THE SURRENDER OF ONESELF TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST; THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.
Do we not acknowledge, we priests, this our absolute dependence upon God and the fundamental law of entire surrender of ourselves to Him through Jesus Christ when in the morning at the altar, during the Canon of the Mass, we compress our devotion into one act of love and filial abandonment to the Divine Majesty, as we hold in our trembling hands the Body of Our Saviour over the chalice of His Most Precious Blood? And, then, lifting up the Body and Blood of the Victim towards the Holy Trinity, we say, in the name of the entire Christian world: “Through Our Saviour Jesus Christ, with Him and in Him, to God the Father Almighty in the unity of the Holy Ghost all honour and glory for ever.”
The Apostle, St. Peter, in similar phrasing, sets forth the fundamental law of religious worship which ascends both from the sacred humanity of Christ and from our Christian souls towards the divine majesty when he asks that “In all things God alone may be honoured through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter, iv.: 2.)
The Son of God, Eternal Word of the Father, belongs to Him from whom originates all the interior life of the Divinity; this relationship with the Father “ad Patrem” is the characteristic of His Personality. Therefore, the Apostle St. Paul points out Christ on His coming into the world as communicating to His sacred Humanity this transport of love for His Eternal Father and revealing to us the essential law of His earthly mission by this token of adoration and submission: “Father, behold I come to do Thy Will.” “When He cometh into the world He saith: Behold I come to do Thy Will, O God.” (Heb., x.: 9.)
Now Christ is the supernatural vine whereof we are the branches. He and we form one body of which He is the head and we the members. The divine life which He has received from the Father and which flowed in all its fulness into His sacred Humanity is poured into our souls by His Holy Spirit, giving life thereby to the charity which directs our hearts, penetrated, as it is, with filial love towards our Father, Who is in heaven, and it inspires us to bring all our life to bear on this one object: to love our Heavenly Father above all things and to love ourselves and our neighbour, all our neighbours, for love of Him.
Thus to deliver ourselves up with all that we are and all that we have to God, our supreme and only End, is the essence of religion.
To give ourselves up to God through His Christ, united with Christ, living His life and acting under the influence of the charity which His Divine Spirit gives to our souls, this is the very essence of Christian vitality.
THE SURRENDER OF OURSELVES TO GOD AND TO CHRIST THROUGH MARY, OUR MOTHER: THE OBJECT OF THE TRUE DEVOTION RECOMMENDED BY THE BLESSED DE MONTFORT
In truth, He Who with power and sweetness uses created things for the accomplishment of His designs, by a wondrous blending of nature and grace, has known how to make the purest, strongest and sweetest instincts of the heart of man mount up to his supreme destiny.
In the natural order, the whole fabric of life rests on the family, the father gives it its authority, the mother its tenderness; and the child is the fruit of their love, giving a filial love in return.
These deep-seated instincts the Sovereign Master has deigned to imprint on the organisation of the supernatural life. Infinite love shall pour itself forth into the Word of God made man, but the sacred Humanity of Christ shall not be called forth out of nothingness as was the flesh of the father of our race, but shall be born of woman. Jesus shall have a Mother, Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Jesus shall be our Saviour and the Author of our spiritual life. “You have killed the author of life” (Acts, iii.: 15), St. Peter can say to the people who crucified our Divine Redeemer. But the work of redemption shall not be accomplished until Mary has given her consent to the conception in her virginal womb of the God-man Who is to become our Saviour. He, then, is to be the meriting cause of our participation in a new life, in the very life of God, but Mary is to be its moral cause in our regard by her free co-operation in the economy of divine love.
Henceforth, becoming the children of God, we shall belong by right to the Eternal Father, having as the fundamental law (of our being) the surrender of ourselves to Him that He may reign over us as our King; we shall belong, too, to Christ, the Mediator chosen by God to give Himself to us and to lead us back to Him; but we shall belong also to Mary, who has, in a spiritual sense, brought us forth to the life which her Son bestows upon us, and we should have recourse to her with all those feelings of reverence, submission and affection which make up that delicate and tender sentiment which we call filial love.
Better than all others after St. Bernard, St. Antonius, St. Ephrem, St. Irenaeus and many other ardent champions of devotion to Our Lady, the Blessed Grignion de Montfort has devoted himself to this aspect of the economy of the Redemption viz., to bringing into the light, into the atmosphere, as it were, of family life, the roles of the father, the eldest brother, Jesus, “first-born among many brethren” (Rom., viii.: 39), the Mother, and, finally, the spiritual children admitted to the intimate privacy of the family circle.
We must lay stress upon this general consideration and follow up its applications.
Everything in this world has for its goal the glory of God. For us, our last end lies in the divine love taking complete possession of our souls. For it is by love that God wishes to reign. He has said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke, xvii.: 21.) He wishes our inmost being to be His even to the very core. Thus it is through the heart that He tries to capture us.
To accomplish this, He sends us His Own Son, “For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John, iii.: 16), but He wishes His Son to have a Mother, and for Him to come to us from her womb, “Born in the world from a Mother’s substance,” the Athanasian creed expresses it. Yes, God’s Son made man shall have a Mother who will bestow upon Him all the love, all the devotion, all the magnanimity of the holiest of mothers. And this, the Mother of Jesus, is to be our Mother also. Thus will there be established between Her and ourselves, Her and her Son and God, those relations which are at once the sweetest, the most intimate and the most enduring of which man’s heart is capable.
Jesus knew all the beauty of a mother’s heart. Mary loved Him from the moment she conceived and bore Him in her virginal womb, when she gave Him to the world and nourished Him at her breast, when she guided and brought Him up, even to the moment when she sacrificed herself with Him by “compassion” on Calvary.
And the Son has so loved His Mother as to wish to subject himself to her with that humility, tenderness and depth of filial love to which the proud have to yield and by which all unruly thoughts are curbed. “And He was subject to them” (Luke, ii.: 51), says the Evangelist very simply when he wishes to describe how the Infant God acted towards His Mother and the divinely appointed guardian of the home at Nazareth.
What has our Divine Jesus not done for her and what has she not done for Him? Where shall we find an intimacy that can be compared with the union of these two lives?
For the woman destined to give birth to His sacred Humanity, the Son of God, con-substantial with the Father, and the Holy Ghost-the most Holy Trinity-conceives a plan whereby Mary appears as in a world apart, above all worlds, the masterpiece of creation. Alone among the children of men, she shall escape the curse of our race-never shall she, even for an instant, be at enmity with her God. At the moment of her conception, she shall receive grace in all its plenitude. And by her faultless fidelity, she shall cause that grace to fructify so abundantly that to her alone belongs a glory and a supernatural beauty surpassing in its splendour that of all the angels and saints of heaven. She is the Queen of Heaven. Placed beside the peerless throne of God, she stands above all creatures in the Kingdom of Glory.
Come into this world, Mary’s Son associates His Mother with His mission of Redemption in a way He would associate no other human creature.
From the moment when the angel Gabriel told her that she was predestined to become the Mother of Jesus and she uttered her fiat of acquiescence, Mary knew that the Son she was to bear in her womb was a victim destined for sacrifice; that she herself would go and offer Him to God in the temple where she was to hear the aged Simeon foretell her own heart’s share in the holocaust which He was to consummate on Calvary. And when her Son breathes forth His soul, she, His Mother, is there at the foot of the Cross-she stands there like a priest at the altar. Her Son offers Himself to the God of justice and mercy for the redemption of the world-Mary does so with Him and in the same spirit. And in giving her Son, she also immolates something of herself; for that mangled frame torn like the earth by the ploughshare, that blood that gushes forth from the wounds and heart of the Lamb of God were taken from the flesh and the blood of the most holy Virgin Mary.
When the Divine Redeemer was about to die and return to His Father, thinking of the mystical body that was to prolong His life on earth and to prepare by suffering the kingdom of the elect, He saw at the foot of His Cross His Mother and the Apostle who had rested on His breast in the Supper Room; the predestined herald of divine love, the prophet of the Church’s struggles and conquests as we see them in the Apocalypse. In the person of St. John He looks with pity upon helpless man whom He loves even to the shedding of the last drop of blood of His Sacred Heart. He sees love shine forth from the compassionate heart of His Mother towards those countless children who are to be born again to the life of grace. He is their Redeemer, she their co-Redeemer. “Woman,” He said to His Mother, “behold thy son,” and to St. John, “Behold thy mother.” (John, xix.: 26–27.)
That warm atmosphere in which souls must henceforth blossom has been created. Mary is to bestow her motherly care on all the children of God. She has been made a helper in acquiring the graces necessary for salvation-henceforth she is to help in distributing them. She has been the Mother of Sorrows; she shall become the Queen of all Saints.
And, as for us, His adopted brethren, Jesus asks us to love His Mother with a filial devotion-to show towards her that submission, reverence and affection which He Himself had, and which, even in the kingdom of His glory, He faithfully maintains.
Without doubt, Christ remains the one, only Mediator between God and man. The Apostle, St. Paul, is emphatic on this point, and none of Mary’s most devoted children and servants think of disputing it: “There is but one Mediator of God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” (Tim., ii.: 5.)
But if there is, strictly speaking, only one principal mediator for all, including the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, it is none the less true that Christ has wished to associate His Mother with Him in the work of redemption and that, in theological parlance, what He by Himself alone merited in strict justice “ex condigno” she has merited, dependently upon Him-by His Own Will, “ex congruo”-i.e., by virtue of a befitting gift of His overflowing bounty.
He alone-the Son of God made man-is the source of sanctifying grace, the author of our supernatural life.
Nevertheless, if the Apostle, St. Paul, because of having preached the Gospel to the faithful of Corinth, bringing them thus under the life-giving power of the Blood of the Redemption, can declare that he has begotten them in spirit, “For in Christ Jesus, by the Gospel, I have begotten you” (1 Cor., iv.: 15), in that he was the remote moral cause of their birth to the life of Faith, with how much greater reason cannot Mary utter this, she who was in her virginal womb the moral cause of the Incarnation of Him Who was to become our Redeemer, and, further, the principle of life to all the adopted children of God-with how much greater reason, I repeat, has not Mary the right to say that she has begotten us all in theory to the spiritual life? And when, throughout the centuries, even till now she obtains God’s graces for us by her all-powerful intercession, when by her sweet and constant solicitude she disposes our souls to correspond with these graces, to live on them and to make them fruitful, what else does she do but perform in our regard the duties of that spiritual maternity towards the Mystical Body of her Divine Son which were entrusted to her on Calvary?
Undoubtedly, the Son of God could very well have come to us without passing through the heart and womb of a Mother. He might have been formed, as was our first parent, Adam, by a direct act of creation, but, in truth, He wished to be born of a Mother, to be formed from her substance, and thus to become Man-God (“and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man”).
If He had derived His sacred Humanity from the Creator only, His duties as man would have been exclusively and immediately directed towards His Father, and in the same way He would have directed our souls and wills towards His Father exclusively.
But, because Divine Providence has been pleased to take into consideration the most profound emotions of our hearts in order to make them susceptible of the knowledge and love we owe to God, because God deigned to give us in Jesus Christ an elder brother and a guide who, even as we, should have a mother, is it not natural that this same Jesus should inspire us with that two-fold interior life which animated His own soul? Would He not draw us to His Father and lead us to His Mother, subject us to His Father and to His Mother also, and not acknowledge the image of His Own Soul in ours save in the measure with which we, as faithful children of God and of Mary, find, like our Divine Model, Jesus, our joy and happiness in glorifying His Father and honouring His Mother?
In view of Christ’s attitude towards His Mother and in view of what He has done for her, it is quite inconceivable for Him to expect us to do aught else than join Him in all outward tokens of His filial love.
It is impossible to imagine that He would approve of Christians imposing limits to the reverence, the admiration and the devotion they should show to His Mother, who has become their Mother also.
In the Church’s liturgy, Mary has her cycle of feasts, even as Christ the King has His. In the Divine Office, which priests and religious chant or recite daily, each hour of the day begins and ends with homage to Mary.
Innumerable are the churches dedicated to Our Lady; religious congregations, cities and kingdoms are placed under her patronage. Pilgrimages to Mary’s privileged shrines are ever increasing and signs of heaven’s favour are abundant in these hallowed spots.
Already Christianity had its month of May, which it called the month of Mary, and the great Pope Leo XIII. dedicated to her also, in autumn, the month of the Holy Rosary.
Is this all? Have we done enough to exalt our Mother? No, answers the Blessed de Montfort; it is right to offer Mary our homage, but far better to offer ourselves up entirely to her, that she may exercise to the full in our regard the offices of her spiritual motherhood and prepare our souls for the impress of the image of her Divine Son. This is what the “Real Devotion” or “holy bondage” exacts.
She opens our hearts to the calls of divine grace, helps us to be responsive to them and encourages us to persevere.
You, my brethren, were filled with joy, as we were, when our Holy Father, Benedict XV, deigned to insert the following declaration in the Office of Our Lady, Mediatrix of all graces, making his own that expressive saying of St. Bernard: “It is God’s plan that everything in the spiritual order should come to us through Mary.”
Note it well: “Totum” says the Holy Doctor, “totum” repeats the Sovereign Pontiff: everything in the working out of our salvation comes from God through the mediation of Mary.
All this which comes to us through Mary is Christ Himself, He Who is par excellence the gift of God of which He Himself spoke to the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well, and speaks to each one of us when He says: “If thou didst know the gift of God!” (John, iv.: 10.)
Yes, He, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, is the gift of God, with all the supernatural riches whereof He is the meriting cause and overflowing source.
The plan of the Christian economy is unfolded: Jesus, the Son of God, has offered Himself to God with His Mother. He comes to us with her. Let us go to Him also and through Him to God under the protection and care of our Mother.
Mary deigns to ask a place in our affection-let us offer it to her unstintingly, without limit and without conditions.
She has but one ambition: to capture our hearts and inspire them with filial love in order to bear them to her Divine Son, Who is the sole end of her very existence and of her motherhood, and through Him and with Him and in Him to lead us even to the throne of the Blessed Trinity.
The devotion, such as de Montfort understands it, is none other than this childlike giving of oneself without reserve to God and His Christ, through the hands of Mary.
“With Mary,” with her as guide and protectress, sheltered under her maternal mantle against the perils of this life’s journey, against enemies from without and within.
“In Mary,” in that blessed heart, in which is concentrated all the purity of a virgin, ever burning with all the love of a mother. Our intentions, our yearnings are blended with hers, our desires are hers; from her we receive our spiritual formation in its beginnings, in its progress, and in its accomplishment. We are humble little ones, nourished and reared by an all-wise, all-loving and all-holy Mother.
“By Mary, with Mary, in Mary,” to Christ and God: such, in brief, is what is meant by “the true devotion to Mary” and of “holy bondage.”
Thus falls to the ground of itself the objection which we are so often tempted to raise: why pass through Mary? Why not go straight to our chief Mediator Jesus Christ Himself?
Why? For two reasons.
First, because such is God’s wish and the wish of His Divine Son, the eternal Son of God and, on earth, the Son of Mary. We have, we think, made it super-abundantly clear. And, secondly, as a sequel to this, because it is to our interest.