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Mary’s “Obedience of Faith”

10 Feb

The Church calls the act of hearing God’s Word and taking it to heart the obedience of faith. St. Paul bookends his Letter to the Romans with that expression (1:5, 16:26; see also Catechism, nos. 144, 2087).

In our time, Vatican II says that the obedience of faith “must be given to God as He reveals Himself,” which entails freely committing one’s “entire self to God.”

Interestingly, in both Greek and Latin there is an etymological connection between the word “obedience” and the verb meaning to “hear” or “listen.” We’re familiar with expressions such as “to hear is to obey,” and many an exasperated parent has complained that a disobedient child “just doesn’t listen.”

Not surprisingly, then, there’s a connection between effectively hearing God’s Word and what we call the obedience of faith. For example, St. Paul emphasizes that faith comes from “hearing” the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Our Lord Himself also stresses that merely hearing His words but not acting upon them is as futile as building a house on sand. He calls His followers to build on rock–to hear His words and put them into practice (cf. Lk. 6:46-49).

That, in a nutshell, is the obedience of faith.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which recalls the Blessed Virgin Mary’s 19th-century appearances to St. Bernadette, in which she identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Our Lady gives us profound insights as to what the “obedience of faith” is all about.

Mary’s obedience of faith is anticipated in her Immaculate Conception. “Full of grace” from the womb, and by a singular gift of God preserved from the stain of original sin, she was uniquely prepared to give her free, unflinching consent to God’s will for her.

Today when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done”), on the other hand, was completely self-giving. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord” to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51). Continue reading