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At the School of Holy Mary: Magnificat, Fiat, Stabat

When we were in the process of preparing the list of themes for the formation this year, the three key words of the gospel that summarise the attitude of Mary in her journey as mother and disciple in the gospel come to our mind: Fiat, Magnificat, Stabat; that is, thy will be done, at the annunciation; the hymn of praise, in Elizabeth's house; and her Presence under the cross. They make Mary the best interpreter of the ‘holy obedience’. St. Francis de Sales gives it to us as a legacy, after having received it in turn as a gift from St. Ignatius and St. Teresa.

The sequence is obvious because it is also the 'chronological' one, according to the account in the gospels.

It happened, however, that during a seminar something prompted us to change the order and a new light emerged which perhaps gives even greater prominence to what Francis de Sales proposes to us as a mature attitude of a life of faith, which is no longer easily comprehensible due to the meaning commonly given today to the term “steadfastness”.

Let us begin with the new sequence of Marian expressions par excellence:

1. Magnificat

2. Fiat

3. Stabat

Why begin with the Magnificat?

It is said that all psalms end in glory, even those where the cry of pain and supplication are most intense and at times shocking. Certain verses we would not dare utter if they were not put on our lips by the Bible. Without GLORY, however, there would be no psalm. There would be no page of scripture.

To start from the Magnificat is to have from the very beginning that horizon of good, of good-diction, which is the vision of life that Mary did not invent at Ain Karim, in Elizabeth’s house but which was her breath always, a breath common to all Scripture of which the Magnificat is a perfect echo.

When we learn to adopt a PERCEPTION of life, in all its expressions, illuminated by gratitude for the presence of God who creates, sustains, saves, brings to fulfilment, raises up the humble, remembers His promise, the rhythm and direction of our steps change.

If we look at Jesus’ prayer, the model of all prayers, at his intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit, His praise, His blessing, His magnificat also bursts forth in an irrepressible way, causing him to ‘exult in the Holy Spirit’: “At that very hour, Jesus exulted with joy in the Holy Spirit and said: ‘I give praise to you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to the little ones. Yes, O Father, for thus you have decided in your goodness’” (Lk 10:21). His magnificat reaches its climax in the thanksgiving-Eucharist before His passion. What prevails in the approach of the most tragic hour is thanksgiving.

From this PERCEPTION of reality flows full and unconditional adherence to the plan of love that is being fulfilled today as it is from the beginning and will be until the final fulfilment of history.

It is not the praise on the one hand, perhaps on Sundays in church, when as a ritual we have to stand up for the Gloria, Alleluia and Hosanna, and then the valley of tears on the other hand, where we beg for graces to cope with the heap of problems that beset us and which seem to have nothing to do with what is celebrated in church.

As long as our way of perceiving the reality is compartmentalised, and God and the gospel of His Kingdom remain well isolated within the walls of the church as if they were those of a laboratory protected from contamination, Mary’s liberating journey does not even take off in our lives.

To train ourselves day after day to a MAGNIFICAT approach, or better still, to try to PERCEIVE our day every night with these eyes of hers since the Magnificat is the gospel, the good news of every event that sets us on our way.

Mary is an all too evident guarantee that the Magnificat is the right gaze not only in the days of triumph but also in the uninterrupted rosary of uphill and difficult hairpin bends. And yet, her ‘Magnificat’ remains so true that it is also her attitude forever: Mary, Assumed into heaven, risen with her son and as queen, mother and sister of all, is the bodily promise of our being made for that same risen glory that she already lived. Hers is a magnificat that fills the whole universe and all lives, starting with those of the martyrs, where cross and glory are inseparable.

In July 2022, images from James Webb, the most powerful telescope ever, began to arrive on our screens. From its position, three times the distance of earth and moon from us, it allows us to PERCEIVE the universe with a depth and image quality never seen before. Questions about where we come from and where we are going are also perceived with new intensity.

This is not the time to go into this world of questions: however, it is good to look up and realise that our life, even without bothering with astrophysics, is the result, or if you like the evolutionary fulfilment, of an immensity of freedom in time and space, without which no second of my being would be possible. Just think of the chain of generations behind and in our own time.

The MAGNIFICAT is the only sensible perspective, even for non-believers. If we then trust the fulcrum on which all our faith is based, Easter, what lies before us, the ‘what we are made for’, the fulfilment of our journey, has a width, height, depth in front of which the galaxies James Webb shows us really weigh less than the speck of dust on the scales, to quote the psalm. This universe is a time machine. We are forever. We are made to live as His children, to live as God with our bodies. I believe in the resurrection of bodies, in a fullness of life that needs all eternity to unfold.

What do you say? Can we start every morning with a Magnificat attitude and expressing it, professing it with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength during the day and checking it every night?

Take it up seriously and try. Let’s do this exercise for a few months and then decide if it is worth continuing it... for a long time, AMEN.

It is the Hebrew equivalent of the Latin FIAT, or at least they are close in meaning.

The Hebrews of scripture were a people of shepherd farmers, with a relatively poor vocabulary - especially when compared to the Greek one - but dense with vitality, made up of concrete references: words that you can almost feel before you even hear them. The ‘Amen’ refers to the peg of the nomadic shepherds’ tent (Abraham): when the peg is solidly planted on firm ground, stable as rock (think of the parable of Jesus of the house on the rock), it is ‘Amen’: I can be sure of it; it certainly holds; neither storm nor sandstorm will sweep me away.

Mary’s FIAT has this trust in it. I believe that if I am in your hands, there is no other safer place to put myself, and I trust that what you have in your heart and mind for me is better than anything else, more than what I could devise for myself on my own.

An expert in high-intensity ‘Amen’ was Paul, who, from the time he said a full and complete ‘yes’ to the son of Mary on the road to Damascus (“for me to live is Christ” Phil 1:21) began to see before him a continuous series of dangers and tribulations. At one point he even made a list of them (Cf. 2 Cor. 11:16-33).

Yet, it is he who assures us, after what he has gone through and will still suffer according to God’s plan, that “all things work together for good, for those who love God, for those who have been called according to His plan” (Rom. 8:28).

A FIAT/AMEN of this depth is not the equivalent of fulfilling a few precepts, giving a little alms, and then going on our way, keeping a clear distinction between what happens inside the church and the rhythm of survival to be sustained outside.

This is why only a deep breath as a Magnificat opens the way to a relationship of trust such that we embrace (not endure or fear) with full adherence those opportunities that everyday life offers us to live more and more as sons and daughters of God. What else is His will if not this? What is the way, the truth and the life for us has already been given to us in His Son, who is alive and present at our side just as He was for the two on Emmaus. “But, we do not see him!” When was their ‘Amen’ most ready, most transforming? When they saw him without recognising him, after the breaking of the bread (our own broken bread), they ran back to Jerusalem, turning back from the direction they had taken before? “I run in the way of your commandments because you have opened my heart” (Ps 118:32).

If we do not first let our hearts be opened (Magnificat), it is very difficult to find the track and even more difficult to start the race.

Mary was a great athlete. The gospel records very long journeys and most of them in rather precarious situations: from Nazareth to Bethlehem, towards the end of her pregnancy; with the newborn child and Joseph, refugees in Egypt; and then Jerusalem, with the anguish of the lost son being prepared for another, much more painful, loss of her own Son. It is here that we find the STABAT.

The STABAT MATER (Mother Mary stood by the cross) has left such a deep impression in art and popular piety that one does not need to know ‘Latin’ to have Mary immediately before one’s eyes at the foot of the cross.

Would this then be the finishing line, where the ribbon of victory is held, for those who better than anyone else knew how to ‘run in the way of your commandments’?

The STABAT seems to extinguish at the root every voice of Magnificat, and draw to the Fiat the “darkness over all the earth” of which the Gospels of the passion speak to us, with that cry that runs through history and always disquiets us: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

And yet, it is there that Son and Mother bring to completion not only the whole journey that led them to that skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem (this is the Aramaic meaning of Golgotha), but also the whole history, of this universe (James Webb included), of all life. The ‘EVERYTHING IS COMPLETE’ says that the reason why everything exists, lies in the salvation of every one, guaranteed by an eternal love of Father, Son and Spirit (TOGETHER! ALWAYS) that does not stop in the face of our rejection and that is capable of uplifting, of resurrecting any kind of pain, injustice, tragedy, death, the cross.

The cross cannot be explained or understood: it is STABAT! One can only enter it and let oneself be carried and transformed by it into resurrection.

There is no point in human history that has marked and changed history more than that Nazarene crucified, naked outside the walls of Jerusalem on Friday 7th April in the year 30, under Tiberius (this seems the most probable date, according to historians).

There is no more transforming event.

And there is no more fruitful hour in Mary’s life.

There, she becomes the mother of us all: the pain of childbirth is great enough for such boundless motherhood. Michelangelo understood this well when he sculpted the Pietà with Mary who is the sage of Bethlehem, ready to suckle her son who is born there.

The STABAT is not the anti-Magnificat or a Fiat imposed from above that has the flavour of the absurd.

But we only get to STABAT if day by day we allow our hearts to be enlarged by the MAGNIFICAT and the AMEN-FIAT that makes us say with our hearts rather than with our lips.

And so we also come to the “holy steadfastness” that St. Francis de Sales learnt to live by drawing inspiration from greats before him such as Sts. Ignatius and Teresa, but above all thanks to the practical experience he had to widen his heart and life more and more to the total gift of self to God and his brothers and sisters, facing poverty of all kinds and crude and even violent hostility, making of all this a formidable gymnasium of charity and meekness.

For him, steadfastness means taking in good heart whatever the new day brings, without wanting to be the one to direct and control every detail at all costs. Behind it is a proved and steadfast trust in God’s providential love. St. Francis, like St. Paul, knows very well that “everything works together for good”, if it is only love that we seek and are eager to live. Everything becomes an opportunity for a step further in that one investment that remains forever: “Charity will never end” (1 Cor. 13:8). This kind of openness of heart becomes ‘holy steadfastness’, so open to goodness that nothing and no one becomes indifferent or too small not to love as He has loved us.

MAGNIFICAT, FIAT, STABAT: there is a path of daily holiness that is sufficient for us as an indication of the way from here until our last breath. It does not frighten us because the first to take care of it is the Help of Christians. In this she truly helps us become Christians, become her sons.

For personal prayer and meditation:

  1. Do I have the perspective during the day to fix my gaze on problems, complaining, or to discern God’s presence in the situations and people I encounter, by being thankful to Him?

  2. Do I trust the Lord, knowing that there is no other safer place than His hands in which to place myself, and that what He has in His heart and mind for me is better than anything I could devise for myself on my own?

  3. Do I try to take whatever the new day offers me willingly, without wanting to be the one to direct and control every detail at all costs?

Monthly commitment:

Start every morning with a Magnificat attitude and express it, profess it with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength during the day and verify it every evening.

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