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Part 9: Mary's Journey of Faith
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 11, 2017)
The following is part 9 of a special series on the role Mary plays in the life of the Church.
Mary's virtue of faith was refined in the fire of God's love at every step of her life. She faithfully journeyed with her Son through His "hidden years" in Nazareth in expectation of the advent of His public mission. Through the gathering storm of opposition to His ministry in Galilee, she remained with Him, though at a distance.
Father Federico Suarez explains that throughout their life journey, the Lord was slowly preparing her for her greatest act of faith of all:
Simeon's distressing prophecy, the child's incomprehensible answer in the Temple after the anguish His absence had caused, the apparent indifference with which Jesus treated her when she went with His "brethren" to meet Him, the pondering in her heart of that mysterious and terrible passage in Isaias about the "man of sorrows" [Is 53:3-5], Jesus' gradual separation from her when He left Nazareth and gave Himself up completely to His mission, her knowledge of the announcement of His Passion which Jesus made to His disciples — all these things were so many insinuations by which God slowly prepared her for the great moment of Redemption. The Virgin observed the gradual change that was taking place in the people's attitude to her son: from the great enthusiasm caused by His miracles and His words to the terrible solitude of the last months when nobody dared to be favourable to Him for fear of being expelled from the Synagogue. She saw how great clouds were gathering over Jesus ... we can be certain that this could not escape Mary's penetration and intuition with her habitual meditation on everything she observed. When the hour came the disciples fled, but Mary remained at the foot of the Cross near her son; she was prepared, she was ready for anything, even this.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1987), St. Pope John Paul II called upon the whole Church to ponder Mary's lifelong pilgrimage of faith. He called our attention especially to the culmination of that pilgrimage in the greatest act of faith in human history, when Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, giving her assent to the crucifixion of her Son, the Son of God. The Holy Father wrote: "At the foot of the Cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery ... This is perhaps the deepest kenosis [self-emptying] of faith in human history" (Redemptoris Mater, no. 18). According to the Second Vatican Council, Mary "faithfully persevered in her union with her son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim, whom she herself had brought forth" (Lumen Gentium, 58). Once again, Fr. Suarez has plumbed this mystery of the life of Mary for us:
The Fathers of the Church and later theologians have always interpreted St. John's account of the Blessed Virgin standing at the foot of the Cross as something more than merely watching what was happening. ... [John 19:25] would indicate that he wants to stress the fact of the Virgin's standing, and we know how meaningful this act is in the symbolism of the Church's liturgy. When, for instance, the faithful stand up for the reading of the Gospel at Mass, it is an external expression of an inner attitude of soul, a disposition of acceptance of everything the gospel teaches, an active and resolute adherence to the message, their identification with it. Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, participating actively and intimately in the sacrifice, identifying herself completely with Him, agreeing willingly, like Jesus, to the fulfilment of the will of the Father. ...
During those three hours on Calvary, Mary was weighed down under a trial so terrible that we will never fully understand it and never be able to describe it. She saw them stripping Jesus of His clothes, disrespectful, humiliating; she saw Him deserted by those who once acclaimed Him, by those for whom He had worked miracles, by His disciples who were ashamed of Him. She saw the chief priests of her people, the highest authorities of the Temple, insulting Him, challenging Him to come down from the Cross as a proof of His divinity. She saw how Jesus kept silent, how He did not defend Himself from the accusations levelled against Him, How He did not give them the proof they demanded: it was as if His power had vanished the moment He fell into the hands of His enemies; as if they were right all along. She knew that her Son was innocent, that He was the Son of God, that He had only done good to others and never hurt anyone. And God raised not a finger to defend His Son, as if He did not care. ...
Our Lady did not merely stand and watch the drama taking place, helpless to prevent or change it. Her participation was active; she was no mere spectator. She consented to it all. She did not intercede for her son: she did not beg for mercy or appeal to any friend, she made no effort to change the course of events or in any way interfere with the will of the Father; she accepted it with respect and left to Him all initiative, as at the Annunciation, as always ...
The Book of Hebrews tells us: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 1:11; emphasis added). What Mary "saw" with her bodily eyes on Calvary was the apparent defeat of her Son's mission and the seeming contradiction of all the promises that God had made to her through the angel Gabriel: "And the Lord God will give unto him the throne of His father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:32-33). But Mary stood firm in faith and believed even in the midst of darkness, even though she did not yet fully understand how God's merciful plan would triumph through her Son. Much was still veiled in mystery at that moment, even to her — yet Mary continued to trust and place her hope in what had been promised to her and to all mankind by the Lord. This is the kind of faith that the Bible says "overcomes the world" (I Jn 5:4), and that the powers of evil can neither comprehend nor destroy. It is the faith that enabled Mary to carry on in hope until Easter morning.
Recite the Chaplet of the 10 Evangelical Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and prayerfully reflect on Mary's virtue of faith.
Questions for Discussion — Parts 8 and 9
1. What does the Church mean by the word "faith" — and why does St. James tell us that true faith is "completed" only by living it out, that is, by doing those good works that God has called and enabled us to do (Jas 2:22)?
2. Trace the steps of Mary's journey of faith throughout her life, from the Annunciation to the foot of the Cross on Calvary.
3. Have you ever had to cling to God's revealed truth and to His promises even when everything seemed dark, and it seemed as if all was lost?
Suggestions for Further Reading
Read Edward Sri, Walking With Mary, pp. 107-118, the chapter entitled "Walking in Darkness," and pp. 133-148, the chapter entitled "Total Surrender, Total Trust."
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).