SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  MICAH 5; 1-4; ROMANS 8:28-30; MATTHEW 1:1-16, 18-23  ]

Many Catholics profess the faith of the Church publicly, but only verbally.   Whilst many Catholics give assent to the beliefs of the Church as expressed in the Creed, yet many do not personally own the faith.  If there is any conviction it is on the level of cerebral faith but not on the personal dimension.  Our lack of faith is disguised and camouflaged by taking cover under the faith of the Church.  For this reason, the English Translation of the Credo at Mass has now reverted to “I believe” rather than “We believe.” Unless each one believes personally what he or she professes, there is no “we” believe.

Indeed, there are three levels of faith.  The first level is to believe in the sense of accepting the facts.  It is to believe, for example, that God exists.  But even the demons believe that God exists.  This level of faith is not yet truly faith.  We must move to the second level of faith, which is to believe in God who exists.  To believe in someone is to trust in someone, not just on the intellectual level but on the level of the heart.  When we say we believe in someone, it means that we trust the person enough to give our lives and our hearts to that person.

Hence, faith is more than just an acceptance of the beliefs, that is, a set of doctrines or teachings of the Church.  The faith that comes before beliefs is the personal faith in Christ as our Saviour and Lord; and through this Faith, we are given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship, thereby giving us the capacity to share in His sonship which is the experience of God as our loving Father.   It is this personal conviction that brings about our sonship and daughtership in Christ, as the second reading tells us. “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers.”

But this is deficient faith if it does not issue in good works and charity.  Faith without good works is dead, so says St James.  Good works are the basis for salvation but not the fruits of salvation. So if one claims to have faith in Christ and therefore justified by Him, then this claim must be verified in a life of charity.  When there are no fruits, this claim would not be true since anyone who is loved and forgiven by God, and having received the Holy Spirit will necessarily produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit as St Paul listed them in Galatians.  This explains why the response to the Creed at our baptism and on Easter Vigil is “I do”, not “I believe.”  “I do” is a verb not a noun.  To believe is to live out what one believes.  The full maturity of faith is seen when we live out what believe, manifested in charity.  This is the kind of personal faith that can be considered true faith.

It is within this context that we turn to Mary as the model of Christian Faith.  Mary, in the understanding and appreciation of the Church, is the exemplar of Christian Faith.  Just as Abraham is our Father in faith so too, Mary for the Church is our model of faith.  In her life, Mary exemplified the three dimensions of faith, of believing in terms of content, of believing from the perspective of trusting in God and of believing as a way of life that comes from her faith in God who reveals, and her total trust in Him.  How, then, is she our example of faith?

Firstly, the first reading tells us that she was one of the Anawim.  The anawim refers to the very poor of Israel, those who were of lowly status, marginalized and had nothing except their dependence on the Lord.  They were also those who were faithful to the Lord. They lived in expectation of the coming of the Lord. Mary was such a person.  She lived as a faithful daughter of God in expectation of the coming of the Lord. She lived entirely in dependence on the Lord, in poverty in spirit and in fact. In the magnificat, she attributed all her blessings to the Lord, especially that of being chosen to be the mother of the Saviour.  It was the Lord who had done great things for her in her lowliness.  She was a true anawim of the Lord.

She was a model of personal faith in the Lord.  She trusted in the words of the angels as Elizabeth remarked, “Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Lk 1:45)  Her trust in the Lord made it possible for her to go through all the trials in her life, beginning with the persecution of Herod, through to the rejections and misunderstandings of her Son’s mission by family members; right up to the cross when He was rejected not just by His enemies but was betrayed by His friends. Through all these tests, Mary remained faithful to the Lord, trusting that He would deliver her from her enemies.  She never gave up hope in the Lord.  She remained patient in her sufferings and trials.  She believed, as what St Paul said in the second reading, “we know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose … And also He called those he intended for this; those he called he justified, and with those he justified he shared his glory.”

Secondly, she was a model of obedience in faith.  The response to God’s call is always one of obedience.  This was the case of Abraham as well.  When God called her to be the Mother of the Saviour, her immediate response was “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!”   Her fiat, to do God’s will, was something that she carried throughout her life.  She was only concerned about obeying the will of God in imitation of her Son who emptied Himself to come into the world in the kenosis.  And when her Son told her that His time was not yet arrived for Him to perform the miracle of the water into wine, she simply told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you!” She did not say more or try to cajole her Son into doing something that He was not yet ready.  But because of her total faith in Him, He anticipated His glory by changing the water into wine.  For this reason, the Lord said, “Blessed is she who hears the Word of God and does it.”

Thirdly, Mary was a model of charity.  Mary’s faith was not just an individualistic faith.  Her faith in the Lord was expressed in a life of charity.  She was a woman always for others, like her Son.  Even when informed that she was to be the mother of the Saviour, she did not spend time resting on her laurels and thinking about her future.  She was concerned more about the pregnancy of Elizabeth in her old age than about herself.  At Cana in Galilee, instead of being absorbed in enjoying herself, she was on the lookout for her host.  Anticipating the host’s possible social embarrassment, she took it upon herself without being told, to intercede with her Son to save the event.  Most of all, her charity was seen in her forgiveness at the cross with her Son, forgiving all those who had killed her only Son.  She did not harbor any ill hatred or anger against those who hurt her.  Like her Son, she forgave freely and without conditions.

What was the secret of Mary in living the three levels of faith, of beliefs, of trust and of love?  At the heart of Mary’s faith was her contemplative prayer life.  She was always, as the gospel describes her, a woman pondering over the Word of God and on her Son.  She talked little but she was always in quiet contemplation and love for the Lord.  If Mary shared in the glorious resurrection of our Lord at her Assumption, it was because she shared the life of Jesus her Son so closely, mirroring Him in every area of her life, whether in faith or in charity.

As we celebrate her birthday, we too are called to be like her by offering our life as a gift to God and our fellowmen as a living sacrifice.  We are called to empty ourselves and become poor in Christ so that we can identify ourselves with every man and woman.  Life is a gift from God and our life is our gift to Him.  Life is lived only when we die to ourselves and offer our entire being for the service and love of others.

So in total trust in the Lord and in obedience to His personal call to each one of us, we too are called to imitate Mary and her Son in our response to the Father’s love for us.   Like Mary and Joseph, we are called to trust in the Lord’s will for us.  Just as Joseph in the gospel entrusted his future and that of Mary to the Lord’s providential care, so too in whatever happens to us, we are called to live in faith, trusting in the Lord’s will, His divine mercy and care for us.  We must believe that regardless what happens to us in life, it will be for our ultimate good, even if we cannot immediately perceive the good.  As St Paul says, we walk by faith, not by sight.

We can do this only because we believe that this God is the Almighty Father who sends us His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This same Spirit is now given to the Church through baptism to those who believe, making us adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ who by His passion, death and resurrection has saved us from our sins and given us eternal life.  So let our faith grow to a full mature faith, a faith that believes, a faith that trusts and a faith that is lived in charity.