WHY MARY – WHAT’S THE FUSS?
Oh no no no!! I wasn’t going to let October pass me by without scribing the message we were given about being truly devoted to Mary. Now, honestly, I can not understand why Catholics get attacked for placing Mary on the high pedestal that we do. I mean, how high do we place our own earthly mothers? After all, Mary is the Mother of God so why should anyone expect anything less or even comparable? She is the Mother of the King of kings and the Mother of the one, who at His name, every knee shall bow and tongue confess that He is Lord.
I mean, her blood and every part of her being was mixed with that of God’s for nine months! Can you imagine the inseparable bond? And that’s not even mentioning the fact that she was overshadowed and conceived by the Holy Spirit Himself, thus becoming the spouse of the Holy Spirit; a role prepared for her since time immemorial when we lost paradise. Very few people know of Jesus’ grandparents, but this is a piece of history that Catholics recollect each year as they celebrate the feast of St Anne and St Joachim who waited for years until the Lord blessed them with Mary who was prepared specially for her role to be the mother of God and the one who would nurture God in his growing years on earth…but that’s a message for another day.
WHAT IS DEVOTION
The speaker started by explaining the origin of the word “devotio” which means to consecrate or to vow oneself to a superior being. It entails not only adoration but also commitment and a level of deference which is lacking in several churches today. To adore someone is easy but devotion entails that you commit to the person and have a high sense of deference to the one whom you are adoring.
He explained that once devotion to Mary is adopted by a soul, satan is defeated and that is why so much controversy trails this and causes divisions amongst the very people she was called to unite. He referred to Genesis 3:15 where God said that enmity will be forever between this woman and her offspring who will crush the serpent. Who is her offspring? The fruit of her womb, Jesus as are we also, being his brothers and sisters.
So, here we are given the greatest tender to acquire heaven and we take it for granted. The speaker stressed that those printing counterfeit money always go for the highest tender and so we must be careful of devotion to Mary which is not genuine. The focus must be to always lead us to God. St Louis de Montfort stressed that any devotion not having Jesus as its goal is false and that false devotion to Mary does not lead us to Jesus or holiness which we are all called to be.
5 CATEGORIES OF FALSE DEVOTEES
- CRITICAL DEVOTEES
The speaker pointed out that such a category of people maintain the position that holiness is for the learned and that they have the monopoly to holiness due to their intellect. Yes, we all know these people. They are the ones who ridicule the simple devotion which others render to Mary by heightening their own scholarship. They are the ones who cannot comprehend why someone would kneel before a statue or image of the Virgin Mary in contemplation and would rashly conclude that they have been misled or brainwashed and that they must be worshiping her by so doing.
They are fake devotees because although they understand the notion of being devoted to Mary, they criticize almost all the external signs and practices of this devotion. Instead of drawing people to Mary, their arrogance drives people away from the focus of devotion which is always Jesus.
2. SCRUPULOUS DEVOTEES
The speaker explained that these people are those who stress that giving honor to Mary diminishes the honor given to Jesus. I never could understand this stance. I mean, everything and I mean everything about Mary points to Jesus. From her acceptance to surrender her will to God in Luke 1:38 where she said “Be it done unto my according to your Word to her words at the wedding at Cana directing the servants to “do WHATEVER He tells you in John 2:5. Everything points to Jesus so how on earth could devotion to someone whose whole being points to Jesus diminish a devotion to Jesus?! If anything it accelerates it and heightens it but alas, these set of people argue that this is not the case in this fake devotion.
3. EXTERNAL / HYPOCRITICAL DEVOTEES
The speaker stated that these set of people are those who indulge in the external illustrations of devotion. They remind me of the pharisees of whom Jesus described in Matthew 23:28 where he condemns those who “appear religious to others but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within.” They are the ones who have huge rosaries on their necks with a scapular on the same neck and ofcourse a rosaria (ring rosary) to adorn the fingers. Nobody will ask them twice if they are Catholic. They might even have an Ave Maria song as the ring tone on their phones.
Hypocritical devotees are those who unfortunately make devotion to Mary look bad. They are concerned with putting up a facade.
4. PRESUMPTUOUS / INCONSTANT DEVOTEES
The speaker pointed out that these are those who believe that they can lapse into sin and stay in it, but claim that they are still devoted to Mary and that Mary will pray them out of their sin into salvation.
Inconstant devotees fail to understand that they cannot say the rosary and remain in sin since sin and Mary can not co-exist. By Mary’s very nature and submission to the Holy Spirit, she is “full of grace” as hailed by Archangel Gabriel in Luke 1:28. She is therefore, espoused to the Holy Spirit who can not cohabit a place of sin, just like Mary who is also unable to engage in sin.
5. INTERESTED DEVOTEES
The speaker explained that these where those who are happy devotees where all is going well and are focused mainly on what they will benefit from such a devotion. He stated that this is the first stage of a devotion, in the three stages to spiritual growth. It is the purgative growth stage which will be followed by the illuminative growth stage and lastly the unitive growth stage.
It is at the illuminative stage that the devotee realizes that Jesus is not known as he should be because Mary is largely unknown. It is at this stage that the devotee internalizes that the path that Jesus chose to come through Mary from divinity to man is not a coincidence. Indeed, it is this same path that we should take advantage of to attain divinity from our own humanity.
CHARACTER OF A TRUE DEVOTION
So, as I was listening to the speaker mention the categories of fake devotees, I started to ask myself into which category I belonged. I knew that I had indeed started out as an interested devotee but at what stage was I? Was I still at the purgative stage?!
The speaker then mentioned the 3 traits of a true devotee, which I used as a guideline to assess my own devotion to the Mother of God.
- INTERIOR – devotion must come from the heart and spirit
- CONFIDENT – confidence becomes enlivened due to the growth achieved through a true devotion to Mary.
- HOLY – one is unable to remain in sin since a devotee imitates the virtues of Mary
VIRTUES OF MARY
a) Profound Humility.
I am always amazed at the amazing humility of Mary. Can you imagine having a son as powerful as Jesus was and being that humble? Mary teaches us that we are simply brothers and sisters and that there is no need for titles amongst us. Mary lived a hidden life and we should try and imitate this dying to self. Her attitude reminds me of John 3:30 which I hold dear – “He must increase; but I must decrease.”
b) Life in Faith
Nobody can dispute that Mary showed tremendous faith in her acceptance to conceive of the Holy Spirit in spite of the great uncertainty which surrounded such a decision. As devotees, we have the privilege to be given portions of this amazing gift of faith.
c) Blind Obedience
This is similar to the virtue of faith but goes somewhat further. First is to have faith and next is to act in obedience which is seen in Mary’s canticle known as the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. Her faith is validated by the experience of Elizabeth as she acts in obedience. The speaker stressed that as martyrdom leads to the losing of the head, obedience leads to the losing of the will which makes us human.
d) Continual Prayer
I remember a message by Mary I once read where she enjoined us to BE PRAYER. To be in constant prayer means to be in perpetual communion with God and reflective. Mary was seen to be such as Luke 2:19 tell us that “she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” which was again stressed in Luke 2:51.
When we are in constant prayer, we sanctify our work to make each day a day of prayer and sacrifice to God. We then become the prayer which we make. We must not fall for the temptation to relegate prayer to the end of the day, as we all know how difficult it is to be focused as fatigue creeps upon us. Prayer must be constantly in our hearts and minds as we ponder upon things in its minutest forms during the day.
e) Universal Mortification
The speaker stated that a visionary once revealed that Mary mostly fed on bread and water after Jesus died. I was actually urged to fast like this for nine days this month which I thought was an absolute impossibility but God’s grace was indeed enough! Sharwama /unleavened bread and I have a certain bond now and it is indeed true that mortification of the flesh brings alive the Spirit which ushers much needed virtues.
f) Divine Purity
Yes, there have been controversies over whether Mary was a virgin till death but I do not choose to focus on what divides Christians. Suffice to say that all Christians agree that Mary was indeed pure at heart. She must have been pure for God to have chosen her; for the Holy Spirit to have overshadowed her and for God to make himself inseparable with her for nine months. In a world which sees purity as impossible and emulates those who proudly promote immodesty, this virtue is one to be sought and emulated.
g) Ardent Charity
It could only be Mary’s passionate love for God that could have led her to submit to His Will to be the Mother of God under such uncertainty. She shows us that we should aspire for love and to be charitable. Her charity and active focus on others led her to save the newly wedded couple from shame which would have ensued if the wine that had finished had not been replaced. Mary prompts me to ask whether I am that attentive to the needs of others as a true daughter of charity should be.
h) Heroic Patience
When the speaker mentioned this virtue, I cringed because patience is a scarce commodity of mine. I cringe now that I think about it because of the patience which Mary must have exhibited throughout Jesus’ ministry. I cringe when I think of that heroic patience she must have displayed as she met her son on the road to Calvary bleeding and in complete agony. And I cringe when I imagine the heroic patience she must have shown when the lifeless body of her son was placed in her arms at the foot of the Calvary. The Pieta statue by Michelangelo depicts this heroism; this endurance; this patience.
Romans 5:4 comes to mind when meditating on this virtue of Mary – “we also boast even in trials, knowing that trials produce patience, from patience comes merit, merit is the source of hope and hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, pouring into our hearts the love of God.” Alleluia indeed! Lord, give me patience.
i) Angelic sweetness
Some people, devotees and non-devotees alike, have shared that whenever they see Mary she has this angelic sweetness and compassion about her. The speaker stated that such virtue testifies to a presence that always announces joy. Indeed, Catholics hail her in the Litany of the Rosary as the Queen of Angels so it is no wonder that such virtue abides in her.
j) Divine Wisdom
Now, who would not want wisdom? As the speaker mentioned this last virtue of Mary, I felt my attention increase in anticipation on the path to get such a virtue. This virtue testifies to the fact that wisdom is not solely dependent on one’s intellect or exposure, but is a gift which comes from God and one which Mary possessed through her intimacy with God.
So this is the last day of October and I thank God that I was able to scribe this message. October was a special month and this was a special year for Catholics in Nigeria, as it was the Marian year which intended to bring us closer to the Mother of God. We have been enjoined to not only emulate the virtues of Mary, but also to seek her intercession as we would ask our own mother to assist in some regard. Mary’s role always points us to God and a true devotion to her is never regretted.
It is my prayer that those who have internalized the above will come to the understanding of the richness of the teachings on Mary and appreciate her role in salvation and her continuous role in this present age, thus drawing closer to God who is ever present at her side. I ask this in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.