MARY’S CHOICE INSPIRES CONSECRATED VIRGINITY
Pope John Paul II
The Blessed Mother’s decision to commit herself completely to the Lord in virginity was the beginning and inspiration of consecrated virginity in the Church
"Mary's virginal life inspires in the entire Christian people esteem for the gift of virginity and the desire that it should increase in the Church as a sign of God's primacy over all reality", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday, 7 August, as he continued his reflection on Mary's choice of virginity, the fruit of the Holy Spirit's grace. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the 29th in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. The intention to remain a virgin, apparent in Mary's words at the moment of the Annunciation, has traditionally been considered the beginning and the inspiration of Christian virginity in the Church.
St Augustine does not see in this resolution the fulfilment of a divine precept, but a vow freely taken. In this way it was possible to present Mary as an example to "holy virgins" throughout the Church's history. Mary "dedicated her virginity to God when she did not yet know whom she would conceive, so that the imitation of heavenly life in the earthly, mortal body would come about through a vow, not a precept, through a choice of love and not through the need to serve" (De Sancta Virg.,IV, PL 40:398).
The Angel does not ask Mary to remain a virgin; it is Mary who freely reveals her intention of virginity. The choice of love that leads her to consecrate herself totally to the Lord by a life of virginity is found in this commitment.
In stressing the spontaneity of Mary's decision, we must not forget that God's initiative is at the root of every vocation. By choosing the life of virginity, the young girl of Nazareth was responding to an interior call, that is, to an inspiration of the Holy Spirit that enlightened her about the meaning and value of the virginal gift of herself. No one can accept this gift without feeling called or without receiving from the Holy Spirit the necessary light and strength.
Mary made a firm decision for virginity
2. Although St Augustine uses the word "vow" to show those he calls "holy virgins" the first example of their state of life, the Gospel does not testify that Mary had expressly made a vow, which is the form of consecration and offering of one's life to God which has been in use since the early centuries of the Church. From the Gospel we learn that Mary made a personal decision to remain a virgin, offering her heart to the Lord. She wants to be his faithful bride, fulfilling her vocation as the "daughter of Zion". By her decision however she becomes the archetype of all those in the Church who have chosen to serve the Lord with an undivided heart in virginity.
Neither the Gospels nor any other New Testament writings tell us when Mary made the decision to remain a virgin. However it is clearly apparent from her question to the angel at the time of the Annunciation that she had come to a very firm decision. Mary does not hesitate to express her desire to preserve her virginity even in view of the proposed motherhood, showing that her intention had matured over a long period.
Indeed, Mary's choice of virginity was not made in the unforeseeable prospect of becoming the Mother of God, but developed in her consciousness before the Annunciation. We can suppose that this inclination was always present in her heart: the grace which prepared her for virginal motherhood certainly influenced the whole growth of her personality, while the Holy Spirit did not fail to inspire in her, from her earliest years, the desire for total union with God.
3. The marvels God still works today in the hearts and lives of so many young people were first realized in Mary's soul. Even in our world, so distracted by the attractions of a frequently superficial and consumerist culture, many adolescents accept the invitation that comes from Mary's example and consecrate their youth to the Lord and to the service of their brothers and sisters.
This decision is the choice of greater values, rather than the renunciation of human values. In this regard, in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus my venerable predecessor Paul VI emphasizes how anyone who looks at the witness of the Gospel with an open mind "will appreciate that Mary's choice of the state of virginity ... was not a rejection of any of the values of the married state but a courageous choice which she made in order to consecrate herself totally to the love of God" (n. 37).
In short, the choice of the virginal state is motivated by full adherence to Christ. This is particularly obvious in Mary. Although before the Annunciation she is not conscious of it, the Holy Spirit inspires her virginal consecration in view of Christ: she remains a virgin to welcome the Messiah and Saviour with her whole being. The virginity begun in Mary thus reveals its own Christocentric dimension, essential also for virginity lived in the Church, which finds its sublime model in the Mother of Christ. If her personal virginity, linked to the divine motherhood, remains an exceptional fact, it gives light and meaning to every gift of virginity.
Consecrated virginity is source of spiritual fruitfulness
4. How many young women in the Church's history, as they contemplate the nobility and beauty of the virginal heart of the Lord's Mother, have felt encouraged to respond generously to God's call by embracing the ideal of virginity! "Precisely such virginity", as I recalled in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, "after the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, is the source of a special spiritual fruitfulness: it is the source of motherhood in the Holy Spirit" (n. 43).
Mary's virginal life inspires in the entire Christian people esteem for the gift of virginity and the desire that it should increase in the Church as a sign of God's primacy over all reality and as a prophetic anticipation of the life to come. Together let us thank the Lord for those who still today generously consecrate their lives in virginity to the service of the kingdom of God.
At the same time, while in various regions evangelized long ago hedonism and consumerism seem to dissuade many young people from embracing the consecrated life, we must incessantly ask God through Mary's intercession for a new flowering of religious vocations. Thus the face of Christ's Mother, reflected in the many virgins who strive to follow the divine Master, will continue to be the sign of God's mercy and tenderness for humanity.
Weekly Edition in English
21 August 1996, page 7
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