The other day I was speaking to a priest about the challenges of the apostolate today. In the bleak modern landscape, where so much militates against revealed religion (and even common sense), “You have to have the faith of Abraham and the patience of Job,” I said. It is a commonplace to use these two holy men of the Old Testament as models of these virtues. Scripture itself does so, and for good reason.
But maybe I should have said something different.
We would be better off if we had the faith and patience of Mary, concerning which, for the theological virtue anyway, we can cite Saint Elizabeth’s inspired words to her in the mystery of the Visitation: “And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
Regarding Mary’s faith, I came upon a wonderful passage in the book, Life of Union with Mary, by Father Emile Neubert, SM, which reminded me of a similarly edifying passage in Dom Guéranger’s Liturgical Year. The thought came to me to present these two passages together for two reasons: to pay tribute to the faith of Mary, and to help my readers direct their own prayers and meditations with the words of these two great, yet very different, masters.
But first, a few words of my own. One occasionally encounters, in the writings of some supposed mystic or the musings of a pious but uninstructed soul, accounts of the hidden life of the Holy Family at Nazareth that make it out to be one long circus of miraculous occurrences, as if we were dealing with Marvel Comic Book characters and not the meek and humble Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Miracles were not needed in that house. (I’m prepared to deal with objections to that sentence, but I’ll just let it stand for now.)
Others speak of Mary having the Beatific Vision during her life, or going in and out of the Beatific Vision. Most theologians (good ones, I mean), believe that the idea of gaining and losing the Beatific Vision goes against the very nature of that blessed state. Besides, the claim takes from Our Lady the merit of her faith. Like all of us who have the supernaturally infused virtue, the Immaculate One had to walk in the “obscurity of faith” until the end of her earthly sojourn. She did so heroically, believing fully in Jesus’ divinity and His future resurrection while grieving as no one had ever grieved before at the foot of the Cross. (And, if you think that’s a contradiction, read Saint Bernard on the point.)
By contrast, Jesus was simul viator et comprehensor (“a wayfarer and a beholder [of the Beatific Vision] at the same time”). He did not have faith, nor hope. He had vision and fulfillment, which respectively make faith and hope both impossible and superfluous. The souls of the saints in the Church Triumphant no longer need faith or hope either, and for the same reason. (Charity, however, remains. This is one reason why Saint Paul says “the greatest of these is charity” —I Cor. 13:13.)
Without any further words of mine, here are the two promised excerpts. The first is Dom Guéranger, from his entry on Holy Saturday. He contrasts Mary’s thoughts on that day with those of the others who remained in the Upper Room:
John, the adopted son of Mary, and the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, is oppressed with sorrow. Others, also, of the Apostles and Disciples visit the house of mourning. Peter, penitent and humble, fears not to appear before the Mother of Mercy. Among the Disciples, are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. We may easily imagine the conversation, it is on the Sufferings and Death of Jesus, and on the ingratitude of the Jews. The Church, in the 7th Responsory of today’s Tenebrae, represents these men as saying: “Behold! how the Just One dieth, and there is none that taketh it to heart. Iniquity has had its way. He was silent as a Lamb under his shearer, and He opened not His mouth. He was taken away from distress and judgment: but His memory shall be in peace.”
Thus speak the men! the women are thinking of their morrow’s visit to the Sepulchre! The saintliness of Jesus, His goodness, His power, His Sufferings, His Death, everything is remembered, except His Resurrection, which they had often heard him say should certainly and speedily take place. Mary alone lives in expectation of His triumph. In her was verified that expression of the Holy Ghost, where, speaking of the Valiant Woman, He says: Her lamp shall not be put out in the night (Prov. xxxi. 18). Her courage fails not, because she knows that the Sepulchre must yield up its Dead, and her Jesus will rise again to Life. St. Paul tells us that our religion is vain, unless we have faith in the mystery of our Saviour’s Resurrection; where was this faith on the day after our Lord’s Death? In one heart only, and that was Mary’s. As it was her chaste womb, that had held within it Him, Whom heaven and earth cannot contain, so on this day, by her firm and unwavering faith, she resumes within her single self the whole Church. How sacred is this Saturday, which, notwithstanding all its sadness, is such a day of glory to the Mother of Jesus! It is on this account that the Church has consecrated to Mary the Saturday of every week. (Vol. 9, pgs. 548-549)
The contemplation of the faith of Mary and the imitation of it will lift our own faith to a heroic degree. From one end to the other, her life was a life of faith. In the midst of obscurity and of almost constant contradictions, she had to believe. She had to believe that she would be the Mother of the Messias. What was incomparably more difficult to accept, she would become His Mother while remaining a virgin. What, however, made the mystery absolutely disconcerting was that her child would be the very Son of God.
She had to believe contradictory things: for instance, that her Son should sit on the throne of David when, in the very city of David, they refused to receive Him; that He should flee during the night from the usurper of His throne; that He would pass thirty years of His life in obscurity; that hardly would He show Himself in public, than the priests, Pharisees, and scribes, the most venerable and the most powerful influences in the nation, would league against Him to destroy Him. She had to believe that He would reign forever even when she saw Him die on a cross of ignominy. She had to believe that He would attract all to Him, even though His followers, formerly so enthusiastic, fled from Him, and His very Apostles lost confidence and abandoned Him.
But Mary preserved an unshaken faith. It was not in vain that the Holy Spirit proclaimed her blessed for having believed, because the predictions made to her were accomplished.
In moments when our faith is particularly dim, when perhaps men in whom we had full confidence cease to believe in Christ, when the Church seems defeated and her enemies triumphant, when we ourselves are passing through personal crises, it will be sufficient to contemplate our Mother and to beg her for her faith in God’s word and for faith in the final victory of Him who said, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (Pgs. 174-175)
It’s good to pray for the faith of Abraham and the patience of Job, but it’s better to pray for the virtues of Mary.