“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)
These words from a young Mary living in Nazareth are often referred to as her ‘fiat’ and they really say everything that there is to say about the Christian life. The word fiat is Latin means simply ‘let it be done’ – for Christians, these words are used to express total agreement with God’s plan for their lives. For Mary, this meant being a mother to Jesus, the Son of God, raising Him from childhood to adulthood.
Mary lived out her fiat everyday of her life. Dr Scott Hahn explains that in the day to day of motherhood, Mary continued to give her yes, and not as a onetime event.
‘ … the Father willed that His Son’s entire existence as a man would hinge, so to speak, upon the ongoing consent of Mary. Can there be a more intimate coworker?’
Due to this role, Mary is the first to know the good news of the gospel – that God became man for the salvation of mankind. This makes her the very first disciple – but before we get into what Mary can teach us about discipleship, let’s define the term. Fr James Mallon unpacks it brilliantly in his book, ‘Divine Renovation’.
‘The word in Greek for “disciple” is to be a learner. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus, the master, Jesus the teacher. The English term “disciple” comes from the Latin discipulus, and provides the connotation that this learning process is not haphazard, but intentional and disciplined. To become a disciple is to commit to such a process of growth.’
One text that really gives us great insight into Mary’s fiat and how to give our own, is the classic book ‘The Reed of God’. Written by English mystic, writer and artist, Carryl Houselander, ‘The Reed of God’ is a spiritual classic that was published in 1944. It is a powerful read, illustrating to a modern world how Mary allowed God to use her humanity for his great purposes. The second chapter, entitled ‘Fiat’, is an invaluable exploration of this.
GOD ALWAYS USES ORDINARY PEOPLE
One of Houselander’s main observations is that God uses ordinary people to manifest his will, almost exclusively people who are not, in a worldly sense, that important.
‘I think the most moving fact in the whole of history of mankind is that whenever the Holy Spirit has desired to renew the face of the earth He has chosen to do so through communion with some humble little human creature.’
This is certainly true of Mary the peasant girl from Nazareth. Tellingly, Mary was also not asked to live a life that appeared outwardly to be at all different to the life she had lived before giving her fiat.
‘She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges. She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph, to live the life of an artisan’s wife, just what she had planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her. It almost seemed as if God’s becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary.’
Why would God want to immerse something extraordinary in the ordinary? What message is he trying to give?
‘God did mean it to be the ordinary thing, for it is his will that Christ shall be born in every human being’s life and not, as a rule, through extraordinary things, but through the ordinary daily life and the human love that people give to one another.’
IT’S ALL ABOUT SURRENDER
So, if giving our own fiat is not about the external things of our lives changing, what is the interior change that has to happen? Houselander wisely suggests that it is all about surrender.
‘We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life. The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation. We shall not be asked to do more than the Mother of God … What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life – our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows – to God.’
This is how we echo Mary’s fiat, this is the example of the first and truest disciple of Jesus, the surrendering of the everyday and the ordinary to God, to bear Christ in the world as she did.
FEAR IS THE OPPOSITE OF FIAT
Houselander knows that in our modern world, living out this fiat is far from easy. Mostly because of our fears, which disrupt our trust in God, his goodness and his plan for us.
Most people, unless the invitation comes to them in early childhood, have already thrust down fierce roots into the heavy clay of the world. Their hands are already gripping hard onto self-interest. They are already partly paralysed by fear. To put aside every motive except this single one, the forming of Christ in our life, is not so easy for ordinary people who are to remain ordinary.’
Houselander tracks the source of this fear to materialism.
‘What courage it would take to try to walk on the sea, even if we could see the face of Christ; but it needs much more courage to leave our false securities, our leaking boats of materialism, and to walk towards Him on the churned-up, angry sea of our civilisation. It would be a heroic thing to do even if we could see Him, but when the face of Christ is hidden in the darkness of our heart, then it requires all the heroism of our Lady’s fiat … So completely have we depended upon material things, on money in particular, so terribly are we influenced by fear, that simply to abandon ourselves to God and really to mean it seems to be madness.’
IT COMES DOWN TO TRUSTING THAT YOU ARE LOVED
And so, at the heart of this matter of living out our fiat, we must grapple with this fear and seek to cure it.
‘No one can be so recollected, so tranquil, that he can be a contemplative in the world, a contemplative of Christ in his own heart, unless at the very outset he finds a cure for fear. There is only one cure for fear – trust in God. That is why the beginning of Christ’s being formed in us consists in echoing Our Lady’s fiat; it is a surrender, a handing over of everything to God.’
As St Paul puts it, ‘For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ (2 Timothy 1:7)
After all, trying to address our fears with the material simply will not work.
‘Powerful to alleviate, to delay, to camouflage, though money is, in the end it lets us down. Even when we have it we are continually anxious about losing it. Even without the lesson of war, those who have lived long enough know that death finally defeats money, that there are dissensions and troubles between people that money cannot heal and that at best the power it has is temporary and uncertain. … God is everlasting, certain, unchanging. What is certain about Him is that He is love, that He loves both you and the person that you love, more than you do.’
To really surrender, to really follow, to really be a disciple, ultimately means to trust that God only wills the best for us. Because he loves us. It’s as simple as that.
‘“Be it done unto me according to thy word” surrenders yourself and all that is dear to you to God, and the trust which it implies does not mean just trusting God to look after you and with yours, to keep you and them in health and prosperity and honour. It means much more, it means trusting that whatever God does with you and with yours is the act of an infinitely loving Father.’