Edward Poppe is a favorite saint of mine. He burnt with love for God. During his years of formation he met the expectation from others that his zeal would soon cool, that it was just the natural first feelings of a seminarian but nothing that would last. He took it very hard, and he reached out to his sister with the question:
Is it true that fervor is only at the beginning of life as a priest or religious, when the difficulties are still unknown to them? Is it true that I will someday become an ordinary priest, having lost all my supernatural strength? I can’t, and more that that, I don’t want to believe it. Better to die than serve God by halves.
He was especially devoted to Our Lady, St. Joseph, and the Eucharist. I was struck with a passage in the bible, that does in fact give a hint of the answer Bl. Edward Poppe so earnestly desired (and found!). It is the passage of the sinful woman, brought before Jesus as a challenge to Him, when the pharisees were already planning to kill Him.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. (John 8:3-6)
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ (John 8:7-11)
Reading this passage of the bible, I think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing near. In fact, Jesus hinted at Her presence when He said, ‘Let him who is without sin among you…’ . Present at His side (always before His mind, if not physically there) was His Mother, the Immaculate. While the Pharisees had to leave because of their sins, She did not have to. She was not a judge, but She was and is the created person who is without sin! With her entire person she is the testimony to perfection.
The presence of Jesus’ Mother reveals to the mind in contemplation something of the context of the meeting between the sinner and her God. When Jesus gives the commandment to the sinful woman to ‘Go, and do not sin again’, He does not send her away on an impossible mission. Even though a person just caught in a serious sin is not very likely, humanly speaking, to be able to fulfill such a commandment, Jesus gives it. He doesn’t give her a qualified encouragement such as, ‘try to be good now’. He is God, and He can command just what seems impossible to us without any cruelty or naïveté because He expects to supply us with the strength Himself, and He has full confidence in His own strength! Therefore it does not bother Him, as it might bother us, to give us impossible tasks. “Be perfect like the Father in Heaven is perfect,” He commanded the disciples.
Mary, Jesus’ Mother, is our Mother in the order of grace. All graces come to us through Her. When Jesus gives the commandment, ‘Go, and do not sin again’ He is in effect entrusting us to His Mother, whom He willed would be the one to always give us the strength to follow and obey His commandments. He shows a wonderfully charming confidence in His mother, unmatched because it is the confidence of God in one of His creatures! She was, and always will be, necessary for the work of salvation.
At the beginning of His ministry, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, said to the servants in Cana, “Go, do whatever he tells you.” Jesus’ commandment to the sinful woman, “Go, and do not sin again” has a similar ring. In a pious speculation one might envision Him beckoning this woman to look in the direction of His Mother. Jesus said to her, ‘Go’, and was not that word in fact an encouragement to, ‘Go to Her’, ‘Go to my Mother’. He knew that would ensure success! He can, and does, put us in the hands of His Mother, for her to do with us what she wills.
This secret of success always amazes those who discover it. At the end of his life, Bl. Edward Poppe revealed the secret of his heart to his priest friends:
Mary will cover you with Her shadow, and you will remain calm and confident. She will start the journey with you and lead you by secret shortcuts. You will not be spared suffering, but She will make you hungry for it, as if for an essential food. Ah, Mary! Mary! Her name will be like honey and balm on your lips. Mary! Mary! Ave Maria! Who can resist it? Tell me, who will be lost with the Ave Maria?
Sweet Heart of Mary, be our Salvation!