Fulfilling the Fiat: Responding with Mary to God’s Call
Our mother is a model of correspondence to grace. The Virgin did not merely pronounce her fiat; in every moment she fulfilled that firm and irrevocable decision. So should we.
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, no. 173
Is it an impossible ideal to imitate the Immaculate Virgin as St Josemaria would have us do?
In a season when Mary’s responsiveness to God’s will is continually before us, the Church in her Advent liturgy invites us not only to reflect on her perfect obedience but also to imitate it. But we are all “conceived in sin,” not immaculate (cf. Ps 51:5). We have been born to certain parents, at a certain time, in a certain place. We all bear the marks of original sin and suffer the effects of actual sin. If “man’s life upon earth is a warfare,” then we enter this life already at odds with self and the world (see Job 7:1).
The Gospel of the Annunciation, appointed for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, opens a window into our Lady’s soul, revealing what sort of imitation God asks of us—and it is within the reach of each one of us.
The Annunciation is all about call and response—and not just any call and any response, but God’s call and the perfect response in one most perfect soul. We who meditate upon this scene eventually arrive at the same truth that many saints have come to: Call and response is not only a single moment in a vocation. It is the vocation. To follow Christ after Mary’s pattern is to consent to being called at each moment—to be called away from something, to something, or into something. It is to respond generously at each moment with our heart’s full consent.
To be so faithful and prompt when God calls, especially if it goes against our moods and interests—or even when more serious things such as our safety or reputation are at stake—we need a Mother who has both obeyed and suffered in her obedience. We might imagine that Mary’s Immaculate Conception removed all difficulties in carrying out the Lord’s designs for her life. But in truth, God “did not spare her pain, exhaustion in her work or trials of her faith” (Christ is Passing By, no. 172).
Her understanding and sympathy toward us are born of personal experience—and her experience is unquestionably unique. The great Benedictine spiritual writer and contemporary of St Josemaria, Dom Hubert Van Zeller (1905-1984), tells us that our Lady sees things from God’s point of view and so makes it her mission to “reveal that point of view to us, and to help us to understand it.” For Mary “there was nothing … to prevent the significance of atonement, of pain in general, of sacrifice, of love, being perfectly understood.”1 All of the obstacles on our spiritual journey are accounted for here and interpreted to us by Mary’s example and inspiration in our lives.
Her insight into Divine providence is that of one “who has never questioned the wisdom of God’s will or opposed it or tried to escape from it.” Her motherly sympathy toward us is likewise that of one “who has never surrendered to moods, to self-pity, to evasions, to the absorbing interest that is self….”2
She could accept both sorrow and difficulty with a true supernatural joy—never with the doubts and resentments that oftentimes plague us. Her sorrows and difficulties were very real, yet she could fully obey God because her soul was free from the unholy fears and distrust that the devil sowed in our first parents. We inherit from them a sinful inclination for abandoning commitments, taking back what we have given, a fear to give everything over to God.
Our Lady’s response at the Annunciation is so refreshingly opposite to our complicated and ambiguous replies to the Lord. She is simple, thoughtful, and yet decisive in her answer. “Let it be unto me according to thy word,” is the sober declaration of one who sees that the Divine will is everything. She has no intention of walking away because she has no illusion about the false freedom of self-will. True freedom is love, and true love must surrender and give itself freely at all times. Love commits itself irrevocably or it is not love.
She doesn’t ponder long; she doesn’t ask for time to think about it. As soon as God’s will becomes clear, she embraces it, not knowing exactly what lies ahead. She has no plans to give birth in a stable, nor to flee murderous soldiers and go into Egypt for an unspecified length of time. But she is ready to respond again when the call comes again—about that, she is certain. That God will call again, and ask even more of her—about that she has no doubt.
In so many words, this is how our Lord singled-out His own mother for praise: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28). “It was,” says St Josemaria, “a compliment to his Mother on her fiat” (Christ is Passing By, no. 172). Jesus corrects the anonymous woman in the crowd who “raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’” not because she was wrong in her praise, but because she was incomplete in her praise. She stops too short of what it means to serve God.
She lauds the maternal privileges of our Lady, whereas the Lord redirects her attention and ours to Mary’s heart and mind—to the inner consent of her whose obedience and fidelity was only secondarily expressed by motherhood. Here, on the inside, is where serving the Lord begins, for our Lady as for us. It is also where self-surrender faces its most demanding trial: A “yes” said to God by a confused or troubled heart shows a Marian spirit of confidence and trust. For she too was “greatly troubled” and “wondered” over what the Lord’s messenger said to her (see Lk 1:29).
If the consequences of the Immaculate Conception are displayed by the obedience of the Annunciation, then the Annunciation shows what our response to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception should be: unyielding fidelity to the Lord, with a firm confidence that “For God, nothing will be impossible ” (Lk 1:37). Our Mother learned what these words meant for her and she will teach us what Divine possibilities can open up in our lives if we too respond trustingly and wholeheartedly to the Lord’s calls.
1 Dom Hubert Van Zeller, The Inner Search. Sheed and Ward, New York, 1956.
2 See pp. 207-11.2 Op. cit.
Originally published in 2015
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he teaches English at St Michael’s Preparatory School, the boarding school operated by the Norbertine Fathers. He also preaches retreats, is chaplain to the cloistered Norbertine Nuns in Tehachapi, California, and serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California (Our Lady of Nareg Eparchy). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.