*Marriage etc.

Widely considered by a host of writers throughout the years, the subject of this essay always admits of fresh analysis and insight. The instruction and edification that Mary, the Mother of God, offers to the women of every generation must not be ignored or slighted, nor may it be considered to have been exhausted in a previous era.
Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. (1902– 1951), in his famous A Companion to the Summa: Volume IV—The Way of Life, tackled our topic with a certain keenness that still leaps off the page almost sixty years later.
The perfection of Mary’s womanhood stands out most sharply in the supreme moments of her life: in her divine maternity and her preparation for it. To put the same thing in the words we have been using up to this point, Mary’s perfection is brought out from the confused detail of her age by the application of these basic tests of any woman’s life: sanctity, virginity, marriage, the evaluation of the infant. Mary, seen from the vantage point of these basic tests, leaves no room for doubt of the basis upon which woman’s life is lived to its fullest. It must, of course, be remembered that Mary is a model in the order of nature as well as in the order of grace. Grace does not destroy but rather perfects nature. Mary, then, is the exemplar for women, but also as the most womanly of women, the most free, winning the highest possible place in the hearts and minds of men.
Using Fr. Farrell’s categories, we can examine how Our Blessed Lady is the “exemplar” for women, “the most womanly” and “the most free” of women, and what she teaches us about sanctity, virginity, marriage, and the evaluation of the infant—the four “basic tests of any woman’s life.”
Spiritual authors agree that Mary’s holiness is evident in her total, unhesitating submission to God and His all-wise plan for her life. Her fiat—”Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38)—is the embodiment of supernatural strength, a vigor that comes from the Holy Spirit Himself, and only from Him. Our Lady was clear about where the grace that enveloped her soul derived: It was not from any inner resources but rather directly
from Our Lord. Mary sang in her Magnificat, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk. 1:48–49).

Our Blessed Mother demonstrates that it is possible for a completely human person to achieve—with God’s assistance—incredible sanctity. Her thoughts, words, desires, and deeds were conceived and carried out with the Almighty in view.
If Our Lord’s choice of Mary from all eternity to become the Mother of Christ and Mary’s subsequent Immaculate Conception paved the way for her outstanding likeness to God, then it is the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism that allows a woman—truly, anyone—to begin the ascent of the mountain of holiness. The seven sacraments, particularly Penance and the Most Holy Eucharist, are the lifeblood of the Catholic woman as she strives for sanctity.
Along with the sacraments, the contemporary Catholic woman shares with her sisters who preceded her the “tried-and-true” recipe for holiness: daily prayer, prayerful study of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, veneration and imitation of Our Lady, acts of charity and self-denial, and readings from the lives of the saints, among other acknowledged spiritual practices.
What once was esteemed in many quarters of society is today very little cherished, indeed, even openly ridiculed. To some, virginity is a sore reminder that one is unlovable and unbeautiful— in short, a loser.
What a vastly different understanding than that possessed by the Church!
Virginity for women may be seen in two ways. First, it is the distinction of being unmarried and the state of physical intactness regarding the reproductive organs. Second, it is the reality of having consecrated one’s entire self, virginity included, to Jesus Christ in the pursuit of spiritual perfection through a rite approved by the Church.
The magisterium, under the inspiration of the Paraclete, as well as the vast majority of the Fathers of the Church and various authors, have long proclaimed Mary’s perpetual virginity. She was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of her divine Son. God’s singular action in Our Lady was truly miraculous. She is the only woman hailed as both virgin and mother.
We would miss something, however, if we concluded that Our Blessed Mother’s virginity was only physical. There is a very real spiritual component, too. In other words, Mary preserved, with Our Lord’s help, the extraordinary purity of soul that He had granted to her. She was always chaste in thought and desire. Mary comprehended well the beauty of the human body and the gift of sexuality.
Scores of women and men have been hurt deeply by the media’s representation of the woman as an object to be used instead of a mystery to be explored. Pope Benedict XVI, in referring to the consecration to Our Lady that the humble Franciscan friar St. Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao made, said:
There is a phrase included in the formula of his consecration which sounds remarkably contemporary to us, who live in an age so full of hedonism: ” Take away my life before I offend your blessed Son, my Lord!” They are strong words, the words of an impassioned soul, words that should be part of the normal life of every Christian, whether consecrated or not, and they enkindle a desire for fidelity to God in married couples as well as in the
unmarried. The world needs transparent lives, clear souls, pure minds that refuse to be perceived as mere objects of pleasure. It is necessary to oppose those elements of the media that ridicule the sanctity of marriage and virginity before marriage.

Although often not respected in our contemporary age, virginity and our appreciation for it remain an indicator of how we value the human body and our perspective on physical expressions of love. Women who embrace their virginity as good and wholesome provide a welcome corrective to the prevailing mindset. And those who parted with their virginity due to sin can recover that spiritual virginity which is a hallmark of the Virgin.
Much has already been penned about the collapse of marriage before our eyes. The marriage between Mary and St. Joseph was valid. It pleased God because of the love, permanence, and receptivity to human life found therein. Women who are faithful in marriage are jewels so wanting today. They take a page from Our Lady’s life by their adherence to all that is beautiful and virtuous.
The Evaluation of the Infant
Fr. Farrell probably did not know fully how trenchant this fourth “test” would become as the twentieth century wore on. Then again, he likely was aware of the frightening calls for a “pure race” that emanated from Nazi Germany during World War II and the disturbing demands even, and perhaps especially, in the United States that can only be labeled as eugenic.
We have heard repeatedly from Venerable John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI that a society is judged on how it treats the most vulnerable. Preborn children are first on that list.
Our Lady opened her virginal womb to the God-Man even though she had not planned for such. Her hospitality to Jesus was unblemished. Women who welcome children image Mary. They recognize the splendor of human life. Such women are heroines in a hostile world.
Model for All Women
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the model and the exemplar for all women. Her concern for sanctity, virginity, marriage, and the place of the infant translates into a relevant, useful template for women (and for men). We pray to Our Lady, the most womanly and the freest of her gender, and beg light and courage for our sisters.
Prayer for Women
O Mary, Mother of God and Our Spiritual Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces and the Mother of the Church, you love us with your Immaculate Heart, and we love you with our fragile hearts. Hear our prayer for all women.
We pray for devout and lax women, for strong and weak women, for married and single women, for mothers and virgins, for consecrated women, for housewives and women who work outside the home, for women who are students, for women in the military, for women who are Catholics and women who are nonpracticing Catholics, for women who are not Catholics, for women who have abandoned the Catholic Church, for virtuous and sinful women, for women who are particularly tempted, for faithful and unfaithful women, for generous and ungenerous women, for women who have accepted the gift of life, for women who have aborted and women who have prevented conception, for women who dress modestly and those who do not, for wealthy and poor women, for young and old women, for women who are addicted, for healthy, sick and dying women, and for the souls of all women in purgatory.
O Woman, you who are the model of women, keep all women close to your Immaculate Heart, and present them to the Most Sacred Heart of your divine Son Jesus Christ, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is always our Hope and the Source of our strength forever. Amen.
(Imprimatur: Most Rev. Paul Joseph Swain, D.D., Bishop of Sioux Falls)
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls and a member of CUF’s advisory council. He is the director of the Office of the Marian Apostolate in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, the vicar for consecrated life, and the canonical adviser to Bishop Paul J. Swain.
photo:The Model for Women by Charles Bosseron Chambers - Msgr. Charles M. Mangan
From the May/Jun 2010 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

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