I’m always the last one to know. And that is pretty much because I keep my head down, my blinders on, and just keep plowing. You know, as if everything I needed to know about anything can be conceived of, and imagined, inside my little head, or from my limited experiences.
But then I woke up after a very long slumber. I realized, despite my denials of the reality of my limitedness from the start, that I really don’t know much. Becoming a Catholic, I took off the blinders, and as a result the world got wider, more beautiful, and brighter, despite the fact that I became infinitesimally, and willingly, smaller as a result.
Let me show you an example of this. Before I was a Catholic, I was like the Boy Wonder here, and there was no Batman around to slap some sense into me.
How was I to know? None of this stuff is explicitly set out in the scriptures, you know, word-for-word, so when I heard the term “Immaculate Conception” what was a poor boy to do? It never dawned on me to check in with what the Catholics believed.
Fast forward to 2006-2007, and I finally got slapped with the facts. I embraced it wholeheartedly and still do. But recognizing the prodigious depths of my ignorance, I started collecting books about the Faith, which I’ve shared with all as The YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Over 1,000 volumes strong now, it would take an eternity of lifetimes to go through every volume therein learning things about Catholicism.
Thankfully, the good folks at Google have included a little search window where I can plug in terms like “Immaculate Conception” and my electronic research librarians go to work and find me amazing stories like the one on that subject that I share below.
But first, a little bit about the source. Her name is María de Jesús de Agreda, a Franciscan sister and mystic from 17th century Spain. In the hierarchy of saints, she is a Venerable. According to my sources at New Advent and Wikipedia, she was the Abbess of a convent in Agreda, which she had entered as a postulant in the year 1619. In fact, her whole family, as soon as they were old enough to fend for themselves, became Franciscans. Her mother joined her in the convent, while her father and brothers became Franciscan friars.
María wrote a book entitled The Divine History of the Mother of God. She dragged her feet, for a number of years, but when her confessor ordered her to write the book about her mystical experiences, she cranked out 400 pages of it in 20 days. You know, before there were personal computers. And then, upon orders of another confessor, she tossed all of her work into the fire, with nary a complaint. Sometime later, another spiritual director told her to take up her pen again,
…and in 1660 she finished the book. It was not, however, given to the world until five years after her death. It was printed in Madrid, in 1670. Its lengthy title contains no less than ninety words. “The Mystical City” purports to be the account of special revelations, which the author declares were made to her by God, Who, after raising her to a state of sublime contemplation, commanded her to write it, and then revealed to her these profound mysteries.
The key thing? Most of her visions involved the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here’s what the Wikipedia citation says,
She attributed her writings to visions and dictations (word by word) from the Virgin Mary. Written in elegant Spanish, they contain both terrestrial and spiritual detail. Those details were either not known or not totally accepted at the time. These included the way the earth looks from the space (contained in her unpublished 17th Century “Tratado de rendondez de la Tierra”), the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, the Assumption of Mary, the duties of Michael the Archangel and Gabriel the Archangel, and meticulous detail on the childhood of Jesus. Other detail that Sor Maria provided included the Christ’s Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.
Oh, and did I mention she managed all this after bilocating to the New World over a three year period (1620-23), helping to miraculously evangelize the peoples native to New Mexico, and Texas? Her stories kept her confessors on the edge of their seats, for sure.
So let’s take a little look at a translation of her story of how the Immaculate Conception came about. Would it surprise you that the Angel Gabriel plays a role?
From The Mystical City of God, Chapter XIII, How the Conception of the Most Holy Mary was Announced.
The Almighty ordained, that the message of the Conception of his holy Mother should in some way be similar to the one, by which the Incarnation was announced. For saint Anne was meditating in humble fervor upon her, who was to bear the Mother of the incarnate Word. And the most holy Virgin was making the same reflections upon Her, who was to be the Mother of God, as I will relate in its place. It was also the same angel, that brought both messages, and in human form, though he showed himself in a more beautiful and mysterious shape to the Virgin Mary.
The holy archangel Gabriel appeared to saint Anne in human form more resplendent than the sun, and said to her: “Anne, servant of God, I am an angel sent from the council of the Most High, who in divine condescension looks upon the humble of the earth (Psalm 147, 6). Good is incessant prayer and humble confidence. The Lord has heard thy petitions, for He is nigh to those who call upon Him with living faith and hope, and who expect his salvation (Ps. 144, 18). If He delays hearing their clamors and defers the fulfillment of their prayers, it is in order to dispose them to receive and to oblige Himself to give much more than they ask and desire. Prayer and almsgiving open the treasures of the Lord, the omnipotent King, and incline Him to be lavish in mercy toward those, who ask (Tob. 11, 8). Thou and Joachim have prayed for the Fruit of benediction and the Most High has resolved to give you holy and wonderful Fruit; and by it He will enrich you with heavenly gifts, granting to you much more than you have asked. For having humiliated yourselves in prayer, the Lord wishes to magnify Himself in conceding your petitions: because those, who in humble confidence pray to Him without belittling his infinite power, are most agreeable to the Lord. Persevere in prayer and ask without ceasing for the Redemption of the human race in order to constrain the Most High. Moses by unceasing prayer brought victory to the people (Exod. 17, 11); Esther by prayer obtained liberation from the death sentence (Esther 4, 11); Judith by the same means was filled with fortitude to execute a most arduous task for the salvation of Israel: She fulfilled it, though a weak and frail woman (Judith 9, 1).”
“David came forth victorious in his combat with the giant, because he prayed, invoking the name of the Lord (I Kings 17, 45; III Kings 18, 36). Elias drew fire from heaven by his sacrifice and by his prayer opened and closed the heavens. The humility, faith and the alms of Joachim and of thyself have come before the throne of the Most High and now He sends me, his angel, in order to give thee news full of joy for thy heart: His Majesty wishes, that thou be most fortunate and blessed. He chooses thee to be the mother of Her who is to conceive and bring forth the Only begotten of the Father. Thou shalt bring forth a Daughter, who by divine disposition shall be called MARY. She shall be blessed among women and full of the Holy Ghost. She shall be the cloud that shall drop the dew of heaven for the refreshment of mortals (III Kings 18, 44) : and in Her shall be fulfilled the prophecies of thy ancestors. She shall be the portal of life and salvation for the sons of Adam.”
“Know also that I have announced to Joachim, that he shall have a Daughter who shall be blessed and fortunate: but the full knowledge of the mystery is not given him by the Lord, for he does not know, that She is to be the Mother of the Messias. Therefore thou must guard this secret; and go now to the temple to give thanks to the Most High for having been so highly favored by his powerful right hand. In the Golden Gate thou shalt meet Joachim, where thou wilt confer with him about this tiding. Thou art the one, who art especially blessed of the Lord and whom He wishes to visit and enrich with more singular blessings. In solitude He will speak to thy heart and there give a beginning to the law of grace, since in thy womb He will give being to Her, who is to vest the Immortal with mortal flesh and human form. In this humanity, united with the Word, will be written, as with his own blood, the true law of Mercy.”
In order that the humble heart of the holy Anne might not faint away with admiration and joy at these tidings of the holy angel, she was strengthened by the holy Spirit and thus she heard it and received it with magnanimity and incomparable joy. Immediately arising she hastened to the temple of Jerusalem, and there found saint Joachim, as the angel had foretold to them both. Together they gave thanks to the Almighty for this wonderful blessing and offered special gifts and sacrifices. They were enlightened anew by the grace of the holy Spirit, and, full of divine consolation, they returned to their home. Joyfully they conversed about the favors, which they had received from the Almighty, especially concerning each one’s message of the archangel Gabriel, whereby, on behalf of the Lord, they had been promised a Daughter who should be most blessed and fortunate. On this occasion they also told each other, how the same angel, before their espousal, had commanded each to accept the other, in order that together they might serve God according to his divine will. This secret they had kept from each other for twenty years, without communicating it, until the same angel had promised them the issue of such a Daughter. Anew they made the vow to offer Her to the temple and that each year on this day they would come to the temple to offer special gifts, spend the day in praise and thanksgiving, and give many alms. This vow they fulfilled to the end of their lives, spending this day in great praise and exaltation of the Most High.
The prudent matron Anne never disclosed the secret, that her Daughter was to be the Mother of the Messias, either to Joachim or to any other creature. Nor did that holy parent in the course of his life know any more than that She was to be a grand and mysterious woman. However, in the last moments of his life the Almighty made the secret known to him, as I will relate in its place. Although great revelations have been made to me concerning the virtues and the holiness of the two parents of the Queen of heaven, I shall not dilate upon that which all the faithful must presuppose. I shall rather hasten to the main point.
After the first conception of the body which was to be that of the Mother of grace, and before creating her most holy soul, God granted a singular favor to saint Anne. She had an intellectual and most exalted vision or appearance of his Majesty, in which, having communicated to her great enlightenment and gifts of grace. He disposed her and forestalled her with the blessings of his sweetness (Ps. 20, 4). Entirely purifying her, He spiritualized the inferior part of her body and elevated her soul and spirit to such a degree, that thenceforward she never attended to any human affair, which could impede her union with God in all the affections of her mind and will, and she never lost sight of Him. At the same time He said to her: “Anne, my servant, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: my blessing and my eternal light is with thee. I have created man in order to raise him from the dust and to make him the inheritor of my glory and participator of my Divinity. I also showered my gifts upon him and placed him in a position and state of high perfection; but he listened to the serpent and lost all. Out of my goodness and in fulfillment of the promises made through my holy Prophets, I wish to forget his ingratitude and to repair the damage, by sending my Onlybegotten as their Redeemer. The heavens are closed, the ancient Patriarchs are detained, deprived of the sight of my face and of eternal life promised to them. The inclination of my bounteousness is as it were strained in not communicating itself to the human race. Now, at this time do I wish to show mercy, giving them the person of the eternal Word, to become man, to be born of a Woman, who shall be Mother and Virgin, immaculate, pure, blessed and holy above all creatures. Of Her, my chosen and only One, I make thee mother.” (Cant. 6, 8).
You can read the rest of this selection over on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. And for more about María de Jesús de Agreda, have a look at this video.