Since the fall of Adam, the senses being rebellious to reason, chastity is of all virtues the one that is the most difficult to practice. St. Augustine says: “Of all the combats in which we are engaged, the most severe are those of chastity; its battles are of daily occurrence, but victory is rare.” May God be ever praised, however, Who in Mary has given us a great example of this virtue.
“With reason,” says Blessed Albertus Magnus, “is Mary called the Virgin of virgins; for she, without the counselor example of others, was the first who offered her virginity to God.” Thus did she bring all virgins who imitate her to God, as David had already foretold: After her shall virgins be brought … into the temple of the King. [Ps. 44:15] Without counsel and without example. Yes; for St. Bernard says: “O Virgin, who taught thee to please God by virginity, and to lead an angel’s life on earth?” “Ah,” replies St. Sophronius, “God chose this most pure Virgin for His Mother, that she might be an example of chastity to all.” Therefore does St. Ambrose call Mary “the standard-bearer of virginity.”
By reason of her purity the Blessed Virgin was also declared by the Holy Spirit to be beautiful as the turtle dove: Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle-dove’s. [Cant. 1:9] “Mary,” says Aponius, “was a most pure turtle dove.” For the same reason she was also called a lily: As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters. [Cant. 2:2] On this passage Denis the Carthusian remarks, that “Mary was compared to a lily amongst thorns, because all other virgins were thorns, either to themselves or to others; but that the Blessed Virgin was so neither to herself nor to others;” for she inspired all who looked at her with chaste thoughts. This is confirmed by St. Thomas, who says, that the beauty of the Blessed Virgin was an incentive to chastity in all who beheld her. St. Jerome declared that it was his opinion that St. Joseph remained a virgin by living with Mary; for, writing against the heretic Helvidius, who denied Mary’s virginity, he says, “Thou sayest that Mary did not remain a virgin. I say that not only she remained a virgin, but even that Joseph preserved his virginity through Mary.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa, says, that so much did the Blessed Virgin love this virtue, that, to preserve it, she would have been willing to renounce even the dignity of Mother of God. This we may conclude from her answer to the Archangel, How shall this be done, because I know not man? [Luke 1:34] and from the words she afterwards added, Be it done to me according to thy Word, [Ibid., 38] signifying that she gave her consent on the condition that as the Angel had assured her, she should become a Mother only by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
…These means are three, according to Bellarmine and the masters of a spiritual life: fasting, the avoidance of dangerous occasions, and prayer.
By fasting, is to be understood especially mortification of the eyes and of the appetite. Although our Blessed Lady was full of Divine grace, yet she was so mortified in her eyes, that, according to St. Epiphanius and St. John Damascene, she always kept them cast down, and never fixed them on anyone…
The second means is to fly the occasions of sin…St. Philip Neri says, that, “in the war of the senses, cowards conquer:” that is to say those who fly from dangerous occasions. Mary fled as much as possible from the sight of men…
The third means is prayer. And as I knew, said the wise man, that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it … I went to the Lord and besought Him. The Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, that she acquired no virtue without effort and continual prayer…
O Mary, O most pure dove, how many are now in Hell on account of this vice! Sovereign Lady, obtain us the grace always to have recourse to thee in our temptations, and always to invoke thee, saying, “Mary, Mary, help us.” Amen.
-From the Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus de Liguori