"Pentecost" (Detail of Mary) by Jean Restout

“Pentecost” (Detail of Mary) by Jean Restout

The one aspect of spiritual development that has, until recently, been more mysterious to me, is Marian devotion. During my conversion to Catholicism, the doctrines concerning Mary were among the most difficult to embrace. The turning point was when someone pointed out several things to me. First, they challenged me to reflect on the scripture in Romans 13 where St. Paul instructs us to “give honor to whom honor is due.” Then they posed a simple question, “If we are called to give honor to whom honor is due, the Archangel under God’s command gives honor to Mary, then we are honoring God if we reflect that same disposition.” A corresponding conclusion I came to was that if we are honoring God by honoring Mary, then we are not in any way robbing God of devotion due Him; we are in fact giving Him our worship by doing so. Shortly after my conversion I decided, though it was difficult at first, to begin giving honor to whom honor was due. Since that time my devotion to Mary has remained steady and I believe that Mary’s intercession has been critical in my own growth.

Beyond my own experience, spiritual masters have consistently pointed to the invaluable assistance of the Mother of God in helping us to know and love Christ – I have found this to be a profound reality best captured by this beautiful hymn:

“Mary the Dawn” by Father Justin Mulcahy C.F.

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

Father Garrigou Lagrange, in his book the Three Ages of the Interior Life, sums her role up effectively, “When the bases of the interior life are considered, we cannot discuss the action of Christ, the universal Mediator, on His mystical body without also speaking of the influence of Mary… many persons delude themselves maintaining that they reach union with God without having continuous recourse to our Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life. Another error would consist in wishing to go to our Lord without going first to Mary… Protestants have fallen into this last error. Without going as far as this deviation, there are Catholics who do not see clearly enough the necessity of having recourse to Mary that they may attain to intimacy with the Savior. Blessed Grignion de Montfort speaks even of ‘doctors who know the Mother of God only in a speculative, dry, sterile, and indifferent manner; who fear that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is abused, and that injury is done to our Lord by honoring too greatly His Holy Mother…’ They seem to believe that Mary is a hindrance to reaching divine union. According to Blessed Grignion, we lack humility of we neglect the mediators whom God has given us because of our frailty. Intimacy with our Lord in prayer will be greatly facilitated by true and profound devotion to Mary.”

Father Lagrange completed this great work on the spiritual life just one year before “Blessed Grignion” (whom most people know as St. Louis de Montfort) was canonized. St. Louis de Montfort is a master of wisdom regarding devotion to Mary and is, as of the writing of this book, a candidate to become a Doctor of the Church. St. Louis, in True Devotion to Mary reveals much more about development of the interior life and devotion to Mary. Here are two key passages from this great work that are well worth reflection:

“Take notice, if you please, that I say the saints are molded in Mary.  There is a great difference between making a figure in relief by blows of hammer and chisel, and making a figure by throwing it into a mold.  Statuaries and sculptors labor much to make figures in the first manner; but to make them in the second manner, they work little and do their work quickly.  St. Augustine calls our Blessed Lady “the mold of God” – the mold fit to cast and mold gods.  He who is cast in this mold is presently formed and molded in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ in him.”

“The third good which Our Lady does for her servants is that she conducts and directs them according to the will of her Divine Son.  Rebecca guided her little Jacob, and gave him good advice from time to time; either to draw upon him the blessing of his father, or to avert from him the hatred and persecutions of his brother Esau.  Mary, who is the Star of the Sea, leads all her faithful servants into a safe harbor.  She shows them the paths of eternal life.  She makes them avoid the dangerous places.  She conducts them by her hand along the paths of justice.  She steadies them when they are about to fall; she lifts them up when they have fallen.  She reproves them like a charitable mother when they fail; and sometimes she even lovingly chastises them.  Can a child obedient to Mary, his foster-Mother and his enlightened guide, go astray in the paths of eternity?  ‘If you follow her,’ says St. Bernard, ‘you cannot wander from the road.’”

Wrapping up with the wise reflections of Fr. Lagrange, and St. Louis, St. Teresa of Avila has also encouraged recourse to Mary and the saints; particularly in the battle of spiritual development, “They must take his Blessed Mother and his saints as intercessors that these intercessors may fight for them… Truly in all states it’s necessary that strength come to us from God.”

Dan Burke is the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register and author of Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.

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