No Devotion to Christ Without Devotion to Mary
By Father Stefano M. Manelli, F.I., S.T.D.
Reprinted from "Christ to the World"
What is the reason that should attract one to honor Mary and practice devotion to Her? Suppose a man does not appreciate any sufficient reason founded on Mary's beauty nor in what he may know of Her lovableness, but says, "If I am asked to give Her any special honor, I am not disposed to do so unless I see that God wants me to, and then I would give Her special honor only to satisfy God's wish that I do so."
This response suggests two questions: 1) Does that man's attitude make him less pleasing to Our Lady, as though it showed a lack of due appreciation of Her? 2) What evidence can the man find that God indeed wants special honor and devotion paid to Mary?
We reply: 1) If a man's sole motive for paying special honor to Mary and practicing devotion to Her is to satisfy God's wish that he do so, we are certain that no other motive could please Mary more. We may be sure of this as we are sure that She always wants all honor and all glory to go ultimately to the God Who is, so to speak, Her all, Whom She adores as Object of all Her affections and Whom She would like to see as the Object of all our affections.
To question 2), asking how we can judge that God wants us to pay special honors to Mary, we reply: I would not be so sure of it if it were not in a message come down from Heaven resting on God's signature. For scarcely in any other heavenly message can we find better supporting evidence by way of well-ordered miracles (widely circulated reports, available for easy investigation, about divine interventions at Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, etc.), than for the revealed truth that Mary's Divine Son wants us to pay special honors to the one whom He created to be His Mother, the one by whom He chose to share our human nature.
Yes, with prodigies to support Her which we dare not ignore, the Roman Catholic Church proclaims to the world that God wants Mary honored, and given special honors — not as more than a creature, but as the noblest of creatures — and that He is pleased with, and rewards special devotions that are paid to Her.
The present article tells us something of the devotion that is due.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that true devotion consists in a "prompt and complete gift of oneself." The word devotion indicates a giving, or better, a giving of self. This is not, of course, just any giving of self, but giving with love, with generosity, with delight.
Therefore my devotion to the Madonna ought to consist of a loving bestowal of myself to Her. And this is to be done because one has recognized that it pleases God. Do not fear that you slight Her if that be your only motive, for no other motive pleases Mary more.
And if one can do what he wishes with a gift he receives, the Madonna can then do whatever She wants with me, Her gift, and I cannot do anything other than what She wants. The more devoted I am to the Madonna, the more I surrender myself to Her and adjust my ways to suit Her wishes, living in all respects under Her guidance.
Marian devotion thus understood in its fuller and more perfect sense, requires the consecration of oneself to the Madonna; that is, the explicit offering to Mary of one's whole being, of all that one is and all that one has — soul, body, senses; external goods, internal goods, present and future goods; one's life, one's death, and one's eternity.
With a consecration made in this way one reaches the fullness of devotion to the Madonna, so that in every way he is truly given to the Madonna and unconditionally belongs to Her; and one makes the choice without reservation to live as Her child, or, so to speak, to be Her "slave of love" (St. Louis Grignion de Montfort), or, to go further, one makes himself Her "property, Her instrument for Her hands to use" (St. Maximilian M. Kolbe), or - going even further (with St. Maximilian) - one offers himself as victim for a holocaust in honor of Her motherly and merciful love and for the coming of God's kingdom into all souls.
Other Elements of Ideal Devotion
Big things are not required: for the greatest thing is simply the practice of pleasing our dear Mother in all the little things of every day. This should be the ordinary fabric of our devotional life, woven together thread by thread, action by action, performed lovingly and out of affection for the Madonna. Let us ask Jesus for His own love as Son for His Mother; for if we have this, we will day by day acquire a likeness to Him and can truly be another Jesus through Mary, reaching a perfect fulfillment of Jesus' words to the Madonna, "Behold Thy son" (John 19:26).
Jesus in the Holy Eucharist
Something very beautiful which gives us identity with Jesus through Mary in a full, unique way is Holy Communion. In those moments there is more than a spiritual union with Jesus, physically present in the one who has received Him. If the creature lets itself be completely possessed by Jesus, so that Jesus will in turn let the creature completely possess Him, then Jesus and the creature are no longer two, but one. And we cannot give a greater joy to the Madonna, according to St. Hilary, than by enabling Her to see the Eucharistic Jesus present in us while we suitably keep Him company. Let us reflect. Every day we should be able to give this unspeakable joy to the Madonna. Every day we should be able to be identified with Jesus through Mary in the most sublime way possible in this world, during those ten or fifteen minutes following Holy Communion — as long as the presence of the Sacred Host remains in our body. It would be a beautiful and fitting thing during those moments to renew our consecration to the Madonna by singing (when convenient, or praying silently) the Magnificat with Her and with the angels, as Blessed Contardo Ferrini used to do.
What shall we say of spiritual Communions? These would keep us united to the Eucharistic Jesus, giving to us (in a certain way) His Heart with which to love the Madonna with His great love. Hence among his resolutions St. Maximilian pledged himself to make a spiritual Communion every quarter of an hour. This is the way with great lovers of Mary.
During visits to the Blessed Sacrament we do well to recall that there is no place on earth where the Madonna is more present than She is where any tabernacle contains the Holy Eucharist. St. Mary Victoria Teresa Coudere left her religious Sisters the practice of the Contemplation of Mary in the Cenacle as a special means of perfection. The incomparable Apostle of the Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard, used to say that "to become good servants of the Eucharist it is necessary to be docile and devoted sons of Mary," and he liked to call the Madonna "Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament." Padre Pio of Pietrelcina used to say to his flock, "Don't you, too, see the Madonna near the altar?" When a spiritual daughter asked him if the Madonna assisted at his Mass, Padre Pio answered promptly, "Do you think the Mother is not interested in the Son?" Hence St. Alphonsus used to put his Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and his Visits to the Blessed Virgin Mary always together. St. Maximilian desired that every altar of the Blessed Sacrament include among images or pictures surmounting it, one of the Immaculate Virgin, because Jesus and Mary are that single way of life which we aspire to reach and share.
Where the Son is, there the Mother is. Where the Mother is, there is the Son.
True Devotion to Mary leads us to Jesus
in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Imitating Mary's Love for Jesus
The final aim of devotion to the Madonna is not the Madonna, but it is Jesus. And this we emphasize.
True devotion to the Madonna is not an end in itself, but it is a means of love, a way of love, an effort of love which brings me to the final goal of my existence, namely, Jesus and His Paradise.
Jesus is the Beginning and the End of all things (Apoc. 21:6). All things were made by Him (John 1:3), including the Blessed Virgin — in fact, Her, above all.
To love the Madonna, to consecrate oneself to Her and belong to Her without reserve means, then, to give oneself to one who is wholly directed to Jesus and who gives Herself to Him with all those who are entrusted to Her. St. Louis Grignion de Montfort rightly declares: Devotion to the Madonna consists essentially "in the gift of one's entire self to Mary, and by means of Her, to Jesus, and then, in doing everything with Mary, in Mary, and through Mary."
All clients of the Madonna ought to see here the fulfillment of these inspired words of St. Ambrose: "Let Mary's soul be in you to magnify God. Let Mary's spirit be in you to rejoice in the Lord."
Entering Within the Palace
St. Maximilian M. Kolbe used to say that the Madonna is like a wonderful palace. Far within and at the center, Jesus rules as King. To go to Jesus, we must enter.
St. Francis of Assisi also used to sometimes address Mary as "Jesus' Palace." It is important that we enter this palace. That is, we must so love Mary that we achieve a unity with Her, pass into Her; and enclose ourselves therein. This can be called "transformation" into Mary, as St. Louis Grignion de Montfort and St. Maximilian M. Kolbe express it. St. Maximilian used the strong and telling metaphor "transubstantiate oneself into Mary, by becoming Her, causing Her to reside as a lone occupant within us." The Servant of God Brother Charles De Foucauld said he wished "to become another Mary, alive and active", – something which would be done by transferring and fulfilling in Mary St. Paul's celebrated words in Galatians 2:20 regarding Jesus: "I live now not with my own life, but with the life of Mary, who lives in me."
But why all this? Because to become another Mary means participating in the way of life lived by the one creature who is the noblest of them all. It means managing to gladden and delight Him by letting Him see in us the heavenly profile of His Blessed Mother and the movements of the pure and fragrant love which His ever-Virgin Mother had.
St. Maximilian M. Kolbe teaches that if we keep growing in devotion to the Madonna, we reach a point where She loves Her Divine Son with our poor hearts, and Jesus, seeing us as Her possession and, as it were, a part and parcel of our holy Mother, loves Her in us and through us." Hence the true devotion to Mary, far from depriving Jesus of anything, brings a special joy to His Heart.
One day St. Gertrude heard a sermon in which the Madonna was devoutly praised while nothing was said about Jesus. The Saint regretted the silence about Jesus: and as she passed an image of Mary, she felt little fervor as she paid the Madonna her usual reverence. Jesus suddenly appeared to her and said, "Every tribute made to My Mother, I regard as made to Me." The Son cannot be offended or displeased if He sees His Mother honored and loved. The contrary is true.
The great St. Bernard declared, "Nothing delights me so much as to speak of the glories of the Virgin Mother." The humble St. Bernadette Soubirous used to say she had only one fond ambition, that of seeing the Madonna "loved and glorified" by all. St. Jane de Chantal wrote that "prayer is made according to a method very pleasing to the holy Virgin when God is praised for the great things He has done in Her and for the choice He made of Her to be His worthy and true Mother." Thus the Church has always taught that getting close to the Madonna not only "does not in the least hinder close contact with Christ, but it even facilitates it" (Lumen gentium, 60). It cannot be otherwise; for the closer one gets to Mary, the closer he gets to Jesus.
It is noteworthy that true and perfect devotion to Mary makes us reach Jesus by the best road, the road chosen and traveled by Jesus Himself to come to us. St. Bernard calls Mary "the royal road of the Savior." Now if Jesus chose this road as His way to give Himself to us, should we ever expect to find another better road as a means of giving ourselves to Him?
St. Louis Grignion and St. Maximilian both declare that "This road is easy, short, perfect, and sure"; for the Madonna has the motherly skill to make harsh things mild, bitter things sweet, and soften what is hard. Blessed Contardo Ferrini used to say, "If the way that leads to Jesus' Heart is arduous and long, have one look at the heart of this Mother, and you will have courage!"
For the Madonna truly makes distances shorter, makes traveling better, and enables us to get there sooner.
Once one of his spiritual sons asked Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, "Father, teach me the short cut to reach God." Padre Pio answered, "The short cut is the Virgin."
We ought to thank God for making available to us this heavenly short cut, which we can call the "express route" to the Heart of Jesus. With characteristic, wholesome fervor, St. Alphonsus Liguori encourages us: "Ah, my Lady! If You do not carry me in Your arms to God, do not expect me to walk there. Do Thou carry me, and if I resist, carry me by force."
The White Ladder
Devotion to Mary is that white ladder seen in a celebrated vision by Brother Leo of the early Franciscans. In this vision the holy friar saw an immense field, and in it there were so many friars of the Order that to get them all within view the throng had to extend upward. Two ladders so appeared, rising into the sky, one of them red and one of them white. At the top of the red one St. Francis was seen alongside Jesus, and he invited the friars to mount up. The friars faithfully undertook the climb, but afterwards fell back, some from the first rung, others from the second rung, and others from the third. Even the few who seemed to reach the top rung with great labor fell back down. Then the Seraphic Father encouraged his sons, "Hasten over there to the white ladder." And there, in all Her beauty, the Immaculate Virgin was inviting Her protégés to climb up to Her. Then - how wonderful to see it! - they all nimbly climbed the white ladder the whole way to the top! It is all-important to realize then that true devotion to the Madonna is the most perfect way to Jesus - the most beautiful way.
What other creature has there ever been like the Madonna, so close to Jesus, so fully belonging to Jesus, living so fully with Jesus and for Jesus? Not any creature, neither in Heaven nor on earth.
To be a Mary towards Jesus means, then, to offer Him the gift of oneself in the most well-ordered way. It is behaving humbly toward Jesus, attending Him with respectful and awed affection and tender fondness - just as the Madonna did. Can we, poor mortals, achieve this? And yet, perfect devotion to the Madonna brings us to a transformation into Mary, makes us become "Her image and likeness" (cf. Gen. 1:26).
Perhaps we can now understand better why St. John Berchmans used to say, "I will give myself no peace until I have true devotion to the Madonna." And we can understand better why all the Saints fondly and eagerly cultivated devotion to the Madonna and in their prayers pleaded that they would succeed in it, as St. Maximilian recommended we do.
"I have never read of any Saint," declares St. Bonaventure, "who did not have a special devotion to the glorious Virgin." Here we have the truth. And something charming in the Saints is their heavenly zeal to break every record of love for the Madonna. This was the spirit of St. John Eudes, who could not be resigned to the idea that anyone should succeed in loving the Madonna more than he. The same could be said of the spirit of St. Teresa of Jesus, whose ardent aim was: 'I want to be, after Jesus, the person who has loved Mary the most."