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Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It is most appropriate that the beginning of the New Year should be the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The first day of a new year reminds us of the beginning of things, the beginning of the world and of mankind. We commemorate, therefore, the creation of the world, when God brought the universe into existence out of nothing. This has, in fact, been the Churchs the human race, when God brought into the world our first parents; we celebrate the origins of mankind. But, as we know, the human race lost the divine friendship, and except for Gods mercy would never have been able to enjoy the heavenly vision for which man had originally been made.
At a point in time, as faith tells us, the Son of God graciously decided to become man, that as man He might redeem us and restore us to the life of grace that we had lost. On New Years Day, therefore, there is a third and most important commemorationnot only do we think of the beginning of the universe and of the human race, but also the beginning of the supernatural life. If we ask, Why? The reason is that the Incarnation is the source and origin of all the graces that mankind, from the fall of Adam to the end of the world, has received and is receiving and will receive.
This does not mean, of course, that until Christ came into the world no one received grace, either actual or sanctifying; otherwise, Our Lady (who came before her Son) could not have been either possessed of or full of grace, which she surely was. It does mean, however, that with the Incarnation we have the foundation, the fount, the source, the cause of the supernatural life of every human being since the fall of Adam and until the end of every human being since the fall of Adam and until the end of time. It is for this reason that the Church in her new liturgy has made New Years Day the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
Since Christ is the source and origin of our restored supernatural life, what more appropriate day could there be than New Years Day to celebrate this mystery, which is also a fact of history. Be more still, it was Marys acceptance of the divine motherhood that gave us Jesus Christ. Two decisions were made to give mankind back the supernatural life it had lost: one in heaven by the Trinity, deciding to send the Second Person of the Trinity into the world; and the other on earth, by Mary. Happily, the two decisions coincided.
This is the reason why we juxtapose two titles of Our Lady. At the beginning of her litany, we address her as Mother of Christ and Mother of Divine Grace. She is the Mother of Divine Grace, because she is the mother of Christ and Christ is God; and all the grace we receive was made by God, by all Three Persons. But it was merited by the Son of God, and the meriting began in the womb of Mary. The moment He acquired His human will He began to merit our salvation and the divine life that, thanks to Him and her, we now enjoy.
We might say, then, that New Years Day is the birthday to the supernatural life of the human race, thanks to Mary. That is why she is not only the mother of Christ and the mother of God, but the mother of the Church. She is the mother of supernatural life, having given us the One through whom and by whom this life began. So much for a brief overview of New Years Day.
On this feast day of Our Lady, therefore, which is a holy day of obligation and the Octave of Christmas, I think we should review our devotion to the Blessed Virgin and ask ourselves what we can do to improve it. Needless to say, devotion to the Blessed Virgin is one of the cardinal features of the Catholic faith. You can almost identify a Catholic by finding out if a person has a devotion to Mary. Catholicism means devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
At first sight, devotion suggests strong affectivity and may imply a certain sentimentality. For some people, devotion to Our Lady may be very affective. In the city of Rome, you can see grown men, executives on their bicycles, swerving around a corner that holds a shrine of the Madonna in a niche; holding the bicycle with the left hand, they will waft a kiss towards the Blessed Virgin with the right handI call that affectivity. Some people have it, some dont. Clearly, devotion to Mary does not require either sentiment or strong feeling.
Essentially, this devotion is much deeper. Instead of analyzing the theology of devotion, however, may I rather suggest six ways of growing in devotion to Mary. A Catholic who is devoted to the Blessed Virgin does six things; you can add a few of your own, but please dont subtract any. Such a person thinks of Mary, reads about her, talks about Mary and speaks to Mary, invokes Mary, and imitates her.
A person devoted to Mary will first of all think of her. Need anyone tell us that we think about the people we admire and love? In fact, a fair index of how much we admire or love someone is how much that person is on our minds. We hardly have to make an effort to think about the people we admire and love. In fact, the love may be so strong that we may have to try to keep the person off our minds at times when they shouldnt be on our minds, otherwise we will walk into people or trip over something in front of us! Dont tell me that you love someone if you dont have that person on your mind.
Clearly, however, we are dealing with the order of spirit; we are in the realm of the supernatural. Consequently, we must make an effort to think of Mary and for that we need reminders of Our Lady. It may be a picture or an image or a symbol; but we must do something in order to bring her and keep her on our minds until it becomes habitual to have Marian thoughts.
Second, a person devoted to the Blessed Virgin reads about Mary. There is so much good literature in books and periodicals about Our Lady that it stands to reason (reason, of course, enlightened by faith) that if we are devoted to her, we will want to learn all we can about her. We know just so much; others know much more. Lets find out! How eager we are to learn more about the people we admire and love.
I honestly believe that God has made sure that His mother has appeared so often in apparitions approved by the Church to keep us posted about her. He wants to make sure that we dont forget her. Read about Guadalupe, La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, and by now the scores of approved shrines of Our Lady which, as far as the Church can approve, she has approved, telling us this is worthy of credence. Read about it; find out more about it. We need that. Lourdes and Fatima are not to be a waste of Marys time!
Third, one who is devoted to the Blessed Virgin talks about Mary. What we think and read about will give us much to talk about. I couldnt put talking about Mary first; logically, it comes third. We talk about only what is first on our minds; hence, think about her, read about her. Then you can talk about her. It is easy to raise some aspect, say, of Fatima in conversation. And you are ready for as long a discussion as you want, depending on how much you and your fellow conversationalists know about the subject. Mary wants to be talked aboutthats why she keeps coming in our midst so often.
Fourth, a devotee of Mary speaks to her. By this I mean just plain, ordinary conversation. This is pleasing to her and honors her Son. Talking things over with hersome can do it more easily than others. But all of us should try to cultivate a simple, colloquial, even as far as we can a habitual conversation with Our Lady.
My theology never prepared me for one of the big surprises I have had as a priest, and it is the amount of this kind of devotion among the laity. I just wasnt ready for it. There is, so many tell me, an easy, on-going conversation with her that is practiced by professional business men; you would never dream what that man is thinking about unless he tells you! It is true also among priests and bishops. This is the way great Catholics live, they talk to Our Lady. It makes sense. She is alive; she is our mother; she is the Mother of Godand she is always accessible. There is no one about whom the word affable can be used more properly than Mary. She is truly the one who can be spoken to.
A fifth feature of a person devoted to the Blessed Virgin is that he or she invokes Mary. This is perhaps the most familiar and common form of Marian conversation. It is part of the daily life of every Catholic. Every Hail Mary we recite and the scores of prayers, some of which we have memorized, are in effect invocations of Our Lady.
What bears emphasis, however, in this invoking of Mary, is that it should be done consciously. This is the built-in problem of vocal prayer, and so much of our vocal prayer is, in the nature of things, addressed to Our Lady. In a Rosary, for example, we say the Hail Mary fifty-three times. So, in invoking her, we must first of all do it consciously, and secondly we should do it heartilyin other words, not just mentally conscious but speaking from the heart. There is all the difference in the world between two people in conversation when one is just talking, you might almost say just to hear himself, and another is speaking from the heart.
Moreover, when we invoke Our Lady we should do so confidently. That is why the Holy Spirit made sure that the first recorded miracle of the Savior would be the miracle of Cana. This was no rising from the dead, no grave problem or need. It was a simple embarrassment of a young couple on their wedding day. And they didnt even have to ask her, though we may be sure they would have, had they known whose mother she was. We are to invoke her confidently.
Finally and most importantly, one who is devoted to Mary imitates her. This is the acme of devotion to the Blessed Virgin. It is also the acid test of whether she means what she should in our lives.
At this point we could begin all over again, but we wont. I will just single out one virtue that we should especially imitate in Our Lady. Among the galaxy of virtues which she practiced, somewhere near the top was her simplicity. How we need this virtue in our day, when there is so much pretense, so much make believe, so much unreality. Like her, we should especially make sure that we are humble of heart. But we show this humility in our conduct. That is my definition of simplicity, it is humility manifested.
Of course, like her, it must be simplicity of heart; we must be deeply humble inside. And then the simplicity that she practiced externally will be seen and admired by everyone who enters our lives. I feel so secure that this is the one virtue she would like us to imitate, because it is the one about which she speaks in the Magnificat. It was her lowliness that God recognized and that He then honored by doing great things for her and through her.
Let us ask Our Lady, then, that with the help of the grace which she will surely obtain from her Son, she will make us simple, childlike, and little in our own eyes. God will reward our external humility by using this very simplicity to bring souls to Himself, even as through Our Lady under His divine Son, He brings all of the sons and daughters of Adam back to the Creator from whom they came.
Transcription of the Homily
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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