Mary: Who She Is and Why She Matters

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Part 2: Her Virtues Flow from Divine Grace

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 23, 2016)
The following is part 2 of the series Mary Lights the Way:

In the 20th century, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, found in Mary's example of holiness a light upon her pathway as she struggled to become a faithful servant of the Lord. She wrote in her Diary, entry 843: "The more I imitate the Mother of God, the more deeply I get to know God." Saint Faustina also wrote a poem about this, recorded in entry 1232:

O sweet Mother of God,
I model my life on You;
You are for me the bright dawn:
In you I lose myself enraptured.

O Mother, Immaculate Virgin,
In You the divine ray is reflected,
Midst storms, 'tis You who teach me to love the Lord,
O my shield and defense from the foe.

The way that St. Faustina addressed Mary here as "Immaculate Virgin" reminds us of another important aspect of the mystery of Mary's holiness: that all of Mary's virtues were fashioned in her by divine grace, and that the first grace she received was her Immaculate Conception. In other words, her virtues are not simply her own "achievements," as if she attained them by personal effort alone. Rather, every one of her acts of faith, hope, and charity, and every loving affection in her heart, was the result of the grace of God, poured into her soul from the first moment of her existence.

This insight has been part of the Church's living Tradition for many centuries. For example, in France in 1768, a Jesuit priest named Fr. Alexander de Rouville published a work entitled The Imitation of Mary that spread throughout the Catholic world. In the second chapter, Fr. De Rouville made it clear that in emulating the virtues of Mary, we are doing no more than honouring God's own work within her soul:

Mary alone was protected from the very beginning by God's love and so came into the world as the masterpiece of grace ...

She had many other prerogatives given her by God, but the first favour was more precious than all the rest, since it brought her closer to God. Her life in its entirety was a continuous expression of gratitude to Him for a gift which she shared with no other pure creature.

Then Fr. De Rouville reminds us that we, too, as baptized Christians, have received a similar grace, that calls for a similar response of gratitude and service from us:

Christian soul, in baptism you received the sanctifying grace that Mary received in the moment of conception. That grace brought you the right to call God your Father and Jesus your brother. You became an heir of God and a coheir with Christ (Rom 8:17). The kingdom of heaven itself was set aside as your inheritance.

Do you fully understand what a great and glorious privilege is yours? ... Alas! How few Christians reflect on this privilege! How few try to live holy lives and thus prove worthy of the dignity that is theirs!

All of Our Lady's virtues flowed from this inner fountain: the grace poured into her Heart from the moment of her conception. We, too, have been given an inner spring: the living water of baptismal grace, which will flow into our lives and sanctify our every heartbeat, if we will only surrender to the Holy Spirit, as Mary did.

This series of reflections on Our Lady is written for those who long to respond to that baptismal grace, and that baptismal call to holiness, with a total gift of themselves to Jesus Christ, after Mary's example. It is written for those who desire with all their hearts to become His true disciples. To that end, we will meditate on Mary's 10 Gospel virtues, according to the pattern given to us in the Chaplet of the 10 Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

However, we must not be misled by the simple list of 10 virtues in this Chaplet into thinking that all of Mary's virtues are of equal importance for us to ponder and imitate. The Catholic Church teaches that the virtue of faith, infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is actually the root of the whole process of salvation. As we shall see later, St. John Paul II emphasized this truth in his many teachings on Mary, and especially in his papal encyclical of 1987, Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer): "In the expression 'Blessed is she who believed' [Lk 1:45], we can therefore rightly find a kind of 'key' which unlocks for us the innermost reality of Mary, whom the angel hailed as 'full of grace.' " (section 19)

Happily, following Mary's example of holiness and discipleship is not something we have to do on our own steam, so to speak, any more than Mary attained her sanctity by sheer will power alone. We should expect that any attempt to sanctify ourselves in a "do-it-yourself" fashion could only result in total failure! It is Mary Immaculate, our merciful Mother in Heaven, to whom we can turn for help. True growth in holiness can only happen within us by the Holy Spirit, and it is precisely Mary's role in Heaven as our Spiritual Mother to intercede for us for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit from her Son, just as she did before the first Pentecost long ago (Acts 1:14). That is why St. John Paul II constantly encouraged us to turn to Mary for the help of her prayers:

Given Mary's relationship to the Church as an exemplar, the Church is close to her and seeks to become like her: "Imitating the Mother of the Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she preserves with virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope, and a sincere charity." Mary is thus present in the mystery of the Church as a model. But the Church's mystery also consists in generating people to new and immortal life: this is her motherhood in the Holy Spirit. And here Mary is not only the model and figure of the Church, she is much more. For, "with maternal love she cooperates in the birth and development" of the sons and daughters of Mother Church. The Church's motherhood is accomplished not only according to the model and figure of the Mother of God, but with her "cooperation." The Church draws abundantly from this cooperation, that is to say, from the maternal mediation which is characteristic of Mary....a spiritual motherhood born from the heart of the Paschal Mystery of the Redeemer of the world. It is a motherhood in the order of grace, for it implies the gift of the Spirit, who raises up new children of God. (Redemptoris Mater, section 44)

Nourished by the Word of the Lord and the experience of the saints, the Church urges believers to keep their gaze fixed on the Mother of the Redeemer and to consider themselves, like her, loved by God. She invites them to share our Lady's humility and poverty, so that after her example and through her intercession, they may persevere in the grace of God who sanctifies and transforms hearts. (General Audience, May 8, 1996).

Litany of the Mysteries of Mary's Life

Mother of God and Virgin Immaculate — intercede for us!
Bringing joy
to the world by your birth,
Presented as a child in the Temple,
Betrothed to St. Joseph,
Greeted by the Archangel Gabriel,
Chosen to be the Mother of God,
Blessed among women and full of grace,
Visiting St. Elizabeth,
Giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem,
Revealing the Son of God to the shepherds and the magi,
Presenting Your Son in the Temple,
Fleeing into Egypt with Jesus,
Finding Jesus in the Temple,
Listening to the teaching Christ,
Holding in your arms your Son taken down from the Cross,
The first to welcome the Risen Lord,
Watching your Son ascend to Heaven,
Entreating the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles gathered in the Cenacle,
Assumed into Heaven body and soul,
Our Most powerful Queen and Lady—intercede for us!
V. By the mysteries of your life, you are our model, O Lady.
R. Intercede for us that we may imitate you in our daily lives.
V. Let us pray.
O Lord God, in the life of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, You have shown us the most perfect example of how to live our daily lives as followers of the Savior, and have revealed the joy of salvation that awaits us. Through the intercession of Mary, whose life we ponder, grant that we may become co-heirs of the Kingdom of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You, forever and ever. Amen.
(The Blue Scapular Prayer Book)

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Questions for Discussion for Parts 1 and 2:

1. Why is it helpful for us to meditate upon, and to emulate the lives of the saints?
2. Why should we bear in mind the grace of Mary's Immaculate Conception when striving to imitate her Gospel virtues?
3. How can Mary herself, our Spiritual Mother in Heaven, help us to follow her own example, and help us become true disciples of Jesus Christ?

Suggestions for Further Reading
• The second section of chapter 1 of Fr. Donald Calloway's book Under the Mantle, pp. 22-29, on Mary as "The Immaculate Blueprint."

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).

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poor child of the Father, - Mar 26, 2019

By the Power of the Holy Spirit, our Savior Jesus Christ was conceived first in the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary before The Eternal Word of God was formed in Her Womb. She is the Mother of Jesus' Sacred Humanity and our Heavenly Father of His Perfect Divinity.

In the Mystery of the Incarnation of The Eternal Word of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mold of God and Perfect Praise of Glory of The Most Holy Trinity, and Jesus is truly Human precisely because He is truly Divine!

friend - Dec 3, 2016

I guess Fr. Mike's "do-it-yourself-retreat" books aren't completely by ourselves because of Mary, Help of Christians tutoring us? :)