SECOND REASON FOR “TRUE DEVOTION TO MARY”: OUR SPIRITUAL WELFARE.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” says our Saviour in the Apocalypse, “the Monarch Who was, Who is and Who is to come.” (Apoc., i.: 8.) To acknowledge this kingship is one of the principles of elementary justice; to give one-self back to God of one’s own free will is the very essence of the moral virtue of religion.
A Christian gives himself back to God through the mediation of our Saviour Jesus Christ: that is why all his prayers end with this invocation: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But there are two ways of going to God and of giving ourselves to Him through His Christ: two roads, two methods- one that I would call that of philosophers, the other that of little children.
The first is more flattering to our self-love because in it we are conscious of a greater control over our plans, more confident in our own efforts, more inclined to attribute the merit of our actions to ourselves; and man loves to be someone and for others to know it.
The second is unknown to the world-one at which the mere philosopher (in the rationalistic “lay” sense of the word) shrugs his shoulders. It is at the very opposite pole to self-glorification, so dear to the spirit of our days. But it has the unrivalled advantage of being inspired by the Gospels, supported by the teaching and the example of Christ and His Mother, and of the most glorious among the elect.
We mentioned the first method not so long ago, when having occasion to speak of the part that prayer should take in our private life and in our work for souls, we said: Too often, we look upon prayer as a refuge to which we have recourse only in times of distress. We do not regard it sufficiently as the source of all our activity, bound up with it as it should be at all times and be also the pledge of our unwavering perseverance.
We have no intention ‘of condemning those who use this method. Their habitual aim is correct, their endeavours are faultless, their achievements in general irreproachable.
But how far greater, surer, and more fruitful is the much simpler method of little children!
One day, says the Evangelist, the seventy-two disciples returned, joyous and triumphant, to their Divine Master and said to Him: “Master, even the devils are subject to us, we drive them out.” “It is not the power of casting out devils that matters,” answered Our Lord, “but what matters is that your names be written in the book of life.” Then, St. Luke continues, the Divine Messiah, under the thrilling influence of the Holy Ghost, said: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I declare here in Thy sight, that Thou hast hidden this mystery (that of the predestination of the elect) from the wise ones of this world and revealed it to little ones. Yes, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight.” (Luke, x.: 21, and Matt., ii.: 25:)
This discourse, one of the Evangelist’s masterpieces, is, so to speak, our Divine Teacher’s syllabus. To those who throng at His Feet and ask for a rule of life He answers: Become as little children; forget yourselves, root out all your own ideas, cease your striving after new ideas and the satisfying of self-love, die to yourself, and on the ruins of your pride and egoism I will build up the edifice of your sanctification.
The true motto of a Christian and an Apostle is not the development of our own interests. St. Paul puts it as follows: “It is not a question of individual will, nor of natural eagerness, but the essential feature is to place one’s trust in the mercy of God.” So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Rom., ix.: 16.)
Humility-the admission of our absolute poverty and innate powerlessness-must be set at the very foundation of our moral and religious life.
Ah, yes, but then there soon rise up in the soul natural temptations to unrest, fears for the morrow, and discouragement. From the depths of our misery, we cry out to God in the words of the Psalmist. “I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains: whence shall help come to me?” The answer from on high is prompt: “My help is from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Ps., 120: 1–2.)
Now, no better means can be found for imparting this spirit of simplicity and dependence which the holy Gospels breathe than a filial abandonment to her who, in the order of grace, is our Mother, our good Mother, all-powerful in her intercession, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We, poor children of Eve, exiled in this valley of tears, wish from the depths of our heart to belong to God and to His Christ irrevocably and without reserve. But nature protests and rivets us down to helplessness. Then, behold a mother with her gracious smile advances towards us opening wide her arms and her heart to us. She is the gate of heaven ever open to our hopes: “Heaven’s ever open gate.” She offers to guide our footsteps, sustain our courage and soothe our sorrows: “Hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope.” We need tremble no more-Mary is the Mother of compassion. She knows what is good for us and what are our needs. She loves us far more than we can love ourselves, because her love for us is that same love which she has for her Divine Son to Whom she ardently desires to consecrate us: “Hail, holy Queen. Mother of mercy . . . turn then, O most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.”
Let us entrust to her the office of dedicating us for ever to her Son and the Eternal Father according to that touching prayer of the Mass of Mary our Mediatrix: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, through the intercession of Mary our Mediatrix, grant that the oblation of these sacrificial elements may transform us, by the action of Thy merciful grace, into an offering whole and entire to belong to Thee for ever.”
Did we not have good reason for saying that devotion for Mary understood in this way is no more than a consequence of all that is most essential in the Christian life? No, Montfort has made no innovation; he has but developed tradition.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF CATHOLIC FEELING IN GRASPING THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AS DISPLAYED IN THE INCARNATION AND REDEMPTION
Towards the close of the seventeenth century, following on the revelations made by Our Lord to a Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial, many faithful souls were seized with a keen and haunting dread. They were afraid that the confidante of the Sacred Heart was the victim of an unhealthy imagination such as prudence prompted them to distrust.
We are apt to lose sight of the truth that in Catholic tradition, progress keeps pace with continuity. Devotions, like dogmas, remain identical in substance, but develop gradually at the same pace as Christian piety.
It is undeniable that our Saviour’s revelations to Margaret Mary have given to the Church a more concrete and penetrating insight into the Mystery of Love embodied in the Incarnation and Redemption.
As we view this doctrine, which is as old as Christianity itself, and is displayed in the symbol of the human heart of Our Lord, we realise better that the Redemption of the world by Christ is a work of love, that it is the outpouring of divine love carried so far as to impel the heart of a God made man to shed His Blood over the world to cleanse it from its stains and transform it into a mystical body fit to be united to the holiness of the Godhead, as a spouse all-pure, all-chaste, all beautiful and ever-youthful, is united to the bridegroom who has won her at the price of his sacrifice.
It would seem that the time has come for another aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to be set in bolder relief before the Christian mind.
It is an evident and absolute certainty that Jesus Christ is, in strict justice, the one Mediator between God and man, according to the Apostle, St. Paul: “For there is one God: and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim., xi.: 5.)
But with ever-increasing fervour do theology and the piety of the faithful delight in placing Mary at the side of Christ, He being the sole mediator by principal title, and she co-Mediatrix by a subordinate one.
The universal, meritorious cause of the Redemption is, in strict justice, Christ alone. But Mary, in giving her consent to the Incarnation of Him Who was to become our Redeemer, has shared, in a subordinate degree, in the work of Redemption.
God alone is the productive cause of grace; but Mary, by the acquiescence of her will in the Incarnation of the Word in her virginal womb, has become the moral cause.
The fruits of the Redemption and their distribution belong by right to Christ alone, but it has pleased God to associate Mary universally in the office of dispenser. St. Bernard and Benedict XV could, therefore, justly declare that, in fact, Divine Providence wishes everything to come to us through Mary: “Such is His Will, that we should have everything through Mary.”
CONCLUSION: AN EXHORTATION TO THE PRACTICE OF HOLY BONDAGE.
Go, therefore, with loving confidence to Mary, all ye Christians, and especially you who aim at a life of perfection. “Unless you become as little children,” said Our Lord, “you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The little child has not the use of his liberty; he is incapable of personal initiative; he can do nothing for his own livelihood or welfare; in all things and for everything he depends on his father and mother. And this dependence is a benefit to him: Providence has arranged it so, for the father and mother, whose love for their child is innate, devote themselves all the more readily to it the greater is his weakness and dependence upon them.
That which the little child is by nature, Christ asks us to become by an act of our free will. He wishes us to make ourselves the children of a Father Whose Heart overflows with love for us. Far better than we do, He knows what is good for us, and His mercy will with perfect wisdom accomplish fully the designs of His love.
It is left to us to choose between weakness and omnipotence, ignorance and omniscience, the whims of self-love and the guidance of the all-sovereign Wisdom.
Which shall we have? Which should we reasonably choose?
Christ has pointed out to us the better choice. Become as little children, He has told us; abase yourselves to voluntary helplessness, love to be subordinate, to be the slaves of My love, and I will open wide the gates of My Kingdom to you. There will you grow up; and the day will come when I shall place you with My Apostles upon thrones beside Me as supreme judges of the world.
And here, brethren, I am constrained to remind you of those wonderful words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “It has pleased God to choose,” says the Apostle, “the weak ones of the world in order to confound the strong. That which in the world is of no account is chosen to utterly destroy what is considered of great value. Does it not follow, then, that before God no human power can glory in its personal achievements?” We hold from God our origin in Christ Jesus, Who has become for us, on the part of God, a principle of wisdom and justice, of holiness, of sanctity, and of freedom: so that, as the Scriptures say, “man cannot glory except in the Lord.” (1 Cor., i.: 30–31.)
We always come back to the same fundamental doctrine: what is essential is that honour and glory be offered to God alone: “To the only God be honour and glory for ever and ever.” (1 Tun., i.: 17.)
As for us, we are useless servants: “We are unprofitable ‘servants.” (Luke, xvii.: 10.) Not that God does not look for some effective and useful co-operation from us, but in the sense that He has no need of us, for did He wish it, His creative omnipotence could produce in an instant whole legions of servants better and more docile than we are.
The humility upon which all the ethics of evangelical perfection rest, is truth. But the truth is that the primitive relationship of the creature with his Creator is that of nothingness with that of Being, of nothing with that of everything. “Let man glory, then,” says St. Paul, “but let him derive all his glory from his supreme Master in Whom he lives, and moves, and is.” “He that glorieth let him glory in the Lord.” (2 Cor., x.: 17.) “For in Him we live and move and are.” (Acts, xvii.: 28.)
In order to make it easy for us to acquire this spirit of dependence, impregnated as it is, with childlike love, conformable to the
Gospel, the Blessed de Montfort recommends us to dedicate ourselves to Mary our Mother in what he calls the “Devotion of holy bondage.”
“HOLY BONDAGE” AS UNDERSTOOD BY MONTFORT
The word “bondage” sometimes alarms ill-informed souls. I frankly admit that at one time it shocked me also. The reason is that slavery or bondage generally awakens thoughts of pagan despotism under which the slave was regarded as his master’s property and to whose will and whims he was obliged to submit. It recalls also the idea of the hideous market-places of Africa where women and children are sold like cattle by public auction. Hence the tendency to imagine that, to make oneself a slave of one’s own accord, means to renounce that liberty of the sons of God of which we are so justly proud, to give up our moral personality, to debase ourselves.
No one, it is true, dares to come to this definite conclusion. A secret voice warns us that the servant of God whose writings the Church has judged as irreproachable, whose public worship she sanctions and who is followed by legions of fervent and holy disciples, could not be the author of a doctrine that would lead to spiritual degradation. But, nevertheless, it is certain that the word “bondage,” understood in a wrong sense, would frighten some souls, would check their pious emotions, and would paralyse in many the desire to devote themselves entirely to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There are bondsmen who are such by force and who are exploited and cruelly treated by their masters. There are others who become slaves of their own accord and to whom their masters guarantee a secure livelihood, protection, and enduring guardianship.
A religious surrenders the free disposal of his property in order by withdrawing himself from worldly cares to give himself up more entirely to the service of God. The religious thus makes himself a slave, in the canonical sense of the word, but, spiritually, he becomes freer; his apparent slavery turns to his profit.
In a more general sense, a conscious and willing bondsman is he who, mistrusting his own weakness, seeks to lean upon a stronger arm than his own in order to walk with a firmer and surer step. And when that arm is the arm of a father or mother, the bondage is one of love.
It is of this bondage of love that Grignion de Montfort speaks.
His aim is to drag us away from our miseries, to apply a remedy to our state of weakness, to lead us to the attainment of security and freedom in the heart and in the arms of a mother who is all-powerful with the Heart of God.
It is an irrevocable enlistment in God’s service without any mercenary motive, springing alone from filial love: it is that and that only. By it, the soul ties itself down to the surrender of itself to the spirit of God: it is “spiritual.” It is prompted by the most perfect charity: and, therefore, is “holy.” It frees the heart from the chains of egoism: it is voluntary and possesses the most favourable features of true liberty.
“Do you know,” asks St. Theresa, “what it means to be truly spiritual? It is to make oneself one of God’s slaves and, as such, to bear His brand, which is that of the Cross; it means giving up our liberty to Him so completely that He may even sell us, as He Himself was sold, for the salvation of the world. It means believing that His dealing with us in this wise not only does us no harm, but, on the contrary, bestows a great favour upon us.”
So let us not be frightened by the sound of the word. Let us aim at reality and grasp the meaning of the Gospel. Let us value ourselves at our proper worth: weak and, after all, always destitute
Let us resolutely become “the slaves of God, the slaves of Mary.” Let us give ourselves up wholeheartedly to our Mother’s care. In our spiritual life let us surrender to her our initial efforts, our progress; the present and future. In our labours and in our trials, let us keep under the mantle of her maternal protection.
As for us-priests of the Lord-let us be disciples and, at the same time, propagators of “true devotion”; our personal holiness and also the success of our work for souls depend upon it.
Once given wholly to Mary, let us live in peace; let nothing from without or from within trouble our serenity. We shall then be under the care of the most powerful and the most loving of Mothers now and at the hour of our death.
THE EXTENT OF OUR SELF-SURRENDER AS UNDERSTOOD BY DE MONTFORT
I know of no act comprising more fully all that the soul can dedicate to God and to Christ than this act of renunciation or of “bondage” such as it is understood by the Blessed de Montfort.
The dominion of charity increases in the measure that egoism decreases.
The evangelical counsels, as they are generally practised, entail the surrender of worldly goods, the pleasures of the senses, and the independence of one’s own will.
But the devotion of the Servant of God goes further: it renounces even the free disposal of whatever in our spiritual life can be given up. Without doubt our merit in the strict sense of the word entitling us in justice to eternal glory is inalienable and strictly personal. But those merits which give us a right to the remission of the penalties for the expiation of our forgiven sins-and our intercessary merits which will enable us to gain heavenly favours or temporal ones for ourselves or for others, are not so personal that they cannot be renounced. If I can renounce them, says de Montfort, I do so, convinced that the less of self I bring into the working out of my salvation the more I help the full effective action of Him Who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Ah, yes, that abandonment which the Servant of God advocates, and of which he sets the example, goes very far, even, it would seem, to an unlimited degree. God alone measures for each soul the extent, God alone will give it effect according to His plans for each one of His elect provided they abandon themselves to His love and guidance.
Now is it not precisely this for which generous souls in our own day are striving? As the true followers of Christ become rarer and rarer, does it not seem that those who desire to remain irrevocably faithful to Him should feel the growing necessity of giving and sacrificing all to Him?
F. MOYNIHAN, Censor Deputatus.