[This is an edited version of an article I wrote a number of years ago, which has also found its way into my book, A Place Prepared by God.]
A rich harvest of spiritual analogies between the Mother of God and the multi-faceted, mysterious concept “Wisdom” (often personified), can be reaped in those books of the Old Testament appropriately called “The Wisdom Books.” The analogies are made more obvious and accurate since the word “wisdom” (Hebrew hokmat, Greek sophia) is feminine in gender and therefore always referred to with the pronoun “she.” It would take an enormous volume to explore the relationship between Our Lady and wisdom in the numerous places where this is possible in the sapiential literature of the Bible. Here I would just like to take a brief look at a few striking passages from the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus).
“My son, from your youth up choose instruction, and until you are old you will keep finding wisdom… For in her service you will toil a little while, and soon you will eat of her produce… Put your feet into her fetters and your neck into her collar… Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might. Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her do not let her go… Then her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe. Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue” (Sir. 6:18-30).
There is an important biblical theme expressed here, one that was dear to Jesus Himself. It is also applied by St. Paul, and later by St. Louis de Montfort (among others). Accept the discipline that God’s wisdom places upon you, the inspired word explains, and you will find that it is not harsh at all, but rather joy-giving and vivifying. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me,” said Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom of God, “and you will find rest for your souls…” (Mt. 11:29). Become slaves of God, slaves of righteousness, St. Paul challenges us. Be free from sin and bind yourself to God! The reward is sanctification and eternal life (see Rom. 6:16-23).
St. Louis de Montfort, by encouraging us to bind ourselves to Mary, through whom we bind ourselves forever to Christ, brings this biblical theme to a new level of expression and fruition. It is all right, he says, just “put your feet into her fetters and your neck into her collar. Come to her with all your soul…” This may sound restricting at first, but behold what happens next: “her fetters will become for you a strong protection, and her collar a glorious robe.” The fruit of steadfast commitment and self-discipline in the service of God is always ultimately sweet, as the whole Bible and the history of Christianity testify.
There is more. It is not merely that it is prudent or beneficial to serve the Seat of Wisdom (one of the many titles of Our Lady)—it is a royal privilege, an honor of the highest order, to be bonded to her perpetual service. “Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds are a cord of blue.” What first struck my fancy in reading this entire passage is that last phrase: her bonds are a cord of blue. Now what this “blue” refers to is the “royal purple,” which only the king and queen and their family could wear as a sign of their sovereignty. But I found it altogether appropriate for the analogy to Mary (with whom the color blue is often associated) that the translation I use, the Revised Standard Version, reads “cord of blue.” [I recently discovered also that a different sort of “cord of blue” was prescribed for the tassels of the Israelites’ garments, so that when they saw it they would “remember all the commandments of the Lord”; see Numbers 15:37-40.]
The whole point is that, in the realm of the Spirit, “to serve is to reign.” Pope John Paul II wrote that himself, echoing Lumen Gentium in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater. The author of Sirach purposely sets side by side the images of slavery and of royalty. In this mystery of divine wisdom, as in the revelation of the mystery of consecration to Mary, notice that we are not meant to throw off the symbols of slavery—they are transformed so that they simply become the symbols of royalty! Look again at the text: her fetters themselves become our protection; her yoke is a golden ornament, her bonds are a cord of blue. God has worked a transformation that only He could accomplish. And like everything else He does, it is done “for us and for our salvation.”
Has not the barbarous instrument for the execution of slaves—the cross—become the symbol of the liberation of the children of God? Jesus did not discard his Cross as odious when He rose from the dead, but rather invested it with an entirely new meaning, and so the Cross is exalted through all ages. Likewise, the language, concept, and symbols of slavery have been, in several places in the New Testament, transformed in meaning to express a profound dimension of the “holy, living sacrifice” of ourselves to God. Thus in a particular mind-set in continuity with divine revelation, St. Louis de Montfort cast an important aspect of our relationship to Our Lady into similar language and concepts. Therefore our submission to and dependence upon our heavenly Mother as she guides us in wisdom through this life, is our joyful freedom, as is our becoming “slaves of God” in St. Paul’s terminology. [In terms of the prayer I mentioned above, we are liberated by being bound to her love, which is not mere sentiment but commitment and sacrifice.]
We are not our own, but have been “bought” at a high price. The language of ownership is the language of belonging, and how great a grace it is to belong entirely to Jesus and his Mother! “Freedom” from this servitude is tantamount to alienation from Paradise! [In The World’s First Love, Archbishop Sheen describes love as “the sweet servitude of affection and devotion to another.”] Why did Jesus say that his yoke (symbol of slavery) is easy and light? Because his yoke is our liberation; his Cross carries us! It is in accepting the disciplines which express our discipleship that we are set free (see Jn. 8:31-32).
In my own experience, the “cord of blue” has another significance as well. In various messages given by Our Lady in her reported apparitions, she says in different ways that the Rosary is a cord or chain that binds us to her Immaculate Heart. I used to have a rosary made of blue cord, with knots for beads. Someone once gave me as well a blue chotki (a prayer rope used by Eastern Christians to pray the Jesus Prayer). These “cords of blue” are fitting reminders to persevere in that prayer from the heart which should be the loving expression of our acceptance of the fetters and bonds that Wisdom decrees will lead us to glory. “Come to her with all your soul…”
Who would refuse to be “bound with a cord of blue,” knowing the inner transformation that the Holy Spirit works—in ways both manifest and hidden—through our humble and unremitting service to the Queen of Heaven? A caterpillar binds itself with strands of white silk without which its astounding metamorphosis would never take place. Similarly, without accepting the fetters fashioned by the loving hand of the Father, we would die without ever knowing the full truth and beauty of what we are, and can be, in the eyes of God. This is a consequence of our terrible freedom to resist the grace which makes all things new. Without the yoke of Christ by which his Mother guides us, we would surely wander from the narrow path of eternal salvation to the broad highway trodden by the “liberated” people who are often not even aware of their slavery to the most harsh and wicked of masters.
The Wisdom Books of the Bible are unrelenting in their emphasis on the rewards of seeking wisdom, of which the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning, the root, the full measure, and the crown (see Sir. 1:14-20). They emphasize as well the punishment for sinful folly, which is always shown as the mindless and wicked counterpart of wisdom. Unrepentant rebels and apostates are unworthy to enter the presence of the Queen, the Seat of Wisdom. “Foolish men will not obtain her, and sinful men will not see her” (Sir. 15:7).
Our Lady is also unrelenting in her desire and efforts to instruct us in the ways of divine wisdom (which, let us remember, is the wisdom of the Cross and not the “wisdom” of the world). How can she leave us alone for a minute, knowing the danger our souls are in until we are safely embraced, pressed to her heart, and carried to the throne of God in Heaven? A mother cannot sleep when her children need her. She also will not hesitate to correct and admonish out of love. But how glorious will be the revelation of the children of God and of Mary, who have followed in faith, trusted under trial, and loved without expecting earthly rewards! “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
We might not, therefore, always experience as sweetness in this valley of tears the bonds and the yoke which remind us that we are the permanent possession of our Mother and Queen. We don’t always sufficiently esteem the blessing of our royal servitude, our saving self-renunciation. But setting our hearts on things of Heaven and living in the constant remembrance of God, we will see more clearly the divine dimensions of daily living, and we will give thanks for every opportunity to express our complete belonging to Another. He who seeks wisdom and her fruits will find them.
“I sought wisdom openly in my prayer. Before the temple I asked for her, and I will search for her to the last… I directed my soul to her… my heart was stirred to seek her. The man who fears the Lord will… obtain wisdom. She will come to meet him like a mother… She will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink. He will lean on her and will not fall, and he will rely on her… He will find gladness and a crown of rejoicing” (Sir. 51:13-21; 15:1-6).
Great are the sacrifices and total is the surrender necessary for a worthy response to God’s invitation to his ineffable joy, to attain to that which He has prepared for those who love Him. But is this not simply walking the way of her who said, “Let it be done to me according to your word”? Our heavenly Mother’s help is near at hand. We need only humbly and gratefully accept the conditions of our consecration. Bound with a cord of blue, we are bound for Heaven!