Welcome to the Third Sunday of Lent. I pray your Lenten disciplines are drawing you closer to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Today, I am happy to share with you a guest post from fellow writer and friend, John Church. If you enjoyed John’s writing, please visit his blog at the link below. I know you will be blessed.
Marian Devotion: A Testimony
[Firstly I’d like to thank Sarah for being so gracious as to put my writing on her blog; I am honored. I am also honored to talk about Our Lady. I hope it is of benefit to anyone who reads it.]
I once heard an Orthodox priest speak of icons in the following manner: “they aren’t strictly necessary for salvation, but having said that, they are absolutely indispensable.” It seems to me that Marian devotion can be thought of in exactly the same way– not a prerequisite to be numbered among the elect, but an immense help in the spiritual life aimed at reaching such a state. In a largely Protestant culture, the Catholic (and Orthodox) esteem for the Mother of God might seem like a weird fixation or a distraction, but I have found it to be nothing of the sort.
Reading the Fathers of the Church and the great saints has helped foster an appreciation and love for Mary; so has personal prayer and contemplation, which for me has often occurred before her icon, or sometimes during the Rosary.
When I contemplate Mary, it often puts my heart in touch with the spiritual significance of the Incarnation. Out of all people on earth, God chose her to provide Christ with his humanity. What He used to become one of us, he derived directly from her. In this fashion, She is the ladder by which the Second Person of the Holy Trinity descended from heaven to earth. In the words of Cardinal Newman, “by her administration, the Lord of Glory became our brother”, and I rejoice in that. She is the instrument of, and witness to, God’s own “loving condescension and condescending love” (St. Bonaventure) for our sake.
Meditating upon her also draws my mind and heart to the way God draws near to fallen mankind in their weakness and raises them up, to be partakers in his divine grace. Unlike all other created things, Man was made in the image and likeness of God, and the reality of sin has to some degree compromised this original dignity; that is to say, we are not more human, but less human, because of sin. In the person of Mary, however, we see the fullest expression of human nature as it was meant to be; being all-Immaculate, she is both symbol and actualization of man as He was meant to be, the most abundant expression of the dignity to which Christ came to elevate us. She is, as the catechism says “the most excellent fruit of redemption”, being so fully redeemed that sin never touched her person. She thus points me to how thoroughly and radically God’s grace can change us and how far it can bring us, from what depths it raises us. It’s a profound thing to think about.
She also exemplifies what it means to live a life of faith. The will of God for my life is not always obvious to me, but I see in her own life that the Blessed Virgin herself wasn’t always “in the know” of God’s ultimate plan, either. One such example: she had to find the Christ-child when He was missing for three days, and evidently did not know He would be in His Father’s house. Yet, she perseveres through her adverse conditions. Her example echoes Christ’s own teaching when faced with a lack of certitude “worry is useless; what’s needed is trust.” (Mark 5:38)
Her recorded lines in the Scriptures may be few, but this very fact makes them exceptionally poignant and spiritually significant. In the grander scheme of things, they are used for the magnification of God and for the betterment of her neighbor. I see, in her contemplation, in her quietude, in her humility, in her faith, and in her fiat, all that a disciple of Christ is called to do and called to be in their lives. She truly demonstrates the Spirit’s heavenly gifts at work within the human heart.
As far as my actual relationship with her goes, it has been a journey and development, but it is something for which I am ultimately thankful. I know and trust that she loves me and all Christians as her own children and that she is a powerful intercessor on their behalf. She has definitely become one of my go-to’s. I know she has been with me in my prayers, in my struggles against sin, and has been a sure advocate and intercessor when I have hit the lows. I have her as “my mother and my queen”, which is rooted in the fact that we have Jesus Christ as Savior and Brother and Lord and King.
Part of my own spiritual journey and relationship with Mary has been a process of finding the happy medium between two opposite ways of having a relationship with Mary; one that greatly obscures and exaggerates her role, and one that (out of a fear of doing this very thing) hardly even exists. At one time, Protestant scruples weighted upon my heart and I had a reservation against truly turning to her in prayer, out of fear that I would somehow take it too far and that it would amount to some form of idolatry; or that it would compromise my love of God in some way.
But by the grace of God I realized that if you seek to love Christ above all, and love the Mother of God in light of Christ, your heart will be naturally ordered towards an appropriate love of her. After realizing this, the latria-dulia distinction became less prescriptive and more descriptive, became less theoretical and more experiential, and my scruples ceased.
As is said in the Byzantine Liturgy, “Commemorating the most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves, and each other, and all our life, unto Christ our God.” This is essentially what it comes down to for me; presenting myself and my concerns to the Lord
Jesus through His mother. We have the Holy Spirit, which gives us Christ, and in Christ we have the Father. But when you have Union with the Head of Christ, you also His mystical body, the communion of saints. And as great Marian authors have written, if Christ Himself is head, the Mother of God is the neck in this mystical association; Wherever she is, the Lord is close by. Ad Jesum par Mariam.
“Beneath your compassion, we take refuge, O Mother of God; despise not our petitions in times of trouble, but deliver us from danger, only pure, only blessed one.”
John F. Church is, among other things, a musician and music teacher. He is a practicing Christian and a former Catholic seminarian, and he is especially interested in the commonality between Eastern and Western Christianity. He blogs theology, faith, church history and apologetics at “The Hope Within Us,” wisdom1124.blogspot.com and you can see him post obnoxious tweets on Twitter @HandlinMandolin