What did de Montfort Mean By “True Devotion to Mary”?

de MontfortYesterday the Church celebrated St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), a French priest and author of the important treatise “True Devotion to Mary.” Mother Teresa thought this book was important enough that he should be named a Doctor of the Church. St. John Paul II chose his papal motto to refer to it: Totus tuus, “totally yours,” was one of de Montfort’s formulations of Marian devotion.

But what did de Montfort mean by “true devotion”?


The book is perhaps best known for its reference to “consecration” to Mary. Many Catholics, at some point in their lives, make a consecration, often with some reference to de Montfort. This is indeed something de Montfort recommends:

Those who desire to take up this special devotion, (which has not been erected into a confraternity, although this would be desirable [it now has]), should spend at least twelve days in emptying themselves of the spirit of the world, which is opposed to the spirit of Jesus, as I have recommended in the first part of this preparation for the reign of Jesus Christ. They should then spend three weeks imbuing themselves with the spirit of Jesus through the most Blessed Virgin. Here is a programme they might follow. . . .”

Based on the six paragraphs that follow, someone put together a series of meditations and many prayers to be said. Someone else recently came out with a book that shortens the time and tries to make it easier. Many Catholics go through this process, say the prayer at the end, and consider themselves “consecrated.”

But in the paragraph before he explains “preparation and consecration,” de Montfort says, “Although this devotion is essentially an interior one, this does not prevent it from having exterior practices which should not be neglected. ‘These must be done but those not omitted.’ If properly performed, exterior acts help to foster interior ones.

This section of the book suggests six other “exterior practices,” from wearing little chains to praying the rosary and the Magnificat, to “contempt of the world,” as exterior ways to nurture interior devotion. Consecration is parallel to these other devotions – and all of them are secondary to de Montfort’s real concern.


De Montfort is at pains to prevent us from “false devotion.” His section on false devotion is more than twice as long as his section on consecration.

False devotion is insufficient devotion – but there are different kinds of insufficient devotion. “Scrupulous devotion” is afraid that if we think about Mary too much, we will forget Jesus. Much of de Montfort’s book tries to explain why this is not true: true devotion to Mary always leads us closer to Jesus.

But other kinds of false devotion are, in an interesting way, different but similar to this insufficient devotion. “Presumptuous devotion,for example, thinks that just a few prayers (or, perhaps, a few external devotions, whether scapulars and chains or thoughtless rosaries and consecrations) absolves us of the need for a real spiritual life. “Presumptuous false devotion is different from scrupulous false devotion in the sense that one thinks devotion to Mary is too powerful, and the other thinks it’s too weak. But they are the same in that neither one is truly devoted.

“True devotion” doesn’t mean saying a couple prayers, or a consecration, and thinking you have your bases covered. True devotion, he says, is “interior, trustful, holy, constant, and disinterested.” True devotion is a “slavery of love” – slavery in the sense that we give our whole selves for love, instead of maintaining our “right” to think more of ourselves than of God. Presumptous devotion might think that consecrating ourselves to Mary is really valuable – but it fails by failing to be in love.

(The first part of being truly in love, he says, is that “Christ must be the ultimate end of all devotions.” If Marian devotion is an excuse for being lukewarm about Jesus, it isn’t real Marian devotion at all.)


At the end of the book, he says true devotion means living our whole life “through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, and for Mary.” Perhaps another time, we can dig into what these formulas mean.

For now, the point is that true devotion means transformation. It means taking Jesus as our all – de Montfort’s personal motto was “God Alone!” And it means taking Mary as a means of focusing our lives more totally on Jesus.

True devotion is not a consecration formula that we follow once and then forget. True devotion is a life transformed.

How could you make Jesus a bigger part of your day?

Good Shepherd: Union


ACTS 13:14, 43.52; PS 100:1-2, 4, 5; REV 7:9, 14b-17; JN 10:27-30

Last Sunday is now well behind us, but despite a busy week, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to comment on its rich readings.

The Second Sunday of Easter taught us about God’s mercy for us; the Third Sunday taught us to worship; this Fourth Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, taught us about union.


The short Gospel reading was from the fabulous tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, which is all about the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis says a good shepherd smells like his sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is one with his sheep. He shares in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity.

Our reading begins, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What is implicit is that, just as he knows them, so they know him – that’s why they recognize his voice, and follow. Sheep, as we have said in the past, have an important kind of intelligence: they know their shepherd. They don’t have to be driven with sticks; they follow. Faith is a gift – we recognize our shepherd because he has given his own knowledge to us.

They know him because he is among them. They trust him because he knows and cares for them. The shepherd and the sheep are one.

He gives them life, his life – and they will never be destroyed. The earthly shepherd is a dim image of the kind of care that our Good Shepherd gives us. He is the very giver of life. We live in his hands.

And then he concludes (in our little snippet from a long discourse), “The Father and I are one.” He alludes to a deeper discussion about the unity of the Trinity, a unity poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us.


In our reading from Revelation, in a more mystical key, John portrays the shepherd as a sheep – the most vulnerable sheep, the Lamb. Of course, Jesus is the Lamb in John’s Gospel, too, but here we have it put together: “the Lamb will shepherd them, and lead them to springs of life-giving water.” He can shepherd us because he has united himself to us. We can trust him because this Lamb shows his concern for us in becoming one of us. When he offers us shelter from the sun and the heat, and relief from our hunger and thirst, we know it is for real.

We look to Jesus in his humanity and know he will care for us.

The Lamb, of course, is also an image of sacrifice. In Revelation he is “the Lamb who was slain.” In this reading, we wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. There are two kinds of depth of unity in this remarkable phrase. First, he unites himself to us not only in our relief, but in our suffering. He loves us “to the end,” to the depths, to the most awful aspects of our existence, to blood and death.

And second, he washes us white, which is a sign of purifying us. He makes us good. He doesn’t merely shelter us from the outside, he transforms us from within. He is not merely a distant God who gives us earthly food, he is Jesus who transfigures us, makes our hearts like unto his Sacred Heart, washes us clean.


In our reading from Acts, these mystical images were made concrete and historical. Paul and Barnabas are missionaries. At this point they are in Syria, the northeast corner of the Mediterranean.

The Lord who has united himself to them speaks through them. He has given them his word and they become his mouthpiece. Paul and Barnabas “spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.” It is Paul and Barnabas who speak, but it is Christ’s word, calling the people to Christ. Christ who has united himself to them unites them to himself.

And he sends them to suffer as he suffered. They are rejected by their people – Christ’s people. They are expelled from the territory, and shake the dust from their feet. And in being rejected with Christ, they are filled with joy and the Holy Spirit – the joy of the Holy Spirit, joy of Christ’s love, poured into their hearts.

The Lamb who shepherds them has made them shepherds. He who loves us calls us to love. Christ who has come to us makes us part of him, rejoicing with him in the Father, suffering with him for the sheep.

Christ calling you. How does he want to take flesh in your life this week?

Should We Imitate the Amish?

people-field-working-agriculture-largeMy family recently had the good fortune to spend a day with an Amish family on their farm. It is an interesting opportunity to think about how we are like and different from the Amish, and how we might imitate some of their best practices.

The first thing to say, of course, is that the Amish are devout Protestants. They are like us in that they are trying to orient their life around their Christian faith. They are unlike us in that their faith is Protestant.


A key way we are more similar than at first appears, and thus there is an opportunity for us to learn from them, is that the Amish do not reject all technology. Rather, they are careful about technology.

They have “bishops,” but I think this means local lay leaders. These lay pastors gather together twice a year to find consensus. It is in these gatherings that they make decisions on technology. (Here already is an interesting similarity and difference: we would never ask the Magisterium to intervene on questions of our bathroom lighting; but perhaps we would do well to have lay communities who discuss such issues.)

Over our friends’ dining-room table hangs a battery-powered flashlight. Modern, yet primitive. But in their bathroom there is a kerosene lantern – and a Bic lighter. They hang their clothes to dry on a line outside, but they wash them in a modern washing machine. The machine is powered, however, by a jet of water . . . I can’t remember where the jet comes from, but anyway, there is no electric line to the house.

In the workshop is a modern electrical saw – connected to a car battery. Many of their tools work on car batteries; they also have a diesel generator for the barn. But on the sewing table in the house there was a notable absence of a sewing machine. The cows are milked using a high-tech vacuum system that attaches to old fashioned milk cans.

In short, the point is not that they reject all technology. The point is that they move slowly and carefully.

We too, who do not reject all technology, could benefit from some healthy skepticism about how technology affects our lives. Cars, lights, certainly screens, and even many mechanical conveniences in our homes – they all make good servants but terrible masters.

How much do electric lights improve our lives? I ask this writing, on a laptop of course, in my windowless basement office at school, mindful both that I’d be in absolute darkness without lights – and that I’d much prefer we didn’t have windowless offices.


A second way the Amish are not so different: they are not necessarily farmers. Just as many of them are carpenters, and many live in small towns.

You don’t have to live on a farm in order to question the role of technology in your life. One of the reasons my family lives in a dense city is so that we can walk to the grocery store, to church, to friends’ houses, to the park, to some parts of work, etc. Let us just distinguish the farm question from the too-much-technology question. Even the Amish make that distinction!

The key question is how technology affects our lives, and whether we let it interfere with greater goods, such as family and our relationship with creation. For us as for the Amish, these are questions of living a devout life.


And yet the key way that the Amish differ from us is that they are Protestants – a radical form of Protestantism. They are a radical wing of the Mennonites, who are perhaps the most radical wing of Protestantism. There are two key differences.

First, the Amish embrace a kind of Protestant piety called “separation from the world.” Although this specific Amish family was very welcoming to pagan Catholics like us, deeper than the Amish concern about technology is their concern about non-Christians, strictly defined.

The Catholic position on this issue is best defined in a line from St. Paul: “I wrote to you in the letter not to associate intimately with fornicators; yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you must go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:9-10). Paul makes a distinction between “intimate association” (it’s a fancy word in Greek) and “going out of the world.”

We are called to be leaven. We are called to be in the world but not of it. We can learn from the devout Amish desire to be careful what paganism we allow into our homes or our churches. But we cannot flee the world as the Amish do.

That’s tricky. There’s no way around it: simplistic answers are easier to apply – and usually wrong. Every heresy is an effort to make complicated things simple and clear.

A second problem is related to the first: radical Protestantism, including the radical Amish, pit faith against reason, and even man against God, in ways that Catholicism doesn’t allow. There is a thin line between prohibiting idols and smashing icons. The Amish happily ignore that line. They reject books, and learning, and art, and politics. Nowhere in their house is there an image of Jesus. We can take inspiration from their devout life, but the Catholic answer has to celebrate the image of God more than that.

What is the role of technology in your life? How could it be better?

Third Sunday of Easter: Worship


ACTS 5:27-32, 40b-41; PS 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12-13; REV 5:11-14; JN 21:1-19

Last week – the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday – the Church focused on Mercy. This week our readings turn us to worship. Worship is the positive to the slightly negative side of mercy. Mercy comes in where something is lacking. But God’s mercy, by strengthening us in our weakness, allows us to worship – and God’s awesome mercy becomes a new reason for worship.


One of the great joys of the post-Vatican II revised Lectionary is that, beside the traditional readings from Acts of the Apostles and John’s Gospel, we now also get a taste of the Revelation, or Apocalypse, of St. John.

There are various ways to read this book. Protestants sometimes get into trying to predict the future. The Catholic tradition tends not to comment on the book too much – but isn’t into soothsaying. (Jesus said no one knows the day nor the hour, not “just decode the Bible.”) There’s a modern movement (by ex-Protestant Catholics) to turn this book into code for the liturgy. Probably closer to the mark, but I don’t know if it’s necessary.

Literally, “revelation” (in Latin) or “apocalypse” (the same word in Greek) means “pulling back the veil,” seeing what’s hidden. It’s not the future that St. John’s Apocalypse “reveals,” but the present – the spiritual battle that rages all around us. It is a great joy when we learn to read this book, and so to see through the veils to spiritual realities.

One of the greatest joys in this book is the image of the saints in worship. This Sunday we had the angels singing, “worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” and then “every creature in heaven and on earth” crying out, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”

This is not soothsaying. This is the song at the heart of every true Christian. This is worship. Let us discover it.


But if Revelation gives us the mysterious songs of heaven, this Sunday’s Gospel leads us into worship in the most human ways. “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment – for he was lightly clad – and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat.”

There is no other scene in the Bible that so brilliantly shows what worship means. Little children understand the story. Peter is so delighted to see Jesus that he turns to foolishness. Worship is not foolish, but there we have the heart of Christianity – deeper maybe, even, then the discovery of God’s mercy. To be so in love with Jesus as to put on your clothes and dive into the water.

Then they ate a meal with Jesus. There are several meals, but this one on the beach is the most touching. Just to be with him. This is why we go to adoration, what we’re really doing when we pray the rosary, the heart of everything: just to be with him.

And then the Gospel takes us a step deeper. “Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The threefold repetition, of course, overcomes Peter’s threefold denial. But let us not over-complicate things. The heart of worship is simply the repetition of love.

And finally, that love issues forth in service: “feed my lambs.” If you love me, love your neighbor. If you love me, do my work. If you love me, carry my cross. If you love me let them dress you and lead you where you do not want to go, and die for me, to “glorify God.”

That’s what worship means. Everything else comes back to adoration, profound love of Jesus and of the Father, nothing else.


And the reading from Acts of the Apostles takes us a step deeper into the same spirit. On the one hand, we have suffering. “We must obey God rather than men.” And so they had to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” To love him is to be willing to suffer.

But let us not over-focus on the suffering. Let us not over-complicate. The heart is love. “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name.” They “ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles rejoiced “that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”

Yes, suffering. Yes, obedience. But deeper than that is their joy in savoring the name of Jesus. The name, which is not a talisman, not a magic word, not an obligation, but the simple savoring of the goodness of God. Oh, sweet Jesus!

That is worship.

Where is worship in your life?

Second Sunday of Easter: The Mediation of Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus


ACTS 5:12-16; PS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; REV 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; JN 20:19-31

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a new feast created by St. John Paul II, in response to a call by St. Faustina Kowalska. It is a wonderful feast – but it takes some unpacking.

It should be said, first, that feasts do not come from one visionary alone. Take the Sacred Heart. People associate devotion to the Sacred Heart with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun in France in the seventeenth century. She did indeed call for such a feast.

But she didn’t make it up. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was already important in the Middle Ages. And the Church didn’t accept it merely because Margaret Mary said so. It was providing insight into the needs of the time – more on that in a minute. This doesn’t mean Margaret Mary is bad or unimportant – in fact, it points out that Margaret Mary had both a great grasp of the Tradition and an inspired eye for the needs of her time. She is a great saint – but she is a great saint because she was not suggesting wild ideas.

Similarly, St. Faustina has important insights that we should hear. But those insights are important not because she made them up, but because she didn’t. And the Church’s articulation of those insights take them beyond St. Faustina, into the teaching of the Church. Divine Mercy is the Church’s feast, not just St. Faustina’s. That’s why St. Faustina is a saint: because she preaches the Catholic truth.


Now, there is reason to be hesitant about the Divine Mercy devotion, if not rightly understood.

The key problem is abstraction. Divine Mercy has in many ways supplanted devotion to the Sacred Heart. But the Sacred Heart focused on the person of Jesus, particularly the union between his divinity and humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not abstract, it is personal and it is intensely incarnational.

Divine Mercy, by itself, runs the risk of becoming an abstraction. To be specific, the danger is that “mercy,” apart from Christ, can lead us to think that our conversion doesn’t matter. People tend to think that mercy means God overlooks our sins. To the contrary, God’s mercy is in healing us and converting us.

The Sacred Heart, being so intensely human, reminds us that God’s mercy restores our humanity. It reminds us of the need to love. It reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, and of his virtues. We pray, “make our hearts like unto thine” – which is the right understanding of mercy, the opposite of God just overlooking our sin.

It is important that our devotion to Divine Mercy maintain this incarnational, human element.


St. Faustina, of course, helps us. Her image of Divine Mercy (above) shows that Divine Mercy is a commentary on the Sacred Heart, and on the sacraments – not a replacement for them. In the image, Jesus does not overlook us, he looks intently on us – and the sacraments pour forth from his Sacred Heart to heal our sins and unite us to his glory.

St. Faustina also gives us the Divine Mercy chaplet, which reminds us of “his sorrowful passion,” the pouring out of his Heart on the Cross, and of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son.”

And underlining it all are the words, “Jesus I trust in you.” St. Faustina does not let us turn Divine Mercy into an abstraction. It is another insight into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


So too the Mass that the Church gives us. The Feast is placed on the octave of Easter Sunday. As Pope Francis has said, it is thereby “dedicated to the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.” Like the image, it points us not into abstraction but into Easter.

The reading from Acts tells us of grace mediated by the apostles, as Peter’s shadow brings healing to the humanity of the sick. The second reading, from Revelation, has us falling before the feet of him who “was dead, but now [is] alive forever and ever” – embracing the feet of the Risen Lord. And the Gospel has Doubting Thomas probing the wounds of the Risen Christ and the Apostles given the ministry of Confession: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” “Peace be with you.”

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the sacraments of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mercy is no abstraction, it is union with Christ, crucified and alive.

What does the Heart of Christ teach you about Divine Mercy?