The Immaculate was given by God to man as a sublime exemplar in his earthly pilgrimage, so that under Her guidance, he might not seek happiness in the passing goods of this world, but in Jesus, the only true Good.
Faith and reason show us that man’s dignity, his greatness, is based on the fact that he has been created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26), and is called to a happiness that is not of this world, as the dissatisfaction in which man remains even when he possesses many goods demonstrates. Even those who declare themselves to be content with what they have often, if they come to be deprived of it, fall into unhappiness, and their words manifest more resignation than a fullness of joy. In short, they do not do otherwise than show the truth of that ancient saying: “A contented mind is a perpetual feast!“—an admonition to not desire more because such a desire would bring with it sufferings of every type. In truth, only an animal is truly “content” with what it has at any particular moment, for the simple reason that its senses are appeased… for the moment.
Man is called to something quite different, as St. Augustine teaches: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.” The words of the holy Doctor of the Church echo those of Psalm 42 (41): “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (v. 2). Let’s try to imagine the fervor and intensity with which the Immaculate Virgin repeated these words in the synagogue and in private prayer. Unfortunately, we can only imagine it in a very approximate way, not possessing that perfect purity that, among all creatures, was the exclusive privilege of Mary. In fact, the desire for happiness within us does not correspond to a clear knowledge of what happiness is. The eyes of our soul are short-sighted: we have some intuition that there are beautiful and wonderful things in the distance, but what is close at hand catches the eye more and attracts us. We intuit that the true good is something great but, unfortunately, the passions present to us only those goods that are “tangible,” pleasing, that attract the senses, promising a satisfaction that is more or less immediate.
The Immaculate’s intellect, in contrast, was absolutely undisturbed by passions, so that the rational nature proper to man was able to maintain within Her a harmonious hierarchical order without fracture or dissonance of any sort. Her intelligence intuited the truth, and Her reason discerned its manifestations in creation, knowing how to distinguish that which was truly good, that is, what favors man’s attainment of eternal happiness, from what impedes such attainment. In this way the reason could present to the will the whole array of goods present throughout creation according to their grade of similarity to the author of all things: God.
At this point one poses a question: could Our Lady have sinned? We answer that theoretically Our Lady could have sinned, because notwithstanding the clarity of intellectual knowledge, the fullness of grace and the probably very frequent mystical visions that embellished Her earthly life, She was nevertheless always a pilgrim creature, with the limits that make up part of the very nature of a creature.
Practically, though, it was morally impossible that She should sin, given Her continuous correspondence with the will of God in small as well as great things. This continuous correspondence with divine grace strengthened Her every virtue, especially prudence and justice, and rendered Her truly “free,” because liberty, in contrast to what many think, is not simply the capacity to do whatever one might wish; rather, it is the capacity of self-determination towards the good, not driven by an irrational “instinct,” but knowing it and willing it, without any internal or external constraint. God, in fact, is supremely free, even if He cannot do evil because it would be contradictory to His very self. Mary, the creature closest to God, was practically unable to do evil because She saw it be in profound contradiction to God and His work, Herself included.
The Immaculate, being thus a true “Mirror of Justice,” reminds us that if in our own lives we aspire to happiness, we aspire ultimately to God and, therefore, to the fullness of personal being that is attained in the contemplation of God.
But this God became Man in the womb of Mary, sanctifying creation in Himself and demonstrating in His own Mother the perfect work of such sanctification.
Uniting ourselves to Her we will always be able to find, in the midst of the many things and events that fill our daily lives, that goodness, that good to accomplish which in the present moment most advances us towards our ultimate end, to our true happiness.
Fr. Massimiliano Zangheratti is a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. This article was originally published in Missio Immaculatae International, January 2005.