NO MORE THAN HUMAN
It is often the case that when we have made a mistake for which we cannot offer any good excuse. our last line of defence is: "Well, I'm only human." We have sought refuge in the acknowedged fact that human nature itself leaves us open to error. People are always making mistakes, trivial ones sometimes, but sometimes there are greater lapses. All because of that weakness of our common humanity.
In chapter 2 of his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St Louis Marie de Montfort has come to grips with this characteristic of ours. He is dealing with the basic truths concerning devotion to our Lady and, after treating of our relationship to our Lord and his Mother, he does not hesitate to tell us some home truths, and his language is unsparing.
Nobody can hope to better himself unless he recognises his need for improvement, realises his weaknesses. And the saint—teaching us no more than our Lord himself—insists that to rid ourselves of this evil, we must die to ourselves. A deep devotion to Mary it is which will most effectively bring about this renunciation of self.
Tending towards evil by our very make-up. it is difficult for us to persevere in good, to continue the efforts we have been making, to preserve the virtue, the graces we have previously acquired. The three classic enemies of our salvation insinuate themselves into our lives to wreck our hopes : the devil, the world and the flesh.
It would be difficult enough if we had just our own inclinations and tendencies to cope with—we are often our own greatest enemies—but in addition there is the malice of Satan, who would reduce us to his ruined condition, and also the temptations and obstacles which the world presents—in the factory and office, among those with whom we associate, and now even in the home. where we are open to the images and thoughts of those whose primary concern is material happiness at all costs.
St Louis Marie offers a corrective: devotion to Mary, but a worthy devotion.
Nature without Grace
Modern readers of nos. 78-82 of the True Devotion may well wonder if the saint has not overdrawn his sketch of human weakness.
Yet it is evident that the saint is insisting, like so many of his contemporaries, and as the Bible itself does, on man's mortal weakness so as to bring home to those who otherwise would never have given it any consideration that the evil taint from original sin is very strong in us.
Admittedly there is another side to the picture, namely, the heights to which man can rise with grace. Yet, unless one is aware of the basic flaw, little or no attempt can be made to correct it. or at least lessen its liability.
Again, are all our actions influenced by this primal weakness so that even our good actions are influenced? We must say at once that although perfect love of God can inform all we do, yet the common run of experience testifies that most of our actions in some way or other carry within them some love of self, often, if not always, to the detriment of the service of God. We, too often, have a selfish motive in performing acts of charity, in fulfilling our devotions. Our concern is not so much what God wants as what we want. There is always the tendency to direct our prayers primarily to what we think should be done, and not to the will of God.
And what of this "dying to ourselves"?
We should note that Christ himself requires this of us. It is simply the renunciation of our own will. We say "simply", but perhaps it is the hardest thing we are asked to do, to surrender our will, our desires, for God's sake. Nobody underestimates this effort-even among friends, to accede to the request of another may not be easy—but it is all necessary if we are to belong entirely to God. And we do not lose by it: he has our good at heart.
To help us achieve all these purposes—to become aware of the evil strain in us, counteract effectively its influence, realise our weakness to persevere in good, and to strengthen our resolve—St Louis Marie advocates a devotion to Mary; not any devotion (he warns us against those devotions which pander more to our taste for religiosity than to our need for effecting a change in our lives), but a devotion that really "bites" into our life. Now, you may enquire, how can devotion to our Lady make such a series of changes in us?
For one thing, the very portrait of such an immaculate, sinless, virginal soul, whose charity towards us and whose love of God rendered her so dear to God, is a sufficient contrast to ourselves to warn us of all that we are not.
Her very image awakens the conscience of a Catholic to self-criticism. In Mary we see God's blue-print for the human race realised: while in ourselves it has gone astray. At the side of the Mother of God who can feel complacent? Yet she too was a creature like us.
Further, she does not hold her privileges in isolation from us: they are also at our service. She has the power to lead us, by God's grace, to understand ourselves with all our sins and weaknesses, especially those faults which are never recorded in the catalogue we present in confession, the faults which perhaps our over-all goodness has subtly neglected to examine.
Lastly, with her help we are able to persevere. She is at hand to help us keep our grace. strenthen our virtues, keep us in line with God. That is her function now.
But—and here is the hub of the problem—she is able to help us only in the measure that we allow her to do so; like God, she does not interfere with our free will. Her assistance is ours, if only we will accept it.
That is not all. Although she helps us without our knowing it. she is prepared to give us all she has, as it were, if we would only open ourselves wide to the graces God is offering through her. In other words, the greater the devotion we show her. and the more profound is our dependence on her. the more effective will be both the power of good she offers us and our reception of it.
Montfort will later tell us what such a devotion of dependence on Mary entails. For the moment, there is one question which is pending, and each one individually must submit his own answer: Am I prepared to place myself under Mary's care so that I may learn my weaknesses and under her direction correct them? Or am I content to go my own way and write off my recurring sins and faults as "no more than human"?
TRUE OR FALSE?
You must have come into contact with them, those quizzes which make a statement you have to declare true or false, often encountered in digests and in television programmes.
St Louis Marie de Montfort has something similar in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. After dealing with certain guiding principles in which he shows how any devotion to our Lady must ultimately be directed towards her Son, and how our weak human natures tend to soil all the good we do, he goes on in chapter 3 to tell us about true and false devotions to our Lady.
Let us just look at the false devotions to her.
The saint distinguishes seven different types of misleading approaches to our Lady.
This outspoken No. 104 of the True Devotion is a summary of what St Louis Marie has been saying in more detail, and it is well worth our while to go more into these false trends.
The key to the situation lies in the fact that many people can he misled by the counterfeit nature of these trends; they look so right. But they have led others before them astray.
Take, first of all, those critical devotees. These are people who, while having devotion to our Lady, would wish to avoid any excesses in this direction.
That in itself is very prudent and does no more than the Church herself, who is always wary of exaggeration. The danger of attributing too much to even much publicised "apparitions" of our Lady is one we have to be constantly on our guard against. A newspaper report is not a sufficient guarantee that our Lady has truly appeared.
But, and here is the hub of the question, this prudent approach to devotion to the Mother of God should not be such as to incline us always to attack the popular manifestations of piety towards her, a sort of spiritual snobbery which writes off as childish the simple devotions Catholics have practised for ages.
The homely and handy rosary is just too homely for some, May processions are a little vulgar; visits to shrines "rather boring". And all this is too often disguised as a balanced judgment. when the critical spirit which underlies such a judgment is simply corroding their piety like a powerful acid.
One would expect such people to have a tremendous devotion to our Lord; but unfortunately the opposite is nearer the truth. The plain fact of the matter is that Mary is never honoured in isolation: we pay her that attention which is the wonder of the non-Catholic world precisely because she is the Mother of the God who has so amazingly favoured her. Without him she is, frankly, nothing.
Cardinal Newman has well shown how devotion to Mary has been the deciding factor in the continued worship of her Son.
External devotees prefer the trimmings and trappings of services in honour of our Lady to that interior energizing spirit which should direct our lives. The result is that Rosaries fall from their lips with the facility of television jingles from the mouth of a child—and with less attention.
Their practices of devotion to Mary have as much influence in their lives as the space travel of the latest aeronaut. They fail to see that without a deep, interior devotion, external practices can have little or no effect on their everyday lives.
Another false devotion to our Lady is shown by those-mercifully few—who believe that she will see them "straight" in the end, no matter what sort of life they live now.
These presumptuous devotees ignore the reality of Mary's union with her Son: his will is her will. How could Mary be in opposition to God? That she will inercedc for us, that she has power to help us to fight sin is sure; but this does not make her an accessory after the fact of our sin, and we cannot presume to secure the hope of her help without any attempt to be saved ourselves.
A fifth class of false devotees are the inconstant ones, those who honour Mary by fits and starts, one moment fervent, the next lukewarm.
Not to be considered among these, however. are those (the majority) who experience their own ups and downs in the spiritual life (don't we all?) and yet, despite periods of dryness and not knowing where we are, still make the effort, still try to do their unconsoling best to please Mary, no matter how impoverished that seems to be. God, when all is said and done, has never demanded that we succeed: but simply that we try, and that always.
The name, hypocritical devotees, tells its own tale: the smooth men who add insincerity to the temerity of their fellow-travellers, the presumptuous.
Lastly, the saint considers sell-interested clients of our Lady. All of us have some hope of obtaining favours from her; prayers of petition, of course, have their place in the framework of the Church's plan of salvation.
What Montfort deplores here, however, is the type of mentality, of outlook which reduces Mary to the rôle of welfare officer—on hand when something is needed, and then dismissed. The Mother of God has surely the right to better treatment than this. She is there for our needs, but also for our love and devotion.
Our next examination of conscience might well take up any of the above points that seem to have relevance in our lives. The question we could pose ourselves: Is my devotion to Mary true or false?
BUT THE BEST IS YET—
"Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance," was Dr Samuel Johnson's reply to a lady who taxed him on an error that occurred in the great scholar's dictionary. It might well be our reply when we are asked why we do not do such and such a thing in honour of our Lady when we claim to be so devoted to her. St Louis Marie de Montfort is once more able to help us here, and in so many other cases, by giving us a catalogue of what anyone who is devoted to our Lady may be expected to do.
We have just seen how he was concerned in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin to pinpoint the attitude of those who would claim some devotion to Mary, but falsely critical devotees, who believe nothing and criticise everything, external, presumptuous, inconstant, hypocritical, self-interested devotees who have more their own wavering selfishness at heart than a true love of the Mother of God. In the second part of chapter three of his book the saint goes on to oppose such forms of devotion to Mary by offering to tell us what the true devotee of Mary will do.
In the first place, any real devotion to her will be interior, that is, established deep within our consciousness, almost a part of us. We are used to the type of Catholic who is steeped in his Faith which colours his whole outlook, influences his whole life. His religion is a second nature to him. St Louis Marie wants our devotion to our Lady to be the same, he wants us to be "soaked" in this deep devotion to the Mother of God.
And why? Precisely because she is the Mother of God—we can never sufficiently esteem her greatness which derives from this favour God granted her, not love her as we should for what she is. Reflect on that single theme, let it play over and over in our mind: only thus can we hope to deepen our appreciation, give dimension to our devotion, of Mary.
Then our devotion should be tender—nothing more than the expression of a deep-seated love of a child for its mother. And like that child, we shall consider our Mother as someone to turn to with confidence in all our troubles—both spiritual and those which make their presence felt in our everyday, humdrum life—as well as in our joys.
It will also be holy: we practise those virtues we see the New Testament has indicated in her. The description of the Annunciation in St. Luke's Gospel suggests her humility before the request God was making of her, as well as her obedience and faith in accepting God's will. She showed her supreme charity in willingly choosing to work for God and man, for us; and the Visitation clearly tells us that that same overwhelming charity did not hesitate to descend to domestic details: she was at hand in St Elizabeth's confinement. Her mortification, her patience, her meekness at the time of the passion and death of her Son tell us their own story.
We could do well to try say—for a month, or even a week at a time—to concentrate on one of these virtues, to make a serial of our lives in union with her. While we emphasize one of these virtues, we are not neglecting the others; who could be obedient to the will of God without having a very active faith?
Interior, tender, holy. our devotion must also he constant, firmly rooted within us and not depending on the whim of the moment. A devotion that gives us a certain insurance, a security to help us face up to the attacks of the devil, the world and the flesh, and which helps us compensate for the accidents of sin that too often befall us by making us rise again and continue in our devotion to Mary.
Finally, any worthy devotion to the Mother of God should be disinterested—she surely merits our attention for the greatness God has bestowed on her and not only because we hope to get something from her (how repugnant such an attitude appears. like a shoddy businessman examining "returns" from the Mother of God!). And if our devotion has that element of disinterestedness, concerned with what we can "put into" rather than what we can "get out of" service to Mary, it will matter little whether we experience comforting spiritual consolations or disquieting dryness of soul. She can count on us just the same.
But how many of us can claim to have such a devotion, such a real devotion to Mary? St Louis Marie is painfully aware that even this "Five-Point Plan" has not the recognition it deserves, and he considers it the basic requirement of any true devotion to our Lady. In an extensive parenthesis, he explains how he wrote his Treatise in order to remind Catholics of this gap in their knowledge and love of Mary.
He is aware, too, that such an attempt as he makes to promote devotion to Mary will have to undergo the attacks of Satan. Undismayed, St Louis Marie looked with hope to "a mighty army of brave and valiant soldiers of Jesus and Mary. of both sexes, to fight the devil, the world, and corrupt nature in those more than ever perilous times that are to come." Our own times well qualify for that warning and the Legion of Mary must surely represent some aspect of the saint's hopes.
Devotion of any description must show itself in acts. Made up of body and soul, man uses both facets of his being to express himself. And so devotion to our Lady, if it is to be a power in our lives, will show itself in acts. Our saint underscores for us these acts, these practices of devotion to our Lady, and first of all, those practices which remain hidden from others and which unite our mind and heart to Mary; in a word, interior practices.
We honour her as the Mother of God with a devotion that exceeds any we could ever give to any other saint: we reflect on her virtues, privileges, actions, mindful of her greatness. This can only lead to offering her our acts of love, praise. thanksgiving, invoking her with all our hearts.
United in mind to Mary. we try to perform all our actions, even the most menial household tasks, with the intention of pleasing her—not that she herself is the final object of our life, but that our life may be dedicated more surely to her Son. our last end in everything we do from the cradle to the grave.
Exterior practices have their part also in any worthwhile devotion to Mary. We have here before us an amazing wealth of choice: belonging to her sodalities and confraternities, joining religious congregations founded in her name, the common Catholic practices of mortification in her honour, the wetting of some external sign of devotion to her, the recitation of the Rosary which brings the salient 'obits of her life before us, visits to her shrines ind statues—so many things we can do to manifest our love and appreciation. Done worthily, attentively and devoutly with the intention of pleasing and being united to our Lord by the help of his Mother, they have great scope for revitalising our spiritual life.
And yet, we can go still further. Despite all we have said, continues the saint, we can offer even more to our Lady— verything we have or will possess by consecrating ourselves entirely to her so that nothing in our lives escapes her influence. We shall have to consider how St Louis Marie would lead us to consecrate ourselves in this way The best is yet to come!
St Louis Marie de Montfort has done very much the same thing in his opening chapters of the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He has shown us how God chose to make use of Mary in his work of salvation; he has gone on to sketch the universal Catholic devotion to Mary; finally, he has described the notes of any worthwhile dedication to the Mother of God, at the same time warning us of excesses and defects.
But all this wide and embracing view of devotion to Mary was by way of preparation for an introduction to the most perfect type of devotion we can show her. And in the brief Chapter Four of his Treatise, the saint gives us the "close-up". It comprises two features: consecration and a renewal of our baptismal promises.
The endeavour of each Christian life must be to arrive as completely as possible at being Christ-like. The whole of our existence must be directed towards that end. Whether we acknowledge it or not. Christ lies at the heart of the matter for each single soul. Without him, there is nothing. To attain the closest possible union with him, we have to avail ourselves of the means, the best means for this.
It's as simple as that to understand.
But notice those words: "The more a soul is consecrated to Mary. the more it will be consecrated to Jesus Christ." If we would belong to Christ totally, then our consecration must be total.
It will include everything that we have: our body with all its senses and members (imagine the improvement and restraint among Christians that would allow if this were borne in mind!), our soul with all its powers, our exterior possessions. present and future, our interior and spiritual goods, past, present and future.
In a word, everything we have—and are. And all this we give to our Lord through the hands of his Mother. We belong entirely to her so that, in the last analysis, we may more securely belong entirely to him.
Now the remarkable thing is that we have already promised to do precisely this at our baptism—belong entirely to Jesus Christ. St Louis Marie insists that man's neglect of God derives from just this fact that baptised persons are no longer vitally aware of what they promised when they became Christians. literally, of Christ. Hence, the saint's devotion is frankly nothing more than a renewal of our baptismal promises.
Admittedly, there are two or three incidental differences. We now make actual ourselves what our sponsors promised in our name; we invoke, too. Mary's assistance in a very consoling way; and also we surrender the satisfactory value of our good acts as a token of complete surrender to Christ. But the essential dedication is the same: a wholehearted belonging to Christ.
Such is the meaning of St Louis Marie de Montfort's total consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary.
And yet, any interested reader will have his questions, or even, as the saint himself foresaw, his objections.
In the first place. is this a new devotion, or an old practice in a new dress? Now St. Louis Marie is at pains to show how traditional his teaching is. He quotes saints, Councils, the Fathers to underline the fact that it is necessary for Christians to return to the promises of their baptism. The Easter Vigil ceremony has acquainted modern Catholics with this importance.
Where the saint's originality is evident is that he calls upon Mary to help the soul to achieve what it has promised, and that in a most special way: by consecrating itself to her to effect more securely its utter dedication to her Son. Consecration to Mary was known and practised long before the saint's time; but it was left to him to push to its logical conclusion what such a consecration meant and what it demanded.
In other words, St Louis Marie explored and exploited the riches of Catholic thought on the ever-present
demands of baptism and the power of Mary's influence on the soul.
Another question engaging many minds is on the disposal we make of all our goods—temporal and spiritual, past., present and future—to Mary. First of all, about those temporal goods. We are not expected by the saint to "give them up" in the sense of getting rid of them. But what we are expected to do is to use them—money, possessions, etc.—as belongng to our Lady in a way that we know she would have us use them: in a Christian way.
We know well that the goods of this life must be subjected to our spiritual life. They are to be helps, not hindrances, to salvation. We are simply asking Mary to see to it that we do not forget this.
And what about our spiritual goods Any good action we perform has a twofold spiritual result; we gain merit and we make satisfaction for past sin. Our merit we cannot surrender, but we can seek Mary's help to increase and strengthen it by obtaining her intercession in doing good and avoiding evil. Our satisfaction, however, we can offer up to her. And isn't it a common Catholic practice that we do try and make satisfaction for the sins of the world? This we leave in Mary's hands to dispose of it as she sees best. Who knows better the will of God?
Gain Not Loss
Finally, how can we help our families, friends, those for whom we are expected to pray, even ourselves, if we have given all to Mary?
But isn't it just too ridiculous that they should suffer simply because we have given all to Mary ? Can you hope to outdo the Mother of God in generosity? On the contrary, while we pray for those towards whom we have an obligation from Catholic piety to remember in our prayers, even if it is in dependence on Mary's will, we must appreciate the fact that Mary is prepared to help them, on account of our dedication to her, in a far more powerful way than could be hoped for from our sole efforts.
If we are attracted to St Louis Marie de Montfort's True Devotion and wish to take it up, bear in mind the fact, mentioned by the saint in No. 119 of the Treatise that progress in it is gradual. Some of those who attempt to practise it stop, as it were, almost as soon as they begin; others will proceed only a short distance; a few will reach the depths of devotion the saint advocates. The main thing here, like in every aspect of the Christian life, is effort, constant and sustained. Saints are not made overnight.
THE REASON WHY
The Perpetual, and often tantalising, questions of five year-olds. addressed to harassed parents surrounded by a hundred and one items to be got through, are customarily answered by the simple reply, "Because." an enigmatic slogan which has postponed. if not completely averted, many a nervous crisis.
Domestic as it may seem, these early queries witness to a universal human need, the need to know the reason for everything, a divinely implanted instinct.
And it finds another application with people who are introduced to St Louis Marie de Montfort's practicc of the True Devotion to thc Blessed Virgin. He once more has anticipated their enquiries by offering reasons—he calls them motives—for undertaking the high spiritual life in union with Mary which he advocates.
He lists eight motives, and they are all centred round thc search for spiritual perfection. In this chapter we shall examine seven of these motives, reserving for our next one an examination of his fifth motive, that the True Devotion is an easy, short. secure and perfect means of union with Our Lord.
All perfection in the spiritual life must ultimately be concerned with the glory of God and our submission to his holy will. The first two motives St Louis Marie offers for our consideration revolve upon this axis.
The first motive shows that by undertaking this practice of devotion to Mary wc give ourselves entirely to the service of God.
No earthly position we are able to conjure up in our day-dreams approaches in value and importance that status of thc service of God. This is particularly so when we surrender everything to that onc aim, after the example of our Lord, who gave up everything for us.
Thc second motive shows how precisely that complete dedication of his was based on complete submission to God, on a profound humility which sought before all else to do God's will. Christ's life ts an example to us. Yet the remarkable thing is that not only did our Lord adopt a life of humility: he chose to live his hidden years in submission to Mary, a fact which St Luke has not scrupled to point out in his Gospel.
And even, as Montfort insists, the Holy Trinity itself chose to makc the beginning of our redemption, the incarnation, dependent on Mary's consent. If such is thc conduct of the divinity, deigning to use Mary in thc plan of redemption, what must our need of her be? Can we be too proud to use her? Not humble enough?
In fact, God has established her as mediatrix. a two-way channel between himself and us. This
is a favourite theme in thc writings of St Bernard. St Louis Marie has described this God-Mary-man relationship
as really acknowledged in the practice of the True Devotion.
For the Glory of God
The third motive suggested by the saint to lead us to Mary is to show how important are the favours she bestows on her dedicated devotees. Not to be outdone in generosity by thc giving of oneself to her, Mary in her turn gives herself to the soul, as it were engulfing in her mcrits one who has been stripped of everything.
The good works we offer her that she may present them to her Son are beautified by the very fact that it is she, his Mother, who offers them to him. Would he refuse them? And because we have offered all we do to Mary, for her intentions, we can rest assured that the value of our acts is applied as God wants it to be applied. Mary has the advantage over us in that she knows the will of God clearly, whereas what we believe to be God's will is often our own poor self-seeking which lies under even our best actions.
In short, doing all through Mary, we achieve all for the greater glory of God, which is the fourth motive for undertaking this devotion.
The natural consequence of this way of acting is that we arrive (as the sixth motive tells us we will) at great interior liberty. Mary is in charge now, and we have that great security and confidence which comes from the knowledge that she is guiding us. There is small place here for the narrowing scruples and servile fear which can beset even the most fervent.
For Ourselves and Others
The seventh reason why this devotion has induced so many souls to accept it is that our neighbour benefits from it very substantially.
Our everyday acts, which are offered up in union with Mary, those acts which form the woof and
warp of even the most humdrum existence-these can be made to surrender unspeakable spiritual worth for the salvation
of souls and for the relief of the soul; in purgatory.
Our past, and perhaps not sufficiently regretted, actions which have been even a small occasion of sin to others can be made good too by Mary's prayer, which seeks out sinners to save them.
Finally, that most important question of our final perseverance. Our own experience will have warned us that "weariness in well-doing" is no idle threat. Perseverance in any work we undertake always demands, at some time or other, special interest if we are to continue.
The same is true of the spiritual life; perhaps even more so, since it is practically always uphill work. We cannot rely too long or too exclusively on ourselves.
But if Mary is at hand, her presence assures us of her constant assistance towards perseverance. She will help us to realise our weakness; she will make known in our lives that powerful strength that is hers, a sheet-anchor amidst the blustery trials and temptations that would capsize us.
And we have confided to her our small stock of virtues for safe-keeping. The words of St John Damascene conclude St Louis Marie's eighth reason for deciding upon the True Devotion as a way of life, and they are worth meditating on.
Eight good reasons for practising the perfect devotion to Mary. Have you one good reason not to ?
The advertising columns of our newspapers and magazines never seem at a loss for discovering the numerous variety of blessings offered by kindhearted manufacturers, from methods of losing weight to how to stop smoking easily, safely and swiftly.
People are always ready to hear how to do hard things the easy way (although sometimes the hardest part of the cure is to get up and find paper and pen to communicate with these would-be benefactors).
St Louis Marie de Montfort. in giving eight reasons why we should undertake his true Devotion to the blessed Virgin, included one, the fifth, which has all the attractions of the get-well-quick method ... but this time in the spiritual life.
He tells us that his devotion to Mary is "an easy. short, perfect and sure way of attaining union with our Lord, in which Christian perfection consists". We may well examine what he has to say.
First of all, the devotion he has in mind, total consecration to Mary, is an easy way.
The reason for this is simply and solely the fact that our Lord himself chose to come to us this way. Other paths to him will prove more difficult, be beset with greater trials. But through Mary—here is the serene way.
Of course, that does not mean that by going to Jesus through Mary we are preserved from all crosses; they are still there. Even devotees of our Lady have experienced enormous trials.
But—and here is the encouraging note—they are shared by Mary. Her presence, her assistance take the sting out of suffering, make it so much easier to bear, so much more meritorious. The difficulties of the spiritual fife, in no matter what stage we are in, are not eliminated, but they are mitigated. Where others would be overcome, her devotees continue on their way.
St Louis Marie describes this bitter sweet perseverance thus,
This devotion is also a short way to achieve union with our blessed Lord, because we walk it with joy and a greater facility, and so with more promptitude.
And for this dependence on Mary, we have the example of our Lord, who spent all those years before his public ministry with our Lady. The saint makes an accommodation of an Old Testament text to underline the value of devotion to the Mother of God : "Riches he lays up for himself that gives his mother her due." Through the practice of devotion advocated by Montfort progress is made which gives a holiness, an experience far beyond the years of those who undertake it.
An easy way. a short way, the True Devotion is also the perfect way to become more Christ-like.
The second person of the blessed Trinity, for reasons beyond our comprehension, became man and allowed himself to be guided by Mary. He who was so far removed from mankind, drew near to us through Mary; he who was everything, assumed the nothingness of our mortal frame.
We too might well imitate this example, allowing ourselves to be guided by Mary, to draw near to God through her, to make ourselves something spiritually by acknowledging our nothingness. Such is the value of approaching Christ through Mary that St Louis Marie tells us:
Finally, this way of Mary to our Lord is a secure way.
It is not a new-fangled idea; we are offered an imposing list of many noteworthy holy people who have taken it. It is secure also because, despite objections to the contrary. Mary does not hinder our approach to God but leads us to him.
Joining ourselves to her that we may the better offer our thoughts, words and deeds to her Son, we are helped most effectively to arrive at that union with him which is the end of our life here on earth. Moreover, Mary's presence with us assures that another presence, the evil presence of Satan, is excluded.
To sum up, true and perfect devotion to the Mother of God is "an easy way because of the fullness of grace and the unction of the Holy Spirit which fill it; in treading it we do not tire or fall back."
"It is a short way which in a short time leads us to Jesus Christ."
"It is a perfect way in which there is neither mud nor dust nor the least vileness of sin."
"Lastly, it is a secure way which directly and safely, without turning to the right or left, leads us to Jesus and to life eternal."
The saint concludes by exhorting us to "take this way, travelling along it night and day to the fullness of the age of Jesus Christ."
Have we, perhaps, been looking for a way to the Son of God that is something of a short cut, something we may be able to use? Here is what we are looking for—a deep devotion to the Mothcr of God.
PARABLE FOR MODERNS
You will find in the book of Genesis. the first book of the Old Testament, a rathcr strange story. It tells of a domestic scene played out in thc back-ground of the idyllic, patriarchal timcs in that early period of Palestine's history when the people of God were still nomads.
We arc introduced to the home of the ageing Isaac with his wife. Rebecca, and his two sons. Jacob and Esau. Isaac, realising his approaching end and wishing to bcstow his important paternal blessing on his children. called his elder son Esau, and asked him to go hunting to obtain food that he might afterwards impart this blessing on him.
Rebecca immediately warned Jacob of what was happening and told him to tako two young goats from the flock with which she would prepare a meal; Jacob would offer it to his father and so merit that blessing.
Rebecca also told Jacob to cover his arms with finc-hair skin of the kids so that Isaac would believe his meal had been won by that full-blooded hunter. Esau. All this was carried out and Isaac, misled. blessed Jacob; on his return, Esau found that he had lost his inheritance.
It would be too much to hope that this quaint tale will arouse an enquiring interest in our sophisticated moderns. And even many sympathetic readers will be nonplussed to find the Bible recounting such duplicity in what we may take to be its heroes.
Wc must remember, however. that we cannot expect to find Christian perfection in so primitive a people: God was giving his revelation gradually and progressively until it would blaze forth in the revelation of his Son. The sacred author, after his own fashion, wanted to show how the weaker and smaller Jewish nation won a land from his powerful brother nation. Thc Jews were proud to read their own skilfulness in their ancient ancestor. Jacob.
In his Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St Louis Marie de Montfort has taken this story from the book of Genesis and has woven a parable around it—for moderns. Taking the main charactcristics of the story—thc strong and the worldly giving way before the meek and unworldly through the efforts of a mother and so obtaining the blessing of the father—he has directed his account to show the power of Mary's intercession with God for those who are devoted to her.
The saint first of all contrasts the types presented by Esau and Jacob. The proficient, self-reliant and adventurous figure of Esau. whose activity masks a lack of depth. recalls the hurried existence of many worldly-wise characters who have neither the time nor the inclination to stop and examine where they are finally going. They have few moments to spare for religion; if they are Catholics, little thought for Mary, their spiritual mother. They are inclined perhaps even without being fully aware of it, to trade the joys of heaven for those of earth.
The type of person Jacob symbolises to St Louis Marie is a rather less ostentatious one, a person at home with his own thoughts whose sense of values is much deeper, much more real. In religious matters, such a person has the disposition to listen to the voice of God and realise the importance of Mary in his striving after salvation. His values demand that her place be acknowledged. His devotion to her is a measure of his attachment.
The first group is warned by the saint of what their line of conduct must eventually result in: reprobation. They have no time for grace; God will have no time for them. Their unconcern will bring its own punishment.
But for those who are devoted to the things of God and do love the Mother of God, there is immense consolation. St Louis Marie has tried to list the different aspects of Mary's care for souls dedicated to her and employs as background to his thoughts the pattern of Rebecca's assistance to Jacob.
In the first place, Mary loves them as a mother with a love that is effective—it achieves results. She as it were, looks out for occasions to promote their spiritual and temporal welfare; she gives them wise counsel; she helps to cleanse them of self-love, of sin. Shc prepares them to appear before God by stimulating them to the practice of her own virtues. The soul is known to God for what it is, a sinner, but finds acceptance with him through Mary's clothing of it with her great intercession. As treasurer of God's graces she provides for each soul.
Then Mary leads on those souls dependent on her—guiding them so that they will practise good and avoid evil. She more easily than us is able to discern the dangers and temptations we may all unsuspectingly leave ourselves open to. This is no less the case for the enemies within our make-up—our own weakness and habits of sin. She it is who will defend and protect us from ourselves.
Finally, there is her influential service to us with God, interceding for us that we may escape that punishment we too often so richly deserve, while at the same time she begs for us those graces we urgently need. Like Rebecca then Mary helps us acquire what must otherwise have appeared beyond our grasp; the favour of the Father,
Now in all this treatment of the episode of Rebecca and Jacob within the framework of devotion to Mary, St Louis Marie makes great use of two terms: the reprobate and the predestinate. We are told that Jacob is a figure of those "elect souls" whose complete devotion to Mary is a sign of their predestination. Esau, on the other hand, represents those who reject salvation—the reprobate.
This question of predestination is a most difficult one, but while each one of us fully recognizes that we cannot be absolutely certain that we shall persevere to the end in grace, we do know that God will not deny his grace to those who do what in them lies. Further, our own experience tells us that a number of "signs" are available by which we can conjecture how we shall fare after our death; a sincerely good life, for one, is evidently a most promising hope.
Now among those "signs" which hold out such hope of eternal happiness St Louis Marie includes a deep devotion of dependence on our Lady. We shall not easily expect a person to go astray who is so attached to her. Just as we might say, " He'll surely go to heaven," St Louis Marie uses the term "predestinate" within the same limits.
If we enquire why devotion to our Lady should be such a presage of salvation, we shall find that a strong devotion to her is a tremendous help towards sanctity. Her will is only what God wills; without him she is nothing. She will have us perform all our obligations, spiritual and temporal, in a spirit of submissiveness to her divine Son. And to our weak efforts she will join the strength of her own power. Can we neglect such an offer and render her a mere token service?
With the entry of spring we are introduced to the beginning of the good weather. Things are changing after the winter with its colds and 'flu and depression. Spring is here, and its shy promise is having its effect: things are just that much better, people a little brighter, hope a little higher, and—the holidays a little nearer! Experience has taught the possessors of these two islands to be satisfied with a qualified optimism—spring has broken too many promises—but nevertheless some change is noticeable.
And for those who will undertake St Louis Marie de Montfort's practice of the True Devotion to the blessed Virgin, a sincere endeavour to maintain its teaching will introduce a new spring into our spiritual lives, bring changes that augur a greater closeness to God, revive our efforts to reach that holiness we know we should enjoy.
If we have given ourselves completely to our Lady to belong to her Son, this dependence will show results, will take effect. The saint tells us what these effects will be, this second spring in the seasons of our life. If they are absent, the blame is ours. This time we do have some sort of control over the changeable weather of our souls. Many an early promise of holiness has not been honoured by us.
A Living Faith
St Louis Marie lists seven effects, seven wonders of a world that belongs to Mary.
To one who is entirely dedicated to her and who has her present before the mind's eye, knowledge and contempt of self come early. The startling contrast between her sinlessness and our sinfulness is too obvious to be ignored. We realise our own weakness, and this time, without excuses. And while we despise ourselves, we learn not to despise our neighbour. Has he had the graces given us?
Another effect of this devotion is an enlivening of our faith. The qualities which Mary's magnificent faith had while she was on earth and which so helped her to carry out God's will, these she will grant us. The need to live our lives in a spirit of faith is all the more important in our times when so many worldly distractions can deflect us from God, make us lose our sense of the supernatural, turn us into materialists without even our being aware of it.
Hence, that most striking passage in the Treatise on the True Devotion which described what our faith, under Mary's guidance, must become
It is no accident that the Concluding Prayer of the Legion of Mary has taken its inspiration from such praise of such a virtue.
The third effect total dependence on Mary will bring is a service of God which is based on love of him and not on a servile and cringing fear.
We will keep the commandments, not so much because we fear what may overtake us in our everyday lives, but simply and solely because he is so good and we love him. We will put away those scruples, those intense worries over whether we have transgressed a law; service based on love will prevent us from turning God into a sort of private investigator intent on detecting our every imperfection. We will have greater confidence in God because, being dedicated to Mary and consequently she to us in an overwhelming fashion, we approach him assisted by her intercession. Our prayers become more powerful since Mary has united herself with our petition. We are not approaching the divine majesty alone; Mary stands with us before her Son.
Union with Mary
The fifth effect of the True Devotion, the saint tells us. is that Mary helps us share in her dispositions, her attitude towards God. The words of the Magnificat express our sentiments : "My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour"—we try to love and glorify Christ as she did. When mankind will imitate Mary's devotion to her son, when (as St Louis Marie says) "souls will breathe Mary as the body breathes air" and copy her complete dedication to Jesus, then his reign will surely be established.
Can we contribute towards such a realisation? We can, by practising this devotion in our own lives, attempting constantly to be devoted to our Lord as his blessed Mother was. The result of this will be that through Mary we shall become more Christ-like: Mary will mould us to his image.
But this moulding of ourselves effected by Mary—so different from the difficult process of chipping away our faults with our own clumsy efforts—demands that we be docile. A mould can only work on something that is liquid, something that offers no resistance. If wc are to be formed by Mary to the image of Jesus Christ, we too must offer no resistance with the hard core of our sins and weaknesses. They must be rendered down.
The seventh effect that the practices of this devotion of dependence on Mary will induce in the soul is that all is done for the greater glory of Jesus Christ, the final end of any devotion that we undertake.
Dependent on Mary we abandon our particular desires in order to do what Mary wants of us; we achieve a growth in humility in that we subordinate our demands to hers. And in all this. wc arc doing what Christ wants us to do: Mary's will is to do what he wants. and of all creatures. Mary it is who best knows the will of God.
We arc not substituting Mary for God; not placing her between us and him. Shc is there to give every possible help to us to arrive as quickly as we can at that union with him that is the reason for our whole existencc. Even any praise we offer her is praise of God whose mighty works are nowhere more manifest among creatures than in Mary. Without him she is nothing, but with him she has a dignity we shall only fully appreciate in eternity.
Knowledge and contempt of self, a livelier faith, a loving service of God. greater trust in him, a more open disposition to thc demands of God, a growth in the image of Christ. becoming more Christian. and so promoting the glory of Christ—these effects of a sincere and constant devotion to Mary as taught by Montfort should make themselves felt in us.
But perhaps our dedication to Mary has been fitful, neglected, abandoned? We have not experienced a renewal in our spiritual efforts? There has been no second spring? Then more faithfulness is demanded of us in our devotion to the Mother of God, more resolution and vigour in the service wc owe her. There is such a thing as a late spring and who would be so ungracious as to deny its beauty?
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
We have now come to the end of this series of explanatory notes on St Louis Marie de Montfort's Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Chapter by chapter we have tried to disengage the salient features of the saint's teaching. attempting to express in modern terms the ideas contained in the small booklet. The final chapter alone remains to be examined: the special practices of this devotion of total dependence on our Lady in order to belong more completely to her Son.
St Louis Marie describes two types of practices which hc calls interior and exterior, dealing with whether they are concerned with our attitude of soul to God or with the external signs of our devotion.
Let us take the exterior practices first, the outward signs by which we make manifest our dedication to the Mother of God. Besides the obvious things like often saying the Hail Mary and the Rosary to recall the greatness God bestowed on her, there are also other specific prayers addressed to our Lady like the Magnificat, which is known and appreciated by many lay people through the Legion of Mary, and even now forms parts of their daily prayers.
Less well known is the Little Crown of Our Lady, which, in twelve invocations, honours twelve privileges bestowed on her by her Son. To anyone enquiring what may be said of her rôle in our salvation, the Little Crown offers a most satisfactory reply, listing clearly her offices in the work of redemption.
Closely connected with the honour paid to Mary and, in fact. the cause of it, is a deep devotion to the mystery of the incarnation when God the Son took flesh from her. This feast of March 25th announces the beginning of our salvation, " the first mystery of Jesus Christ." says St Louis Marie. "containing as it does the will and grace of them all." The work of redemption, including our Lord's life, passion. death and resurrection, was effected by Jesus Christ, who became man precisely for that reason. And God decreed that Mary would be joined to her Son from the moment of the incarnation. Further, the second person of the Trinity not only chose to become man through Mary but, like any other child was dependent on her in his conception, birth. nourishment, rearing. If that was the conduct of the Son of God towards Mary, how dependent on her must we also be?
The only satisfactory way we can show our deep dependence on Mary is, St Louis Marie tells us, to consecrate ourselves wholly to her and then live that life of consecration. This is a solemn act and, like every important act in our lives, requires due preparation.Nobody who rushes into marriage is giving themselves a fair chance; a period of preparation is necessary. So too, for our consecration to Mary, we should prepare ourselves. Saint Louis Marie asks that we do this during a month—not, really, a tediously long time.
In the first week, we have to concentrate on knowledge of ourselves—what we are, our inclination
to sin, our particular weaknesses. We cannot hope to correct ourselves until we are aware of what our sins and
imperfections are. In the second week, our endeavour must be to learn more about our Lady, reflect on her greatness,
arouse desire to practise her virtues. The third week is devoted to knowing more about her Son. Jesus Christ, the
end of all our prayers and devotions, the object of all our hopes.
Living up to it
This Act of Consecration, a solemn manifestation of our dedication and dependence on Mary, should not remain just one act; it introduces a state of special devotion to Mary which must be lived. How ridiculous it would be for a bride to make her marriage vows at the altar, and then leave the church as if nothing had happened. Her consent has placed her in the married state which now directs all her life.
So too for our consecration. While not a vow but a dedication. by it we have promised to live more faithfully in union with Mary so that we may the more completely belong to Jesus. Hence it is both necessary and useful to remind ourselves several times during each day of what we have undertaken so that all we do will be directed by that Act of Consecration.
The saint suggests that some small chain-like object be worn to remind us that we are "slaves" of Mother and Son, that by our baptism even we already are Christ's, and to warn us of that slavery to Satan which entanglement with sin will impose on us. In this matter, there need not be any extravagance-a simple watch-chain, the bracelet we wear, a chain round our neck can be made to serve this higher purpose.
Our whole life, then, will belong to Mary. Everything we do will be with her in view. St Louis Marie once more lists four ways in which we can direct our mind to this end. These interior practices are the most important since they are concerned with our will, which is now subjected to the will of Mary.
We can, he tells us, do everything through our Lady. By this he means that our dispositions should be those of Mary. We renounce our own inclinations and try to do things in Mary's spirit.
Or we try to live our lives, performing all our actions with Mary, in her presence, with her example before us—her lively faith, seeing in everything the hand of God, her humility, her purity of intention: all for God alone.
We may live our lives in Mary, safe and secure, continually united with her in very much the same way as a women lives in that union with her home-life which provides her with a security and influence which, while intangible, is most real.
Finally, we may do everything for Mary. Here,
we will offer up our actions—even the most humdrum—for Mary's intention. We know that we are not by-passing God,
since her will is to do whatever he wants. Sometimes when we set out to do what we believe to be the will of God,
we are, in fact, doing simply what we want to do, what we think ought to be done. Mary does not suffer under that
misapprehension; we can trust our good works, our whole existence to her.
'Trying'—that is the important word. We shall at times succeed, at times fail through our weakness. But there is no cause for giving up this excellent devotion taught by Montfort. God demands not so much success as effort, and the saint has well pointed out that our growth will be gradual. Sustained effort in following this devotion will have its reward, and as to everything else we can apply to the Truc Devotion that time-honoured saying: Practice makes perfect.
THE SUPREME MOMENT
In a Supplement to the Treatise, St Louis Marie deals with our practice of the True Devotion in the reception of Holy Communion. In brief he tells us that with Mary's help we are to humble ourselves, and renouncing our own imperfect dispositions to try to receive our Lord with Mary's perfect ones—an admirable idea. We are to allow ourselves to become the rendezvous once more on earth of Jesus and Mary. In silent adoration before this meeting of Mother and Son, or begging Mary's assistance in presenting our petitions to Christ joined to us—through Mary is our union with our Eucharistic Lord made closer and more intimate. The more we open ourselves to Mary's assistance, the more we let Mary act in us, the worthier is our reception of her Son—we do not impede his coming to us with preoccupations that mar this supreme moment.
Mary, who would seek in the smaller things of life to unite us to Jesus, is more than ever helpfully at hand here.
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