Mary: Who She Is and Why She Matters

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Part 12: Mary, Most Obedient

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Feb 2, 2017)
The following is part 12 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.

The virtue of "obedience" has a bad name these days. Some people think that to be obedient means to be a mindless slave and to accept being treated as a child. Household cats seem to be of this opinion as well. As one observer put it, "Your cat will never really obey you: Sometimes he will just agree with you." But that is not the Gospel virtue of "obedience" either.

Christians are properly obedient when they faithfully adhere to all the lawful directives of their parents, employers, governors, and ecclesiastical superiors, as long as those directives do not require them to break the Commandments of God, to whom obedience is due above all.

Mary was a model of obedience to civil law when she followed the directive of Caesar Augustus and journeyed with Joseph to Bethlehem for the common enrollment, even though she was carrying the child Jesus in her womb (see Lk 2:1-5). Saint Alphonsus writes: "Mary well proved how ready she was to obey in all things, in the first place, when to please God she obeyed even the Roman Emperor, and undertook the long journey of at least seventy miles to Bethlehem, in the winter, when she was pregnant, and in such poverty that she had to give birth to her Son in a stable."

Mary was also a model of obedience to ecclesiastical law, the law of God's Chosen People, for when the time came for her purification according to the Law of Moses, she brought the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, offering there the sacrifice required of the poor: "a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons" (Lk 2:22-24).

Above all, the Blessed Virgin was obedient to the will of her Son, the Son of God. As she said to the servants at the Wedding Feast at Cana, just "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5). Father Federico Suarez explains, "This, then, is the advice — the only advice — that our Lady has left us: that we should do whatever her Son tells us, obey Him willingly, ready to do anything; that we should obey promptly, silently, fully, not only with our will but also with our intelligence, with our heart, putting our whole being into it: as she did; as He did [in obeying His heavenly Father]."

Still, we want to know why we should obey those set in lawful authority over us.

"Surely," we complain, "my teachers and my parents when I was young, and my boss and my bishop now do not always know what is best. Sometimes they even abuse their authority!"

The trouble is, of course, that everyone always thinks they know what is best. Father Eugene Boylan, OCSO, holds the mirror up to us all when he writes:

The desire to control affairs, to be in a position to manage others, to make one's own will prevail, often comes from that form of pride which has, perhaps, the deepest of roots: the love of one's own judgment. Even when we yield externally we are still convinced in our heart that "we knew best."

One reason we must give at least the benefit of the doubt to those set over us is that without a proper degree of deference to authority, our homes, our churches, our places of work, even entire nations become scenes of constant discord and strife. It is for the common good that we submit to authority as long as such authority is not requiring us to violate Christian principles.

C.S. Lewis, author of The Screwtape Letters, gives us a vision of hell where just the opposite spirit prevails: "We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives in the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment."

Another reason why we must generally defer to those in authority is that most of those in leadership positions have been given what the Catholic Tradition calls "the grace of state." This means that, no matter what position of leadership in which God has placed someone (or at least, whatever position of leadership that God's Providence has permitted a person lawfully to attain), God has also provided grace sufficient to enable that person to carry out his or her responsibilities with prudence and equity. This special grace, "the grace of state," entitles them to expect a reasonable degree of deference to their lawful directives.

If we generally have reason to obey those human authorities set over us, we have even more reason to obey the Commandments of God Himself. Here there is no question of occasional incompetence or "abuse of authority." God is our infinitely wise Creator who knows what is best for us, and what is best for His whole kingdom dawning in this world through His Son.

He knows best how to sanctify the heart of each and every one of us, and how to prepare us for Heaven. Father Boylan writes:

The whole trouble is that — literally — we do not know what is good for us, and what makes the trouble still worse is that we think we do. We have our own plans for happiness and too often we merely regard God as somebody who will help us to accomplish them. The true state of affairs is just the opposite. God has His plans for our happiness, and He is waiting for us to help Him in accomplishing them. And let us be quite clear about it, we cannot improve on God's plans.

Sometimes obedience to God's Commandments and to the guidance of His Providence in our lives can seem highly impractical — and sometimes even costly and dangerous. It is then that we must obey Him through a sheer act of trust in His merciful love. Imagine what Mary had to go through when obedience to her God-given role as Mother of the Messiah entailed, first of all, the misunderstanding and consternation of her fiancée, St. Joseph.

Father Louis Cameli writes:

Any significant call [from God] involves cost. If it is truly significant, it redirects a person's life, demands an investment of time and energy, and realigns relationships, sometimes in painful ways. In this sense, a call that is heard and answered needs to be reaffirmed when its consequences and its cost become evident.

When Mary experienced Joseph's misunderstanding, she experienced the price of her call. Her initial words of acceptance, "Let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38), needed to be repeated.

For every Catholic, sooner or later the call to obedience involves the call of our Lord to "deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mt 15:24). Jesus also said: "For he who shall save his life shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Mt 16:25).

Father Boylan again explains:

There are some souls — and their number seems to be increasing today —who are called to die the violent death of martyrdom for God. But there are a great number more who are called to die for God the slow death of humility and abandonment to His will. The trial of the first is short and sharp, that of the latter may last long years, for they shed their blood drop by drop.

For Mary, God's call to surrender in obedience to His plan led her ultimately to the foot of the Cross, and to her sharing by her maternal compassion in the sufferings of her Son.

Nevertheless, we must never forget that "in everything God works for good with those who love him" (Rom 8:28). This is the sure promise of God's Word, and it was proven in the life of the Blessed Virgin herself. Not only did the sorrows of her heart along her path of obedience lead to blessedness beyond all imagining for herself, it also led to an ocean of mercy poured out upon the whole world.

Through her "yes" to the angel Gabriel, and through her cooperation with the saving work of Jesus — from Bethlehem to Calvary — she assisted in the redemption of mankind, and merited by grace her role as spiritual Mother of all the faithful (see Jn 19:25-27).

Pope St. John Paul II summed up the importance of Mary's example of obedience in his General Audience address of Sept. 18, 1996:

By her conduct, Mary reminds us each of our serious responsibility to accept God's plan for our lives. In total obedience to the saving will of God expressed in the angel [Gabriel's] words, she became a model for those whom the Lord proclaims blessed, because "they hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:28). In answering the woman in the crowd who proclaimed his Mother blessed, Jesus disclosed the true reason for Mary's blessedness: her adherence to God's will, which led her to accept the divine motherhood. In the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater I pointed out that the new spiritual motherhood of which Jesus spoke is primarily concerned with with her. Indeed, "Is not Mary the first of 'those who hear the Word of God and do it'? And therefore does not the blessing uttered by Joseph in response to the woman in the crowd refer primarily to her?" (20). In a certain sense, therefore, Mary is proclaimed the first disciple of her Son (see RM 20), and by her example invites all believers to respond generously to the Lord's grace ...

Associated with Christ's victory over the sin of our first parents, Mary appears as the true "mother of the living" (LG 56). Her motherhood, freely accepted in obedience to the divine plan, becomes a source of life for all humanity.

Recite the Chaplet of the 10 Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayerfully reflect on Mary's virtue of obedience.

Questions for Discussion
1. How do the gospels display for us Mary's practice of the virtue of obedience?
2. How can obstacles such as "pride" and "fear of the consequences" impede our practice of the virtue of obedience in our lives?
3. Tell about times in your life when practicing obedience to God, or to lawful human authorities, has proven costly, perhaps even to the point of the risk of great suffering. Did God open a way for you through those trials and tribulations?

Suggestions for Further Reading
Read Edward Sri, Walking With Mary, pp. 165-170, the chapter entitled "Her Last Words."

Access the series to date.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press, 2016).

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A.M. - Feb 3, 2017

The Diary gives many examples when our Lord gives St.Faustina occasions to exrecise this virtue of her trust in God and she comes through humiliating situations that seem minor at one level but could have been very difficult .
May The Blood and Water of love and trust from and for The Father as well as between our Lord and His Mother be invoked for us all often to help us all to grow in this virtue , as we also offer up His merits joyfullly for all occasions of our falls as well.

Superbowl too can be occasion to do so , on behalf of all so that all become winners in what truly matters .