is very understanding toward us and makes herself small to attend to all our weaknesses. She treats us as a mother would her nursing baby and covers all our spiritual needs based on proximity. What is proximity? Being the Mother of Jesus Christ, Our Lady is the Mother of the entire Mystical Body of Christ, and therefore, She is truly our Mother. You may say: “Fine, but that is in the mystical order.” I say that the mystical order is worth much more than the natural order. Being the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, She is our Mother and treats us as such. The episode I narrated here is illuminating in this sense.

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