By Barb Ernster –
Through the Woman
The title Woman is not bestowed upon the Blessed Mother lightly. It connotes a very important role in salvation history, and one that is not for the faint of heart.
In his book Fatima for Today, Father Andrew Apostoli tells us Mary is the only woman in Scripture whose coming was foretold, “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Is 7:14). He says, “Mary’s mission is a spiritual warfare in order to help obtain final victory over evil, because God said to the serpent in the Book of Genesis, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman and between her seed and your seed’ (Gn 3:15).”
Father Andrew further explains, “Our Lady’s role is so significant, because God wants to defeat the devil by the same means with which the devil conquered our first parents” – through the woman.
And this woman is so perfectly an image of God. St. Louis de Montfort calls her a “masterpiece of grace.”
In the Book of Revelation, the devil, in the form of a huge red dragon, pursues the woman, who is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and 12 stars above her head. She is with child and the dragon seeks to devour her and the child, but the child is caught up to God and the woman is brought to a place in the desert and protected. So the devil becomes enraged and goes off to make war with the rest of her offspring – “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
It takes courage to be the woman who will be the enemy of the devil and do battle with him, but Mary does not shrink away from this role. She embraces it fully when she gives her “yes” to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation.
The Gift of Courage
As one who was “full of grace,” she would have possessed all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the virtues and would have borne all the fruits of these gifts. The gift of courage, or fortitude, is likely what emboldens her to go forth in faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the gift of fortitude “ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good. It enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one to even renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause” (CCC 1808).
Fortitude also helps make us docile in readily obeying divine inspirations, and we certainly see this in Mary. Mary is obedient to the right things and that’s what makes her the best warrior in the battle against evil. She has fortitude and strength of character to never, ever stray from what God wants of her, yet she is humble enough to keep her sword sheathed until He says “go.”
Some of the fruits of this gift are joy, peace and faithfulness, even in the face of the most difficult obstacles and trials. Living out this gift means to be of good cheer because God is at your side and you have overcome the world.
“Do Whatever He Tells You”
Mary demonstrates courage again at the Wedding Feast of Cana. It is here that Jesus first refers to her as woman, when Mary approaches him to tell him that there is no more wine: “Woman, what is that to me? My hour is not yet come” (Jn 2:3-4).
The hour He was referring to was the hour of His passion and death. And his first public miracle was going to set the stage for His journey to Calvary. Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote of what Jesus was saying to Mary in his book The World’s First Love:
“Do you realize that you are asking me to proclaim my Divinity—to appear before the world as the Son of God and to prove my Divinity by my works and miracles? The moment that I do this, I begin the royal road to the cross. When I am no longer known to the world as the son of the carpenter, but as the Son of God, that will be my first step toward Calvary.
“Your role will change too. Once I undertake the salvation of mankind, you will not only be my mother but will also be the mother of everyone whom I redeem…You will then be the new Eve as I am the new Adam.
“To indicate the role that you will play in redemption, I bestow on you that title of the universal motherhood. I call you Woman. We are in the work of redemption together. My dear mother, is it your will that I anticipate the cross, that I go to Calvary?”
And Mary readily answers: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).
Mary didn’t hold back in fear of what was to come. She stood firm with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and was obedient to the right things. She said “yes” to His hour, which had come.
It’s no different than when she said “yes” to the angel Gabriel and allowed God to become Man. She could have shrunk back and said, “No, this is too much for me. How is this all going to play out?”
The second time Jesus refers to her as woman is at the foot of the cross when she is united with him in his sufferings and the sword is piercing her heart (cf Jn 19:26). This is the second annunciation, explains Bishop Sheen:
“At the exact time of our redemption, Jesus presents her to us as the universal mother. This is the woman of Genesis, the one whom God said would crush the head of the serpent. The same woman who had sent him willingly to the cross starting with the Wedding at Cana is now here, standing beneath it as a cooperator in his redemption.
“This woman who has remained a virgin according to the flesh, will now bear children according to the spirit, for the sake of the Father.”
Mary shows us the need for the gift of fortitude, so that we can stand firm in the face of difficulties and to be constant in pursuing goodness and truth. We’re living in a post-Christian world that is rapidly sinking into moral depravity. It’s very hard to stand up for truth in the face of so much hatred of it. Persecution of what is righteous, “hating what is good” (cf 2 Tim 3:3), is common in the public square.
Combating the Phenomenon of Skepticism
Toward the eve of the new millennium, St. John Paul II warned of a crisis that was unfolding in modern culture – a widespread phenomenon of skepticism – a cultural climate, “many of whose most powerful elements doubt the existence of objective, absolute truth.” This skepticism, he said, is particularly acute in the area of morality and reveals itself in the modern individual who desires personal moral autonomy, which goes hand in hand with “a weakening of the sense of the innate dependence of all human existence on the Creator” (Springtime of Evangelization, pp 24-25).
John Paul also warned against polarization and a partisan spirit among Catholics themselves that would cause them to judge the Church in predominantly political terms. The truth given to the Church by Christ, he stated, is neither “liberal” nor “conservative”; it is simply true.
So we desperately need the gift of courage, and we need to be willing to stand up and be counted as disciples of Jesus and followers of truth – even if that means an angry, red dragon will pursue us. Mary shows us the importance of this gift in boldly following Christ all the way to Calvary.
Barb Ernster is the National Coordinator/Communications Manager/Editor for the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA. This article, originally written for the Winter 2021 edition of Soul Magazine, also appeared on our Fatima Blog back on March 2, 2021.