"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

"Keep Strong": Mary as Model of Faith

Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cabanglasan Bukidnon, Soil Painting c. 2016 by Salima Saway
Photo: Fr JM Manzano SJ

T
here are three faith perspectives that I would like to talk about for our consideration. First, faith as fate. In Greek mythology the conception and life of humans was decided by the three goddesses, who are the three incarnations of destiny, namely Clotho ("spinner"), Lachesis ("allotter") and Atropos ("the unturnable", a metaphor for death). They spun, measured and cut like a thread each person's destiny or fate. This type of faith is an imposter or hypocritical faith because it masquerades as an advocate of God by preaching "God-alone-had-it-all-decided" or "future-events-are-entirely-beyond-our-control" stuff. It belittles or dismisses all experiences that run contrary to its hard-wired yet erroneous beliefs. As a result, this type is very oppressive of the self imprisoned in a belief system that over-rides the person's authentic desires and God-given gifts. It is not only oppressive of oneself but also of others whose naïveté could easily turn into blindness. Just as there is an unhealthy kind of "blind love," there is an equally-unhealthy type of "blind faith" like this first type. Jesus warns his followers against falling into this kind of hypocritical faith when he said, "A person who is blind cannot guide another who is blind, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Lk 6:39).

The second type of faith is a person's confidence or belief or even optimism. According to WE Vine, this kind of faith is the "purely natural exercise, which consists of an opinion held in good faith without necessary reference to its proof" (Italics mine). If the first type is a blind faith then this second type is an equally blinded faith—blinded to its own myopic lenses. Optimism relies on what the world alone could give. It is based on human efforts to build one's security; it is self-centered and lonely. This makes this second type of faith an unreliable one because it is self-made. Its foundation is mere 'sand' rather than 'rock.' When the storm comes it could easily be washed away. One does not have to believe in God to become an optimist. In the Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi "Faith is Hope," Benedict XVI hints that faith and hope are one and the same. His successor, Pope Francis, says something that bolsters the assertions found in Spe Salvi. The pope says that "one should not confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude toward life. Hope goes further than that... God is involved." What Pope Francis says about optimism is similar to this second type of faith.

Let us now move to the third and most important perspective of faith purely as God's gift. Strong's definition of faith 'pistis' [Strong Greek 4102], is "God's divine persuasion" which is distinct from human confidence, optimism or belief. God's attitude towards a person bears the dignity of partnership, or covenant if you may, with someone he pursues and delights in. However, God does not disregard the freedom, desires and feelings of the one he pursues. Let us take the Blessed Virgin Mary as an example and true model of this faith. To me Mary was given the unique gift of faith for her to be able to serve as God's partner in His over all plan of salvation. Does this mean that Mary's fate was all decided already? Yes and No! First, Yes! because the faith that God has given to Mary involves already the graces for her to be persuaded through God's divine persuasion. We always give not only the benefit of the doubt but all the respect and reverence to God who alone knows what is best for all of us. That is why surrendering totally to God is the best response of faith with eyes wide open. It is never a blind assent because God has revealed everything. It may be delayed sometimes, but wait and it will surely come. Second, No! because there is something that Mary alone could give to God, her free assent. In Ignatian Spirituality we have what we call Ignatian colloquy—a heart to heart conversation with God who made himself a partner, revealing his divine plans and preferences, with whom we can express anything and even to the point of disagreeing with God. It is important to note that this "divine persuasion" is always received by us from God in God's freedom, and never generated or manufactured by us (Strong). This is faith in the deepest level. WE Vine said "The object of Abraham's faith, was not God's promise (that was the occasion of its exercise); his faith rested on God Himself."

I like the image of faith as our spiritual temperature. David's spiritual temperature brought the whole Israelite army to defeat Goliath and the Philistines. All of the martyrs of the Church died after passionately professing their faith in God. Faith demands something from us, which may categorize us as any of these: hot, cold or lukewarm. We might think that to be lukewarm is better than hot or cold, but no. In Jesus' stinging rebuke to the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm, he says "I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot" (Rev. 3:15). A lukewarm faith in times of difficulties is spiritually dangerous. Our faith has to be grounded on God not only for us to be able to find our way back to him but also for God to be able to find us especially when we will need finding and shepherding. What is your spiritual temperature? Is your faith fatalistic or just optimism and positivity? Is it resting on God? Mary's strong faith rested on God Himself. Let us follow her example, our true model of Christian faith. Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. I like your scholarly reflection on faith of Our Lady making me check on my own spiritual temperature which l see to be fluctuating throughout my journey with my constant and faithful companion, our merciful and loving God. There were moments of cold and lukewarm but still the Lord contimuosly holding me. Never leaving me alone and making always available the grace of returning to 100 deg. With the inspiration, example and support of our Lady, I trust our God more especially in this time of uncertainty. Whatever happens,I will remain with Him, listen and follow His will. Thank you Fr JM for inspiring me to have strong faith like Mary. May our Mother Mary keep on protecting you and taking care of you. GBU!

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    1. Thanks for your personal sharing! The encyclical of St John Paul II said that faith and reason are not only compatible, but essential together. "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth..." Faith without reason results to superstition. Reason without faith results to nihilism and relativism. GBU!

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    2. This shows that Mary must be the wisest among human beings!

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    4. True to my life is your statements about faith and reason. God often times reveal to me His truth or Himself using His gift of reason to me and it always amazes me. I remember one Jesuit who introduced first to me the connection of the cosmos and faith. He is an inspiration to share/witness faith and reason combined to others. Thank you too, Fr. JM! GBU! LU ;)

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