I WANT TO THANK BROTHER FRANCIS for inviting me to speak to you today, and in the months to come, about True Devotion to our Blessed Mother, as set forth by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.
There are two books, which no lover of Our Lady should be without: One is Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori’s The Glories of Mary; the other is Saint Louis Marie’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Now it was suggested that for this series of spiritual conferences on True Devotion, I go through Saint Louis Marie’s book chapter by chapter. Very frankly, I am afraid that if I did that, I would end up simply reading it to you. I say this because the book is so readable, so understandable, and the examples the saint gives are so crystal clear, that any amount of commentary would only get in the way.
Instead, I’d like to suggest that right at the outset of these talks, you go straight through True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, reading it at your normal pace. Then, after we complete the conferences, take it up and read it again. But this time read it slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, prayerfully, taking into account what you have heard and anything you may have learned from this series. So you’ll really be getting True Devotion three times – at least the essence of it. The first time you’ll read it, then I will talk to you about it, and then you will read it again.
Speaking of which reminds me of advice I was given by an old priest who was very influential in my life. He said that in public speaking one should always state his main point three times. The first time, he said, the listeners will probably miss it. The second time, they’ll say, “I heard that somewhere before.” And the third time they’ll say, “That fellow makes sense; he agrees with me completely!
So, by the third time you encounter True Devotion, you’re going to say, “That fellow makes sense; he agrees with me completely!”
An Essential Devotion
I am especially happy and very proud to be giving these talks on True Devotion, because devotion to Our Lady, whether for the priest, for the religious, or for the layman, is so very important. As a matter of fact, it goes far beyond being important. Devotion to Our Lady is essential.
It is essential not only for the spiritual life – that’s obvious enough – but also to our physical life – our temporal, material life – as well. And because of this importance to the whole of our life, doesn’t it logically follow that we should try to examine, try to aim towards, that highest and most noble level this devotion to Mary can take?
Of course, that is exactly what we find set forth and, for all practical purposes, codified by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Read it, my beloved good people, in any edition. There can be no question as to either the sublimity of the concept or the soundness of the doctrine. The sublimity of the concept speaks for itself. As for soundness of doctrine, I might mention that this book has been recommended by more than a few popes. Namely, Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Saint Pius X, (who, incidentally, granted an apostolic blessing to all who would read it), Pope Benedict XV, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, and Pope John XXIII.
I don’t know whether Pope Paul VI recommended True Devotion. But quite by accident, I happened across a little quotation by our present Holy Father, John Paul II, in the midst of a talk he gave. He said, “The reading of the treatise True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin was a turning point in my life.” Also, in a recent encyclical or pastoral letter (I’m not sure which rank it enjoys) on Our Lady, he goes to great lengths to say how happy he is to know that this devotion of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort is still being practiced throughout the world, and to say how important this is. And, of course, the words beneath the papal coat of arms of John Paul II, “Totus tuus” – All Thine – is a quotation right out of Saint Louis Marie’s True Devotion.
What is True Devotion?
Now then, the devotion proposed by Saint Louis Marie consists in this: making a complete consecration of one’s entire self to Mary by a special act – an act which is but the initiation of a life of complete dependence upon, complete dedication to, the Mother of God.
What is the purpose of this devotion? It is to belong more completely to Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to be more closely and more securely united to Him. Utilizing Our Lord’s own words, we can say that True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has as its ultimate purpose to abide in Christ. As He Himself prescribed to all His apostles, “Abide in Me, and I in you.”
The Act of Consecration, which is the crowning act of True Devotion, means that we give to Mary all that we are, all that we have, all that we may ever become, all that we may ever receive – in a word, everything. We give Her everything of which we have any power to dispose.
First of all, we give Mary our body and the future of our body. We give them to be used in Her service. Now this can be in activity, it can be in suffering, whatever She designs. As a consequence, we accept all the dispositions of Divine Providence in regard to health, strength, skill, talent, sickness, life, and even death. From the very beginning of our life to its end. In addition, we give Her complete power of disposal over all our worldly possessions. Which is something that would cause a great many people to draw a rather deep breath. “Oh yes, She can have my body. But my… my possessions!” Ah, you have touched a tender nerve there!
But that’s part of the True Devotion, surrendering to Mary complete power of disposal over all our worldly possessions. When we do that, dear people, we are relying upon Her Maternal care to provide for us, knowing that She will provide for us, and that She will use what we have as She needs it. Not more than She needs, never; but what we have, She will use as She needs it.
Our Greatest Gift to Mary
Now, we have the gift of our body to offer Our Lady, and we have the gift of our bodily goods. But these are only a prelude to the far greater gift that we give to Her in True Devotion: the gift of our immortal soul.
In giving Our Lady our soul, we place at Her disposal all our spiritual faculties for the service of Her Son. And here I must point out, because it is so essential to remember, that there is no difference between Her service and that of Her Son. They are perfectly one in Christ.
So we put these faculties to work for Her, and we commit the outcome of these efforts to Her protection. Whether the external outcome of these efforts is failure or success or anywhere in between, that doesn’t matter. It’s not our business. We give them to Her. We do the best we can to cooperate with grace in the meantime, and the rest we accept with what one good priest once referred to as “prudent indifference.”
Our very soul itself, with its supernatural life implanted through the waters of Baptism, we place into Her hands. We rely upon Her to ensure its sanctification, its perseverance, its ultimate union with God in Heaven.
By virtue of this consecration, we see in particular all that happens to us from a supernatural point of view, a viewpoint from which the soul now appears more important than the body, and from which eternity appears more important than time.
But this offering goes even further, because our prayers and the prayers that are said for us, even the prayers said for us after death, are turned over to Her to divert according to Her intentions.
This doesn’t mean we do not pray for particular intentions. Not at all. It means simply that all our efforts should be offered up with the implicit intention that Mary can apply their merits and their application as She wills. We needn’t be anxious about this, because we have every reason to trust in Our Lady’s administrative powers.
The supernatural value of our works, incidentally, is also offered in this consecration. The satisfactory value of our work is Hers to do with as She pleases. In other words, in True Devotion to Mary, according to the teaching of Saint Louis Marie, we make no reservations. The whole supernatural “bank account,” as it were, is made over to our Lady to draw on whenever and however She wills.
A Means to an End
Now, at this point, I should say that it is essential, if we are to understand this devotion properly, to realize it is only a means to an end. The true nature of the devotion is reflected in the fact that the dedication part of the formula of consecration suggested by Saint Louis Marie commences with a renewal of our Baptismal vows – “a complete donation of ourselves,” in the words of Saint Louis Marie, “to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry our cross after Him, all the days of our life, and to be more faithful to Him than we have ever been before.”
And then immediately afterwards, he proceeds to address Our Lady, saying: “In the presence of the whole heavenly court, I choose thee this day for my Mother and Mistress. I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body, my soul, my goods, both exterior and interior, even the value of all my actions, past, present, and future, leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me, and of all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, and to the greatest glory of God, in time and in eternity.”
The final paragraph of this prayer is so significant: “O faithful Virgin, make me in all things so perfect a disciple, imitator, and slave of the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ thy Son, that by thy intercession, and by thy example, I may attain to the fullness of His age on earth, and of His glory in Heaven.”
We stress the fact – and Saint Louis Marie lays it out so beautifully and clearly – that the chief purpose of complete consecration to Mary is to achieve complete consecration to Her Divine Son. This consecration of our all to Mary has long been viewed by non-Catholics with, what shall I say, a rather jaundiced eye? To be more blunt, with distaste, with suspicion, with ridicule, even with revulsion. We are used to that. It’s understandable; they don’t know any differently. How can you see when you’re in the dark!
What is difficult to understand – as a matter of fact, is practically impossible to understand, unless you take into account quite a few things – is that there are many Catholics who are timid about, and even afraid of, devotion to Mary, especially the Montfort devotion, True Devotion. Some people may be afraid of exaggeration, others of mere sentimentality. They may be afraid of interference with the honor due to God. They may even suggest, as our Protestant neighbors do – and this is very prevalent nowadays -that it is better to go directly to Christ. How many times do we hear that!
Now, my dear brethren, any such fear by anyone, but especially by Catholics, let me tell you, is unfounded and uninformed. It is a complete mistake, which Saint Louis Marie goes to some lengths to correct. He says, “Be on your guard against believing that it would be more perfect to go straight to Jesus – straight to God. If you do so, then your work and your intention will be but of little value; while if you go to Him through Mary, there will be the work of Mary in you, and consequently, all will be exalted and eminently worthy of being offered to God.”
So you see, such fears as I mentioned are groundless. Mary is the Mother of Christ. No mother worthy of the name is so inhuman as to steal the food of her children. So it is that we, and all that we are, might be referred to as the “food of Christ.” Just as Christ’s natural body was formed in Mary, by Mary, with Mary, so His Mystical Body is also formed in Mary, by Mary, with Mary. That is the way He has chosen, and we simply cannot improve upon His arrangement.
A Lifelong Policy
It must be remembered that this True Devotion is no passing act. It is a lifelong policy. It is a habitual attitude of mind and soul. It needs frequent renewal. That can be accomplished easily, sometimes almost imperceptibly, yes; but True Devotion as set forth by Saint Louis Marie is not something to be undertaken lightly. It is not something to be undertaken without prayer, reflection, and examination.
It is also important to remember that this devotion does not in any way interfere with our approach to Our Lord Jesus. On the contrary, it facilitates it, because Mary is not like a mother who refuses to let her children be the center of attention. Her great desire is to decrease that Her Divine Son may increase. When we practice True Devotion to Mary, we go to Our Lord as before. The difference is that we go to Him with new confidence because our Mother, who is also His Mother, is with us.
It’s one thing to go to Him by ourselves. But when Our Lady is holding us by the hand, that’s something else entirely. She is with us when we go to Christ, interceding for us, excusing us, making the way easy for us.
Why does She do this? After all, we have by our sins crucified Her Son. Even though He has forgiven us, we may find it hard to forgive ourselves. As a result, our approach to Him might be hampered by our own sense of our sinfulness.
Well, the knowledge that Mary is always with us, that we belong to Her, and that He sees in each of us one of Her children, is of incalculable aid in overcoming our natural hesitation.
An Imitation of the Holy Trinity
There is another similar parallel that arises in True Devotion to Our Lady. The secret of True Devotion to Her, if one may phrase it like that, is this: It is to become the nothingness that separates Jesus from Mary.
To become the nothingness that separates Jesus from Mary, that is the secret of True Devotion.
All that Mary does to us, is done to Christ. And all that Christ does to us, is done to Mary. With Mary we serve Christ; with Christ we may say that we honor Mary. Our whole life, then, is a continuous interchange of love between Jesus and Mary in which we are but willing instruments.
What I’ve just described to you is a precise image of what our life should be in regard to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The ultimate vocation is to share in some mysterious way with that Divine Family life, which exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. That vocation begins here on earth, and the easiest way to learn it and to accomplish it is by sharing in the family life of Jesus and Mary.
It really isn’t necessary to develop this point any further. Suffice it to say that no approach to Our Lady is permitted to end with Her; and it is She who does not permit it. She sees to it that all the movements of our heart, all the movements that we make of our heart and our soul to Her, lead us ultimately to the Blessed Trinity.
If this consecration to Mary is made with sincerity and with generosity, the more immediate results are as marvelous as they are manifold. First of all, there arises an almost immediate, extraordinary sense of positive peace of soul. We talk so much about peace today. Usually, we’re talking about an absence of conflict; that has nothing to do with peace. That is an effect of peace, it’s not peace. True peace is interior. True peace begins with a tranquility of soul that can come only from God, and it comes through Mary.
After this peace of soul, an unbounded confidence is the next result of the True Devotion and consecration to Mary. An unbounded confidence and an indescribable peace that no amount of strain, no amount of worry, no amount of danger, no amount of temptation can lessen. We belong to Mary!
Our work is from Mary and Mary’s Son, and therefore She will guide it, She will aid it, She will ensure its fruitfulness. No matter what help we need, no matter what special grace is required, we can be sure that Mary, in Her all-powerful intercession, will obtain it, insofar as God’s Will demands it. Mary will not be outdone in generosity; and if we have given all to Her, She will not fail us.
If the whole of perfection may be summed up in the love of God for His own sake, and our love of neighbor for the love of God, it is not an exaggeration to say that there is hardly a better way imaginable of fulfilling this law of perfection than by this complete consecration to Mary. Not only is total consecration to Mary a complete offering of all that we have and all that we are to God, but it is the most effective way of serving our neighbor. How many have ever thought of that?
Even with the best will in the world, even with the best of intentions and the most lavish generosity, no human mind can always know where one’s forces and one’s efforts are best employed in the service of God. Even for us in religious life, where the limits of our work are marked out for us by authority, there is always the problem of knowing what is best to do. But when all is given to Mary, She applies the results of our efforts at that point in the battle between Christ and anti-Christ where they will be most effective and of the greatest possible value.
Even though the particular end we may have in view might not be reached, even though our efforts end in apparent failure, Mary will apply the supernatural efficacy of our work elsewhere and with the most fruitful possible result. We may never know in this life about our greatest successes. Fine. Once we belong to Mary, it’s not our business to know. Our business is to know God, not to know our successes. To know God, to love God, to serve God – that’s our business. And, with that knowledge, that love, and that service to fight the good fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Consecrated to Mary, we cannot be but victorious.
Let us not forget, my beloved good people, the extraordinary role that is marked out for Our Lady in this battle between light and darkness, good and evil, virtue and wickedness. Her role in this entity is marked out by God Himself. You’ll find it recorded in the third chapter in the book of Genesis.
Following the Example of Jesus
In giving Mary the control of our life, our development, our work, we are merely following the example set by Our Lord for the first thirty years of His life. Let us never forget how completely subject Jesus was to Mary from the first moment of the Incarnation, how completely dependent upon Her, how completely at Her disposal. He has given us an example that as He has done, so also we must do.
Now what is the fundamental principle of the whole Christian life? It is the incorporation in Christ, union – oneness – with Christ. And, as I said before, whatever Mary does to us is done to Christ. So, when we abandon ourselves to Her maternal care, we are only giving Her another chance to do something for Her beloved Son. Isn’t that beautiful?
In fact, when you stop to think about it, we are giving Her an opportunity that even Our Lord Himself could not give Her. How can I say such a thing? I can because of this: We are stained with sin. We are merely human creatures. Is there not, therefore, extra virtue for Mary in her stooping to help us, Her inferiors, which She could not manifest in Her direct service to Her Divine Son? In mothering us, as it were, Mother Mary can show Her love for Christ in a way that was never possible in the guise of His own human nature. And the consecration of True Devotion gives Our Lady this opportunity. As for the wonders that result, they speak for themselves.
I’ll end my introductory remarks with these closing words of the preface from a little booklet called Spiritual Journey, which Saint Louis Marie de Montfort wrote:
“It is my prayer in all of this that those who have never made the consecration will be led to study it, that those who have made it will learn to love the life it demands, and that those who are living that life will persevere in it until they meet their Savior on the cross, which is the essence of Christian life.
Beyond that Cross, in that birth called death, they will surely find Mary. And where Mary is, there is Jesus”