Mary: Who She Is and Why She Matters

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Part 8: Mary, Most Faithful

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 6, 2017)
The following is part 8 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.

Mary's fourth Gospel virtue is "faith," which simply means that she surrendered herself completely to the Lord in the light of all that God had revealed to her through the Scriptures, through the message of the angel Gabriel, through Christ, and through His Church. Mary's virtue of faith was fashioned in her soul by the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception, strengthened day by day throughout her life journey, and manifest most clearly both at the Annunciation and at the foot of the Cross.

At the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin's surrender of faith was certainly neither grudging nor reluctant. As Catholic Scripture scholar Fr. Ignace de la Potterie tells us:

For the 'fiat' of Mary at the Annunciation ["Be it unto me according to Thy word"] Luke employs [a term in Greek] ... which is used positively only in this unique place in the New Testament. In Greek, [this] expresses 'a joyous desire' [to surrender herself], [it] is never a resignation or a constraining submission before something burdensome and painful. ... The 'fiat' of Mary is not just a simple acceptance, and even less a resignation. It is rather a joyous desire to collaborate with what God foresees for her. It is the joy of total abandonment to the good will of God.

Saint Elizabeth commended Mary for her faith in the angel Gabriel's words with the exclamation: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). And Mary showed that she had entrusted herself completely in faith to God's Word, spoken through the angel, when she rejoiced that all of God's promises to Israel were now being fulfilled (Lk 1:54-55):

He has helped his servant Israel
In remembrance of his mercy
As he promised to our fathers,
To Abraham and his posterity forever.

Because we are so familiar with these Gospel passages, it is easy for us to miss the extraordinary depth of Mary's surrender of faith here. Living on our side of Easter, we have the gift of hindsight: It is easy for us to see how all things turned out in accordance with God's plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ. But Mary, although full of grace and all the virtues, did not have the advantage of hindsight. Father John Kane writes:

A comparison between the message of Gabriel predicting the greatness and glory of Christ, and the life of the Redeemer Himself, categorically proves the strength of Mary's faith. The Savior was the poorest of the children of men. He was born into His own world homeless. In the workshop of an unknown and humble carpenter, He toiled in obscurity for thirty years. ... How can we harmonize the hidden life with the glorious declaration of the archangel? ... The one seems to be in flat contradiction of the other. And yet Mary firmly believed the words of the heavenly messenger. How inconceivably strong her faith!

Also, it is important to remember that Mary did not fully understand every aspect of her Son's mission at first. This is clear from the question she asked of the boy Jesus when she and Joseph found Him in the Temple of Jerusalem: "Son, why have you treated us so?"(Lk 2:48). It is also clear from the fact that they did not understand His answer to them: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49). Father Federico Suarez tells us:

What we gather from the gospel is that our Lady did not receive any sudden enlightenment as to the Redemption and how it was to be achieved. Otherwise, St. Luke would not have said that "they understood not the word that he spoke unto them" when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple: if she had known everything beforehand she would have completely understood Jesus' answer and all its implications. We have no reason to except our Lady from the law of gradual growth to which the Son of God Himself was subject: growth in wisdom and understanding and penetration of the mysteries, of the mystery of her Son, above all.

It is certainly not hard for us to identify with Mary's experience in this regard: The experience is one of being called to a particular form of service in the world, or to a particular lifelong vocation (such as to the religious life, or to marriage), and yet, at the same time, not fully comprehending from the start how it can be carried out. We can only walk forward in faith. Father Louis Cameli sums it up well in his book Mary's Journey:

The experience is that of not knowing, of pieces not coming together, of wondering how the claims of God fit into the total picture of life. Although she did not understand, she did two things: she trusted and she contemplated. Her silence after the words of Simeon and Anna and after the words of [the boy] Jesus spoken in the Temple is the language of her acceptance, even though she did not understand. She also contemplated, pondering the experiences and the words. According to St. Luke, after the finding in the Temple, "[Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart" (Lk 2:51). She contemplated in trust. In other words, she allowed herself to dwell on the words and experiences in Jerusalem with the hope of gaining a wider sense of the claims of God on her son and on her own life.

Clearly, authentic faith, like the virtue of faith in the heart of Mary, is more than just believing in the doctrines that God has revealed to us through Christ and His Church. It includes that trustful surrender of the human intellect to God's revealed truth, but it goes well beyond it, too, for it includes also the surrender of the whole person to God, body and soul, the full embrace of what God has revealed about Himself and his will for our lives. All we can do is walk forward in faith, trusting that his will is best for us, and for his whole kingdom. Indeed, the word "faith" can be explained as an acronym, with each letter of the word signifying a part of its definition: "Forsaking All I Trust Him." That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that "by faith man freely commits his entire self to God" (Catechism, 1814), and that faith is "personal adherenceto God and assent to his truth" (Catechism, 150).

That is also why St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us that full and complete faith in God is a faith that is lived out in daily life. The surrender of our wholeself to God, in the light of His revealed truth, necessarily includes the surrender of our will, and of our deeds:

Faith, at the same time that it is a gift, is also a virtue. It is a gift of God, inasmuch as it is a light infused by Him into our souls; and a virtue, inasmuch as the soul has to exercise itself in the practice of it. Hence faith is not only to be the rule of our belief, but also that of our actions; therefore St. Gregory says, "He truly believes who puts what he believes into practice," and St. Augustine, "Thou sayest, I believe; do what thou sayest and it is faith." This is to have a lively faith, to live according to our belief: the just man liveth by faith. Thus did the Blessed Virgin live very differently from those who do not live in accordance with what they believe, and whose faith is dead, as St. James declares, Faith without works is dead.

Next Time: Mary's Journey of Faith

Access the series to date.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the Mary - Who She Is and Why She Matters (Marian Press).

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