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St. Louis de Montfort
Apostle of Mary for Today

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Great Catholic Books Newsletter
Volume I, Number 6

On the occasion of the second millennium of Mary's birth, Pope John Paul II emphasized the importance of a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He singled out St. Louis de Montfort as a prime example of what this means.

He proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments. I am pleased to note that in our own time, too, many manifestations of this spirituality and devotion are not lacking.

If there is one feature of the present Pope's pontificate, it is his emphasis on the need for devotion to the Blessed Virgin to stem the tide of global secularism in the modern world. It is easy to dismiss the Pope's Marian spirituality as a pious eccentricity. But Pope John Paul II is too intelligent and too experienced not to know that only supernatural means can halt the advance of unbelief in what he calls "the materially super-developed nations" in Western society. In one conference after another, in one document after another, the Pope insists: only a renaissance of Mariology in thought and practice can restore once Christian nations to their original commitment to the Son of Mary.

It is in this context that we should look more closely at the Marian teaching of St. Louis de Montfort. What needs to be underlined is what de Montfort calls the True Devotion to Mary.

There is no lack of Marian piety among Catholics today. There is no lack of books, periodicals, pamphlets and brochures on the Blessed Virgin. What Louis de Montfort emphasized 200 years ago needs to be clarified more than ever in our day.

In his treatise on the True Devotion, St. Louis identifies seven forms of false devotions to the Blessed Virgin and the false devotees of Our Lady. I would single out two kinds of spurious devotion to Mary to which, our modern age is especially prone. Says St. Louis de Montfort:

External devotees are persons who make all devotion to our Blessed Lady consist in outward practices. They have no taste except for the exterior of this devotion, because they have no interior spirit of their own. We have still to mention the false devotees of our Blessed Lady who are the hypocritical devotees. They cloak their sins and sinful habits with her mantle in order to be taken by men for what they are not.

Suppose we look at these two forms of Marian devotion which de Montfort called erroneous. They deserve all the attention we can give them if we are to hope for the transformation of the modern world, through Mary, which the present Holy Father is so earnestly advancing.

Interior Devotion

St. Louis warns Catholics against identifying devotion to Mary with outward Marian forms of piety.

Of course we human beings are a composite of body and soul. We are to externalize our practice of prayer. We are to use our hands and our lips and move our bodies when we engage in the Liturgy and in personal acts of piety. The problem, de Montfort would say, is that devotion to the Blessed Virgin consists in much more than these externals.

Interior devotion to our Lady means many things, but it means especially the imitation of her virtues, and among these especially her unshaken faith, her absolute confidence in God and her utterly selfless charity toward others.

UNSHAKABLE FAITH.  Mary's faith was immovable from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion. She never doubted for a moment that the Child she conceived was her God. Elizabeth's greeting to her as, "Mother of My Lord" was an expression of Mary's own deep faith in the Divinity of her Son.

How many Catholics who say their rosaries and recite their Hail Marys realize that their most fundamental devotion to Mary is an absolute and unqualified faith that Jesus Christ is literally the Incarnate Son of God.

Reread the letters of St. John the Apostle who took care of Christ's mother after His Ascension. In one verse after another John tells us who belongs to Christ and who belongs to the devil. The one who belongs to Christ is the one who believes that Jesus, the Son of Mary is the Son of the living God. The one who belongs to the devil is the antichrist; he denies the Incarnation and rejects the Divinity of Mary's Son.

As we look at the modern world, we see that this is the heart of the crisis in so many dechristianized countries. Lip service may still be given to the Apostle's Creed. But, in practice, the Christ of the Gospels has been demythologized and become just another religious leader alongside Buddha, Mohammed and Mahatma Ghandi.

ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE IN GOD.  Building on her unshakable faith, Mary trusted in God as no human had ever done before or since. Our boundless confidence in God is an essential part of our imitation of Mary.

She never wavered in her confidence that Christ would overcome the bodily death inflicted by His enemies. Since the first century, Saturday has been commemorated as Mary's Day. She alone among the followers of Christ was absolutely sure, during the first Holy Saturday, that there would be an Easter Sunday.

During the fifteen years that Mary remained on earth after her Son's Ascension, she saw the young Church persecuted, rejected and martyred. It was part of God's providence that she should literally mother the infant Mystical Body of Christ by strengthening the early Christians as they shared in the Passion of her Son.

How we need this Marian inspiration today! We are living in the Age of Martyrs with millions dying for their Christian faith, more than ever in the Church's 2000 years of history. Bishops and priests, religious and the laity, the married and the single, the young and the old must either practice something of the heroic trust in God that Mary had or become further casualties in the Christless cultures of the 20th Century.

UTTERLY SELFLESS CHARITY.  It is not for nothing that Mary has been presented as the perfect model, after Christ, of selfless generosity to others. This generosity was deeply interior and was shown especially in her patient cooperation with Jesus in His Redemption of a sinful world.

Charity has many meanings. It has also been cheapened almost to no meaning among people who have made an idol of self. But one meaning of Marian charity had better be understood in our self-idolizing times. If we love someone we are willing to suffer for the one we love and with the one we claim to love. Christ's sufferings were brought on by the envy and malice of His enemies. This, in fact, is the principal meaning of the Passion. It is pain endured from hostile persons, whose hostility is the main source of suffering. What Christ experienced was not only or mainly the physical experience in His Body. His worst agony was rejection by those He loved and hatred by those for whom He was willing to die.

Mary shared in Christ's Passion. This was her compassion, suffering interiorly as only the loving heart of a Mother could participate in the sufferings of her Child.

We hear so much nowadays about love. It has become almost a cliché for authenticity and even in Christian circles, a substitute for faith. But love on Marian terms is nothing if not patient endurance at the hands and eyes and lips and thoughts of persons whom we love but do not love us correspondingly in return.

Here especially, True Devotion to Mary is the imitation of Mary's loving patience with the persecutors of her Son. They are persecuting Him still in the person of His followers. And it is our privilege to follow Mary's example of utterly selfless charity in the practice of utterly patient love.

VIRTUOUS SINCERITY.  St. Louis de Montfort stigmatizes certain devotees of Mary with hypocrisy. He says they cloak their sins with her mantle in order to be taken for what they are not. A great apostle of Mary, Padre Pio, claimed that the single most devastating sin of modern man is hypocrisy.

True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin dare not be a mask for sinful habits that are covered by a veneer of piety.

As we read the True Devotion to Mary we may be shocked by the strong language that the author uses to describe what he calls hypocrisy. However, we begin to see what he means when we read what Christ said to the Scribes and Pharisees of His day. He was merciless in denouncing their lives of pretense and their sham observance of the externals of the Mosaic Law.

All of this we can apply, with humility, to ourselves. Authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin must be the expression of a life of virtue. In essence, devotion is dedicated love. Our love of Christ, following the example of Mary, must be real. This means it must be lived in obedience to His teaching and in the observance of His commands. Otherwise, it becomes a substitute for true devotion to Mary which means the true following of Christ.

Marian Synthesis

To understand the True Devotion, we must see it as devotion to the Incarnate God. Even de Montfort's idea of becoming a slave of Mary becomes intelligible only if it is understood as an expression of one's total consecration to Mary's Son. Our Christian dedication must be lived by "performing all one's actions through Mary, with Mary, in Mary and for Mary, so as to perform them more perfectly through Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ, in Jesus, and for Jesus" (True Devotion, 258). Thus, the act of consecration composed by St. Louis is addressed to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom.

The bedrock of the True Devotion is the following of Christ after the example of Mary, as inspired by Mary and made possible by the graces she receives through the intercession of her Divine Son.

Copyright © 2003 by Inter Mirifica

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