The Biblical Figure of this Perfect Devotion: Rebecca and Jacob
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183. The Holy Spirit gives us in Sacred Scripture, a striking allegorical figure of all the truths I have been explaining concerning the Blessed Virgin and her children and servants. It is the story of Jacob who received the blessing of his father Isaac through the care and ingenuity of his mother Rebecca.
Here is the story as the Holy Spirit tells it. I shall expound it further later on.
The Story of Jacob
184. Several years after Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob, Rebecca, their mother, who loved Jacob tenderly, secured this blessing for him by a holy stratagem full of mystery for us.
Isaac, realising that he was getting old, wished to bless his children before he died. He summoned Esau, who was his favourite son, and told him to go hunting and bring him something to eat, in order that he might then give him his blessing. Rebecca immediately told Jacob what was happening and sent him to fetch two small goats from the flock. When Jacob gave them to his mother, she cooked them in the way Isaac liked them. Then she dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes which she had in her keeping, and covered his hands and neck with the goat-skin. The father, who was blind, although hearing the voice of Jacob, would think that it was Esau when he touched the skin on his hands.
Isaac was of course surprised at the voice which he thought was Jacob’s and told him to come closer. Isaac felt the hair on the skin covering Jacob’s hands and said that the voice was really like Jacob’s but the hands were Esau’s. After he had eaten, Isaac kissed Jacob and smelt the fragrance of his scented clothes. He blessed him and called down on him the dew of heaven and the fruitfulness of earth. He made him master of all his brothers and concluded his blessing with these words, “Cursed be those who curse you and blessed be those who bless you.”
Isaac had scarcely finished speaking when Esau came in, bringing what he had caught while out hunting. He wanted his father to bless him after he had eaten. The holy patriarch was shocked when he realised what had happened. But far from retracting what he had done, he confirmed it because he clearly saw the finger of God in it all. Then, as Holy Scripture relates, Esau began to protest loudly against the treachery of his brother. He then asked his father if he had only one blessing to give. In so doing, as the early Fathers point out, Esau was the symbol of those who are too ready to imagine that there is an alliance between God and the world, because they themselves are eager to enjoy, at one and the same time, the blessings of heaven and the blessings of the earth. Isaac was touched by Esau’s cries and finally blessed him only with a blessing of the earth, and he subjected him to his brother. Because of this, Esau conceived such a venomous hatred for Jacob that he could hardly wait for his father’s death to kill him. And Jacob would not have escaped death if his dear mother Rebecca had not saved him by her ingenuity and her good advice.
Interpretation of the story
185. Before explaining this beautiful story, let me remind you that, according to the early Fathers and the interpreters of Holy Scripture, Jacob is the type of our Lord and of souls who are saved, and Esau is the type of souls who are condemned. We have only to examine the actions and conduct of both in order to judge each one.
(1) Esau, the elder brother, was strong and robust, clever, and skilful with the bow and very successful at hunting.
(2) He seldom stayed at home and, relying only on his own strength and skill, worked out of doors.
(3) He never went out of his way to please his mother Rebecca, and did little or nothing for her.
(4) He was such a glutton and so fond of eating that he sold his birthright for a dish of lentils.
(5) Like Cain, he was extremely jealous of his brother and persecuted him relentlessly.
186. This is the usual conduct of sinners:
(1) They rely upon their own strength and skill in temporal affairs. They are very energetic, clever and well- informed about things of this world but very dull and ignorant about things of heaven.
187. (2) And they are never or very seldom at home, in their own house, that is, in their own interior, the inner, essential abode that God has given to every man to dwell in, after his own example, for God always abides within himself. Sinners have no liking for solitude or the spiritual life or interior devotion. They consider those who live an interior life, secluded from the world, and who work more interiorly than exteriorly, as narrow-minded, bigoted and uncivilised.
188. (3) Sinners care little or nothing about devotion to Mary, the Mother of the elect. It is true that they do not really hate her. Indeed they even speak well of her sometimes. They say they love her and they practise some devotion in her honour. Nevertheless, they cannot bear to see anyone love her tenderly, for they do not have for her any of the affection of Jacob; they find fault with the honour which her good children and servants faithfully pay her to win her affection. They think this kind of devotion is not necessary for salvation, and as long as they do not go as far as hating her or openly ridiculing devotion to her they believe they have done all they need to win her good graces. Because they recite or mumble a few prayers to her without any affection and without even thinking of amending their lives, they consider they are our Lady’s servants.
189. (4) Sinners sell their birthright, that is, the joys of paradise, for a dish of lentils, that is, the pleasures of this world. They laugh, they drink, they eat, they have a good time, they gamble, they dance and so forth, without taking any more trouble than Esau to make themselves worthy of their heavenly Father’s blessing. Briefly, they think only of this world, love only the world, speak and act only for the world and its pleasures. For a passing moment of pleasure, for a fleeting wisp of honour, for a piece of hard earth, yellow or white, they barter away their baptismal grace, their robe of innocence and their heavenly inheritance.
190. (5) Finally, sinners continually hate and persecute the elect, openly and secretly. The elect are a burden to them. They despise them, criticise them, ridicule them, insult them, rob them, deceive them, impoverish them, hunt them down and trample them into the dust; while they themselves are making fortunes, enjoying themselves, getting good positions for themselves, enriching themselves, rising to power and living in comfort.
191. Jacob, the younger son, was of a frail constitution, gentle and peaceable and usually stayed at home to please his mother, whom he loved so much. If he did go out it was not through any personal desire of his, nor from any confidence in his own ability, but simply out of obedience to his mother.
192. He loved and honoured his mother. That is why he remained at home close to her. He was never happier than when he was in her presence. He avoided everything that might displease her, and did everything he thought would please her. This made Rebecca love him all the more.
193. He was submissive to his mother in all things. He obeyed her entirely in everything, promptly without delay and lovingly without complaint. At the least indication of her will, young Jacob hastened to comply with it. He accepted whatever she told him without questioning. For instance, when she told him to get two small goats and bring them to her so that she might prepare something for his father Isaac to eat, Jacob did not reply that one would be enough for one man, but without arguing he did exactly what she told him to do.
194. He had the utmost confidence in his mother. He did not rely on his own ability; he relied solely on his mother’s care and protection. He went to her in all his needs and consulted her in all his doubts. For instance, when he asked her if his father, instead of blessing him, would curse him, he believed her and trusted her when she said she would take the curse upon herself.
195. Finally, he adopted, as much as he could, the virtues he saw in his mother. It seems that one of the reasons why he spent so much time at home was to imitate his dear mother, who was so virtuous, and to keep away from evil companions – who might lead him into sin. In this way, he made himself worthy to receive the double blessing of his beloved father.
196. It is in a similar manner that God’s chosen ones usually act. They stay at home with their mother – that is, they have an esteem for quietness, love the interior life, and are assiduous in prayer. They always remain in the company of the Blessed Virgin, their Mother and Model, whose glory is wholly interior and who during her whole life dearly loved seclusion and prayer. It is true, at times they do venture out into the world, but only to fulfil the duties of their state of life, in obedience to the will of God and the will of their Mother.
No matter how great their accomplishments may appear to others, they attach far more importance to what they do within themselves in their interior life, in the company of the Blessed Virgin. For there they work at the great task of perfection, compared to which all other work is mere child’s play. At times their brothers and sisters are working outside with great energy, skill and success, and win the praise and approbation of the world. But they know by the light of the Holy Spirit that there is far more good, more glory and more joy in remaining hidden and recollected with our Lord, in complete and perfect submission to Mary than there is in performing by themselves marvellous works of nature and grace in the world, like so many Esaus and sinners. Glory for God and riches for men are in her house.
Lord Jesus, how lovely is your dwelling-place! The sparrow has found a house to dwell in, and the turtle-dove a nest for her little ones! How happy is the man who dwells in the house of Mary, where you were the first to dwell! Here in this home of the elect, he draws from you alone the help he needs to climb the stairway of virtue he has built in his heart to the highest possible points of perfection while in this vale of tears. “How lovely is your dwelling-place, Lord, God of hosts!”
197. The elect have a great love for our Lady and honour her truly as their Mother and Queen. They love her not merely in word but in deed. They honour her not just outwardly, but from the depths of their heart. Like Jacob, they avoid the least thing that might displease her, and eagerly do whatever they think might win her favour. Jacob brought Rebecca two young goats. They bring Mary their body and their soul, with all their faculties, symbolised by Jacob’s two young goats, 1) so that she may accept them as her own; 2) that she may make them die to sin and self by divesting them of self-love, in order to please Jesus her Son, who wishes to have as friends and disciples only those who are dead to sin and self; 3) that she may clothe them according to their heavenly Father’s taste and for his greater glory, which she knows better than any other creature; 4) that through her care and intercession, this body and soul of theirs, thoroughly cleansed from every stain, thoroughly dead to self, thoroughly stripped and well- prepared, may be pleasing to the heavenly Father and deserving of his blessing.
Is this not what those chosen souls do who, to prove to Jesus and Mary how effective and courageous is their love, live and esteem the perfect consecration to Jesus through Mary which we are now teaching them?
Sinners may say that they love Jesus, that they love and honour Mary, but they do not do so with their whole heart and soul. Unlike the elect, they do not love Jesus and Mary enough to consecrate them their body with its senses and their soul with its passions.
198. They are subject and obedient to our Lady, their good Mother, and here they are simply following the example set by our Lord himself, who spent thirty of the thirty-three years he lived on earth glorifying God his Father in perfect and entire submission to his holy Mother. They obey her, following her advice to the letter, just as Jacob followed that of Rebecca, when she said to him, “My son, follow my advice”; or like the stewards at the wedding in Cana, to whom our Lady said, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Through obedience to his mother, Jacob received the blessing almost by a miracle, because in the natural course of events he should not have received it. As a reward for following the advice of our Lady, the stewards at the wedding in Cana were honoured with the first of our Lord’s miracles when, at her request he changed water into wine. In the same way, until the end of time, all who are to receive the blessing of our heavenly Father and who are to be honoured with his wondrous graces will receive them only as a result of their perfect obedience to Mary. On the other hand, the “Esaus” will lose their blessing because of their lack of submission to the Blessed Virgin.
199. They have great confidence in the goodness and power of the Blessed Virgin, their dear Mother, and incessantly implore her help. They take her for their pole-star to lead them safely into harbour. They open their hearts to her and tell her their troubles and their needs. They rely on her mercy and kindness to obtain forgiveness for their sins through her intercession and to experience her motherly comfort in their troubles and anxieties. They even cast themselves into her virginal bosom, hide and lose themselves there in a wonderful manner. There they are filled with pure love, they are purified from the least stain of sin, and they find Jesus in all his fullness. For he reigns in Mary as if on the most glorious of thrones. What incomparable happiness! Abbot Guerric says, “Do not imagine there is more joy in dwelling in Abraham’s bosom than in Mary’s, for it is in her that our Lord placed his throne.”
Sinners, on the other hand, put all their confidence in themselves. Like the prodigal son, they eat with the swine. Like toads they feed on earth. Like all worldlings, they love only visible and external things. They do not know the sweetness of Mary’s bosom. They do not have that reliance and confidence which the elect have for the Blessed Virgin, their Mother. Deplorably they choose to satisfy their hunger elsewhere, as St. Gregory says, because they do not want to taste the sweetness already prepared within themselves and within Jesus and Mary.
200. Finally, chosen souls keep to the ways of the Blessed Virgin, their loving Mother – that is, they imitate her and so are sincerely happy and devout and bear the infallible sign of God’s chosen ones. This loving Mother says to them “Happy are those who keep my ways”, which means, happy are those who practise my virtues and who, with the help of God’s grace, follow the path of my life. They are happy in this world because of the abundance of grace and sweetness I impart to them out of my fullness, and which they receive more abundantly than others who do not imitate me so closely. They are happy at the hour of death, which is sweet and peaceful for I am usually there myself to lead them home to everlasting joy. Finally, they will be happy for all eternity, because no servant of mine who imitated my virtues during life has ever been lost.
On the other hand, sinners are unhappy during their life, at their death, and throughout eternity, because they do not imitate the virtues of our Lady. They are satisfied with going no further than joining her confraternities, reciting a few prayers in her honour, or performing other exterior devotional exercises.
O Blessed Virgin, my dear Mother, how happy are those who faithfully keep your ways, your counsels and your commands; who never allow themselves to be led astray by a false devotion to you! But how unhappy and accursed are those who abuse devotion to you by not keeping the commandments of your Son! “They are accursed who stray from your commandments.”
Services of our Lady to her faithful servants
201. Here now are the services which the Virgin Mary, as the best of all mothers, lovingly renders to those loyal servants who have given themselves entirely to her in the manner I have described and following the figurative meaning of the story of Jacob and Rebecca.
1. She loves them.
“I love those who love me.” She loves them:
a) Because she is truly their Mother. What mother does not love her child, the fruit of her womb?
b) She loves them in gratitude for the active love they show to her, their beloved Mother.
c) She loves them because they are loved by God and destined for heaven. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
d) She loves them because they have consecrated themselves entirely to her and belong to her portion, her inheritance. “In Israel receive your inheritance.”
202. She loves them tenderly, more tenderly than all the mothers in the world together. Take the maternal love of all the mothers of the world for their children. Pour all that love into the heart of one mother for an only child. That mother’s love would certainly be immense. Yet Mary’s love for each of her children has more tenderness than the love of that mother for her child.
She loves them not only affectively but effectively, that is, her love is active and productive of good like Rebecca’s love for Jacob -and even more so, for Rebecca was, after all, only a symbolic figure of Mary. Here is what this loving Mother does for her children to obtain for them the blessings of their heavenly Father:
203. 1) Like Rebecca she looks out for favourable opportunities to promote their interests, to ennoble and enrich them. She sees clearly in God all that is good and all that is evil; fortunate and unfortunate events; the blessings and condemnations of God. She arranges things in advance so as to divert evils from her servants and put them in the way of abundant blessings. If there is any special benefit to be gained in God’s sight by the faithful discharge of an important work, Mary will certainly obtain this opportunity for a beloved child and servant and at the same time, give him the grace to persevere in it to the end. “She personally manages our affairs,” says a saintly man.
204. 2) She gives them excellent advice, as Rebecca did to Jacob. “My son, follow my counsels.” Among other things, she persuades them to bring her the two young goats, that is, their body and soul, and to confide them to her so that she can prepare them as a dish pleasing to God. She inspires them to observe whatever Jesus Christ, her Son, has taught by word and example. When she does not give these counsels herself in person, she gives them through the ministry of angels who are always pleased and honoured to go at her request to assist one of her faithful servants on earth.
205. 3) What does this good Mother do when we have presented and consecrated to her our soul and body and all that pertains to them without excepting anything? Just what Rebecca of old did to the little goats Jacob brought her. (a) She kills them, that is, makes them die to the life of the old Adam. (b) She strips them of their skin, that is, of their natural inclinations, their self-love and self-will and their every attachment to creatures. (c) She cleanses them from all stain, impurity and sin. (d) She prepares them to God’s taste and to his greater glory. As she alone knows perfectly what the divine taste is and where the greatest glory of God is to be found, she alone without any fear of mistake can prepare and garnish our body and soul to satisfy that infinitely refined taste and promote that infinitely hidden glory.
206. 4) Once this good Mother has received our complete offering with our merits and satisfactions through the devotion I have been speaking about, and has stripped us of our own garments, she cleanses us and makes us worthy to appear without shame before our heavenly Father.
She clothes us in the clean, new, precious and fragrant garments of Esau, the first born, namely, her Son Jesus Christ. She keeps these garments in her house, that is to say, she has them at her disposal. For she is the treasurer and universal dispenser of the merits and virtues of Jesus her Son. She gives and distributes them to whom she pleases, when she pleases, as she pleases, and as much as she pleases, as we have said above.
She covers the neck and hands of her servants with the skins of the goats that have been killed and flayed, that is, she adorns them with the merits and worth of their own good actions. In truth, she destroys and nullifies all that is impure and imperfect in them. She preserves and enhances this good so that it adorns and strengthens their neck and hands, that is, she gives them the strength to carry the yoke of the Lord and the skill to do great things for the glory of God and the salvation of their poor brothers.
She imparts new perfume and fresh grace to those garments and adornments by adding to them the garments of her own wardrobe of merits and virtues. She bequeathed these to them before her departure for heaven, as was revealed by a holy nun of the last century, who died a holy death. Thus all her domestics, that is, all her servants and slaves, are clothed with double garments, her own and those of her Son. Now they have nothing to fear from that cold which sinners, naked and stripped as they are of the merits of Jesus and Mary, will be unable to endure.
207. 5) Finally, Mary obtains for them the heavenly Father’s blessing. As they are the youngest born and adopted, they are not really entitled to it. Clad in new, precious, and sweet- smelling garments, with body and soul well-prepared and dressed, they confidently approach their heavenly Father. He hears their voice and recognises it as the voice of a sinner. He feels their hands covered with skins, inhales the aroma of their garments. He partakes with joy of what Mary, their Mother, has prepared for him, recognising in it the merits and good odour of his Son and his Blessed Mother.
a) He gives them a twofold blessing, the blessing of the dew of heaven, namely, divine grace, which is the seed of glory. “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing,” and also the blessing of the fertility of the earth, for as a provident Father, he gives them their daily bread and an ample supply of the goods of the earth.
b) He makes them masters of their other brothers, the reprobate sinners. This domination does not always show in this fleeting world, where sinners often have the upper hand. “How long shall the wicked glory, mouthing insolent reproaches?” “I have seen the wicked triumphant and lifted up like the cedars of Lebanon.” But the supremacy of the just is real and will be seen clearly for all eternity in the next world, where the just, as the Holy Spirit tells us, will dominate and command all peoples.
c) The God of all majesty is not satisfied with blessing them in their persons and their possessions, he blesses all who bless them and curses all who curse and persecute them.
2. She provides for all their needs
208. Our Lady’s charity towards her faithful servants goes further. She provides them with everything they need for body and soul. We have just seen that she gives them double garments. She also nourishes them with the most delicious food from the banquet table of God. She gives them the Son she has borne, the Bread of Life, to be their food. “Dear children,” she says in the words of divine Wisdom, “take your fill of my fruits,” that is to say, of the Fruit of Life, Jesus, “whom I brought into the world for you.” “Come,” she repeats in another passage, “eat the bread which is Jesus. Drink the wine of his love which I have mixed” for you with the milk of my breasts.
As Mary is the treasurer and dispenser of the gifts and graces of the Most High God, she reserves a choice portion, indeed the choicest portion, to nourish and sustain her children and servants. They grow strong on the Bread of Life; they are made joyful with the wine that brings forth virgins. They are carried at her breast. They bear with ease the yoke of Christ scarcely feeling its weight because of the oil of devotion with which she has softened its wood.
3. She leads and guides them
209. A third service which our Lady renders her faithful servants is to lead and direct them according to the will of her Son. Rebecca guided her little son Jacob and gave him good advice from time to time, which helped him obtain the blessing of his father and saved him from the hatred and persecution of his brother Esau. Mary, Star of the sea, guides all her faithful servants into safe harbour. She shows them the path to eternal life and helps them avoid dangerous pitfalls. She leads them by the hand along the path of holiness, steadies them when they are liable to fall and helps them rise when they have fallen. She chides them like a loving mother when they are remiss and sometimes she even lovingly chastises them. How could a child that follows such a mother and such an enlightened guide as Mary take the wrong path to heaven? Follow her and you cannot go wrong, says St. Bernard. There is no danger of a true child of Mary being led astray by the devil and falling into heresy. Where Mary leads, Satan with his deceptions and heretics with their subtleties are not encountered. “When she upholds you, you will not fall.”
4. She defends and protects them
210. The fourth good office our Lady performs for her children and faithful servants is to defend and protect them against their enemies. By her care and ingenuity Rebecca delivered Jacob from all dangers that beset him and particularly from dying at the hands of his brother, as he apparently would have done, since Esau hated and envied him just as Cain hated his brother Abel.
Mary, the beloved Mother of chosen souls, shelters them under her protecting wings as a hen does her chicks. She speaks to them, coming down to their level and accommodating herself to all their weaknesses. To ensure their safety from the hawk and vulture, she becomes their escort, surrounding them as an army in battle array. Could anyone surrounded by a well-ordered army of say a hundred thousand men fear his enemies? No, and still less would a faithful servant of Mary, protected on all sides by her imperial forces, fear his enemy. This powerful Queen of heaven would sooner despatch millions of angels to help one of her servants than have it said that a single faithful and trusting servant of hers had fallen victim to the malice, number and power of his enemies.
5. She intercedes for them
211. Finally, the fifth and greatest service which this loving Mother renders her faithful followers is to intercede for them with her Son. She appeases him with her prayers, brings her servants into closer union with him and maintains that union.
Rebecca made Jacob approach the bed of his father. His father touched him, embraced him and even joyfully kissed him after having satisfied his hunger with the well-prepared dishes which Jacob had brought him. Then inhaling most joyfully the exquisite perfume of his garments, he cried: “Behold the fragrance of my son is as the fragrance of a field of plenty which the Lord has blessed.” The fragrance of this rich field which so captivated the heart of the father, is none other than the fragrance of the merits and virtues of Mary who is the plentiful field of grace in which God the Father has sown the grain of wheat of the elect, his only Son.
How welcome to Jesus Christ, the Father of the world to come, is a child perfumed with the fragrance of Mary! How readily and how intimately does he unite himself to that child! But this we have already shown at length.
212. Furthermore, once Mary has heaped her favours upon her children and her faithful servants and has secured for them the blessing of the heavenly Father and union with Jesus Christ, she keeps them in Jesus and keeps Jesus in them. She guards them, watching over them unceasingly, lest they lose the grace of God and fall into the snares of their enemies. “She keeps the saints in their fullness” (St. Bonaventure), and inspires them to persevere to the end, as we have already said.
Such is the explanation given to this ancient allegory which typifies the mystery of predestination and reprobation.