Bethlehem is so soon followed by Calvary.
Clouds are gathering over Holy Church. We are reminded on every side of the approach of those days when our Emmanuel will show Himself to us in the pitiable state to which our sins have brought Him. Bethlehem is so soon followed by Calvary. We shall find the Mother of divine grace at the foot of the Cross as we found her at Ephrata. She brought forth her firstborn in joy, but now in tears she is to bring forth those brothers of His whose birth cost her so much. We have shared her joy, and we shall not refuse to weep and suffer with her.
Let us take for our models the saints whom the Church honours to-day. They passed their lives in contemplation of our Lady’s sorrows, and the Order which they founded has the special mission of this devotion. St. Francis of Assisi raised the standard of the Cross anew in the world grown cold. The work of redemption seemed to be taken up afresh, and , as on the great Friday Jesus would not manifest Himself without Mary, the Servites completed the work of the Founder of the Friars Minor. Men regained confidence as they meditated on the Passion of the Son and the Compassion of the Mother.
The two feasts consecrated to the Dolours of our Lady will teach us in due course what place her compassion had in the economy of the Redemption. The queen of heaven herself showed her predilection for the Order which made itself her apostle, in the striking outpouring of holiness which marked its origin The simultaneous blooming of seven lilies gathered on earth today by the angels, was a sight new even to heaven. Peter of Verona had a vision of them when they were implanting themselves on Monte Senario; and the future martyr saw the Blessed Virgin smile as she gazed on that mountain where countless other flowers sprang up to perfume holy Church. Florence, the city of flowers, had never before given such blooms to God. Hell multiplied its attacks against the noble city, but could not prevail against Mary within its walls. We shall be reminded of these things by the feasts of St. Juliana Falconieri and St. Philip Benizi, which were established before the one we are keeping to-day. Let us unite our gratitude to that which the Church feels for the Religious family of the Servites. The world owes to them the grace of a new development in the knowledge and love of the Mother of God, who became our Mother at the price of unparalleled sufferings.
The lessons read by the Church on this day speak of the merits of our Saints and the favors with which our Lady rewarded their fidelity. February 11, the day first chosen as their common feast, is not the anniversary of the death of anyone of them, but the day on which, in the year 1304, after passing through many vicissitudes, their Order obtained the definitive approbation of the Church.
When in the thirteenth century the most cultured peoples of Italy were divided by factions, and the schism fostered by Frederic II, the merciful providence of God raised up many persons remarkable for their holiness among whom were seven noble Florentines whose union of spirit gave to the world a striking example of fraternal love. They were Bonfilius Monaldi, Bonagiunta Manetti, Manettus dell’ Antella, Amadeus de Amadei, Hugo Lippi, Gerard Sostegni, and Aleis Falconieri. The Mother of God appeared to each of them on the feast of her Assumption, 1233, when they were praying fervently in the Chapel of the pious Confraternity of the Laudesi, and exhorted them to embrace a more perfect life. They took counsel with the Bishop of Florence, and at once bade farewell to their wealth and rank, clothing themselves in hair cloth and old ragged garments. On September 8 they established themselves in a humble retreat outside the city, desiring to being their new life on the day when the Mother of God began her own most holy life upon earth.
God showed by a miracle that their resolution was pleasing to him. One day shortly afterwards, when all seven were begging from door to door in Florence, they were hailed by the voices of children, among whom was St. Philip Benizi, then only five months old, as the “Servants of Mary,” which was for the future to be their title. This prodigy and their love of solitude led them to choose Monte Senario as a place of retreat, that thus they might avoid great concourse of people. Their life was truly heavenly. They lived in caves, took no food but herbs and water, and subdued their bodies by vigils and penances. The Passion of Christ and the Dolours of his afflicted Mother were the subject of their continual meditations. One Good Friday, when they were absorbed in fervent prayer, the blessed Virgin appeared to them all in person a second time, showed them the somber habit they were to adopt, and told them that she wished them to found a new Order of Religious, whose mission was to cultivate and spread devotion to the sorrows which she endured at the foot of the Cross. They were aided in this work by Peter, and illustrious Friar Preacher, who died the death of a martyr. He was their intimate friend, and had been instructed about the new Order in a vision by the blessed Virgin herself. The Order received the name of Servites, or Servants of the blessed Virgin Mary, and was approved by Innocent IV.
The holy Founders were soon joined by many disciples, and began to preach Christ Crucified in the towns and cities of Italy, especially in Tuscany. They bought civil feuds to an end, and recalled numbers of sinners to the paths of virtues. Not only Italy, but France, Germany, and Poland benefited by their apostolic labors, and their miracles made them famous. Finally, after having carried the good odor of Christ into distant lands, they went to God. In life they were on in their love of religion and of the brotherhood, in death they were united in one tomb and in veneration of the people. Popes Clement XI and Benedict the XIII confirmed the cultus which had been paid to them unitedly for many centuries. Leo XIII, having approved this devotion, and recognized the miracles wrought by God in answer to this collective invocation, proceeded to their formal canonization in the fiftieth year of his priesthood, and ordered that their Office and Mass should be said every year throughout the Church.
You made the sorrows of Mary your own, and now she shares her eternal joys with you. The vine with its miraculously ripening grapes, which prefigured your fruitfulness in a frozen world, still yields a sweet odor in this land of exile, and the faithful still appreciate its fruit. Philip and Juliana have long been honored as branches of this blessed vine, and to-day we pay our homage to the seven-fold root from which they sprang. You rejoiced in the obscurity which covered the life upon earth of the Queen of Saints herself, but today the glory of Mary pierces all clouds, and no shadow can withdraw the servants from the radiance which surrounds the Mistress. May your glory be increased by the favours you bestow upon men! Teach an aged world to seek warmth at the fire whence you draw a love strong enough to triumph over the world and sacrifice self for God.
O Heart of Mary, pierced by the sword of sorrow, furnace of love which throughout all eternity feeds the fires of the very Seraphim, be our model, our refuge, and our consolation until the dawn of that blissful day which is to be the end of our exile in this vale of tears.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)