Tuesday, July 26, 2016

33 Days: Day 13

To Be an Instrument — Rather, to be Instruments

Again, St. Maximilian didn’t just want to ask for graces from the Immaculata. He wanted to be the graces of the Immaculata. He didn’t just want to do the will of the Immaculata. He wanted to be the will of the Immaculata. Wait, be the graces and the will of the Immaculata? Isn’t this a bit too much? Not according to Kolbe’s reasoning. He figured, “Well, if people can give themselves over to Satan to be possessed by him and be his instruments of evil, why can’t people give themselves over to God to be possessed by him and be his instruments of love?” He further reasoned that, more than anyone, the Immaculata is “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, so why not ask to be “possessed” by her so as to be perfectly united to God’s will? In other words, it wasn’t enough for him just to be Mary’s “slave,” as St. Louis de Montfort often put it. He wanted something deeper. He wanted to be an instrumentin the hands of the Immaculata. To be an instrument in the hands of the Immaculata. This is the central idea to Kolbe’s whole vision of Marian consecration. Thus, he writes it directly into his prayer of consecration, “Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands.” To what purpose? The conversion of the entire world. Come on. Kolbe is getting a little carried away, right? I mean, what can one man do? But this gets to his main point, his master strategy. His own piece wasn’t the only part of his master plan. In fact, he wanted to raise up a whole army of fighting knights and soldiers who give themselves to be instruments in the grace-filled hands of the Immaculata. He wanted to build a “Militia Immaculata,” which he describes as follows:

The Knights of the Immaculata seek to become ever more truly the property of the Immaculata; to belong to her in an ever more perfect way and under every aspect without any exception. They wish to develop their understanding of what it means to belong to her so that they may enlighten, reinvigorate, and set on fire the souls living in their own environment, and make them similar to themselves. They desire to conquer these souls for the Immaculata, so that in their turn they may belong to her without reserve and may in this manner win an ever greater number of souls to her — may win the entire world, in fact, and do so in the shortest possible time.

What genius! Notice the brilliant logic that undergirds Kolbe’s whole strategy: If we really love God, if we truly long to work for his kingdom, then we should find the quickest and easiest way to become saints, and thereby return to him. Now, the quickest and easiest way to do this — as we learned from de Montfort — is through Marian consecration. Yet Kolbe takes it further: He didn’t just stop with himself. He didn’t keep the great saint-making secret to himself. Look at it this way: What’s better, one saint or two? A thousand saints or a million? Think of what a million saints fully consecrated to Mary could do. Imagine if Mary had a million instruments through whom she could fulfill the perfect will of God. It’s an amazing thought. So, Kolbe exclaims, “Teach others this way! Conquer more souls for the Immaculata!” If this is the quickest, easiest way to become a saint, then it’s also the quickest, easiest way to conquer the whole world for Christ, if only we teach others about it. So, Kolbe says, “Let’s get to work!” Yes, let’s begin by learning to live this consecration ourselves, and then bring others into it. Okay, so first things first. We need to learn to live this consecration to the Immaculata. We need to “belong to her in an ever more perfect way.” How do we do this? Simple. We learn to love the Immaculata. How? By relying on her powerful intercession, experiencing her tender care, speaking to her from our hearts, letting ourselves be led by her, having recourse to her in all things, and trusting her completely. Yes, we should especially trust in the Immaculata and be happy in her. We should follow the example of Kolbe, related to us by one of his religious brothers:
When things … were going well, he rejoiced with all his heart with everyone and fervently thanked the Immaculata for the graces received through her intercession. When things went badly he was still happy and used to say, “Why should we be sad? Doesn’t the Immaculata, our little mother, know everything that’s going on?”
Tomorrow, we’ll learn more about Kolbe’s form of consecration to “our little mother.” Today, let’s end by reflecting on his words: “My dear, dear brothers, our dear little, littlemother, the Immaculate Mary, can do anything for us. We are her children. Turn to her. She will overcome everything.”50

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Prepare me to be a fit instrument in the hands of the Immaculata. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

33 Days: Day 12

Who Are You, O Holy Saints of God?

Saint Maximilian used to give spiritual conferences to the new men in his religious community, the novices. One day, he taught them a lesson they would never forget: “How to become a Saint.” The future saint began by telling his listeners that sanctity isn’t so hard. It’s the result of a simple equation, which he wrote on the blackboard: “W + w = S.” The capital W stands for God’s Will. The small w stands for our wills. When the two wills are united, they equal Sanctity. This lesson wasn’t just for the novices. Kolbe repeated it over and over, in different ways, to his whole community. In Poland, Kolbe had founded the world’s largest Franciscan monastery, which he named Niepokolanow (“City of the Immaculate”), and he continually urged the more than 600  friars there to become soldier saints for God under the generalship of Mary Immaculate. Why under Mary Immaculate? Because, among creatures, she alone does the will of God perfectly. Therefore,when our wills are united with hers, they’re necessarily united to God’s will. Here are just two of the countless examples of how Kolbe would make this most important point:

Let us pray much that we would understand more and more what the Immaculata said at the Annunciation: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me [fiat mihi] according to your word.” As God wills, so be it. In this thought, all happiness is contained, already here on earth, all destiny fulfilled. … Let us beg our Blessed Mother that she might teach us how our soul might be a “handservant” of the Lord, as was her own. God did not reveal Himself directly to the Mother of God, but rather through a messenger. We too have divine messengers. … Let us pray that we would know how to say to every one of these messengers: God’s will be done. And in this is everything that we are placed upon this earth to learn.

To be one in will with Mary of the greatfiat, the only human being whose will has never deviated by her choice from God’s, is to be perfectly united to the will of God. And it is this alignment of your will with his that is the pressing business of your life.42
Doing God’s will is not easy — unless we have the Immaculata’s help, “Through the Immaculata we can become great saints, and what is more, in an easy way.” Becoming a saint was Kolbe’s number one goal. Literally. In his retreat notes before his ordination to the priesthood, he made a list of his spiritual goals. The first goal reads, “I wish to be a saint and a great saint.” He knew the Immaculata would help him and even make the path to great sanctity an easy one. How does Mary make sanctity easy? We read many reasons for this last week, during our closing reflection on St. Louis de Montfort’s teaching. But Kolbe emphasized another reason why Mary makes sanctity easy. It has to do with her being the Mediatrix of all grace, an idea he expresses in his formula for Marian consecration, “God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to [Mary].” It’s God’s will that she distribute his graces. Why? Because it’s God’s will to unite himself to Mary by his Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit does not act except through the Immaculata, his spouse. Hence, she is the Mediatrix of all the graces of the Holy Spirit.” And hence, it’s “easy” to become holy when we stay close to and ask for graces from the one whose very job it is to distribute them for God. We can get a better idea of Mary as Mediatrix of grace if we look at her image on the miraculous medal, which comes to us through her apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré. Kolbe was deeply moved by this image, because it depicts Mary standing on a globe with rays of light (graces) streaming from the rings on her fingers. In one of the apparitions, Catherine noticed that rays did not stream from all of Mary’s rings. Mary explained that the rays and graces were available but did not come because nobody asked for them. Kolbe’s way is not just to ask for these graces but to allow Mary to take us completely into her hands, so as to make us channels of these very graces for the whole world. We’ll learn more about this way tomorrow.

Today’s prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Unite my will to the will of the Immaculata, which is one with your will.

33 Days: Day 11

The Immaculata Always Does God’s Will, Perfectly

Yesterday, we learned about the intimate union between the Holy Spirit and Mary, the uncreated and created Immaculate Conceptions. Now we may be thinking, “That’s nice, but what follows from it?” Here’s what follows: Mary does the will of God perfectly — and this is a big deal. Let’s take a step back and put this into context by looking at the big picture of reality. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, all of creation makes one big, circular movement from God and back to God,  referred to by theologians as “The Great Circle of Being.” Aquinas writes:

Issuing from the Primary Principle, creatures accomplish a sort of circuit, a gyratory movement, such that all things when they tend to their proper end are returning to the Principle whence they came forth. … We were created by the Son and by the Holy Spirit; and hence it is by them that we are brought back to our end.

Now, St. Maximilian Kolbe, being the good theologian that he was, describes this big picture structure of reality in a similar way. He begins by pointing to our own experience of the world:
Everywhere in this world we notice action … departure and return; going away and coming back; separation and reunion. The separation always looks forward to union, which is creative. All this is simply an image of the Blessed Trinity in the activity of creatures.38
What Kolbe describes here really is true. It’s the structure of the cosmos. Everything has come forth from God and is going back to God, more or less perfectly. This movement is sometimes called the great “Exit and Return.” Although Kolbe uses the term “separation” instead of “exit,” he’s got the same idea:

First, God creates the universe; that is something like a separation. Creatures, by following the natural law implanted in them by God, reach their perfection, become like him, and go back to him. Intelligent creatures [human beings] love him in a conscious manner; through this love they unite themselves more and more closely with him, and so find their way back to him.

Among all creatures in the universe, Kolbe believes that the Immaculata deserves special mention:

The creature most completely filled with this love, filled with God himself, was the Immaculata, who never contracted the slightest stain of sin, who never departed in the least from God’s will. United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature.

Let’s reflect for a moment on this vision of reality: First, everything going forth from God. Think of all creation. God speaks, and it goes forth from him. Then, plants and animals return to God by fulfilling their natures, by being what they were created to be. They do this without thinking or deliberating and with a sort of ease. It happens by a kind of instinctual autopilot. Human beings, on the other hand, are different. While there are times when we act by instinct, we also act in a way different from the animals. We act by reason and will, and we’re conscious as we do so, present to ourselves as we act. This is what it means to be made in the image of God: We can know God and love him. And whereas the animals do God’s will by instinct, we can do his will freely and consciously. The problem is, we abuse the freedom God gave us. We don’t always choose his will, and so we don’t return to him as we should. We sin. And if we sin gravely and don’t fully repent, then we don’t make it back to God. This is a great tragedy of human life. But thanks be to God! For he sent his only Son and the power of his Spirit to save us, to bring us back home to our Father in heaven. And thank God that after the fall of the human race, he made a creature who was conceived without sin and who is freely and perfectly conformed to his will, for she is perfectly united with the Holy Spirit. She helps us poor sinners along the way. She helps us to overcome the tragedy of sin. She leads us to do God’s will, return to God, and become saints. We’ll hear more about this tomorrow.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Renew the face of the earth, so that all creation may return to God

33 Days: Day 10

Who are you, O Immaculate Conception? (Part Two)

So the Holy Spirit is the uncreatedImmaculate Conception and Mary is the createdImmaculate Conception. Why not make it easier and just say that the Holy Spirit is the Immaculate Conception and Mary was immaculately conceived? Again, it’s all because of Lourdes. Blame St. Bernadette! In all seriousness, we should thank both St. Bernadette and St. Kolbe profusely, because their fidelity to grace is now opening up for us a glorious truth that undergirds the whole theology of Marian consecration. This truth has to do withthe union between the Holy Spirit and Mary. Kolbe explains this in a passage that is long and difficult but incredibly rich and deserving of deep  reflection:

What type of union is this [between the Holy Spirit and Mary]? It is above all an interior union, a union of her essence with the “essence” of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her. This was true from the first instant of her existence. It was always true; it will always be true. In what does this life of the Spirit in Mary consist? He himself is uncreated Love in her; the Love of the Father and of the Son, the Love by which God loves himself, the very love of the Most Holy Trinity. He is a fruitful Love, a “Conception.” Among creatures made in God’s image the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all (see Mt 19:6). In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity. This eternal “Immaculate Conception” (which is the Holy Spirit) produces in an immaculate manner divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the Immaculate Conception, the human Immaculate Conception. And the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives in time — because everything that is material occurs in time — the human life of the Man-God. … If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?

In light of this remarkable passage, I’d like to make three points. First, ponder it again, deeply and prayerfully. As you do, keep in mind that these are the parting words of one of the greatest Marian saints of all time, answering the very question to which he dedicated his life and energies. Second, if it seems that Kolbe has gone a bit overboard with this talk of Mary and her union with the Holy Spirit, don’t worry. Pope Paul VI went out of his way to reassure the faithful that Kolbe’s teaching is sound. Third, if you only get one point from this challenging passage, may it be this: Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. In fact, her union with the Holy Spirit is even deeper than what we understand by a spousal relationship. We’ll pick up this thread tomorrow.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Unveil for me the meaning of the Immaculate Conception.

33 Days: Day 9

Who are you, O Immaculate Conception? (Part One)

Yesterday, when I mentioned St. Maximilian’s arrest by the Gestapo, I left out a remarkable detail that will be important for today’s reflection: Two hours before his arrest, the future saint penned the single most important theological reflection of his life. It was nothing less thanthe answer that had eluded him for so many years, the answer to the question he had pondered over and over from the earliest days of his religious life: “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” In today’s reflection, we’ll begin to unpack this remarkable document, but before we do, let’s pause and say a silent prayer to the Immaculata, asking for the grace to receive Kolbe’s wisdom. The document begins as follows:
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. These words fell from the lips of the Immaculata herself. Hence, they must tell us in the most precise and essential manner who she really is. … Who then are you, O Immaculate Conception?

Good question, but still no answer. Later in the document, Kolbe points out a simple but key point: At the apparitions in Lourdes, Mary didn’t say to St. Bernadette “I was immaculately conceived” but rather “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This seems to be a problem. After all, Mary was immaculately conceived. In other words, through a special grace from God, she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without any stain of original sin by the foreseen merits of her Son.32 So why does she speak so strangely? Why does she make the grace she received at her conception her very name? Doesn’t this almost seem as if she were making herself divine? Clearly, Mary is not God. Kolbe wrestled with this apparent “divinity problem” for decades, and it led to the following solution. The Immaculate Conception is divine. But the one I’m talking about isn’t Mary. It’s the Holy Spirit. In other words, Kolbe believed there are two “Immaculate Conceptions”: Mary and the Holy Spirit. Mary is the created Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception.  In other words, before there was the created Immaculate  Conception (Mary), for all eternity there is the uncreated Immaculate Conception, the One who for all eternity “springs” from God the Father and God the Son as an uncreated conception of Love and who is the “prototype of all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe.” So, “the Father begets; the Son is begotten; the Spirit is the ‘conception’ that springs from their love.” Now, the Holy Spirit is a “conception” in the sense of being the Life and Love that springs from the love of the Father and the Son — in some analogous way, there’s the conception of children who “spring” from the love of husband and wife. The Holy Spirit is an “immaculate” conception because, being God, he is obviously without sin. And finally, the Holy Spirit is an “eternal, uncreated” conception because, again, he is God. Okay, so this covers Kolbe’s teaching that the Holy Spirit is the Immaculate Conception, but why does Mary call herself by the same name? We’ll leave this question for tomorrow.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Unveil for me the meaning of the Immaculate Conception.

33 Days: Day 8

Who are you, St. Maximilian Kolbe?

“Who are you, St. Maximilian Kolbe?” If we were to ask the saint this question in an interview, we might be disappointed, at least initially. With gentleness and humility, he would probably reply: “Now that question is not so important. What’s really important is this one: ‘Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?’” This answer shouldn’t disappoint us if our goal in the interview were to get to know St. Maximilian, for his answer actually tells us a lot about him. In fact, one great passion of his life was to come to know the mystery of Mary, particularly as she revealed herself to St. Bernadette of Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Why did she call herself “The Immaculate Conception?” Isn’t her name Mary? Tomorrow, we’ll begin to reflect on this intriguing mystery. Today, let’s see what, in our hypothetical interview, Kolbe wouldn’t have answered. Who is St. Maximilian Kolbe? He’s known by many titles: Martyr of Charity, The Saint of Auschwitz, Founder of the Militia Immaculata, Apostle of Mary, and Patron Saint of the 20th Century. But before all this, he was just Raymond,  Raymond Kolbe, who in 1894 was born into a poor, Polish farming family. And from the beginning, one wouldn’t have guessed he’d eventually be a great saint. In fact, one day, his mother was so frustrated with his behavior that she yelled at him in exasperation: “Raymond, what will become of you?!” This shook the boy to the core. Filled with grief, he immediately turned to the Mother of God, asking her, “What will become of me?” Then he went to a church and repeated his question. The future saint recounted what happened next:

Then the Virgin Mother appeared to me holding in her hands two crowns, one white and one red. She looked at me with love and she asked me if I would like to have them. The white meant that I would remain pure and red that I would be a martyr. I answered yes, I wanted them. Then the Virgin looked at me tenderly and disappeared.

The white crown of purity came first. Raymond confirmed himself in it when, as Brother Maximilian, he professed religious vows, one of which was chastity. But his purity was not just of the body. For there’s another kind of purity: purity of  intention. A person practices purity of intention when he directs his thoughts, words, and actions not to himself or another creature but to a divine purpose or mission, and ultimately to God. Perhaps because of his natural intensity and passion, Kolbe felt a particularly strong desire to give himself to a specific mission or goal. One of his classmates in the minor seminary relates, “He often said that he desired to consecrate his entire life to a great idea.” Kolbe’s “great idea” eventually crystallized into what he called the “Militia Immaculata,” which he started in 1917 with six of his fellow seminarians. The “M.I.,” as they called it, truly was a “great idea,” at least in the sense of its ambition. Its goal was nothing less than to bring the whole world to God through Christ under the generalship of Mary Immaculate, and to do so as quickly as possible. Fulfilling this mission through obedience to God’s will, in union with Mary Immaculate, was Kolbe’s entire concern — his pure intention — and he sacrificed everything for its accomplishment, which brings us to the red crown. In 1941, after decades of incredibly fruitful apostolic labors in Poland and Japan, Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Before his arrest, his brother Franciscans had pleaded with him to go into hiding. He said he was grateful for their loving hearts but couldn’t follow their advice. Later, he explained why, “I have a mission — the Immaculata has a mission to fulfill.” That mission was accomplished on the eve of the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, when, after having volunteered to take the place of a prisoner condemned to starvation, the impatient Nazis finished Kolbe off with a lethal injection. Thus, St. Maximilian died a martyr of charity and received his second crown from his Immaculata.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Make me pure in body and spirit and help me to die to myself. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

33 Days: Day 7

A Quick, Easy, and Secure Way to Holiness

For the last two days, we’ve learned about some beautiful benefits of being consecrated to Jesus through Mary, benefits both to ourselves and to those who are closest to us. Today, on this final day of meditation on the teaching of St. Louis, we’re going to focus on other benefits of Marian consecration. Specifically, we’re going to learn about how Marian consecration is a quick, easy, and secure way to holiness. As we read about this, we should keep in mind that the gift of these  benefits doesn’t entitle us to just kick back and take it easy. (This would be the self-love that St. Louis rebuked during  yesterday’s reading.) Rather, when we see God’s generosity in giving us such a great gift as Marian consecration, we should strive all the more ardently to live it out and grow in holiness. Let’s start with the quick and easy part: The way of consecration to Jesus through Mary is a quick and easy way to holiness. And what is holiness? Dying to self. And this definitely is not easy. Still, Marian consecration is a relatively quick and easy way along a path that by its very nature isn’t easy and often takes a long time. Saint Louis introduces this way as follows:
As there are secrets of nature by which natural operations are performed more easily, in a short time and at little cost, so also are there secrets in the order of grace by which supernatural operations, such as ridding ourselves of self, filling ourselves with God, and becoming perfect, are performed more easily.

So how do we follow this quick and easy way? By giving ourselves to Jesus through Mary. Mary leads us to Jesus and makes the road to holiness quick and easy, even though she doesn’t take away our crosses. In fact, those who are particularly beloved by Mary often have more crosses than others, but Mary makes the crosses sweet and light:
[I]t is quite true that the most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being also her greatest favorites, receive from her the greatest graces and favors of Heaven, which are crosses. But I maintain that it is also the servants of Mary who carry these crosses with more ease, more merit, and more glory. That which would stay the progress of another a thousand times over, or perhaps would make him fall, does not once stop their steps, but rather enables them to advance; because that good Mother, all full of grace and of the unction of the Holy Spirit, prepares her servants’ crosses with so much maternal sweetness and pure love as to make them gladly acceptable, no matter how bitter they may be in themselves; … [it’s] just as a person would not be able to eat unripe fruits without a great effort which he could hardly keep up, unless they had been preserved in sugar.
We make more progress in a brief period of  submission to and dependence on Mary than in whole years of following our own will and relying upon ourselves.
By this practice, faithfully observed, you will give Jesus more glory in a month than by any other practice, however difficult, in many years.

So, the way of Marian consecration truly is quick and easy, relatively speaking. As St. Louis says elsewhere, it’s like the difference between a sculptor who makes a statue through long weeks of hard labor, hammering away with a chisel and another artist who makes the same statue quickly and easily by using a mold. Mary is the mold that forms us most perfectly, quickly, and easily into other images of Christ. We’ll now close these reflections on the wonderful benefits of Marian consecration by letting St. Louis describe how this way is also a secure path, meaning that, as we walk it, we’re particularly protected from and defended against evil:
[Mary] puts herself around [her true children], and accompanies them “like an army in battle array” (Cant 6:3). Shall a man who has an army of a hundred thousand soldiers around him fear his enemies? A faithful servant of Mary, surrounded by her protection … has still less to fear. This good Mother … would rather dispatch battalions of millions of angels to assist one of her servants than that it should ever be said that a faithful servant of Mary, who trusted in her, had had to succumb to the malice, the number, and the vehemence of his enemies.27

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me to praise you for such a quick, easy, and secure path to holiness!

Monday, July 18, 2016

33 Days: Day 6

Should We Really Give Mary Everything? (Part Two)

Okay, so yesterday we looked at how, when we fully consecrate ourselves to Mary, we give up the right to distribute the grace of our prayers and merits to others. But we saw that it all works out even better in the end. Now, today, we turn to ourselves. Isn’t it crazy to give to Mary all the value of our good actions and prayers and so appear before God with empty hands? No, it’s not crazy. Remember, Mary is not outdone in generosity. If we give her all our merits, she’ll give us all of hers. And that’s a big deal. I once read a story about a saint on earth who had a vision of heaven. In her vision, she saw the saints in heaven and their different degrees of glory. With some saints, she was astonished because they had risen so high in glory as to be worshiping God with the Seraphim, the highest choir of angels. Another time, I read a passage in the Diary of St. Faustina in which Faustina had a similar vision of heaven. She related that if we were to see the differences among the degrees of glory in heaven, we would willingly suffer anything on earth just to move one degree higher.18  After reading these testimonies, I say to myself, “I not only want to go to heaven, but I want to reach the highest degree of glory in heaven that I possibly can.” There’s an easy way for us to do this: We give Mary everything. We rely not on our own merits but on hers. Saint Louis explains: The most holy Virgin … who never lets herself be outdone in love and liberality, seeing that we give ourselves entirely to her … meets us in the same spirit. She also gives her whole self, and gives it in an unspeakable manner, to him who gives all to her. She causes him to be engulfed in the abyss of her graces. She adorns him with her merits; she supports him with her power; she illuminates him with her light; she inflames him with her love; she communicates to him her virtues: her humility, her faith, her purity, and the rest. … In a word, as that consecrated person is all Mary’s, so Mary is all his.19
Now, despite these consoling words, one might still be troubled and say, “That’s great! I’m all for having a high degree of glory in heaven. But what I’m worried about is purgatory. I’m afraid that if I give away all my merits, even to Mary, then I’ll have to suffer in purgatory for a very long time.”

Saint Louis responds:
This objection, which comes from self-love and ignorance of the generosity of God and His holy Mother, refutes itself. A fervent and generous soul who gives God all he has, without reserve, so that he can do nothing more; who lives only for the glory and reign of Jesus Christ, through His holy Mother, and who makes an entire sacrifice of himself to bring it about — will this generous and liberal soul, I say, be more punished in the other world because it has been more liberal and more disinterested than others? Far, indeed, will that be from the truth! Rather, it is toward that soul … that Our Lord and His holy Mother are the most liberal in this world and in the other, in the orders of nature, grace, and glory

Okay, this settles it — and we get a gentle rebuke on top of it all. Saint Louis repeats the important point: Mary is not outdone in generosity! If we are especially generous with her, then she’ll be especially generous with us. And he makes another good point: the gentle rebuke. He says that these kinds of concerns come from self-love. So, yes, we should aim high. Yes, we should have holy ambition and want to reach the highest heights of holiness. But our motive should not be self-love; rather, it should be that we want to please God and give great glory to him. We should keep this important point in mind when, tomorrow, we read about some of the awesome benefits of being consecrated to Mary.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me to give great glory to God by giving all I am and have to Mary.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

33 Days: Day 5

Should We Really Give Mary Everything?  (Part One)

The second part of de Montfort’s formula of consecration says that we should give Mary everything, including “our interior and spiritual goods, which are our merits and our virtues, and our good works, past, present, and future.” Isn’t this a bit too much? No. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. Let’s see why by learning how the offering affects others and ourselves. In regard to others, when we fully consecrate ourselves to Mary, we lose the unconditional right to distribute the value of our prayers and good actions to others. In other words, we give the rights to the grace (merit) of our prayers to Mary. We’re telling her, “Mary, I give you the right to distribute the grace of my prayers as you see fit.” Making such a gift to Mary has a big benefit. It ensures that the grace of our prayers will be used in the best way possible. It works like this: Because of her unique vantage point from heaven, and on account of her most intimate communion with her Divine Son, Mary can best determine which people are most in need of our prayers. For instance, seeing some forgotten person in China about to die in despair, Mary can take the grace of our prayers (and “offered up” sufferings) and use it to help that dying person to trust in God and accept his mercy. Now, perhaps this idea has got some of us thinking:
Well, that’s great. I’m happy to help the dying person in China, whom I don’t know, but I’d be disappointed if I therefore couldn’t use the grace of my prayers and good works to help the people I do know, like my family and friends. I’m worried that if I give Mary the right to distribute the grace of my prayers and good works, then I thereby lose the right to pray for those whom I especially love, even if they’re less in need than other people in the world. This is a legitimate concern, but there’s no need to worry. Why? For two reasons: First, Mary makes the good things we give her more perfect.

In other words, she augments, increases, and purifies the spiritual gifts and merits we give her. When we give them to her, because she makes them more perfect, there’s more grace and merit to go around. St. Louis uses an unforgettable analogy to explain this:
It is as if a peasant, wishing to gain the friendship and benevolence of the king, went to the queen and presented her with a fruit which was his whole revenue, in order that she might present it to the king. The queen, having accepted the poor little offering from the peasant, would place the fruit on a large and beautiful dish of gold, and so, on the peasant’s behalf, would present it to the king. Then the fruit, however unworthy in itself to be a king’s present, would become worthy of his majesty because of the dish of gold on which it rested and the person who presented it.16

Here’s the second reason we shouldn’t worry: Mary is never outdone in generosity. So, if we’re so generous as to give her the right to distribute the grace of our prayers and good works, she’ll surely be especially generous to our loved ones. In fact, she’ll take even better care of our loved ones than we ourselves can. For instance, let’s say one of our family members or friends is in need of prayer, and we don’t know it. Well, Mary knows it, and she’ll make sure that that person doesn’t go without. Giving Mary the right to distribute the grace of our prayers and good works doesn’t mean we can’t still pray for our loved ones. We can and should pray for them. It’s just that we give Mary the final say in deciding to whom and for what purpose the grace of our prayers and good works should be applied. Remember, Mary is not outdone in generosity. She especially hears the prayers of those of us who have given her everything — including the value of all our good works — and she wants us to tell her of the people and intentions we hold in our hearts. If we’ve given her everything, is there any doubt that she’ll be generous in giving whatever good we ask for to those who are dear to us?17

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me be generous in giving all I am and have to Mary.

33 Days: Day 4

De Montfort’s Consecration (Part Two)

Yesterday, I said that St. Louis gives two special emphases in his teaching on Marian consecration: (1) a renewal of our baptismal vows and (2) a particularly intimate gift of ourselves to Mary. We covered the first emphasis yesterday. Now let’s look at the second, beginning by asking the question, “Why should we give ourselves to Mary?” We should give ourselves to Mary in imitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After all, didn’t Jesus give himself to Mary from the moment of the Incarnation? Yes, he did. And aren’t we called to imitate Christ? Yes, we are. But isn’t Mary a creature? Yes she is, but she’s unique. Not only is Mary free from sin and totally conformed to God’s will, but by God’s will and good pleasure — as we learned from the introduction — Mary has a special role in our sanctification. Therefore, we should give ourselves to the Mother of God, so she can help form us into saints, into other Christs. We should give her our yes. But St. Louis takes all of this a step further. His yes to Mary is particularly deep, a profoundly intimate gift of himself to Mary:
This devotion consists, then, in giving ourselves entirely to Our Lady, in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her. We must give her (1) our body, with all its senses and its members; (2) our soul, with all its powers; (3) our exterior goods of fortune, whether present or to come; (4) our interior and spiritual goods, which are our merits and our virtues, and our good works, past, present, and future.14
This fourth point is most interesting. By this aspect of our consecration to Mary — according to St. Louis — our gift of self to her goes even beyond what is required when people offer themselves to God through religious vows. For instance, by virtue of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, a religious sister does not give God the right to dispose of the grace of all her good works nor does she give up her merits. Allow me to bring into better focus just how radical a gift of oneself this Marian consecration really is. First, in regard to others, if we give Mary the right to dispose of the graces of our good works, then this means we cannot  unconditionally apply such graces to whomever we choose. So, for instance, if I make such an offering to Mary, I cannot insist that the graces from a sickness I am offering up go to the person I want them applied to. Second, in regard to ourselves, if we  consecrate ourselves to Mary, then when we die, we won’t get to appear before God clothed with the merits of our prayers and good works. In fact, we’ll have to appear before God with empty hands, because we will have given all our  merits to Mary. If the radical nature of this offering has got you worried, don’t be worried. Tomorrow, we’ll see why this offering is not to be feared, and in fact, why it’s incredibly beautiful and completely worth it. Until then, we can reflect on the second part of de Montfort’s formula for Marian consecration, which speaks of this intimate gift of ourselves to Mary:
In the presence of all the heavenly court, I choose you this day for my Mother and Queen. I deliver and consecrate to you, as your slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present, and future; leaving to you the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to your good pleasure, for the greater glory of God, in time and eternity.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me to give myself entirely to Jesus through Mary.

Friday, July 15, 2016

33 Days: Day 3

De Montfort’s Consecration (Part One)

sOkay, so on the first day of this week, we asked for a greater passion and zeal in making our preparation for consecration. Then, yesterday, we pondered the incredible influence that de Montfort’s brief life has had on the Church. The powerful testimony of authorities no less than Popes should have further fired our zeal and gotten us reflecting, “What is this amazingly influential teaching of a priest who only lived to be 43?” Of course, it’s his teaching on Marian consecration, but what exactly does this mean? Recall the summary of Marian consecration in the introduction to this retreat. There I presented consecration as our giving a “yes” to Mary, allowing her to fulfill in us her God-given task of  forming us into other Christs. And that’s all true. But there’s more. Saint Louis gives two key emphases in his teaching on  Marian consecration that expand what we’ve already read about it. These two emphases are (1) a renewal of our baptismal vows and (2) a particularly intimate gift of ourselves to Mary. Let’s look at each of these in turn (one today and one tomorrow). The day of our Baptism is the most significant in each of our lives. It’s when we poor, sinful creatures are not only cleansed of sin but also given the amazing dignity and honor of being transformed into sons and daughters of the almighty God. On that joyous occasion, before we received this amazing grace, we solemnly promised (or if we were infants, others promised in our name) to reject Satan, and then we (or others in our name) professed our faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Then, every Easter, we solemnly renew this promise and commitment. But do we keep it? Are we true to our word? No. We all sin. Sadly, we all give in to Satan’s “pomps and works” and reject Christ, at least in little ways. Why does this happen? The simple answer is original sin: We have a fallen nature and we’re prone to sin. That’s true, but St. Louis invites us to go deeper and examine our consciences. If we do, we’ll discover that a principal reason why we fall into sin is  because of forgetfulness, forgetfulness of our promise and commitment to Christ at Baptism. De Montfort suggests that if we were to personally and sincerely renew our baptismal vows and place them in the hands of Mary, then this act alone would go a long way in helping us overcome sin in our lives. Therefore, he makes such a renewal of vows an essential element of his prayer of consecration. In fact, in the very first paragraph of this prayer, he has us address Mary and pray to her as follows:
I, (name), a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before.
So, St. Louis has us attack sin right at its root — Satan and his pomps and works — has us recommit our lives to Christ, and has us do all of this with and through Mary. Why through Mary? Because God has put enmity between her and Satan (see Gen 3:15), and Satan can’t stand her. In fact, according to St. Louis, Satan fears her not only more than the angels and saints but, in a sense, even more than God himself! Why? Because, as he puts it, “Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the divine power.”13 So, de Montfort gives us a practical and effective way to overcome sin in our lives: formally renounce Satan and recommit ourselves to Christ, through Mary. We’ll hear more about Mary’s power over evil on the last day of this week. Tomorrow, we’ll reflect on the second  element of St. Louis’s consecration, the particularly intimate gift of ourselves to Mary. Today, let’s reflect on the promise we made at our  Baptism to reject Satan and to love and follow Christ.

Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Give me the grace to reject Satan and follow Christ more closely.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

33 Days: Day 2

St. Louis’s Influence on the Church
There’s a story from St. Louis de Montfort’s life that particularly expresses his passion, which we pondered just yesterday. In the town of Pontchâteau, St. Louis inspired the peasants to build a huge monument to the Passion of Christ on a neighboring hill. For 15 months, hundreds of peasants volunteered their skills and labor to build it. When completed, it stood as a massive structure, a real labor of love, and on the day before it was supposed to be dedicated by the bishop, word got back to Louis that his enemies had convinced the government to destroy it. (They had lied to the authorities, saying that the structure was actually meant to be a fortress against the government.) When Louis received this  disappointing news, he told the thousands of people who had gathered for the blessing ceremony, “We had hoped to build a Calvary here. Let us build it in our hearts. Blessed be God.”

One thing about doing the Lord’s work: It doesn’t always turn out according to our plans. For example, St. Louis surely had planned that his monument to Christ would last more than a day. Yet the saint obediently accepted the destruction of his plans and blessed God. Because of this kind of detachment from his own will and attachment to God’s, Louis became an instrument used by God to accomplish even mightier works. So, although his physical monument was destroyed, Louis’s teaching eventually became a huge edifice in the Church that exercised great influence on many Popes and on Catholic spirituality. Indeed, de Montfort’s passionate labors paid off in the end, even if he didn’t see the fruit himself. As we are just beginning our preparation for consecration to Jesus through Mary, let’s ponder some of the support various Popes have given to St. Louis’s teaching. May the testimony of their support strengthen our resolve to journey on to Consecration Day, and may it help us to trust that our consecration truly will bear great fruit in our lives, even if we don’t yet fully  understand how.

• Blessed Pope Pius IX(1846-1878) stated that St. Louis’s devotion to Mary is the best and most acceptable form.

• Pope Leo XIII(1878-1903) not only beatified de Montfort in 1888 but granted a Church indulgence to Catholics who consecrate themselves to Mary using de Montfort’s formula. Moreover, this Pope was reportedly so influenced by St. Louis’s efforts to spread the Rosary that he wrote 11  encyclicals on this preeminent Marian devotion.

• Saint Pope Pius X(1903-1914), like Leo XIII, also recommended de Montfort’s teaching on Mary to the faithful. In fact, he granted a plenary indulgence in perpetuum (in perpetuity) to anyone who would pray de Montfort’s formula for Marian consecration, and he offered his own apostolic blessing to anyone who would simply read True Devotion. This Pope so strongly encouraged the faithful to follow de Montfort’s path of Marian devotion because he himself had experienced its power. In fact, in his Marian encyclical Ad Diem Illum, the saintly Pope expressed his own dependence on de Montfort in writing it, which becomes obvious when one compares it with True Devotion. The Pope’s encyclical continually reflects the tone and spirit of de Montfort’s classic work as evidenced by sentences like this: “There is no surer or easier way than Mary in uniting all men with Christ.”

• Pope Pius XI(1922-1939) simply stated, “I have practiced this devotion ever since my youth.” • Venerable Pope Pius XII(1939-1958) canonized St. Louis in 1947 and, in his homily for the Mass of canonization, referred to de Montfort’s Marian teaching as “solid and right.” Then, when the Pope addressed the pilgrims who had come for the canonization, he said that de Montfort leads us to Mary and from Mary, to Jesus, thus summarizing the meaning of Marian consecration. • Saint Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) promoted de Montfort’s teaching more than any other Pope. We’ll learn more about this during the fourth week of the retreat. It’s enough here to recall two amazing facts: First, that John Paul’s papal motto was Totus Tuus (“totally yours”), which he took directly from de Montfort’s shorter prayer of consecration; second, that John Paul described his reading of True Devotion to Maryas a “decisive turning point” in his life. Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Prepare me to give myself fully to living out this true and solid devotion.

33 Days to Morning Glory

    We're starting on a journey together in a self-guided on-line retreat. The end result is to consecrate oneself to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. If you didn't make it to the kick-off meeting, I will be posting excerpts from the book here to help you follow along. There are study guides and videos on formed.org featuring Fr. Michael Gaitley. Good luck and God bless!


33 Days: Day 1

The Passionate Saint of Brittany
Take a look at a map of France. Now notice something about its shape. See how one part sticks way out almost as if it were running away from the rest of the landmass, ready to dive off into the Celtic Sea? That jutting arm in the northwest of the country is called “Brittany,” and that’s where St. Louis de Montfort grew up. There’s something special about Brittany that seems to have had an influence on St. Louis: its Celtic roots. Brittany is considered one of the six Celtic nations, meaning that the Celtic language and culture still survive. (So, scratch that part about Brittany being ready to dive into the Celtic Sea. It’s already in and swimming.) And one part of Celtic culture seems to have seeped deeply into the heart of St. Louis: the high-spiritedness of its warriors. From ancient times, Celtic warriors have struck terror in the hearts of their enemies. If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, you know what I mean. Think of the fearless figure of Sir William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) and his crazy crew of Scottish Highlanders who take on an English enemy many times their size. This shows something of the Celtic fighting spirit, but the real life version is even more intense. Often wearing nothing but blue battle paint, real Celtic warriors would work themselves into a blood-thirsty frenzy, rush into combat screaming their heads off, and wildly slash, bash, and slice away at their enemies with huge, two-handed swords. These fierce fighting men, despite their lack of discipline, armor, and order, were extremely effective in battle because of their unmatched passion and ferocity. Throughout history, nobody has wanted to mess with the crazy Celtic warriors. St. Louis’s dad, Jean Grignion, must have been descended from these wild-men warriors, for nobody wanted to mess with him either. In fact, he was known for having the most fiery temper in all of Brittany. As one author puts it, “He was a volcano frequently erupting.”9 St. Louis, on the other hand, was as gentle as a lamb, right? Wrong. He confessed that his temper was just as bad as his father’s. But Louis channeled his fiery passion not to threats and violence but to laboring for the greater Glory of God — well, except for the time he knocked out a couple of drunks who wouldn’t stop heckling him while he preached. We can get a better sense of Louis’s remarkable zeal if we reflect on his short but incredibly productive priestly life. When he died in 1716, St. Louis was just 43 years old, having been a priest for only 16 years. Tireless labors to bring souls to Jesus through Mary, especially by his preaching an endless succession of parish missions, brought about his early death. As if these life-sapping labors weren’t suffering enough, Louis had to bear vicious persecution from the clergy and Jansenist heretics,10 even to the point of being physically attacked and poisoned by them. Despite all this, our  indomitable warrior kept advancing on the battlefield, continuously preaching his trademark path to Jesus through Mary. In fact, when leaders in the Church in France thought they had put an end to his work, Louis walked the thousand-mile journey to Rome and asked the Pope for his wisdom and counsel. The Pope not only told him to go back to France and continue preaching but awarded him the title “Apostolic Missionary.” Obediently and joyfully, our saint returned to France where he continued to preach, write, and patiently bear his many sufferings out of love for Jesus, Mary, and souls. St. Louis’s passion and zeal lit a fire in a young Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II. A few years before his death, the Pope was able to realize a lifelong dream and visit de Montfort’s tomb. He said on that occasion, “I am happy to begin my pilgrimage in France under the sign of this great figure.
You know that I owe much to this saint, and to his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.”11 Now what about us? Do we have a fire in our hearts as we begin this retreat? We should. Or at least we should strive for it. Desire and generosity are key ingredients to making a successful retreat. May Mary intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit fill us with a passion to conscientiously make these days of retreat, despite any fatigue, distractions, or obstacles. And let’s remember that what we may have to endure in terms of the discipline of prayer is nothing compared to what St. Louis went through, and he’ll be interceding for us. Relying on his intercession and that of the Mother of God, let’s resolve right now to dedicate  ourselves to this retreat with the intensity and zeal of a Celtic  warrior — though without all the face-paint and screaming. Today’s Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, living in Mary. Help me to make this retreat with generosity and zeal.