The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Fulton J. Sheen

Part I The Woman the World Loves

Chapter 1: Love Begins with a Dream

Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves.

He was born of a Mother whom He chose before He was born. It is the only instance in history where both the Son willed the Mother and the Mother willed the Son (19).

If you could have preexisted your mother, would you not have made her the most perfect woman that ever lived – one so beautiful she would have been the sweet envy of all women, and one so gentle and so merciful that all other mothers would have sought to imitate her virtues? Why, then, should we think that God would do otherwise? (19)

As Eden was the Paradise of Creation, Mary is the Paradise of the Incarnation, and in her as a Garden were celebrated the first nuptials of God and man (20)

I could never see why anyone in this day and age should object to the Immaculate Conception; all modern pagans believe they are immaculately conceived (21).

She is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman – whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants to be when she looks at herself. She is the woman whom every man marries in ideal when he takes a spouse;… (24).

Chapter 2: When Freedom and Love Were One: The Annunciation

All love involves freedom, but not all freedom involves love.

True love is free from something for something.

Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought, and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it.

Freedom is ours really to give away because of something we love.

Love is an affirmation

Love is also a rejection

The Annunciation is the greatest act of freedom the world has ever known (31).

The mystery of the Incarnation is very simply that of God’s asking a woman freely to give Him a human nature (32).

Freedom is the only perfect gift that we can make to God because our free will is the only thing that is really our own (35).

It was the only birth in all the world that was truly willed and, therefore, truly free (36).

Chapter 3: The Song of the Woman: The Visitation

All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child (38).

The two most unlikely events simultaneously happened in the Visitation.

The birth of Christ is without regard to man; the birth of John the Baptist is without regard to age! (39).

Mary “becomes the first nurse of Christian civilization” (39).

The handmaid of the Lord becomes the handmaid of Elizabeth (40).

To sing a song is to possess one’s soul (44).

At least until the Birth, the Women shall have mirth (44).

Magnificat in 2 words = thank God!

Magnificat is the most revolutionary document ever written (50).

Chapter 4: When Did Belief in the Virgin Birth Begin?

The Virgin Birth is God’s idea, not man’s. No one would have thought of it, if it had never happened (63).

Scripture & Tradition:

  • The Church does not derive her belief from Scriptures alone. When the Gospels were written, they were the mere secretarial reports of what was already believed. The Gospels set down in a more systematic way what was already believed.
  • The Gospels recorded a tradition; they did not create it. The Gospels did not start the Church; the Church started the Gospels.

“The Gospels need tradition as the lungs need air, and as the eyes light, and as the plants the earth” (55).

  • The Church did not come to believe in the Virgin Birth because the Gospels tell us there is a Virgin Birth; it was because the living word of God in His Mystical Body already believed it that they set it down in the Gospels (58).

Tradition = the memory of the Church:

  • This Mystical Body of Christ has a memory, as we have a memory.
  • The Church was there from the beginning.
  • The Church has a memory over 1900 years and this memory is called tradition (59).
  • See the Apostles’ Creed, accepted around the year 100, as proof: “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”
  • The Virgin Birth was accepted by believers and early heretics alike.
  • Today we have “one-texters” who say Jesus had brethren

“The one man who might be most inclined to doubt the historical fact of the Virgin Birth on natural grounds (because he was a physician) was the second Evangelist, St. Luke. And yet he tells us the most about it (61).

St. Paul on the Virgin Birth

  • St. Paul never uses ordinary words to describe Jesus’ birth.
    • descended, in respect of his human birth” (Rom 1:14).
    • took birth from a woman” (Gal 4:4)
    • “presenting Himself to us in human form” (Phil 2:7)

“Our lord was born into the human family; He was not born of it. God formed Adam, the first man, without the seed of a man, so why should we shrink from the thought that the new Adam would also be formed without the seed of a man?” (64).

The real reason for incredulity is that the attack on the Virgin Birth is a subtle attack on the Divinity of Christ. He who believes that Our Lord is true God and true man never is troubled with the Virgin Birth” (65).

Chapter 5: All Mothers are Alike – Save One

“No mother whose son has won distinction for himself, either in a profession or in the field of battle, believes that the respect paid her for being his mother detracts from the honour or dignity that is paid her son. Why, then, do some minds think that any reverence paid to the Mother of Jesus detracts from His Power and Divinity? (66).

No one mother of a mortal is entitled to more love than any other mother.

Jesus makes all the difference:

Where did this coldness, forgetfulness, and, at the least, indifference to the Blessed Mother start? From a failure to realize that her Son, Jesus, is the Eternal Son of God (66).

The key to understanding Mary is this: We do not start with Mary. We start with Christ, the Son of the Living God! (67)

It is on account of Our Divine Lord that Mary receives special attention, and not on account of herself (68).

Jesus makes Mary’s motherhood different.

It is because Our Lord is so different from other sons that we set His Mother apart from all mothers (68).

How could Jesus be sinless if He was born of sin-laden humanity? (69)

How could God become man and yet be sinless man without Original Sin? (70)

If He came to this earth through the wheatfield of moral weakness, He certainly would have some chaff hanging on the garment of His human nature (69).

In order that Jesus Christ might be a descendent of Adam, he had to be born of a daughter of Adam (71).

The Virgin Birth is rather related to the manhood of Christ and His separateness from the sin that affected all men who are born of the union of man and woman (73).

The Virgin Birth is the safeguard of the sinlessness of the human nature that Our Blessed Lord assumed (73).

The Virgin Birth keeps the Divine initiative of Redemption to God Himself (74).

Coldness toward Mary is a consequence of indifference to Christ (74).

Theotokos, “Mother of God” – “This name contains the whole mystery of the Incarnation” ~ John of Damascus

Theanthropos, or God-Man, and Theotokos, or Mother of God, go together and fall together (75).

Mary is like a magnifying glass; she intensifies our love for her Son and makes our prayers more bright and burning (80)

Chapter 6: The Virgin Mother

Mary is the prototype, the pattern-woman who fulfills in herself the deepest aspirations of the heart of every daughter of Eve (89).

  • Every virgin years to become a mother, either physically or spiritually, for unless she creates, mothers, nurses, and fosters life, her heart is uneasy and awkward as a giant ship in shallow waters… there is something incomplete about virginity, something ungiven, unsurrendered, kept back (89).
  • On the other hand, every wife and mother strives for spiritual virginity in that she would like to take back what she has given, that she might offer it all over again, only this time more deeply, more piously, more divinely… there is something lost in all motherhood: something given, something taken – and something irrecoverable (89).

In Mary, there was nothing unsurrendered in her virginity and nothing lost in her motherhood… She is Virgin and Mother! In perfectly uniting the two, God showed how both are necessary for the world. The Mother is the protectress of the virgin, and the Virgin is the inspiration of motherhood.

God choosing Mary as His Mother is like a little bird building the very nest in which it is to be hatched. Amazing.

Chapter 7: The World’s Happiest Marriage

Mary and Joseph were married to (1) keep Mary covered with honour & (2) so that Joseph could bear witness to the purity of Mary.

Absolute virginity with wedded life is the perfection combination of marriage and solitude. Only the joys of the spirit are shared, never the pleasures of the flesh. A marriage of the heart and not of the flesh.

Joseph suffered a “dark night of the soul” at the start VS. Mary’s “dark night” at the end

Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined. He must have been on fire with love.

“The basis of married love is the attachment of the hearts” ~ St. Augustine

“To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried” (96).

“The consummation of their love was in Jesus” ~ Pope Leo XIII (98)

“Mary and Joseph thus combined solitude and espousal through the spiritual magic of virginity along with togetherness” (99).

Chapter 8: Obedience and Love

Obedience does not mean the execution of orders that are given by a drill sergeant. It springs, rather, from the love of an order, and love of Him who gave it.

“The scientist is actually a proofreader of the book of Nature and not its author” (103).

“Obedience to the law of nature produces physical maturity; obedience to the law of parents produces mental maturity; obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father produces spiritual maturity” (108).

The Gospel indicates immediately 3 effects of Our Lord’s submission and obedience:

  • (1) Growth in age, or bodily perfection. The silence of these 18 long years between the Finding in the Temple and the Wedding Feast at Cana prove that all growth is silent. No hurry, no impatience. Jesus waited until He was 33, so He could offer his human nature in its perfect growth & vigour.
  • (2) & (3) Growth in grace & wisdom – Since Jesus was truly an infant, a child, and a man for our sake, He consented, in His wonderful condescension, not to call into exercise those powers that He had as God. Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of a human nature. Jesus shows that intelligence is related to obedience. The more a scientist is passive before nature, the more nature will reveal its secrets.
Chapter 9: The Marriage Feast at Cana

The most famous marriage in history.

It is a beautiful and a consoling thought that our Blessed Lord, Who came to teach, sacrifice, and urge us to take up our cross daily, should have begun His public life by assisting at a marriage feast (117).

They have no wine” = Here we see both a consciousness of the power of her Divine Son and an expression of her desire to remedy an awkward situation.

Woman, what is that to me? My hour is not yet come.” = Our Blessed Lord was asking if Mary would send Him to His death.

Whatsoever He shall say to you, that do ye” (Jn 2:5) = Mary’s answer was one of complete cooperation in the redemption with Our Blessed Lord. Her magnificent valedictory! Just as Christ came to do the Father’s will, so Mary bade us to do the will of her Divine Son.

“The unconscious waters saw their God, and blushed” ~ Richard Crashaw

Lessons from Cana:

  1. “Aid yourself, and Heaven will aid you.” We must bring the water of our own feeble efforts, the routine waters of our insipid lives to allow God to transform them into the new wine.
  2. Mary intercedes to gain us what we need, without our always knowing our needs. Just as neither the wine steward nor the diners knew that the wine was failing, so we too often fail to understand what we need. Mary is our Mother who helps us in our need.


10: Love and Sorrow

“No one in the world can carry God in his heart without an inner joy and an outer sorrow, without singing a Magnificat to those who share the secret, and without feeling the thrust of the sword from those who want freedom of the flesh without the law. Love and sorrow often go together. In carnal love, the body swallows up the soul; in spiritual love, the soul envelops the body. The sorrow of the first is never to be satisfied; one who wants to drink the ocean of love is unhappy if limited to a mere cup with which to drink. The sorrow of the second love is never being able to do enough for the beloved” (125).

“If the Father gave His Son a Cross and the Mother a sword, then somehow sorrow does fit into the Divine plan of life” (127).

Jesus introduced to Mary through sorrow a new and deeper dimension of love. No love ever mounts to a higher level without death to a lower one (130).

At the end of the story of love and sorrow, we see that love needs a constant purification, and this happens only through sorrow (132). Jesus had to send Mary seven swords of sorrow, which enlarged her love from the Son of Man to the sons of men (132).

11: The Assumption and the Modern World

The definition of the Immaculate Conception was made when the modern world was born. Through the philosophy of Darwin, Marx, and Mill, everyone began to think that they were immaculately conceived. The Church arose in protest and affirmed that only one human person in all the world is immaculately conceived… The dogma of the Immaculate Conception wilted and killed the false optimism of the inevitable and necessary progress of man without God. The Assumption gives

As in the definition of the Immaculate Conception the Church had to remind the world that perfection is not biologically available (everyone began to think they were immaculately conceived), so now in the definition of the Assumption she has to give hope to the creature of despair (135).

The Assumption lifts humanity from the darkness of sex and death to the light of Love and Life. These are the two philosophical pillars on which rests the belief in the Assumption:

  1. Love – the Assumption is not the killing of the Eros but its transfiguration through Agape (139). Love is the secret of the Ascension of one and of the Assumption of the other, for love craves unity with its beloved (139).
  2. Life – Life is unitive. Threefold purity of life: physical, mental and psychological. The Church affirms the beauty of life as against death.


PART II: The World the Woman Loves

12: Man and Woman

In human love there are two poles: man and woman. In Divine love there are two poles: God and man.

Man VS. Woman:

  • Man: more rational, faster to love, more impulsive, seeks pleasure, governs the home, more practical, the giver
  • Woman: more intellectual, slower to love, less impulsive, seeks unity, reigns the home, more idealistic, the gift

These differences are not irreconcilable opposites; rather, they are complementary qualities. Man and woman complement each other.

The major problem of the world is the restoration of the spiritual image of man. Mankind will find its way back again to God through the Woman, who will gather up and restore the broken fragments of the image. This she will do in 3 ways: (1) By restoring constancy in love, (2) By restoring respect for personality, (3) By infusing the virtue of purity into souls.

13: The Seven Laws of Love

The Blessed Mother is recorded as speaking only 7 times in Sacred Scripture. These 7 words are here used to illustrate the 7 laws of love:

  1. Love is a choice – Every act of love is a decision, a detachment and an attachment. “How shall this be, seeing that I know not man?” = The only question love asks is “How?”
  2. Choice ends in identification with the beloved – Love craves unity. Freedom exists for the sweet slavery of love. “Be it done unto me…
  3. Love requires a constant de-egotization – Love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. Mary hastened to visit a pregnant relative.
  4. Love is inseparable from joy – Where the ecstasy of love comes from God, it is only natural that its joy should break out into song, as it does in the Magnificat of Mary.
  5. Love is inseparable from sorrow – Because love, which demands the eternal for satisfaction, is compassed by time, it always knows some inadequacy and discontent. “Son, why hast thou done so to us? Knowest thou not that we have sought thee sorrowing?”
  6. All love, before it mounts to a higher level, must die to a lower one – “Mediocrity is the penalty of all those who refuse to add sacrifice to their love, and thus to prepare it for a wider horizon and a higher peak” (166-7). At the Marriage Feat of Cana, the death of the mother-Son relationship began and the beginning of that higher love involved in the Mother-humanity, Christ-redeemed relationship.
  7. The end of all human love is doing the will of God – “Whatsoever He shall say to you, that do ye“. Love has no other destiny than to obey Christ.
14: Virginity and Love

Consecrated virginity is the highest form of sacrifical love; it seeks nothing for itself but only the will of the beloved. Virginity is a surrender of sex and of human love for God. Consecrated virginity is loving the Flame, rather than the sparks.

Asceticism is the fence around the garden of virginity (171).

15: Equity and Equality

The Christian civilization never stressed equality in a mathematical sense, but only in the proportional sense, for equality is wrong when it reduces the woman to a poor imitation of a man. Once a woman became man’s mathematical equal, he no longer gave her a seat in a bus and no longer took off his hat in an elevator (179).

Basic instincts of womanhood: sacrifice, devotion, and love.

Equality is law. It is mathematical, abstract, universal, indifferent to conditions, circumstances, and differences.

Equity is love, mercy, understanding, sympathy – it allows the consideration of details, appeals, and even departures from fixed rules that the law has not yet embraced. In particular, it is the application of law to an individual person. Equity places its reliance on moral principles and is guided by an understanding of the motives of individual families that fall outside the scope of the rigors of law.

Equity rather than equality should be the basis of all the feminine claims. Equity is the perfection of equality, not its substitute. It has the advantages of recognizing the specific difference between man and woman, which equality does not have. As a matter of fact, men and women are not equal in sex; they are quite unequal, and it is only because they are unequal that they complement one another. Each has a superiority of function. Man and woman are equal inasmuch as they have the same rights and liberties, the same final goal of life, and the same redemption by the Blood of our Divine Savior – but they are different in function, like the lock and the key (181).

Our Lady of Equity. This title captures woman’s special glory – mercy, pity, understanding, and the intuition of human needs.

The choice before women in this day of collapse of justice is whether to equate themselves with men in rigid exactness or to rally to equity, to mercy and love, giving to a cruel and lawless world something that equality can never give (183).

Even a woman’s work as a money earner becomes a prelud and a condition for the display of equity, which is her greatest glory (184).

The level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood (184). The nobler the woman, the nobler the man’s love must be.

If woman wants to be a revolutionist, then the Woman is her guide, for she sang the most revolutionary song ever written – the Magnificat, the burden of which was the abolition of principalities and powers and the exaltation of the humble (185).

16: The Madonna of the World

Can religion do without motherhood?

A mother is the image of the eternal in time, the shadow of the infinite on the finite. A mother is the preserver of equity in the world, as man is the guardian of justice.

If fatherhood has its prototype in the Heavenly Father, Who is the giver of all gifts, then certainly such a beautiful thing


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