Woman of Faith

In his “Introduction to Christianity” (1069), then theologian Joseph Ratzinger noted that faith was foundational. He reminded us of the insight of Isaiah: “Unless you believe, you shall not stand...” (Is. 7, 9) His emphasis was that without faith, we would never have a firm or solid grasp on life and its meaning.

As Pope Benedict XVI, he still emphasizes the centrality of faith. But the careful reader will note how there is a remarkable sensitivity to the plight of so many modern men and women who struggle to believe. This is especially true in the secular atmosphere which seems to permeate Europe.

There is, however, another dimension to the struggle of faith which often affects the believer. When, for example, the Cross inserts itself into our lives, it often happens that the “firmness” and “stability’ which Isaiah points to evaporates.

In a way, the poetess Denise Levertov captures the desire we have in those moments to clutch something concrete and tangible -- and our disappointments in those dark moments:

I had grasped God’s garment in the wind

but my hand slipped

on the rich silk of it.

The ‘everlasting arms’ my sister loved to remember

must have upheld my leaden weight

from falling, even so

for though I claw at empty air and feel

nothing, no embrace

I have not plummeted.

Mary’s words at the Annunciation “How can this be?” simply and clearly point to the truth that there will be struggles in the faith life -- our inability to always comprehend God’s ways. Journeying with Mary, we see again and again hints of this truth.

We might think of her feelings at Bethlehem:

Born in a stable,

Cradled in a manger,

In the world His hands had made,

Born a stranger. (C. Rossetti)

And of course, there were those dreadful moments on Calvary.

Granted that faith is a gift (“no one can come to me unless the Father draws him...Jn.6), and something we must continually pray for, I believe that there is a Scriptural image which might help us -- as I am sure it did Mary -- in times of struggle. It is often overlooked, but truly powerful and consoling: the image of God’s hands.

Isaiah reminds us that our God is a God who personally cares for each individual:

Can a mother forget her infant,

Be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

Even should she forget,

I will never forget you,

See, upon the palm of my hand I have written your name.

(Is. 49, 15-16)

From our own experience, we can recall the sense of security and support which holding onto our parents’ hand offered. For example, we think of the first time we crossed the street. We should have this same sense of security and support when we think of God as our Father:

Fear not, I am with you,

Be not dismayed, I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you

And uphold you with my right hand of justice.

For I am the Lord, your God

Who grasps your right hand;

It is I who say to you, ‘fear not,

I will help you.’ (Is. 41: 10, 13)

Recognizing our call -- no matter what our vocation -- the author challenges us to be molded by the Father’s care and love. From our vantage point, he asks that we allow the Father to imprint the image of His Son upon our being that we may show Him forth to the world:

You, O Lord, you are our Father,

We are the clay and You are the potter,

We are all the work of Your hands. (Is 64,8)

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.