May 2019- Devotion to Mary
Saint Ignatius of Loyola said: “Of a hundred persons devoted to prayer, more than ninety are self-willed.” This month we will hear many exhortations to pray the Rosary and wear the scapular. However, there is more to devotion to Mary than the recitation of prayers or the wearing of the scapular and other similar devotions.
Saint Louis de Montfort wrote an excellent work, True Devotion to Mary. In it he discusses false devotees to Mary. Let us begin with external devotees. “External devotees are persons who make all devotion to our Blessed Lady consist in outward practices. They have no taste except for the exterior of this devotion, because they have no interior spirit of their own. They will say quantities of Rosaries with the greatest precipitation; they will hear many Masses distractedly; they will go without devotion to processions; they will enroll themselves in all sorts of confraternities, without amending their lives, without doing any violence to their passions, or without imitating the virtues of that most holy Virgin. They have no love but for the sensible part of devotion, without having any relish for its solidity.”
Let us consider Mary's own devotion to Almighty God. We find it in Sacred Scripture: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:48) Mary's devotion consisted in the devotion of her whole self, body and especially soul. Our own devotion must mirror hers. Let us ask Mary to give us a heart like unto hers and like unto her Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to Mary leads us to her Son.
External devotees miss one very important point of devotion. For instance, the Rosary is not merely the repetition of fifty three Hail Marys with the Our Father and Glory Be sprinkled in on a regular basis. The Rosary is a series of meditations on the Life of Jesus Christ and the Life of Mary. In fact, the First Saturday devotion consists of the recitation of the Rosary in addition to a quarter of an hour's meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary.
For instance we begin with the Annunciation, which will include a meditation on these words from the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:48) The Sorrowful Mysteries begin with the Agony in the Garden, where we meditate on these words: “Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) In both cases we are reminded that the Christian way of life includes complete submission to the will of God. Devotion consists in being ready to do whatever God asks us to do, no matter how much it goes against our own will. Mary was ready for this, and when asked, she readily submitted to the Divine Will. Are we ready to imitate Mary in this devotion?
Let us consider another form of devotee, which is quite common. “Presumptuous devotees are sinners abandoned to their passions, or lovers of the world, who, under the fair name of Christians and clients of our Blessed Lady, conceal pride, avarice, impurity, drunkenness, anger, swearing, detraction, injustice, or some other sin. They sleep in peace in the midst of their bad habits, without doing any violence to themselves to correct their faults, under the pretext that they are devout to the Blessed Virgin. They promise themselves that God will pardon them; that they will not be allowed to die without confession; and that they will not be lost eternally, because they say the Rosary, because they fast on Saturdays, because they belong to the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, or wear the scapular, or are enrolled in other congregations, or wear the little habit or little chain of our Lady. They will not believe us when we tell them that their devotion is only an illusion of the devil, and a pernicious presumption likely to destroy their souls. They say that God is good and merciful; that He has not made us to condemn us everlastingly; that no man is without sin; that they shall not die without confession; that one good Peccavi at the hour of death is enough; that they are devout to our Lady; that they wear the scapular; and that they say daily, without reproach or vanity, seven Paters and Aves in her honor; and that they sometimes say the Rosary and the Office of our Lady, besides fasting, and other things.”
Let us consider the story of a priest, who was just such a devotee. In his church he made sure there were always flowers before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary kept there. In fact, he assigned his staff the duty of keeping these flowers always there and fresh. However, this priest was a liar, a thief, a pedophile and even participated in murder.
One Sunday he gave a sermon, taking a story from the Cure of Ars, but changing it slightly. Let us consider his version of the story. A man was very lax about his religion and a sinner, but he had a habit of bringing flowers and placing them before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which he passed regularly along the road. One day he jumped off of a bridge and committed suicide. According to this priest, the Cure of Ars went to console this man's widow. He told her that before he died the man had repented and gotten right with God. Now let us look at the real story. The man actually fell off of the bridge and his injuries caused his death, and he did indeed repent before he died.
Placing flowers before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is indeed good, but without a heart that strives to imitate the Immaculate Heart all of the devotions in the world are worthless.
Striving Toward Holiness
Let us return to Saint Louis de Montfort: “I confess that, in order to be truly devout to our Blessed Lady, it is not absolutely necessary to be so holy as to avoid every sin, though this were to be wished; but so much at least is necessary, and I beg you to lay it well to heart: 1. To have a sincere resolution to avoid, at least, all mortal sin, which outrages the Mother as well as the Son. 2. I would add also that in doing violence to ourselves to avoid sin, to enroll ourselves in confraternities, to say the Rosary or other prayers, to fast on Saturdays, and the like, is wonderfully useful to the conversion of a sinner, however hardened; and if my reader is such a one, even if he has his foot in the abyss, I would counsel these things to him. Nevertheless it must be on the condition that he will only practice these good works with the intention of obtaining from God, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the grace of contrition and the pardon of his sins, to conquer his evil habits, and not to remain quietly in the state of sin, in spite of the remorse of his conscience, the example of Jesus Christ and the Saints, and the maxims of the holy Gospel.”
Our devotion must aim at our perfection. Jesus advises us (Matthew 5:48): “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary will help us towards this goal, if we are truly devoted to her, asking her to remove all that is not of God from ourselves and our lives. We should aim to be able to say with Saint Paul: “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Mary will bring her Son to us, when she has helped us remove all that is displeasing to Jesus Christ from us. She will ask Almighty God to send us the graces and tribulations we need. Yes, God works through tribulations in order to purify us. Saint Paul told the Romans (5:3-5): “And not only so; but we glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience trial; and trial hope; and hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.” Through accepting tribulations, we learn patience.