by Father Stefano M. Manelli, FI
Faith is the foundation of the spiritual life. Without this virtue, as the Letter to the Hebrews states, it is impossible to please God. While it is certainly true that Mary was indescribably great in virtue of Her Immaculate Conception and Divine Maternity, spiritual writers nevertheless talk of Her life in terms of a journey of faith. For us, then, She is a model of perfect faith, and someone who desires ardently to increase our faith.
Owing to the sublime grace of the Immaculate Conception, Mary Most Holy is the supreme model of every virtue. All the virtues of the Immaculate are rooted and grow in the immensity and fullness of grace of Her Immaculate Conception. For that reason, it is said that Mary’s virtues begin where the virtues of the Angels and Saints finish up. Every virtue, therefore, of the Immaculate “Full of Grace” (Lk 1:28) rises above and stands out from all human and angelic virtue.
Furthermore, the virtues that Our Lady personifies are intimately bound up with Her Divine Maternity, which is a reality of ineffable, sublime grace beyond all thought and imagination. On account of the Divine Maternity, Mary Immaculate has entered into the order of the Hypostatic Union. She has been raised so high as to approach, in dignity, the very dignity of God, which is infinite. For this reason the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, holds that the dignity of the Mother of God is “almost infinite,” that is, immeasurable.
Accordingly, every virtue personified by the Mother of God, can and must be qualified as immeasurable by reason of its being rooted in the fullness of grace of the Immaculate Conception, and, additionally, for its elevation and transfiguration in Her Divine Maternity, which immerses Her in the infinity of God, rendering Her “almost infinite” in dignity, as the Angelic Doctor teaches.
Among the many virtues of Christian life, we have first and foremost the so-called theological, cardinal and moral virtues. These are the virtues that make up the spiritual life of the innocent and holy, according to the plan of original love coming from the mind, heart and hands of God, the Lord of all creation, celestial and terrestrial, angelic or human.
Among these virtues, the primary and most precious ones for every man are undoubtedly the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. It is not difficult to appreciate that these three theological virtues are those most specifically and significantly considered Christian, because they lead more directly to the knowledge of God, linking man to God, making him a member of Christ, the Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Mary.
On the other hand, all the other virtues—the cardinal and moral virtues, that is—can be considered as also the patrimony of human ethics in general, because they enter into every structure of human society, according to the nature of man, who is composed of soul and body, and called to live harmoniously with God and men in the context of the natural values of the family, of one’s homeland, and of diverse peoples.
Faith is the first of the theological virtues. It is faith, in fact, that gives man knowledge of God, of truth and of the divine mysteries; it is faith that gives him knowledge of the mystery of man and of the world, enabling him to see, evaluate and judge all things in the light that doesn’t come from below, but from above (“in lumine Fidei”). It is the virtue of faith that gives in this life the only true knowledge of God and brings one to possess God, although in obscurity and silence, while awaiting that unveiled, beatific vision that is the lot of those who merit to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
To grow in holiness, the virtue of faith is so important that the true Christian—that is, the saint—is such precisely because he lives, thinks and acts according to faith. For this reason, the Apostle Paul can roundly state that “the just man liveth by faith” (Gal 3:11—Douay- Rheims Vers.). In addition, faith is necessary, or better still, indispensable, for avoiding eternal separation from God. As the Letter to the Hebrews expressly says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).
In conclusion, one can well say that the theological virtue of faith constitutes a sort of criterion of salvation for the whole of man’s life. Hence, the enduring value of those divine and authoritative words of Jesus that accompany every apostle and evangelizer in his task of teaching and of preaching to all men: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16).
To have the gift of faith, to guard the gift of faith, to nurture the gift of faith: is this not perhaps the first grace to request and obtain for ourselves and for others?
Let us turn, then, to Mary Most Holy, Mother and Teacher of the most sublime faith, that we might live a life of pure and ardent faith, and die holily in the same.