By Prof. Michael Ogunu
Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Mother of God, was endowed with all virtues. Unable to enumerate in detail all her virtues, I shall recall only eight of the ten that are specially mentioned in the Gospel which are sometimes referred to as “The Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary”.
If any Christian wants to live a truly holy life today, one of the best ways is to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her Ten Evangelical Virtues shine through the Holy Scriptures as a glorious way to salvation for each of us. The eight of the Ten Evangelical Virtues which I shall describe in this article are her purity, prudence, humility, faith, devotion, obedience, charity and patience.
Of the Ten Evangelical Virtues of our Blessed Mother, the virtue of Purity holds first place. Mary was pure in heart and mind. She was a virgin before she received the message to be the Mother of Jesus, and she still remained a virgin after giving birth to Jesus. This is simply an indication of the level of the purity of her heart and mind. Yes, she was full of grace and the favour of God was upon her, but she worked hard to live a life worthy of her status as the Mother of the Messiah.
The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us what it means to be faithful to God in purity of heart. She is our Mother most pure, Mother most chaste, Mother inviolate; Mother undefiled.
The Blessed Virgin Mary had a pure undivided heart, a heart that enabled her to constantly live in the presence of God. Mary is the best example of a human being who does not let anything come between her and God. She trusted in the Lord completely at the Annunciation, and all the events that followed. The Archangel Gabriel gave her the news that she was to give birth to the Messiah, and she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Mary opened herself to this great gift that God wanted to give humanity. She became the channel through which God worked.
How can we develop a heart that is like Mary’s, one that is so focused on God? There is no substitute for prayer. We should spend time with the Lord and contemplate His face and His action in our lives. He is constantly at work in us, but we must be attentive to it. One great way of doing this is by basking in the Presence of Our Eucharistic Lord in Adoration. Another thing we can do is to ask Mary to help us contemplate the Lord’s face as we say the Rosary, at her side.
We should all imitate her purity in our daily lives. That is, purity in thoughts, words and actions.
Among the Virgin’s virtues, the second mentioned in the Gospel which we as Christians should possess is Prudence. The Virgin Mary was always most prudent. From her prudence, she thought, spoke and acted as follows: She thought within herself about Gabriel’s manner of greeting her (cf. Lk. 1:29), and she kept all these words, pondering them in her heart (cf. Lk. 2:19; cf. Lk. 2:51). She fled into Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:13-14) for the safety of her Son, nor did she return from there until after the death of Herod (cf. Mt. 2:19-21). Finally, she avoided the country where Archelaus reigned (cf. Mt. 2:22). Another illustration of Our Lady’s supreme prudence can be seen in her attitude to the Jewish tradition after childbirth. Instead of claiming her right of exemption, she did what every other Jewish woman was obliged to do after childbirth, and presented herself in the Temple to be purified though she committed no sin, thus avoiding undue prominence to herself and her Child.
In our restless search to know the things of God and to act according to His eternal designs, we feel the urgent need of this gift of prudence. “Without it”, says Father Saint Jure, “there is confusion of thought, lack of reflection, blindness in designs, hastiness in resolutions, presumption and precipitation in action”. Left to our own devices, we are like those who sow a wind and reap a whirlwind. Well may we turn to Our Blessed Lady as “Virgin most prudent”, and assure ourselves of that supernatural guidance which was hers throughout her life, and will be ours in due measure through her powerful intercession.
Humility is the third virtue of Our Lady mentioned in the Gospel which all Christians should possess and cultivate in imitation of the Virgin. Mary was very gentle and humble. We should learn from her to be humble people and to work hard to avoid anything that will make us become proud and rude. In her magnificat we hear her say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour; He looks on His servant in her lowliness…..” (Lk. 1:46-48).
The message of the angel would have made Mary to act proudly, but she was very gentle, calm and humble throughout her life as a virgin. At the salutation of the Angel, Mary was troubled; nothing troubles a humble soul like praise, and here the praise comes from an angel of God. Her humility was so profound that she had no inclination on earth more powerful or more constant than that of hiding herself, from herself as well as from every other creature, so as to be known to God only.
There is no need for us to brag about who we are and what we are not and begin to behave rudely and arrogantly, for in humility and gentleness shall our exaltation come.
We must therefore learn from the Blessed Virgin Mary and allow her plant in our very souls the roots of every virtue, but especially deep humility and ardent charity.
The fourth virtue of Our Lady mentioned in the Gospel is Faith which all Christians should possess and cultivate in imitation of the Virgin. The Virgin Mary was always most firm in faith, and from this faith, in order to please God, she thought, spoke and acted as follows: When the Archangel told her that she was to bear the Son of God and name Him Jesus, she only asked for clarification, “How can this be since I have no knowledge of man?” (Lk. 1:34) What is being asked of Mary was without precedent – the conception of a child without a human husband. Once Gabriel clarified that this conception would be accomplished by the “power of the most high”, Mary surrendered herself completely to the divine plan: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). She said ‘yes’, despite the implications for her future – her life’s plans would be shattered. She said ‘yes’, despite the danger to her (a Jewish woman pregnant out of wedlock could be stoned to death) and despite the awesome responsibility which was to be ‘the Mother of God, the Saviour of the world’.
Faith means belief in God and complete trust in Him. But faith, as in Mary’s case, often requires a willingness to accept the unexpected paths God has planned for us. Mary, a lowly and humble handmaid, could have never dreamed of God’s plan for her. Yet, she surrenders in faith to God’s will. The question there becomes how can we show our belief in God and our trust in Him like Mary? The only solution is to open up to God’s call. He wants us to make Jesus the centre of our life. We can do so through personal prayer, meditation and studying the Scriptures.
Devotion is the fifth virtue of the Blessed Virgin mentioned in the Gospel. Devotion is defined as an ardour to serve God. It is a joyous dedication of the whole self to God and to others for the sake of God. Certainly, Mary not only had a dedicated prayer life, but she also put the word into practice by being dutiful to the laws of God and available to people in need. She was always most devout and to please God out of her devotion, she thought, spoke and acted in the following ways: she praised God with great attentiveness and joy, saying: “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk. 1:46). Every year, she went up to Jerusalem and following her son, she listened with greatest devotion to his preaching. She returned often to Nazareth and finally with the Apostles also persevered in prayer. Jesus himself praised his mother as one of those “who hear the word of God and act on it” (Lk. 8:21).
The devotion most frequently and strongly recommended to us by Our Lady is the Rosary. The 13th of May 1917 marked the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the three little shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco at Cova da Iria in Fatima (Portugal). During the Sixth Apparition on October 13, she told the little children: “I am the Lady of the Rosary” and asked them to pray the Rosary daily for peace in the World and for salvation of souls and to make sacrifices and do penance for the sins committed in the world. We must learn from her to take up our Rosary and begin to pray it daily not just for ourselves but for the whole world. The best gift we can give to her is the gift of the Rosary which she gave to us and the resolve to continue to make sincere effort to live a good life.
As Catholics, we are encouraged to lead rich devotional lives. That requires a balance such as Mary had. As a model disciple, Mary shows us that devotion to God should be a marriage between prayer and action. Like Mary, we need to pray with a “generous and good heart” (Lk. 8:15) seeking to hear the word of God, take it to heart, and then yield a harvest through practice of good works. After attending Mass and praying the Rosary, that may mean caring for a sick neighbour, donating money to a charity, or listening prayerfully to a friend in crisis.
Consider that Mary, after the Annunciation did not rest on her laurels of being chosen the Mother of God. She said ‘yes’ to God and then made haste for the hill country of Judah where she cared for her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant.
The next virtue of Our Lady, the sixth, mentioned in the Gospel is that of Obedience. The Virgin Mary was always most obedient not only to God but for God’s sake, also to men. In obedience, she conceived God’s only Son, forsaking her own plans for her life. And indeed, for the sake of God, she remained obedient to the laws and customs of the day. For instance, by undertaking the long journey to Bethlehem in obedience to the decree of the Emperor Caesar Augustus, she gave birth to the Lord in the city of David. And though born without sin, Mary remained obedient to the practices at the time by offering a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons as a purification and expiation of sin (even though she was sinless) when she presented Jesus in the temple (Lk. 2:24). Mary also invites us all to obey Jesus without hesitation when, at the wedding feast of Cana, she said: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).
How are we to live up to Mary’s example of perfect obedience? According to the example and the invitation of the Virgin, devoted Christians in order to please Christ must obey God by following the Ten Commandments, and loving God with their whole hearts. The Gospels state God’s requirements of us: “if you love me, you will keep my commandments”, Jesus tells his disciples (Jn. 14:15). Later, he tells them: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:14).
Another virtue of the Blessed Virgin which all Christians should possess and cultivate is Charity. Charity means love of God and neighbour. To love all people with a true love, to desire their well-being, to succour them in their need, to console them in their afflictions, to bear with their defects: such are the secondary effects of Christian charity — the queen of all the virtues. “And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:21). St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the reason for this is that he who loves God loves all that God loves (2.2, q. 25, a. 1). Mary loved God so much that she was prepared to sacrifice her life for love of Him.
So great was Mary’s charity while she was on earth that she helped the needy without ever being asked. For example, at the marriage feast of Cana she told her Son about the family’s distress, “They have no wine” (Jn. 2:3). She asked him to work a miracle. With what speed did she fly when there was a question of relieving her neighbour! When she went to the house of Elizabeth to fulfil an office of charity, “Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town of Judah” (Lk 1:39). However, she could not have more fully displayed the greatness of her charity than she did in the offering which she made of her Son to die for our salvation.
In the gospel of St. John (3:16) we read, “God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son”. St. Bonaventure says, “So also, we can say of Mary, that she so loved us as to give her only begotten Son for us”.
“There is nothing by which we can with greater certainty gain the affection of Mary than by charity towards our neighbour” (St. Gregory Nazianzen). Mary seems to say to each and every one of us, “Be charitable as your Mother also is charitable”.
We may be certain that our charity towards our neighbour will be the measure of that which God and Mary will show to us. “Give and it shall be given to you… For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you” (Lk. 4:38). St. John Chrysostom has well said, “He who assists the needy makes God his debtor” (De Poenit. Hom. 5).
Yet another virtue of the Blessed Virgin Mary mentioned in the Gospel which all Christians should imitate is the virtue of Patience. The Virgin Mary was always most patient, and out of her patience, in order to please God, she thought, spoke and acted as follows: She endured patiently the persecution of Herod and of the Jews; she searched for her Son sorrowfully for three days, and when she joyfully discovered him, with a maternal voice she said, “Son, why have you done this to us? You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow” (cf. Lk. 2:48).
According to the example and in imitation of the Virgin, devoted Christians, in order to please Christ, should desire to endure something for His sake (cf. Acts 5:41), they should rejoice when they suffer persecution unjustly because the Lord Jesus said: “By patient endurance you will save your lives” (cf. Lk. 21:19) and the Apostle (Paul) says: “If only we suffer with him we shall also reign with him” (cf. Rm. 8:17; cf. 2 Tim. 2:12). Therefore, souls who endure evil in this world for Christ, will receive honour in Heaven from Christ.
Christians should imitate the above stated virtues which, among others, the Blessed Virgin Mary possessed according to the testimony of the Gospel. As the virtues shone forth in Mary’s life in thought, word and deed, so they should equally shine forth in the way we think, speak and act in our lives.
As stated by one of the greatest of the early Marians, Fr. Casmir Wyszynski, “Whoever wants to glorify the Blessed Virgin Mary and wishes to stay under her protection, should love and respect her – but above all, should exercise the evangelical virtues and, through this, shall follow Mary’s example”.
Prof. Michael Ogunu is the Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa
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