Practicing the Presence of Mary

[The following is an article I wrote for Queen of All Hearts magazine for the May-June 1994 issue.]

I hope it is not plagiarizing but rather honoring Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection by using here a form of the title of his classic book on the spiritual life.  It is meant to refer to living through, with, in, and for Mary, in order to live more richly our life in Christ, as St. Louis de Montfort recommends (True Devotion 257).  Another way of saying this is that we need to be reminded that being consecrated to Our Lady requires some understanding and effort on our part, if we wish to bear spiritual fruit and grow in holiness.

Many people throughout the Catholic world have renewed (or made for the first time) their personal consecrations to Our Lady this past March 25.  This self-offering made at the feet of Mary is an important step in living a more fervent Christian life.  But as those who once came to St. John the Baptizer once heard, “Give some evidence that you mean to reform” (Lk. 3:8), we who have come to Our Lady are asked to give some evidence that we mean to live as her consecrated children.

Having made an act of consecration, we need to go about putting it into practice.  We have to do something as a consequence of being something.  Consecration to Mary “essentially consists in a state of soul” (True Devotion 119), but St. Louis de Montfort still recommends practices which faithfully express this state.  Examples are praying the Rosary and other devotions, meditating on Our Lady’s virtues, making acts of self-denial and doing all things to please and honor her.

Our Lady herself has given us the example that what we do has to follow from the knowledge of who we are.  If Mary were not deeply aware that her very reason of being was to serve the Lord, she would not have been able to accept the words of Gabriel, and would not have been able to do all that God would ask of her once He received her consent.  “Let it be done to me,” she said, because “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”  Likewise, we have to know who we are before we can act accordingly.  If we are aware and convinced that we are children of God consecrated to the Heart of Mary, then we should be able to say, “Let it be done to me,” to whatever the Lord wills for our lives.

Practicing the presence of Mary, that is, living our consecration, has many dimensions, but here I will focus on three: the union of our hearts with Mary’s, standing with her at the Cross, and engaging in “spiritual warfare” under her leadership.

One of the fundamental fruits of belonging to Our Lady through an act of consecration is the union of hearts.  This is a personal intimacy that is more than an external imitation of Mary’s virtues.  It is a sharing of life and love, a being-with, a conscious acknowledgement of her moment-by-moment motherly solicitude.  As we grow in the experience of resting securely in the love of Mary, she is better able to teach us to love the Lord as she does.

Our love for God will develop in several ways through our union with the Heart of Mary.  She will instill in us first a desire for holiness, which is nothing else than the desire to do God’s will in all things.  This will require detachment from earthly things insofar as they might hinder our ascent to God.  As St. Paul says, we need to set our hearts on things of heaven, not on things of earth (Col. 3:1-2).

Once we genuinely desire holiness, we will need to listen to our hearts, that is, to the Holy Spirit speaking therein.  Our Lady is the one who listened, pondered, and treasured the mysteries of God in her heart (see Lk. 1:29; 2:19, 51).  She also was listening long before the Angel appeared, because her heart had to be prepared to discern and to respond when the great moment came.  This interior listening in the solitude of the heart is the basis of contemplative prayer.  Those who are true children of Mary will be led by her into a prayerful participation in her own contemplation, since she has drawn their hearts into hers.

Desiring holiness and listening to the Spirit in one’s heart will naturally lead to an outward expression of this interior state.  This is the practice of virtue.  The Blessed Mother calls all of her children not only to hear God’s call to a deeper spiritual life, but also, in St. Paul’s words, to live a live worthy of this calling (see Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 1:27).

The more that we live in explicit reference to Our Lady’s guiding presence in our lives, the more our behavior will conform to our spiritual understanding (see Rom. 12:2).  With the grace of the Holy Spirit given though the surrender of our hearts to the Heart of the Mother, we will be able not only to know the will of God, but also to do it.  A virtuous life is quite simply a life of hearing the word of God and keeping it, as Jesus reminds us so often in the Gospels.

We prove the genuineness of our union with the Heart of Mary by our willingness to stand with her at the Cross of Jesus.  By the word of the Lord we became children of Mary at the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27), and there we are invited to remain with our Mother as Jesus’ beloved disciples.  This is not to say that she desires our suffering, but we do have to accept the fact that bearing hardships for the sake of the Gospel is part of the Christian vocation (see Acts 14:22; 2Tim 1:8, 2:3).  St. Peter returns to this theme several times in his First Epistle (2:19-24; 3:9; 4:12-19).

True love is often tested through personal sacrifice, so we should not be surprised if the living of our consecration requires our passing through the crucible of suffering.  But we are not alone.  Since Our Lady has already walked the way of com-passion unto the Cross of Jesus, she hastens to be close to us when our own hour of pain comes, as this prayer from the Byzantine Liturgy expresses: “O Blessed Mother of God… you feel and suffer with us in our lowliness; take pity on your people in distress.  Pray for us constantly… for the salvation of our souls” (Lenten Matins).

A friend of mine recently told me that she had a great devotion to St. John, the Beloved Disciple.  At the same time she was experiencing some resistance in her heart to the demands of a fervent Catholic life.  Then in prayer she felt the Lord speak to her heart, saying: if you want to be like the Beloved Disciple, you have to stay near the Cross.  This is a necessary dimension—not merely because inevitable but because so spiritually fruitful—of our life in Christ and our life with Mary.

We are called to go, hand-in-hand with our Mother, through the struggle and pain of the human condition and to emerge victorious by the grace of God.  Jesus chose to endure the trials of life all the way to the Cross.  But He triumphed even over death, the “last enemy,” by his resurrection, and thus opened the way for our broken humanity to enter transformed into the glorious realm of his divinity (see Phil. 3:21).

This victory of Jesus which we are called to share is not only over the brokenness of our own lives, but also over the “principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12).  As Our Lady is the one who guides us in the life of virtue and stands with us at the Cross, she is also the one who leads us in battle against our spiritual enemy, the devil.

In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation, Mary is manifested as the heavenly Queen, adorned with sun and stars, the moon prostrate at her feet.  But her reign has not yet entered into its tranquil fulfillment, because of her everlasting enmity with the red dragon, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (v. 9).  In his rage he is making war on all of the Woman’s offspring (v. 17).

The times in which we live are marked by increasing evils of every kind, and the devil is rearing his ugly head with unprecedented frequency and fury.  But since Christ is the “stronger One” (Lk. 11:22), He is sending forth his Spirit in such extraordinary ways as to recall that first divine outpouring at Pentecost.  Our Lady, too, has her special role, since her own apparitions throughout the world have multiplied dramatically in the past 1-1/2 centuries or so.  She is gathering her flock together under her mantle, protecting us and preparing us to enter courageously into the inescapable struggle with the powers of darkness.

It is not uncommon for people to contact our monastery with complaints of attacks or other manifestations of evil spirits [we are not trained as exorcists, but we offer our prayer and sacrifice].  California is rife with satanic cults, with those who practice witchcraft and neo-pagan rituals, and with New Age enthusiasts of all kinds.  You can find in the phone book the “church of satan” listed with all the other churches.  (On the other hand, there are many oases of grace and holiness in this West Coast spiritual desert, but the warfare is nevertheless intense.)

Even if you don’t live in a spiritually polluted environment, know that the devil is still after each individual soul (1Peter 5:8).  That ancient serpent will not give up until his loathsome head is definitively crushed by the New Adam through the New Eve.  We look confidently forward to that day of the manifest victory of Jesus and Mary over all demonic forces, and we will sing with the Israel of God: “But the Lord almighty thwarted them, by a woman’s hand he confounded them” (Jdt. 16:5).

If we want to be faithful disciples of Christ and children of Mary, we have our work cut out for us.  But we know where to seek refuge, to find consolation, to be renewed in courage, to feel loved: the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Through living day by day our consecration to her—“practicing her presence” in our lives—our “yes” to God will be made firm.  We will advance in grace and holiness, take up our cross with patience and trust, and be victorious in the day of battle.  If we stay close to the Heart of the Mother now, we will remain close to her forever in Heaven, rejoicing to hear her say: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me” (Is. 8:18).

About Father Joseph

I am a priest and monk currently serving with the Contemplatives of St Joseph in South San Francisco, CA. I am in my 33rd year of monastic life and in my 24th as a priest.

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