One of the most common early Church titles of our Lady is “the Valiant Woman.” She is the one we run to in distress, looking for shelter and asking her to rout our spiritual adversaries. This gentle woman, quiet dove, is also She who will crush Satan beneath her heel. How do we reconcile these two ideas, and more importantly, how do we imitate and integrate them into our own spirituality, our own journey of holiness?
The Story of Mrs. Valiant
In her beautiful allegory of the Christian life, Hinds Feet on High Places, author Hannah Hurnard gives us the character of “Much-Afraid” who has long been in the service of the Chief Shepherd (Jesus), but, as her name implies, still lives a life that speaks more of her lack of trust in her Savior than to her faith in Him. Much-Afraid and her pack of relatives, the Fearings, convict me as I recognize my own lack of trust in God. After having been shown such love and mercy all of my life, how can I possibly live in fear of the future? Why am I not valiant?
Much-Afraid has a wonderful next door neighbor named Mrs. Valiant. One night when she was being held captive by her Fearing family, Much-Afraid manages to call out to this neighbor who quickly comes to her rescue and disperses them all in short order. But aside from being valiant, it appears Mrs. Valiant also has a gentle heart:
Mrs. Valiant was not the sort of person to be the least intimidated by what she called, “a pack of idle Fears.” Thrusting her face right in through the window, she cried in a threatening voice, “Out of this house you go, this minutes, every one of you. If you have not left in three seconds, I shall call the Chief Shepherd. This cottage belongs to him, and won’t you catch it if he finds you here.”
The effect of her words was magical. The door was unbolted and thrown open and the Fearings poured out pell-mell, tumbling over one another in their haste to get away. Mrs. Valiant smiled grimly as she watched their ignominious flight. She felt much inclined to adopt a bracing attitude and to chide the silly girl, Much-Afraid, for not standing up to her relatives at once, boldly repulsing them before they got her into their clutches. But as she looked at the white face and terrified eyes and saw the quaking body of poor Much-Afraid, she checked herself. “What is the use of saying it? She can’t act upon it, poor thing; she is one of them herself and has got Fearing in the blood, and when the enemy is within you, it’s a poor prospect. I think no one but the Shepherd himself can really help her,” she reflected.
So instead of an admonition, she patted the trembling girl and said with all the kindness of her motherly heart, “Now, my dear, while you are getting over your fright, I’ll just pop into the kitchen and make a good cup of tea.”
Mrs Valiant: An Image of Mary
It seems that Mrs. Valiant has found the balance of courage and meekness, boldness and reverence for souls. The character of Mrs. Valiant reminds me of how Blessed Mother treats me. Though I may be brave and pious during the day, night often assails me with fear and anxiety. In this state I often find myself calling out to my Queen, begging her to rescue me! She always does. She calms me and reminds me of the truths that my troubled heart knows, deep inside, where the quaking has not reached. Through her Rosary or her simple presence she scatters my own “Fearings” and restores me to the peace that Our Lord so wants me to have and to remain in.
The morning after I suffer through an anxious night I often beat myself up. “Why do you think these things? O you of little faith! Don’t you remember all of Jesus’ faithfulness to you throughout your life? Your fear must hurt His heart so.” But this is not how the Lord and our Blessed Mother would have me treat myself.
Prodigies of Gentleness
In his book, Worshiping a Hidden God, Archbishop Luis Martinez wrote:
If we knew how to study the divine action in every saint, in every soul, we would be astonished, perhaps more at the gentleness than at the power of the sanctifying action. Gentleness is indispensable for us if we are to become holy; and this we frequently forget. Undoubtedly many souls do not sanctify themselves because of a lack of power; but many also, indeed very many, fail to do so because of a want of gentleness.
The human soul is precious and delicate…Such an exquisite jewel must be handled with consummate delicacy. That is how God treats it, and that is how we should treat it. What an atmosphere of purity of mind, of peace, and of delicacy ought to surround a soul for it to achieve its sanctification! When the soul is borne to another atmosphere, how it pines, how it laments! It is like those beautiful and delicate flowers which a strong wind withers or the heat of the sun discolors and parches.
I think that the greater part of the spiritual ills of souls who seek perfection comes from a lack of gentleness. Gentleness is needful to these poor, ever-disquieted souls. Desirous of holiness, they wish to achieve it all at once. They cannot countenance their own miseries, they grow angry at their weaknesses, and with an over refinement of ingenuity, they continually worry and grieve themselves.
Unknowing and proud, they have not discovered the secret of mildness, the daughter of love, which is patient and benign. If they possessed this secret, they would understand that one arrives at perfection by paths that are strewn with imperfections, which must be borne with humility; that when a soul falls, it does not arise with agitation, but gently places itself in the merciful hands of God by means of humility and trust in Him; that God does not ask for the perfection of our conduct, but for the perfection of our heart, as the wonderfully mild St. Francis de Sales so admirably teaches us.
There again, pride, hidden under a cloak of timidity and false humility, rears its ugly head. But what of it, when I have such a Savior, Meek and Mild, such a Queen, Valiant and True? I should fear neither the future nor my own inability to stop fearing it! I must be gentle with my failings, accepting with true humility my slowness to change even given the boatloads of grace I daily receive!
Archbishop Martinez says that conversions and great missions, in essence, all of God’s works in us, are prodigies of gentleness. The Lord is gentle with us. He is reverent of our humanity and is not in a hurry for us to reach perfection. The more I am gentle with myself, the more I will accept my Savior’s gentle, long, winding path for me. Perhaps, in accepting his gentle ways and making them my own, I can even begin to enjoy the surprises and changes that come around each new bend of this long, winding path.
The biggest surprise and change that could come out of this gentle path would be the dawning of true valiance in my fearful heart. If I begin to allow myself God’s timing on my path, allow myself to fall and get up again, to fall and get up again, to fall and get up again, I will gradually see and trust that Jesus still loves me, and is not surprised by my humanity, my faults, my failings, my Fearings.
Along this gentle, long and winding path, perhaps, as I let go of the false humility and timidity that clings to my fears, in my new lightness of being I will discover the valiance that was always there, deep in my heart, where no quaking has reached. Perhaps my Queen will show me how to reconcile valiance to gentleness and become more of a reflection of Her to my family and my world.
Strength Under Control
Meekness is often defined as strength under control. It seems a very counter cultural virtue. Perhaps it is the word which best describes this reconciliation of valiance and gentleness. There is no fear, nor false bravado; there is no timidity, yet all mildness. As Charles Wesley once penned in the famous hymn, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to Thee,” I am called to imitate this meekness, this mildness I see modeled in Jesus, to others and to myself.
When I receive the firm grounding of being loved in all gentleness, in God’s perfect timing, He will be able to use me to valiantly bring His light into the darkness, to scatter the Fearings of every soul He brings me into contact with:
If I’m ever known for anything,
let it be I ran into the night
running with a firelight.
Matt Maher distills the lifelong struggle and service of St. Teresa of Calcutta into one awesome refrain in the song “Firelight” on his “Saints and Sinners” recording. The words of the refrain are:
Cause I don’t wanna stroll the streets of gold
While there’s still a soul to love
Let me run into the night
Running with a firelight
This was the desire of St. Teresa who once said, “If I ever do become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness. For I will not be content to roam the streets of heaven while there’s one soul who still longs for God.”
All of this struggle with Fearings keeps me wrapped up in myself and unable to help anyone else. St. Teresa knew this. She chose to valiantly defy the darkness she struggled with for love of God and of souls. In remaining in my Fearings, in resisting the gentleness of God, in stopping along the gentle, long and winding path that opens me up to valiance in His service, souls who long for God are left to fend for themselves. If I remain in the darkness, so will all of the souls I am meant to touch, to bring His light to.
With all gentleness and reverence for my own soul, I must allow God to overcome my Fearings, and to create with all gentleness, the Mrs. Valiant He desires me to be, for my family, and every soul who longs for Him, whom He gently places in my path.