Today, we are offering a special votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pillar of Faith. This title, Our Lady of the Pillar, is one of the oldest known and approved devotions of the Blessed Mother. There is a shrine in Zaragoza, Spain, to commemorate Our Lady under this title. She is the patroness of Spain and the Hispanic world.
Within the context of this Year of Faith, called by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and continued by our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, let’s consider Mary’s faith and how her faith is the model for the Christian.
First of all, faith is the very foundation of our life in Christ. Faith is a theological virtue. Why do we call it theological?
It is a power that we have been given; it is a gift from God received at baptism. … It is a gift, infused into our souls along with sanctifying grace. It is a gift that allows us to receive the word of God. We call it theological because it comes directly from God, and it ends in God.
The rock foundation of faith is that the Christian believes that the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church is the word of God. We believe because we believe God is speaking to us. We cannot believe unless God gives us the ability to believe.
Let’s consider the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary. Mary receives a message from God. God will make her a mother. She will be the Mother of his Son, who will be the Messiah and Savior of mankind. Mary believed the message that the angel Gabriel gave her.
St. Augustine says that Christ was first conceived in Mary’s soul by faith and then in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary shows us that faith is obedience to God.
Faith is the full submission of the intellect to God, who has revealed himself. Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him. Ultimately, we cannot believe on our own. God gives us the power to believe. God is one who initiates and ignites faith. He makes the first move toward us. Our response to God is what faith is.
The Church has recognized in Mary the perfect act of faith and the perfect self-surrender of a human person to God. Mary’s faith was not passive in the mystery of God becoming man. This is crucial for understanding Mary’s role in our redemption. Again, Mary’s faith was not passive, but, rather, she cooperates freely in the Father’s plan by receiving his word, believing him, trusting him and surrendering herself and her entire future into his hands.
We can see all the theological virtues at work in Mary. She believed (faith), she trusted with complete confidence in God (hope), and she surrendered herself complete in loving obedience (charity). Because of Mary’s faith, and we can say her hope and her charity, God the Son became a man forever. By her wholehearted Yes to God, the human race became forever united in the mystery of the Word Incarnate.
What can we learn from Mary’s faith? Have we submitted our entire lives over to the care of God? This is not a submission that makes us somehow less human, but a submission that makes us truly free.
Do we really believe what God has revealed in Christ and his Church? Have we just passively accepted God’s revelation?
This is not good enough. Each of us is called to actively respond to the invitation of grace.
Pope Francis reminded young people from all around the world in Rio de Janeiro that being a Christian is not a “part-time job.” It is not a punching in your time card on Sunday only and saying, “I’m here God; are you satisfied?” It is a full-time life commitment.
Mary’s Yes, her faith, was not part-time. It was total and unwavering commitment to God and, in turn, to us her spiritual children. It was the type of faith that puts the hands to the plow and never looks back. Her faith was a faith that had God at its origin, purpose and goal.
Mary is the perfect icon of faith in Christ. Her faith in Christ did not stop at the Annunciation, but continued at every moment of her Son’s life: his public ministry and culminating and reaching its high point in her faith at Calvary. Mary’s supreme act of faith was the uniting of her suffering with her Son’s sacrifice on the cross. In faith, hope and charity, Mary obediently offered the Son that God had given her over to be crucified for our salvation.
Each of us here are on a pilgrimage of faith. Perhaps you came here seeking an increase in faith. There is no better model for how we should respond to God than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary holds nothing back from God. She does not put up obstacles in her relationship with God. She is always obedient, docile and self-giving with God and her neighbor. There is no hint of selfishness in Mary. She teaches us by her example what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In closing, here is a prayer composed by Pope Francis at the end of his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!
Father John Paul Zeller is a priest of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word.