By Leon Suprenant | April 7, 2008
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.
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. This was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer. 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.
Our Lady’s “obedience of faith” was not a one-time occurrence, but rather an ongoing pilgrimage that constantly called her to empty herself, to give of herself, in imitation of her divine Son. In the Presentation at the Temple, she learned that her beloved Son would be opposed in fulfilling His mission and that a sword would pierce through her own soul. From the beginning, there was no mistaking that her obedience of faith would involve suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8).
Mary continued unswervingly in her pilgrimage of faith as the years quietly passed by. At some point, she encountered the natural human suffering of having St. Joseph, her loving husband, pass from this life. She was there at the beginning of her Son’s public ministry. At the Marriage of Cana, where Christ worked His first “sign,” she became a “spokesperson” for her Son’s will: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:6). Not only does she hear the Word of God and keep it, but she exhorts others to do the same.
Vatican II beautifully summarizes the climax of our Blessed Mother’s mission:
“[T]he Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).
Mary’s motherhood did not end with bearing the Son of God. Rather, that’s only the beginning. Nor did it end with Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted Mary’s motherhood to St. John, the beloved disciple and, by extension, to the entire Church. She became the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Jn. 19:26-27; Catechism, nos. 501, 511, and 969). Undoubtedly our Blessed Mother never tires of telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us. May we have “ears to hear” (Lk. 8:8) such wise motherly counsel!
For information on my book Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, which I co-edited with Dr. Scott Hahn, click here.