Chapter One: Grace and Devotion to Mary
Chapter Two: Mary, Holy Objects and God
Chapter Three: Primary Teachings - Mary the Virgin
Chapter Four: Mary and Jesus
Chapter Five: Deeper Teachings -
Chapter Six: Teachings Not Yet Declared Dogmas -
Jesus and Mary
A Mediator with our Mediator
Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts and Reflections
of the Holy Spirit
of Jesus Made Present
and Church Unity
Consecration to Mary Individual and
Litany of Mary's Faith Journey
© Copyright, J. Roy MacIntyre 2009
Free Will and Love of God
Since my argument about Maryís full consent depends on an understanding of "free will" I will try to illustrate my perception of free will in this section. Please bear with me. I will address what having free will might mean. Do we have absolute free will or merely some free choices in life? To assist this process I will begin by asking the question why God would give us free will and what is the actual human experience of such a gift? The answer to these questions should, hopefully, satisfy other questions around free will.
We know that everything is in Godís guiding hand Ė He is, in fact, in control of everything. So what could it mean that I have free will? After all, I did not get a choice to be born, who my parents would be, what country I would be born into, etc. Also, it seems that most of the things that happen to me in my life arise out of circumstances beyond my control. For instance, some people stay in their hometown all their lives no matter what the circumstances while others canít seem to get away soon enough. Of course, there are those who will make rational decisions to leave home based on economics or politics but these too are circumstances beyond the individualís control.
Apart from the latter mentioned circumstantial motivation to make a decision the desire to stay or leave ones hometown does not really seem to be a matter of choice but arises from an inner emotional that is also, not chosen. Social scientists even tell us that the people we are attracted to also arise from emotion around comfort not about decisions of the will. Again Ė not a choice. In fact, from psychological assessments peopleís behaviours can be pretty accurately predicted. So where is the freedom?
Well, my understanding of free will is not about the gifts we are given, the places we live, the people we like, the jobs we have or the partners we choose. To me free will is Godís gift to us so that we can demonstrate that we truly love Him. So, letís take some time to be clear about how this process works.
We canít say we love a person if we do not have the freedom to choose to love him or her. If there is any element of pressure or force other than the loverís love, the response is not truly love. It is forced. For instance, if a man loves a women and promises her wealth if she will love him the condition of wealth precludes true love since if the wealth is gone so might be the affection shown. A more obvious case is one where a person takes another captive demanding the person love him. Such force and control would preclude true love since the person is not free to choose to be with the man. Any such condition or force will prevent the possibility of true love.
There is a process called the ĎStockholm Syndromeí in which victims of violence and captivity grow to be attached to their captors. The victims often defend, support and even fall in love with their captors even when the reasonable response would be to turn against them or at least to want to never to see them again. A variation of this is the battered wife syndrome in which the woman seems almost unable to leave an abusive relationship. Some would argue that the individuals involved choose to stay with or support their captors or abusers. Others will argue they have no choice Ė they are trapped in some kind of psychological control. Even if they did have a free choice to support or stay with their abusers an objective observer looking in would not be able to say the person really had a free choice.
In the same vein if a person was forced to love through captivity or coercion it would be possible for the person to choose to love. But again an outside person would not be able to affirm the captiveís free choice. So a true free choice requires that one is free to choose and for an observer to recognize there is a free choice. In other words the choice must also be seen to be a free choice.
God desires that we have true love for him and therefore he will not force us to love him. He desires only to show us how much He loves us through the promptings of His Holy Spirit. His hope is that we will come to love Him as we learn how much He loves us. The only way we can show true love for Him is that we have complete freedom to choose Him. The only way we can have the freedom to choose Him is that we have unfettered free will to choose. So free will is the gift God gives to us so that we can experience a truly free choice in loving Him. In this way it is clear that we truly love Him. Before saying more on free will let me address the others side of it; that is, choosing against the love of God.
Unfortunately, the freedom to choose to love God means that we can also make choices that demonstrate that we put other creatures above Him. When we use the gift of free will to make a choice not to love God we sin. For instance, if we choose to break the law of Godís love by stealing, we show that we put the love of whatever we steal ahead of our love for God. This is what Eve did when she used her free will to choose to take of the fruit forbidden by God. Her love for the fruit and what it could give her and a egoistic love of self led her to reject the love of God. So when I talk about "free will", I mean the freedom we have to choose to love God.
A question still remains, do we truly choose freely to love God? Because of our fallen state we have a tendency to sin, that is, to choose objects before God. In other words we are tempted to reject God by choosing the things that attract us. There are varying degrees of choices we can make from things that are permissible to things that are seriously wrong. In this vein, St. Paul (Rm 7:15) tells us, he himself had difficulty doing what he knew he should do and sometimes did what he hated. He says that in so doing he acted against his own will. So the implication is that if we act against our own will we are not making a serious rejection of God. I donít think this means that we are not culpable for our sins but only if we consciously turn away from God in serious matters do we reject God. This would be what we term mortal or deadly sin (1Jn 5:16-17).
Like making choices that have varying degrees of turning away from choosing God, there is also a graduated approach in choosing God. In other words, there may be many conditions on our love of God. This is consistent with our fallen nature, which makes it difficult for us to choose God with pure intention. For instance, in a macro or large scale sense, if one chooses God because of the reward of heaven or the fear of hell this is conditional love. God accepts our love so expressed even though it is imperfect. When perfection comes the imperfect passes away. So in heaven our love for God will finally and forever be perfected. Loving God without condition here and now should be the goal of every Christian.
In a more finite or individual sense, if we experience a spiritual consolation or blessing we might then feel we have some claim on Godís favour or we might seek the consolation rather than the giver of the gift. Again this becomes a condition on our love in the sense as long as I am getting consolation I will continue to love. However, if the consolation stops will my love be strong enough to continue the practices of love of God. These kinds of imperfections, in some way, stand in the way of our full union with God in love. Nevertheless, God, in His mercy, provides for us to come to perfection in the life hereafter by a special means in our love in the mortal life.
Let me summarize the limitations we have in loving God truly. We choose other objects before God. When we love we love imperfectly. Only when we are in heaven will we love perfectly. However, the glory we experience in heaven could also be an impediment to free choice. After all anyone who experiences the joys of heaven would not be likely to choose to give this up. So the question still remains, how do we really know that we choose to love God freely?
A good analogy demonstrating the issue of freedom to love and a remedy to our imperfect love is contained in the fairytale, "Beauty and the Beast." In this story a rather fearsome creature can only be saved by "true love". True love cannot be forced and the lover must overcome some obvious natural deterrents to love the Beast unconditionally. She must have faith that despite many natural factors it is the right thing to do to love the beast. In a certain sense God is like the beast. We do not see God Ė He remains hidden. St John implies this when records Jesus saying, ĎHow can you love the God whom you canít see when you donít love your neighbour whom you can seeí (1Jn 4:20). We can only approach Him in the darkness of faith. It pleases God that we come to know and love Him by faith by means of His Spirit. A reason for this is that the very act of coming to God by faith is a matter of free will and cannot be construed in any way as force or bribery.
Therefore, even in the imperfection of our love of God, because we approach Him in faith, our love becomes an expression of true love. In a sense, our imperfect love is justified by our faith. And, of course, our faith comes to us as a result of the Holy Spirit working within us. Again, this is a matter of faith since we do not see the Spirit but we believe in His action within us. So, by trusting and believing the invisible God we make our unselfish acts of love trusting in His love for us makes our love valid. The validation of our love is through our faith in God. The value of faith and itís hierarchy value is addressed later.
So, let me once again turn to my argument regarding the need of Maryís full consent to Godís call in order for her to be the mother of the Messiah. If, in her obedience to the call of God, Mary had the slightest lack of submission to the will of God, Jesus' conception could be seen as God imposing the incarnation on her. Such an element of force could be an impediment to Mary's full consent. However, since this would be against God's law of free will, as noted above, it would be against His nature to do such a thing. Therefore, as witness to her complete obedience and her complete freedom, God ordained that Mary conceive the Christ Child by her faith; "blessed is she who believed (Lk 1:45)". In so doing, Mary's active part in the conception of Jesus also attests to her full consent since the incarnation could not have happened without her active faith which flows from her free will.
I believe a fuller explanation of Mary's faith will answer the questions around the implications of the incarnation Ė whether it was solely through God's action or a matter of both Godís and Maryís action.
To get a deeper insight into this special faith of Mary's, let me compare it to the gift of faith given to the prophets. When a prophet speaks God's Word, God does not seize the lungs, tongue and vocal cords of the prophet and move them like a dummy's. God inspires the prophet to speak and the prophet freely opens his mouth and speaks God's Word in faith. Although impelled by the Holy Spirit, which Jeremiah describes as "a burning fire shut up in (his) bones (Jer 20:9)," the prophet's personal action is essential. However, even with faith, St. Paul says, our prophecy is imperfect (1Cor 13:9). Nevertheless, for Jesus to be conceived, who is the Good News of God, par excellence, there could be no imperfection; therefore the faith of his mother, Mary, must be perfect.
This faith was active, too. God did not make Mary bring forth Jesus in her womb. Mary's belief was so complete, so full, that she brought the waiting Messiah into her body by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul II stated at Fatima, May 13, 1982, "Mary's motherhood is therefore a sharing in the power of the Holy Spirit of 'the giver of life'".
God is vindicated of any imposition or violation of the personhood of Mary by her perfect faith, which through the power of the Holy Spirit produced the God-man in her womb. Only by pondering on this mystery can we see that God imposed nothing on Mary. She was fully responsible for her part in the incarnation of the Word of God. It should be pointed out however, that Mary was so in love with God that she could refuse Him nothing and, of course, God knew she would not refuse Him. Their love for each other was true, full and unconditional.
I believe that in the moments following the annunciation, Mary's faith was so great, her love of God so profound, and her desire for the incarnation of the Word so eager, that the Father could no longer hold back His Son from His beloved daughter. In this milieu of desire, love and faith, the Word of God leapt down and was made flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous and blameless people (Lk 1:6) who longed and prayed for an offspring. Mary, as a faithful Jewess, prayed, pleaded and longed for the Messiah. God, of course, knew of both these longings which also allowed Him to act in the lives of each one of these three people. Even though Zechariah doubted the angel at first, he demonstrated his faith by having intercourse with Elizabeth and that act produced their child, St. John the Baptist. So the evidence that St. John was conceived by the free choice of his parents to obey God is demonstrated in his parents voluntary act of sexual intercourse. Similarly, apart from the fervour of Mary's love for God and her ardent desire for the Messiah to come, no force was placed on Mary. Therefore, as evidence of her free choice in conceiving Jesus, it was necessary that the incarnation of Jesus come about by Mary's faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This mystery confirms our insight into who God is and how He does things. It also gives us greater insight into and highlights the significant of Maryís role in God's plan of redemption for the human race. A broader appreciation of this mystery can be gained from the words of St. Augustine in the fourth century who said that Mary had already conceived the Word of God in her heart before she conceived Him in her body. Thus Mary, by her receiving Jesus into her heart through faith, became the first Christian and by her perfect faith in Godís message became the mother of the Messiah.
So Mary's conception of Jesus, the beginning of her divine motherhood, was a matter of God's choosing her and her vital, active faith. The prophets and evangelists proclaimed the Word of God. Mary's proclamation was so complete that the Word became flesh in her and she gave Him to the world.
We can readily realize that Mary's faith in God continued throughout her life. However, the nine months of carrying the Divine Child in her womb requires some further attention. Mary was a woman who pondered the things of God in her heart (Lk 2:19 & 2:51). Day and night for nine months Mary was the living temple of God. She was able to worship and adore Him physically present in her own body. Jesus, the Word of God, was receiving from Mary His human life after having already created and given all life. This child within Mary had now come to give eternal life to the human race by the sacrifice of His body and blood, which He was acquiring from Mary in this divine gestation. This union of God and man (Mary) provides opportunity for limitless contemplation which will deepen our knowledge of God and of Mary's role in God's plan of redemption. It will also bring us into a deeper love of God and a deeper union with Him.
Mary's divine motherhood moved to more direct physical care of the God-man when Jesus was born on the first Christmas day. With what love she must have cared for Him. She tenderly wrapped the infant Jesus in swaddling clothes (Lk 2:7), nursed him, changed and bathed Him. Because of the perfection given her by God she carried out her mothering of the divine Child in a most excellent way. She, with her husband Joseph, parented Jesus and they followed the law and customs of their culture. They sought Him with sorrowing when he was lost at age 12 (Lk 2:48) which gives only a small glimpse of the hidden early life of our Lord. We see Mary still with Jesus at Cana in Galilee (Jn 2:1-12) and that she continued on with Him. It is likely that Mary was among the holy women who accompanied Jesus in His ministry providing for Him and His disciples (Lk 8:3; Jn 19:25) out of their own means.
In this we can see the nurturing, loving and caring motherhood of Mary. She silently but faithfully carried out this motherhood toward her divine Son, Jesus, throughout His life on Earth. Mary was truly a mother to Him and in fact, for all eternity she will not cease to be mother to the God-man, Jesus, the Incarnate Word of the Holy Trinity.