Bearers of Jesus, bearers of souls
Mary became the handmaid of the Lord by her decision and consent to be God’s Mother; it was an acceptance of God’s invitation to enter into a “personal relationship” with His Son for that is what it means to be Mother of God. It was born out of virginal love that is total and unconditional and is grounded on the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26; cf. Rom. 1:5; 2 Cor. 10:5-6; John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater n. 13) and the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). It was at this moment that Mary’s cooperation with salvific mission of the Son was inaugurated. It transpired simultaneously with her vocation of motherhood. The moment that Mary conceived the Son of God, the divine mission of the Second Person of the Trinity in time began -- she became the Mother of souls. Here is the summary of our vocation as Franciscan Handmaids of the Immaculate.
Mary’s Faith as Key to Fullness of Grace
Having seen that the divine mission of salvation is necessarily (by divine decree) tied with Mary’s motherhood, it necessarily (by divine decree) presupposed the consent of the Blessed Virgin Mary (cf. Lumen Gentium n. 56). The Second Vatican Council beautifully explains Mary’s cooperation: “The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life” (LG n. 56). This human cooperation to salvation through Mary is what divides Catholicism from the reformation.
But Mary’s cooperation assumed a personal note in her act of faith. Personal, because it was an act of total self-giving that defines the very core of what it means to be a person (cf. John Paul II’s Osoba i Czyn or Acting Person, 1969; John Paul II’s Theology of the Body). Hence, Mary’s act of faith was her response to God’s revelation. It was a response where Mary “abandons herself to God without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will” (John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater n. 18). But such faith can only find its raison d’etre in Mary’s “fullness of grace.” It was in virtue of her prerogative as Immaculate and spouse of the Holy Spirit that her faith reached the level of fruition to be God’s Mother. John Paull II wrote that Mary’s act of faith is “the key that unlocks the innermost reality of Mary, whom the angel addressed as full of grace” (John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater n. 19).
In similar way, our consent to God as Franciscan Handmaids of the Immaculate is not just a mere affiliation to a community or organization. It is fundamentally a personal response to God’s invitation to share in His salvific mystery through holiness; and extend that mystery to others through the works of mission. Only to the degree that we enter into the mould of Mary can we effectively accomplish this vocation, a vocation of love that is sustained by faith as we, like Mary, exclaim: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me, according to thy word” (cf. Lk 1:38).