One cannot read very far in the writings of St. Maximilian without realizing how insistent he was on the practice of the virtue of obedience, precisely as the most perfect expression and realization of the love entailed in total consecration to Mary Immaculate. The excerpts from his writings included in the previous reflection are typical thereof. In this he echoes St. Francis for whom heroic, supernatural obedience was the goal of exalted poverty and the highest expression of that love for love of which Christ died.
What St. Maximilian does is call our attention to marian roots of this obedience, that it is only to the degree that we are consecrated to the Immaculate and unconditionally at her disposal that we are capable of the kind of obedience St. Francis describes as perfect.
Repeatedly, St. Maximilian states that the will of the Immaculate is perfectly in accord with God’s will, that what she asks for is always granted and that whatever she asks us to do will always be in accord with the truth and work for the best of all — indeed could not be more so. What is the basis for this principle?
The “Fiat” of Mary is the most perfect act of obedience ever given by any human person to a divine command; and on this as well as on the command of the Father to His Son to become flesh and die for our sins the achievement of the entire order of the Incarnation and salvation — the “order of mercy” — depended. Mary’s “Fiat” is truly an efficient cause of a very definite effect — the greatest work of the triune God ad extra. And it is this that St. Maximilian had in mind when he often described this relation between command of God and obedience as a kind of action-reaction.
Mary’s completely willing obedience in faith is so perfect because she is full of grace, the Immaculate, or spouse of the Holy Spirit. Thus, her faith and love are the complement of the love and obedience of her Son. We see here the eminently practical dimensions of the explanation St. Maximilian gives for the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. As the Holy Spirit from all eternity is the fruit of the love of Father and Son for each other — a kind of eternal action-reaction, of initiative and response, so in time Mary Immaculate is the fruit of the love of Father and Incarnate Word. And as her “Fiat” is the complement and not merely an imitation or duplication of that of the Father, so the mediation that she effects by her “Fiat” is the indispensable complement to, and not a substitute for or duplication of, the unique obedience and mediation of her Son. And to the extent that we are consecrated to her as Immaculate and at her complete disposal through obedience, so too our prayer and penance take on the same mediatory character in the realization of the fruits of the redemption in the upbuilding of the Church, the body of Christ, whose Mother is Mary Immaculate (Paul VI).
Sometimes the thesis concerning the absolute primacy of Christ is presented so as to imply a mutually exclusive choice between motives for the incarnation: either to atone for sin or to perfect creation, as though one must either be a jansenist or a pelagian in practice. The resolution of the dilemma is relatively simple once the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is appreciated. Precisely because she, our Mother, eternally predestined to be the Mother of God prior to any consideration of Adam’s sin or ours, is the Immaculate there fore she is also the Woman whose faith and obedience will and do triumph completely over the prince of this world, who in the tragic circumstances of sin can still accomplish God’s will. Hence, to the extent that we obey her, it is possible also for us to be victorious in our struggle to overcome sin. Indeed, to the degree that we progress in holiness under her guidance, to that degree will our charity incline us to atone with her Son for the sins of others and thus be the instruments whereby they are attracted to the love of His Heart. This is why penance and humble “minority” together with prayer are at once the basic message of Mary Immaculate and the hallmark of the way of life traced out for us by our holy Father Francis.
Nor need we fear that such total obedience to this person will ever in practice be in conflict with that we give to the Father and Son, or in any way constitute an immoral abdication of our reason and responsibility, precisely because her will as Spouse of the Holy Spirit is fully in accord with that of the Father and Son. Her initiative in our lives is exactly that of the Spirit, not the origin of the command, nor its execution, but the one who sustains, clarifies, vivifies, through her “Fiat,” i.e. her intercession. As her obedience is no mere passivity, but an active response to the truth in love, so too will ours be as we come more perfectly in union with her. Herein we can appreciate what it means to address her as the Seat of Wisdom. She is truly wise and intelligent. And the accomplishment of the Poverello and of his followers in the realm of theology should help to convince us that knowledge of her fullness of grace is for us the gate to a genuine metaphysics of freedom and obedience. Finally, with the Immaculate we come to understand and experience not only how it is possible for us to cooperate with Christ in the work of salvation, but the very basis and nature of that cooperation which gives value and merit to our other activities.
Precisely because her motherly prayer sustains the whole Church in its time of pilgrimage, and especially the Holy Father that he might command in accord with the truth as he shepherds and guides us, especially those whose Franciscan rule of life he has given such definite approval, we can also understand how without prior knowledge of detail we can be sure the more perfect our acceptance and execution of legitimate commands will neither stifle our personal action nor hinder the accomplishment of the great work of salvation, however painful the particular command of the moment may be, so long as it is legitimate and in accord with the truth. Rather because it involves the “Fiat” of the Immaculate by way of total consecration, it will more efficaciously promote the glory and triumph of the Sacred Heart, even in death. That moment of witness on August 14, 1941, the vigil of the Assumption, when St. Maximilian gave his soul to God as he gave his life for his neighbor, is more than sufficient confirmation in our day of the abiding and unchanging validity of the principles of the Franciscan way of life — and of the reason thereof, Mary Immaculate.