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Mary Shows the Nobility of Virginity

General Audience — March 29, 1995

The relationship with Mary most holy, which for every believer stems from his union with Christ, is even more pronounced in the life of consecrated persons. It is an essential aspect of their spirituality, more directly expressed in the very titles of some institutes which take the name of Mary and call themselves her "sons" or "daughters," "servants," "handmaids" or "apostles," etc. Many of them acknowledge and proclaim their link with Mary as specifically rooted in their tradition of doctrine and devotion from their foundation. They are all convinced that Mary's presence is of fundamental importance both for the spiritual life of each consecrated person, and for the solidity, unity and progress of the whole community.

There are sound reasons for this in Sacred Scripture itself. In the annunciation, Mary is described by the angel Gabriel as gratia plena ( kécharitôménê --Lk 1:28), in an explicit reference to the sovereign and gratuitous action of grace (cf. Redemptoris Mater 7). Mary was chosen by virtue of a unique divine love. If she belongs totally to God and lives for him, it is because she first "had found favor" with God, who wished to make her the privileged place of his relationship with humanity in the Incarnation. Mary thus reminds consecrated persons that the grace of a vocation is an unmerited favor. God has loved them first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10, 19), by virtue of a gratuitous love which should move them to give thanks.

Mary is also the model of the acceptance of grace by the human creature. In her, grace itself brought about the "yes" of her will, her free adherence, the conscious docility of her fiat, which led her to a holiness that continued to develop throughout her life. Mary never hindered this development. She always followed the inspirations of grace and made God's intentions her own; she always cooperated with God. By her example, she teaches consecrated persons not to waste the graces they have received, to make an ever more generous response to the divine gift, to let themselves be inspired, moved and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Mary is the one "who believed," as her cousin Elizabeth recognized. This faith enabled her to collaborate in the fulfillment of the divine plan, which to human eyes appeared impossible (cf. Lk 1:37). This is how the mystery of the Lord's coming into this world was fulfilled. The Blessed Virgin's great merit is to have cooperated with his coming. She herself, like other human beings, did not know how it could come about. She believed, and "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14) by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. RMt 12-14).

Those who answer the call to the consecrated life also need great faith. To be committed to the way of the evangelical counsels, they must believe in the God who calls them to live the counsels, and in the higher destiny he offers. In order to give oneself to Christ without reserve, one must recognize that he is the absolute Lord and Master, who can ask for everything because he can do everything to bring about what he asks. Therefore Mary, the model of faith, guides consecrated persons on the path of faith.

Mary is the Virgin of virgins (Virgo virginum). Since the earliest centuries of the Church she has been recognized as a model of consecrated virginity. Mary's will to preserve her virginity is surprising in a context where this ideal was not widespread. Her decision was the fruit of a special grace of the Holy Spirit, who opened her heart to the desire to offer herself totally to God, body and soul. This brought about in the loftiest and humanly inconceivable way Israel's vocation to a spousal relationship with God, to belonging totally and exclusively to him as the People of God.

The Holy Spirit prepared her for her extraordinary motherhood by means of virginity, because, according to God's eternal plan, a virginal soul was to welcome the Son of God in his Incarnation. Mary's example makes it possible to understand the beauty of virginity and encourages those called to the consecrated life to take this path. It is the time to reassess virginity in the light of Mary. It is the time to propose it once again to boys and girls as a serious plan of life. With her help, Mary sustains those who have undertaken this commitment, shows them the nobility of the total gift of the heart to God and constantly strengthens their fidelity even in difficult or dangerous moments.

For years and years, Mary was wholly dedicated to serving her Son. She helped him grow up and prepare himself for his mission at home and in the carpenter's workshop in Nazareth (cf. RMt 17). At Cana, she asked him to reveal his power as Savior and obtained his first miracle for a couple in difficulty (cf. RMt 18, 23). She has shown us the way of perfect docility to Christ, saying: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). On Calvary she was close to Jesus as his mother. In the upper room, she prayed with Jesus' disciples as they waited for the Holy Spirit he had promised.

Thus she shows consecrated persons the way of dedication to Christ in the Church as a family of faith, hope, and love. She obtains for them the wonders of the manifestation of the sovereign power of her Son, our Lord and Savior.

The new motherhood granted to Mary on Calvary is a gift which enriches all Christians, but its value is accentuated even more for consecrated persons. John, the beloved disciple, had offered his whole heart and all his strength to Christ. Hearing the words: "Woman, behold your son" (Jn 19:26), Mary accepted John as her son. She had understood too, that this new motherhood was open to all Christ's disciples. Her communion of ideals with John and with all consecrated people enables her motherhood to expand to the full.

Mary acts as a mother who is very attentive to helping those who have offered Christ all their love. She is full of concern for their spiritual needs. She also helps communities, as the history of religious institutes often attests. She who was present in the early community (Acts 1:14) is pleased to remain in the heart of all communities gathered in the name of her Son. In particular, she watches over the preservation and growth of their love.

The words of Jesus to the beloved disciple: "Behold your mother" (Jn 19:27), assume a particular depth in the life of consecrated persons. They are invited to consider Mary as their mother and to love her as Christ loved her. More especially, they are called to take her into their home, as John "took her into his home" (literally "among his possessions"--Jn 19:27). Above all, they must make room for her in their hearts and in their life. They must seek an ever greater development of their relationship with Mary, model and Mother of the Church, model and Mother of communities, model and Mother of all whom Christ calls to follow him.

Dearly beloved, how beautiful, venerable and in some ways enviable is this privileged position of consecrated persons beneath Mary's mantle and in Mary's heart! We pray that she may be close to them always and shine ever more as the star of their lives!