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The Priest's Way To God

SINCE every priest is, by his office, a minister of grace, he cannot neglect devotion to our Lady, who is the Mediatrix of all graces. That alone would constitute a close relationship between the priest and our Lady. But the connection between them has an even wider foundation. Christ himself, whose priesthood we share, became a priest in the womb of his Mother. And the exercise of Christ’s priesthood is directed to incorporating every soul into his Mystical Body, and to nourishing and developing that Body. Pius X has made it quite clear that just as Mary is the Mother of Christ’s natural body, so too she is the Mother of his Mystical Body. Every priest, then, who works for the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ, is de facto working in partnership with Mary as well as with Christ. In fact, it is in a certain sense true that every priest shares in Mary’s mystical maternity of souls.

Our Lady’s part in the Sacrifice of Calvary is, of course, still a matter for theological discussion. That she took a considerable part in it is quite certain. Since our principal function as priests is to offer that sacrifice sacramentally in the Mass, Mary has for us no small significance. In fact, to cut short a discussion which could be prolonged at great length, we may state quite bluntly that no priest can do without Mary. He must have her help—and she certainly should have his devotion.

But even though she is so important for his work for other souls, yet Mary’s first importance is for his own soul. Her function is to form Christ in the souls of men. Since the priest must be another Christ, to whom then can he come with more assurance than to Mary? Our constant prayer to her should be that she would form Christ in us, and form us in Christ. This constant and confident recourse to Mary, in season and out of season, is the first element in sacerdotal devotion to Our Lady. Every ministerial work we do as priests is done to Christ: ‘Amen, I say to you, you did it to me.’

Matt. XXV, 40

And because Mary is the Mother of Christ, she must have her part in all we do. If we could only realize how eager Mary always is to do something for Christ in the souls to whom we minister, and if we could only understand the immense power she has in regard to grace, we would joyfully and confidently invoke her aid in every single work of our ministry—in the name of Christ. She in turn would develop that charity, which should be the characteristic virtue of the priesthood, until it resembled the charity which is a burning fire in her own immaculate heart.

But even in regard to our direct relationship with God himself, our Lady’s importance is tremendous. The truth is that the only adequate love and worship which God can receive is the love and worship given to him by a Divine Person—by Christ himself. No one appreciates this better than our Lady. No human being is so zealous for God’s glory or so eager to have him loved as he should be loved as is Mary. She knows that it is only by being united to Christ and being quickened by the Spirit of Christ that we can give God due honour and due love. She is the divinely chosen means used by the Holy Ghost in bringing forth Christ on earth. If we go to her in the name of God—for his honour and for his love—asking her to give us her Son so that we may love God and serve him as Christ wishes to love and serve him in and through us, she will undoubtedly hear our prayer and give us Christ himself unless we set up obstacles by our own self-love and self-will.

Prayer, then, is the first work of devotion to our Lady. What particular form this prayer takes is not so important. The Rosary, however, put before us by Canon Law and urged upon us by so many Papal documents, is an obvious choice and should, of course, be recited daily by every priest. But we would suggest adding to it some more personal and intimate prayer—a prayer made in our own words and in our own way—in order that we may develop intimacy and union with our Lady. Such a prayer, of course, need not be too long, but it cannot be too fervent. Some form of a daily ‘visit’ to our Lady should be a feature of our programme. It should be the intimate meeting of a son with his mother, in which sincere candour and loving confidence predominate. The less formal ‘prayers’ one says on such occasions the better. But the fundamental bond ought to be that love and interest in Christ which we should have in common with our Lady. The principle must never be forgotten that the foundation, the motive, the purpose and the mainspring of devotion to Mary is devotion to Christ. We may confidently assert that no one has ever practised true devotion to Mary without thereby gaining a great increase in devotion to Christ.

Prayer, however, is not enough. Devotion to our Lady should lead us to imitate her example and to follow her ideals. We can find a perfect summing-up of her mind and doctrine in the only recorded words she spoke to men: ‘Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.’

John II, 5

Obedience and abandonment to the will of God in all its manifestations are the keynotes of Mary’s life. Her Fiat at the Annunciation is only the summing-up of the entire consecration of herself to God and to his will which animated every moment of her life.

It is, perhaps, possible to find in this lesson of precept and example a deeper significance. Our Lady’s function is to incorporate us completely in Christ. Now this requires our co-operation. Once we have received the supernatural life of grace through the sacraments, the completeness of our incorporation in Christ depends on the degree of our submission to the will of God. Unlike the members of a human body, the members of the Mystical Body of Christ are masters of their own actions. In every action, we can decide to do our own will, and thus, despite the fundamental bond of incorporation into Christ, we for the moment live our own life, quite separate from the life Christ lives in his Mystical Body. In so far as we remove our actions from the influence of the Holy Ghost, who resembles the soul in the Mystical Body of Christ, we separate ourselves from Christ. Whereas when the Holy Ghost has complete control over all our actions, when, in fact, we are completely led by the will of God, we are living our full mystical life in Christ, no matter how prosaic or commonplace our actions may be—so long as they are the will of God. Christ came on earth to do the will of the Father, and wherever the will of the Father is being done, there Christ is doing it in partnership with the created agent. Mary’s exhortation to obedience thus lays down the principle of co-operation in the maternity of the Mystical Body. Christ himself told us that he who does the will of his Father in heaven is his mother.

Cf. Matt. XII, 50

By devoting ourselves to doing the will of God and accepting all its manifestations we are not merely imitating Mary, but we are co-operating in her work as mother of the Mystical Body of Christ in our own souls. It is extraordinary how true devotion to Mary always leads to devotion to Christ, to the Holy Spirit and finally to the Blessed Trinity.

But there are other outstanding virtues which characterized our Lady’s life and which call for our imitation. Her humility is one of her greatest glories. Her virginity made her body holy, but her humility gave her holiness of spirit. By her virginity she pleased God, but by her humility she drew God down to this earth. The whole Incarnation is characterized by humility. And it was by her humility that our Lady most closely corresponded to the dispositions of her Son in his Incarnation. Being his Mother, she had to resemble what he was to be. To be humble, one must accept the truth, especially the truth about oneself; one must adapt oneself willingly to things as they are; one must will what God has willed in the way which he has willed it. Our Lady ignored herself completely. She looked always to God, never worrying or even asking what effect she produced on others. She never compared or preferred herself to others. She avoided all singularity, all wish for distinction; she always showed candour, simplicity and perfect rectitude of intention. But if one may try to sum up her humility in a phrase, it is not enough to say that hers was a humility which ignored itself, or which kept silent, or which effaced itself; one must go further and describe it as the humility which completely forgets itself. There is ample field here in this matter for every priest to try to imitate Mary’s humility. It will be a life-long work, it will only be achieved completely by special graces, but it is what Mary, and not only Mary but Christ himself, has taught us in every moment of their lives.

There are, however, many degrees of devotion to our Lady. If we are asked to suggest some means of growing in this devotion we would put forward the following. First, we must study our Lady, and our own vocation in reference to our Lady. Secondly, we must continually pray for devotion to our Lady, begging especially the gift of a filial piety to her. Thirdly, we should endeavour to imitate her favourite virtues: in particular her charity, her humility, her simplicity, her spirit of faith and of prayer, her careful custody of her heart; but above all one must imitate her in her complete devotion to Jesus and to his interests. Fourthly, we should second her in her apostolate, acting as her junior partner, so to speak, working in dependence and reliance upon her who is so intimately connected with the work of our salvation. Fifthly, if one wishes to go further, there is the complete consecration of oneself to Mary. This is not a way which appeals to every one. It is, however, a short cut to sanctity. Associated with the name of St. Louis Grignon de Montfort who expounded the doctrine in his book True Devotion to Our Lady, it acquired a special significance when he was canonized. This consecration to our Lady consists in making over to her as completely as we can all that we have, all that we do, all that we are, all that we acquire, past, present, and future—in a word, in giving to her everything of which we have any power to dispose. We give Mary our body that it may be used in her service in activity or in suffering as she desires. We consequently accept all the dispositions of Providence in regard to health, strength, sickness, life or death, for the whole of our days on earth. We give Mary the right to dispose of us and of all our material possessions, relying on her maternal care to provide for us. But still more, we place all our faculties at Mary’s disposal for the service of her Son. We employ them for her and not for ourselves, and we commit the outcome of all our actions to her protection, accepting failure or success with prudent indifference. Our soul itself we give to her, with the Christ-life that Baptism has planted within us, relying on her to ensure its sanctification, its perseverance, its salvation and its ultimate union with God in heaven.

We go even further. All our prayers, and all the prayers that are said for us, even after death, are made over to her to apply according to her own intentions. The supernatural value of our works is included in our offering so that she can use their satisfactory and impetratory effect as she pleases; even our merits, in so far as they can be transferred, belong to her. We make no reserve; all that is in any way ours is hers to draw on and to use as she pleases. It is of capital importance to realize that all this consecration to our Lady is only a means—but to our mind the most efficacious means—to an end. The end of it all is that we may belong more securely and more completely to her Son Jesus Christ. He asked us to ‘abide’ in him. It is in order that we may abide in him that we give ourselves to Mary. We shall get some idea of the underlying purpose if we recall how our Lord’s Body was formed on earth. Until he was born every particle of his sacred Flesh and Blood was drawn from Mary. By taking the products of the earth in food and drink, Mary made them part of herself and thus they became part of our Lord. Even after the Nativity this process continued, for in the beginning he was nourished by our Lady herself, and then by the work of her hands when she prepared his food. Now there is an analogous pattern in the formation of the Mystical Body of Christ, for this Body is formed by the mediation of Mary. The more, therefore, we give ourself to Mary, the more certainly and the more completely are we given by her to Christ.

It must be remembered that this devotion is no passing act; it is a life-long policy, an habitual attitude of mind, a continued turning of the heart. It needs frequent renewal, but often a smile or a glance towards our Lady is all that is necessary. It is not a devotion to be adopted without deliberation and reflection. Those who wish to find a more detailed account of it should read the two small works of St. Louis Grignon de Montfort. Tanquerey sums up the devotion in each of his two books, The Spiritual Life and Doctrine and Devotion. Once this offering has been made, we should be docile to all Mary’s directions, and in the matter of our own spiritual advance, we should let her form us in sanctity and guide our apostolate. In everything, spiritual and temporal, we should live in confident dependence on Mary’s care, seeing in everything that happens her arrangement.

If our devotion to her is sincere and generous, we shall be amazed at her solicitude for us. First of all, we shall find an extraordinary peace in our own souls. We are in Mary’s hands, and she can and will look after us much better than we can ourselves. Then our work is under her protection and guidance. No matter what help we need, no matter what special grace is required to achieve God’s purpose, we are sure that Mary’s all-powerful intercession will obtain it. Every priest knows the numerous little things—meetings, books, words, ideas—resulting apparently from chance, which play so great a part in the apostolate. Once we have put Mary in charge of our lives, these things begin to multiply in an amazing manner, so that Mary’s intervention is almost palpable. The more generous we are with Mary, the more munificent she will be with us.

No one need think that such devotion to our Lady will interfere with our direct approach to Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary. Union with our Lady gives us a new confidence and assurance in approaching our Lord. Our sins no longer lessen our spontaneity of approach, for our consciousness of Mary’s support removes our diffidence. And this approach to Christ in union with our Lady prepares us for the still more important approach with Christ to God. She thus trains us in the essential lesson of Christianity. In fact we can even go to our Lady in the name of Christ, reminding her that what she does for us is done for Christ so that we are giving her new opportunities of doing something for her beloved Son. We can even plead our defects and our demerits in our favour, by reminding her that she never had to overcome repugnance in loving and serving Jesus in himself, whereas in loving and serving him in us who are sinners, she can show her love for him in a new way. Or we can approach Christ directly and offer him an opportunity of showing his love for his mother, because, since we are completely hers, anything he does for us is ultimately done for her.

The consciousness that Mary can apply the fruits of our work can give us a new assurance in our apostolate. With the best will in the world we can never of ourselves know where our forces can be best employed for the glory of God. Even within the limits laid down by obedience, there is always room for individual choice of effort and emphasis. If all is given to Mary, we know that she will apply the results of our efforts just exactly at the particular point where they are most needed. Here let us remind the reader that there is a double effect of the actions of our apostolate. One is the immediate and what we might somewhat inaccurately call the ‘natural’ effect of our efforts. For example, the effect of a sermon should be some result in the minds and hearts of our hearers. But there is another effect, a deeper and more supernatural one. If it is our duty to preach, then it is God’s will, and we can approach our sermon as an act of loving submission to God, animated by love for him, preaching just because he wants us to preach. By this act we ‘abide’ in him; and by abiding in him, we bring forth fruit. This fruit may be brought forth anywhere in the Church, and it is, in some ways, a much more important result than the one immediately produced on our present congregation. A priest’s life could be a fruitless failure where his immediate flock is concerned—as sometimes happens, more or less, in the mission fields—and yet be productive of great fruit at some other place and perhaps some other time in the Church. The death of Christ was the most fruitful moment of his life on earth. So too our apparent failures may be our most fruitful works, especially if we are in the hands of Mary.

Much more could be said on the part played by devotion to Mary in the life of the priest. Her charity and our imitation of it call for further discussion. Meanwhile let it suffice to quote the words of Pius X: ‘There is no more certain or efficacious way of uniting all to Christ than by Mary. . . . Clearly, there is no other alternative for us than to receive Christ from the hands of Mary.’

Ad diem ilium

We must, then, be sure to give her her proper place in our lives.

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