In which the pilgrim on this, the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, considers the price paid for his soul, the joy of Mary's intercessory aide, and what it might mean to be a slave of Christ and a son of God.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that your faithful,
who rejoice under the patronage of the most holy Virgin Mary,
may be freed by her motherly intercession
from all evils on earth
and merit the attainment of eternal joys in heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect from the Commons of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ordinary Time
In August of 1223, Our Lady appeared to St. Peter Nolasco under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, and requested of him that he form an order whose purpose was to free those Christians taken slaves by Spanish Moors by ransom, making ransom even of the the very bodies and lives of the brothers of the order if necessary. So inspired, St Peter sought out the counsel of his confessor, St. Raymond of Peñafort, and his king, James of Aragorn, and founded the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, commonly known as the Mercedarians. The Marian feast celebrated today, commemorates that vision and Our Lady's devotion to freeing her children from all forms of slavery, physical and spiritual, for she is crowned by her Son Queen of Heaven and Earth.
But the feast points to the deeper mystery of Mary's participation in the redemption of sinners by her Son's Passion, Death and Resurrection. By her "Fiat" to God she dedicated herself as handmaiden to the Lord, to serve "the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption. Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St. Irenaeus says, she "being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." (Lumen Gentium 56)"
1 Tm 2:5-6) But St. Paul himself, while declaring Christ's unique position as Mediator, spoke of himself and the other apostles as "God's fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9) and even was so bold as to declare his own connection to Christ's Passion: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body that is the Church." (Col 1:24). How much more, then, does Mary who suffered with her Son on the Cross, "complete what is lacking" in us in the mystery of Salvation?
So by her intercession as Our Lady of Ransom, Mary participates with Christ in his sacrifice of self that was "a ransom for all." For humanity without Christ remains as slaves to sin whose wages are death (Rm 6:20-23) and we should turn constantly to Mary to pray for our redemption and ransom, "not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pt 1:18-19) This ransom, paid with so dear a price, is not only for the Sin of Adam that made slaves of all mankind to sin and death, but also for our own particular sins.
Those sins and our remaining attachment to sin, ever drag us down, keeping us chained in servitude to the passions of our bodies, to the evils of the earth. The specter of that horror must rise up before us as Marley's ghost appeared to Ebenezer Scrooge:
...the spectre [of Marley] raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
"You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"
Scrooge trembled more and more.
"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!"
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.
—A Christmas Carol, Chapter I
How long must our chains we forge in life, link by link, sin by sin? Yet like Scrooge, we are often blind to those sins, to the terrible weight of slavery. Knowing as we do that the payment for those sins is death, we can plead to God: perhaps there is some payment we can make, some offering of ourselves to find redemption for our sins. But alas, with the Psalmist we must cry, "Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on forever, and never see the Pit!" (Ps 48:7-9) and we must shudder in terror at God's commandment to Moses that "No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death." (Lv 27:29)
Are we doomed then? By all means No! For our God is a merciful God who asks "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?" and to our relief and salvation replies, "O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction?" (Hos 13:14) Let us then sing: "God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me!" (Ps 48: 15) There is no price we can pay for He takes no delight in sacrifice and with burnt offerings He is not pleased, but the true sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite spirit He will not despise. (Ps 50 : 16-17)
But we must accept the grace offered to us by God, the chains and bonds of sin must be truly severed for "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon." (Mt 6:24) If we are to be free of our bondage to sin we must begin our new life in Christ as Slaves of God, which leads to sanctification (Rm 6:22) "For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters." (1 Cor 7:22-23)
Our Lord cautioned us of this: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever." but did not leave us without hope, for he taught us also how to be free from sin and remain slaves to God: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. ... if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (Jn 8:31-36)
If we are freed from sin to be slaves of God there we can know the peace of sanctification which leads to eternal life. The Apostle proudly addressed his letter to the Romans "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ" and who are we to doubt that Paul found happiness in slavery? But are we called merely to be slaves? "The slave does not continue in the house forever," says the Lord, adding "the son continues forever." (Jn 8:35). Jesus calls us not just to slavery, but to adoption as Sons of God. St Bernard of Clairvaux saw in the figures of slaves, merchants (or mercenaries), and sons that the Lord used in his parables, as increasing levels of proximity to God.
One praises God because He is mighty, another because He is gracious, yet another solely because He is essential goodness. The first is a slave and fears for himself; the second is greedy, desiring further benefits; but the third is a son who honors his Father. He who fears, he who profits, are both concerned about self-interest. Only in the son is that charity which seeks not her own (I Cor. 13.5). ... Sometimes a slave may do God's work; but because he does not toil voluntarily, he remains in bondage. So a mercenary may serve God, but because he puts a price on his service, he is enchained by his own greediness. For where there is self-interest there is isolation; and such isolation is like the dark corner of a room where dust and rust befoul. Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1.14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives. (On Loving God, Cap. XII)