|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. What is Faithfulness?: 1. Human faithfulness; 2. Divine faithfulness. II. The Path from Infidelity to Faithfulness: 1. Our essential infidelity; 2. What Montfort requires: a. Baptismal promises, b. Mary, the path of faithfulness, c. The life of a consecrated person. III. Mary, faithful Virgin: 1. Faithfulness to God; a. Complete obedience, b. Motivated by love; 2. Marys faithfulness toward her servants: a. Safeguarding the deposit, b. Always ready to help, c. Unceasing presence. IV. Current Relevance: 1. Faithfulness in crisis; 2. The path of faithfulness put forward by Montfort.
In the profile Montfort designs for the Christian consecrated to Christ through Mary, a long list would be needed to describe the qualities he includes. Among them, however, faithfulness is quite prominent. Its radical character gives it priority over all the others. Faithfulness is so basic, it must permeate everything. Nothing can be valid without it. This is why from the very start of his commitment, aware of his infidelity ("ungrateful and unfaithful as I am"), the Christian puts himself in Marys hands in order to guarantee his faithfulness: "Unfaithful sinner that I am, I renew . . . in your hands the vows of my baptism; . . . and I give myself totally to Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, so I may take up my cross and follow Him every day of my life so that I might be more faithful to Him than I have been up till now" (LEW 225). Yet Montfort does not define here or elsewhere what faithfulness is, for his aim is not to give a theoretical explanation. He gives, rather, a description of the behavior of a faithful soul. Thus, "taking up my cross and following Him all the days of my life" is one element of faithfulness, even though the word itself is not used. Continued faithfulness is perseverance.
I. WHAT IS FAITHFULNESS?
Relating faithfulness and perseverance reveals both their uniqueness and what they have in common.
1. Human faithfulness
By itself, even if it does not exclude it, the word "faithfulness" does not contain the idea of duration or continuance.1 Endurance itself is not faithfulness. One does not speak of the faithfulness of a halogen lamp, even though it might last for 2000 hours. Material things are alien to faithfulness, since it essentially contains a cognitive element. It can be found with animals who know their master and feel affection for him. Yet it is with human beings that faithfulness assumes its full meaning, because they are endowed with knowledge and freedom. It is with human beings that the duration-continuance element comes in, even if faithfulness cannot be limited to it. "Faithfulness is only understood as part of a starting option that can take on various appearances, depending upon the context. We are faithful to a promise, to a plan, to a commitment, to our word. Faithfulness, then, appears, in one sense, as steadfastness, as staying permanently with a choice that has been made."2
2. Divine faithfulness
Father de Montfort speaks several times of the "faithful" God: "God infinitely faithful" (L 7), "Faithful to all His promises" (H 7:3), "faithful to His word" (H 7; 77), and we should therefore "hope in God so faithful" (H 28:8). Although in Saint Louis Maries writings the explicit term "faithfulness" is not used in connection with God, it is implied throughout his works and most especially in relation to Mary: "Because God has decided to begin and accomplish His greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since He created her, we can safely believe that He will not change His plan in the time to come, for He is God and therefore does not change in His thoughts or His way of acting" (TD 15).
"A God of faithfulness" (Deut 32:4). Over and over again the Bible calls God faithful; without number are the proofs of His faithfulness. He cannot be unfaithful without denying His very nature. All His attributes converge in this faithfulness by the very reason of His simplicity.
God cannot make a promise and then not keep it. Gods faithfulness, then, is the foundation of our hope. "I draw all my riches / From a God full of truth / Faithful to all His promises / In time and in eternity" (H 7:3). Montfort repeats the thought of Hosea: "I will betroth you to me in faithfulness" (Hos 2:21).
II. THE PATH FROM INFIDELITY TO FAITHFULNESS
Montfort is vitally interested in the Christians transition from infidelity to faithfulness. The knowledge he had of human beings and his vocation as an itinerant preacher permitted him to draw a realistic portrait of human infidelity, the terminus a quo of the journey into the faithfulness of God.
1. Our essential infidelity
The third of the basic truths of devotion to the Blessed Virgin is set forth in this way: "The sin of Adam has almost entirely spoiled and soured us, filling us with pride and corrupting every one of us, just as leaven sours, swells and corrupts the dough in which it is placed. The actual sins we have committed, whether mortal or venial, even though forgiven, have intensified our base desires, our weakness, our inconsistency and our evil tendencies, and have left a sediment of evil in our soul" (TD 79). In speaking thus of weakness and inconsistency, Montfort shows how our frail faithfulness actually is making it very difficult "to keep the graces and treasures we have received from God. We carry this treasure, which is worth more than heaven and earth, in fragile vessels [2 Cor 4:7], that is, in a corruptible body and in a weak and wavering soul which requires very little to depress and disturb it" (TD 87). For all these reasons, "it is difficult to persevere in holiness" (TD 89). This is why devotion to Mary is a safeguard against this weakness and inconstancy, provided we meet all the conditions of genuine devotion. For, being devout "in fits and starts" means joining the number of those fake devotees unworthy of being counted "among the servants of the Virgin most faithful, because faithfulness and constancy are the hallmarks of Marys servants" (TD 101).
2. What Montfort requires
What is required is contained in a very tightly knit passage: "As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all Gods creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to Him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus" (TD 120). There are three main conclusions that can be deduced from this statement.
a. Baptismal promises.
The whole Christian life is built on this initial, fundamental act, which St. Justin calls a "bath of conversion," in which sinful man encounters Christ his Savior, who meets him with the power of his Resurrection, possessing him irrevocably. The baptized person must be faithful to this first Consecration and its constant deepening and maturing. As a practical preacher, Montfort asks himself: "Does anyone keep this great vow? Does anyone fulfill the promises of baptism faithfully? Is it not true that nearly all Christians prove unfaithful to the promises made to Jesus in baptism? Where does this universal failure come from, if not from mans habitual forgetfulness of the promises and responsibilities of baptism and from the fact that scarcely anyone makes a personal ratification of the contract made with God through his sponsors?" (TD 127). The enlightened zeal of the missionary touches on an essential point of every Christian renewal. It will be a new start based on the very foundations of the faith and the most authentic tradition, "since the Councils, the Fathers of the Church, and many authors both past and present, speak of consecration to Our Lord or renewal of baptismal vows as something going back to ancient times and recommended to all the faithful" (TD 131). When faced with this infidelity, the formula of his "consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Wisdom, through the hands of Mary" explicitly leads to: "I, an unfaithful sinner, renew and ratify today through you my baptismal promises. I renounce forever Satan, his empty promises, and his evil designs, and I give myself completely to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Wisdom" (LEW 225).
b. Mary, the path of faithfulness.
Giving oneself to the Blessed Virgin has for its purpose a greater faithfulness to the Lord. "The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus." (TD 120) Marian devotion taught by Montfort consists, then, "in giving oneself entirely to Mary in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her" (TD 121). Among the numerous reasons he mentions for consecrating oneself to Jesus Christ through Mary, the eighth and last is that it "is a wonderful means of persevering in the practice of virtue and of remaining steadfast." Referring to what was said about Marys faithfulness to her servants by watching over what they entrusted to her, Montfort repeats: "By this devotion we entrust all we possess to Mary, the faithful Virgin. We choose her as the guardian of all our possessions in the natural and supernatural sphere. We trust her because she is faithful, we rely on her strength, we count on her mercy and charity to preserve and increase our virtues and merits in spite of the efforts of the devil, the world, and the flesh to rob us of them" (TD 173). In a long hymn describing the moral code "of a man converted in a mission" and the mans everyday new life and social relationships, the missionary has his convert sing: "I am a devotee of Mary, / She is my help and my support, / She is the glory of my life, / After God she is all I possess. / So I may be faithful to God, / I make everything depend on her" (H 139:60). He often repeats this same thought: devotion to Mary assures fidelity to God. "If someone wishes to be faithful, / Let him come to the Mother of gifts" (H 151:1); "Mary is my good Mother, / To whom I always run for help, / To support my wretchedness, / To placate God my Father, / It is through her that I hope / Ever to persevere" (H 94:9).
c. The life of a consecrated person.
Our Lady is the one who makes us faithful to our perfect baptismal Consecration. We need not always look for the terms "faithfulness" and "perseverance" themselves. "Let us, so to speak, bring Mary into our abode by consecrating ourselves unreservedly to her as servants and slaves. Let us surrender into her hands all we possess, even what we value most highly, keeping nothing for ourselves. This good Mistress . . . will give herself to us in a real but indefinable manner" (LEW 211). Marys devotee has nothing to fear. "Mary is faithful: she will not permit anything we give her to be lost or wasted. She stands alone as the Virgin most faithful to God and to man. She faithfully guarded and kept all that God entrusted to her, never allowing the least bit to be lost; and she still keeps watch every day, with a special care, over all those who have placed themselves entirely under her protection and guidance. Let us, then, confide everything to the faithful Virgin Mary, binding ourselves to her as to a pillar that cannot be moved, as to an anchor that cannot slip, or better still, as to Mount Zion which cannot be shaken" (LEW 222). To show this faithfulness of Mary, Montfort turns to biblical images in which Gods faithfulness is symbolized, like Mount Zion, and "the rock" (Ps 92:15). The true devotee of Mary is identical with the devout faithful Christian. The terms are interchangeable.
The life of a consecrated person is fidelity. Consecration is the absolute gift that goes as far as the Cross. It must not be forgotten that in the very act of Consecration, the one who hands himself over to Jesus through Mary includes the Cross: "to follow Him by carrying my cross and to be more faithful to Him than I have been up to this point."
III. Mary, Faithful Virgin
The basis of Marys faithfulness is her sharing in the life of God. While He is faithful by nature, Mary, as a creature, can only be so by grace. God made her so perfectly in His image that she shares in His faithfulness. Montfort points this out in an expression that may never have been heard with this meaning but which states the idea very well, "Mary is the wonderful echo of God" (SM 21), or in a even more admirable way: "Mary is entirely relative to God. Indeed I would say that she is relative only to God, because she exists uniquely in reference to Him. She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God" (TD 225).
1. Faithfulness to God
In a sentence that in principle contains all the further developments that he will add about Marys faithfulness to God, Montfort studies the initial period of her life up to the Incarnation: "During the first fourteen years of her life the most holy Virgin Mary grew so marvelously in the grace and wisdom of God and responded so faithfully to His love that the angels and even God Himself were filled with rapturous admiration for her" (LEW 107). As the Immaculate Conception, faithfulness is a constituent element of her personality. Not only do we say Mary is virginal but we call her the Virgin or the Blessed Virgin, a personification of this quality to a unique degree. We are also prompted to say that Mary is not only faithful, but the faithful one, just as we say of Christ, "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness" (Rev 1:5), using the word not only as a designation but also as a personification of the name: "Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! its rider is called Faithful and True" (Rev 19:11). Montfort develops this idea of faithfulness by introducing into it the notion of "deposit" in order to illustrate its application. This deposit is a contract entered into by two physical or moral persons. One, the deponent, entrusts to the second, a faithful guardian or agent, something that he must watch over and give back on demand. God does not entrust Mary with a deposit because she is faithful. He makes her faithful in order for her to keep His deposit. It is in this sense that we should understand Montforts assertion "It is impossible on the one hand to put into words the gifts with which the Blessed Trinity endowed this most fair creature, or on the other hand to describe the faithful care with which she corresponded to the graces of her Creator" (LEW 105).
a. Complete obedience.
This response is an obedience to the will of God. It is the meaning of the faithful servant found in many Scripture passages. In the parable of the talents (Mt 25:20-29), the servants are praised for their faithfulness and not for what their faithfulness produced. Without further specifying her faithfulness, Montfort calls Mary many times "the faithful spouse" in speaking of her relationship to the Holy Spirit (TD 4, 5, 34, 36, 164, 269). In TD 53 she is called "perfectly faithful to God."
b. Motivated by love.
Faithfulness is quite different from merely doing what has to be done along the lines of a scrupulous personal accounting. It is, rather, a flowering of charity that from the outset knows no limits. It is the Beatitudes insatiable hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is called generosity and magnanimity, and according to St. Thomas it "tends to a certain excellence."3 Just as, by definition, virtue always consists of something difficult, that excellence which is the property of magnanimity aims at things that are still more difficult. Persevering in these endeavors brings the virtue of fortitude particularly to the fore.4 In the Annunciations fiat, the fullness of the gift of self and the commitment to the divine will were already present. As Vatican II states: "By full-heartedly espousing the divine will of salvation without any sin holding her back, Mary handed herself over completely, as the handmaid of the Lord, to the person and the work of her Son" (LG 56).
2. Marys faithfulness toward her servants
It is especially with her servants that Montfort develops the theme of the many-sided faithfulness of Mary. He sums it up in this prayer of praise: "Advocate ever near us in life and in death, we praise you" (MP 12). It is an echo of the Hail Mary: "Pray for us now and at the hour of our death." Vatican II expresses the same idea when it says that the motherhood of Mary "continues without interruption until the final consummation of all the elect. . . . Her motherly love makes her attentive to the brothers of her Son whose pilgrimage is not yet over . . . until they reach the homeland of the blest. This is why the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of advocate, helper, mediatrix" (LG 62). We find the same ideas and words in Montfort: "They will experience her motherly kindness and affection for her children. They will love her tenderly and will appreciate how full of compassion she is and how much they stand in need of her help. In all circumstances they will have recourse to her as their advocate and mediatrix" (TD 55). The term "mediatrix," and not only the description of her mediation, occurs often, for example in MP 11, LEW 223, and TD 86.
a. Safeguarding the deposit.
The total Consecration of oneself is likened to a deposit entrusted to Mary. "In adopting this devotion, we put our graces, merits and virtues into safe keeping by making Mary the depository of them. It is as if we said to her, See, my dear Mother, here is the good that I have done through the grace of your dear Son. I am not capable of keeping it. . . . But, most powerful Queen, . . . keep a guard on all my possessions lest I be robbed of them. I entrust all I have to you, for I know who you are, and that is why I confide myself to you. You are faithful to God and man" (SM 40). The same idea appears in a different form in TD 87, where Montfort shows that, given our weakness and frailty, it is very hard for us to keep the treasures received from God; and as for those who have trusted only in themselves: "If they had only known of the wonderful devotion that I shall later explain, they would have entrusted their treasure to Mary, the powerful and faithful Virgin. She would have kept it for them as if it were her own possession and even have considered that trust an obligation of justice" (TD 88).
b. Always ready to help.
Mary is not merely an occasional help, in times of calamities and extremes. Her aid is constant, like that of a mother, and even more so, for her children and their needs could never escape either her attention or her capabilities. In a paraphrase of the second part of the Hail Mary, Montfort sings: "You are our Mother, / O worthy Mother of God, / Help our wretchedness / At all times and everywhere, / Pray for us, sinners. / Hide us under your wing, / Be now our support, / Give us a good death, / And everlasting glory" (H 109:40). And in his "New Song of Our Lady of Gifts": "Mary possesses in her domain, / The fullness of all goods. / Near to her we have no cares, / Fellow Christians, / She overflows with good / For her own" (H 151:3).Everything comes through her hands: "She is the Mother of grace, / She is its wondrous channel, / It is through her that all good comes, / here on earth, / That everything ascends and returns / To paradise" (H 151:4). And then: "In her we find all things, / Possessions, pleasures, honors and good health. / all these things for God alone she bestows / With kindness. / Upon her care the universe relies, / in truth" (H 151:5). The couplets that follow enumerate the petitions of certain kinds of devotees: the vine grower, that his vine abound in grapes, the plowman for his fields, the afflicted, the needy. "You will receive her assistance / Through your petitions, / Or else the gift of patience. / One or the other" (H 151:8). The devotee of Mary can in all confidence speak to her: "In your bounty / Comfort me in my wretchedness. / In your bounty, / Give me long-suffering or good health. / In you alone do I hope, / Show me that you are my Mother, 5 / In your bounty" (H 145:4).
c. Unceasing presence.
Marys presence can be looked at from two points of view: either from that of Mary herself, or from that of her devotee. That Mary is present to her children means that no one escapes her constant motherly attention. Some find this truth hard to grasp because they liken the role of Mary to that of an earthly mother who cannot follow her children about or cater to all their needs. A moment of distraction is enough for a baby to be in danger on the edge of a swimming pool or in the street. But Marys mode of knowledge is that of the elect in heaven. In the contemplation of the Divine Essence, they know everything that concerns them in accordance with the degree of perfection proper to each one.6 Now Mary, mother of all the redeemed, knows the needs of all her children. Mary is present to us in this sense, and we are present to her even before we bring her our prayers and our wants. "For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Mt 6,8). There is no passage in his work where Montfort shows this motherly presence better than in TD 201 to 213, when he explains "the services which the Virgin Mary . . . lovingly renders to her loyal servants" (TD 201). "She loves them tenderly, more tenderly than all the mothers in the world together. . . . She loves them not only affectively but effectively, that is, her love is active and productive of good" (TD 202). Paraphrasing the story of Rebecca and Jacob, he multiplies the ever watchful attentions of Mary. "Like Rebecca she looks out for favorable opportunities to promote their interests, to ennoble and enrich them." And he gives the theological reason mentioned above: "Since she sees clearly in God all that is good and all that is evil; fortunate and unfortunate events; the blessings and condemnations of God. She arranges things in advance so as to divert evils from her servants and put them in the way of abundant blessings. If there is any special benefit to be gained in Gods sight by the faithful discharge of an important work, Mary will certainly obtain this opportunity for a beloved child and servant and at the same time, give him the grace to persevere in it to the end" (TD 203).
But Marys presence still has a subjective sense. It is the devotees awareness and acceptance of Marys action in him. Montfort writes of the hardships presented by the spiritual life: "It is true that on our way we have hard battles to fight and serious obstacles to overcome, but Mary, our Mother and Queen, stays close to her faithful servants. She is always at hand to brighten their darkness, clear away their doubts, strengthen them in their fears, sustain them in their combats and trials. Truly, in comparison with other ways, this virginal road to Jesus is a path of roses and sweet delights" (TD 152). Marys faithful presence will be the strength of the apostles of the end times, who "will be the most assiduous in praying to the most Blessed Virgin, looking up to her as their perfect model to imitate and as a powerful helper to assist them" (TD 46). This presence of Mary can attain a mystical degree. "Should you not savor immediately the sweet presence of the Blessed Virgin within you, take great care not to torment yourself. For this is a grace not given to everyone, and even when God in His great mercy favors a soul with this grace, it remains none the less very easy to lose it, except when the soul has become permanently aware of it through the habit of recollection" (SM 52).
IV. CURRENT RELEVANCE
1. Faithfulness in crisis
All agree in admitting that todays world is going through a crisis of fidelity.7 The most sacred commitments, like priesthood and especially marriage, have experienced massive infidelity. Common-law unions, even if they are sometimes lasting, are on the increase out of fear of a stable commitment. Because faithfulness is excluded from the outset, they are merely an open door to camouflaged infidelity. Today an aberrant definition of faithfulness is prevalent: "faithfulness to oneself," which is strangely thought to justify all sorts of deviations of thought and behavior. Such an attitude forgets that faithfulness also carries with it an altruistic relationship with a "Thou," a very noble value that imposes the moral obligation of keeping ones promises.
Still more serious is the fact that infidelity can be seen in basic values that up to now had always been considered to be beyond question. This is not only happening on the social level but even in the realm of the faith. The profound reason for infidelity is clearly a crisis of faith. When faith disintegrates and becomes ephemeral, it no longer has sufficient dynamism to motivate faithfulness. Conscience has reached a state of vagueness and indifference, and makes choices in opposition to the faith. The language of faith is eroded, piety disappears, devotions are relegated to the archival dust heap. Mary no longer has her place. She is dragged into the global process of the de-christianization of our age, where a twofold phenomenon is being manifested.8 On the one hand, acedia, which is the lack of interest in the spiritual when faced with the appeal of the new values of science and technology; and on the other, anomia which is the rejection of established laws and systems, where each person looks for an absolute autonomy of thought and social behavior.
2. The path of faithfulness put forward by Montfort
It is as a realist, and without any pessimism, that Montfort treats of faithfulness. What he requires of a person who wishes truly to live his Marian devotion is motivated by his human and pastoral experience, which is never content with superficial enthusiasm. "It is not enough to give ourselves just once as a slave to Jesus through Mary; nor is it enough to renew that consecration once a month or once a week. That alone would make it just a passing devotion," hence one that is unfaithful. It is not only repetitive acts that must be performed. A spirit has to be created. "The chief difficulty is to enter into its spirit, which requires an interior dependence on Mary, and effectively becoming her slave and the slave of Jesus through her." As an experienced spiritual director, he is well acquainted with the spiritual life and its frailties. "I have met many people who with admirable zeal have set about practicing exteriorly this holy slavery of Jesus and Mary, but I have met only a few who have caught its interior spirit, and fewer still who have persevered in it" (SM 44).
H. M. Guindon
Notes: (1) E. Partridge, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Greenwich House, New York 1983. (2) M. Gourgues, Le défi de la fidélité (The Challenge of Fidelity), Coll. Lire la Bible 40, Cerf, Paris 1985, 11-12. (3) St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae 2-2, q. 129, a. 4 ad 2. (4) Ibid., a. 5 c. (5) From the "Hail O Star of Ocean": "Show Thyself a Mother." (6) St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae 1, q. 12, a. 6 c. (7) It is shocking to read that "we must not be in too much of a hurry . . . to complain today about a crisis of faithfulness. For example, it is quite easy to juggle the most alarming statistics on the rate of divorce and separation. But should we not be careful about idealizing the past as the lost age of faithfulness? We know quite well that external fidelity can be deceiving. For example, was there always faithfulness in marriage in those days when the social climate hardly allowed acting in any other way? . . . May we not think that at this moment faithfulness not without great pain and difficulty, it is true is in the process of changing its appearance by doing itself over on the basis of personal options and convictions?" (M. Gourgues, Le défi, 12) (8) Cf. R. Faricy, Lanomie et la Croix (Anomy and the Cross), in LIndifférence religieuse (Religious Indifference), Coll. Le point théologique 41, Beauchesne, Paris 1983, 250.
Taken from: Jesus Living in
Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.
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