The priest — in fact, every apostle — stands in need of an ardent devotion to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. He should take St. Bernard as his model in this; for nearly half a century, St. Bernard exercised the apostolate among monarchs and nations, in assemblies and councils and with the Pope. Exalted by all for his holiness, his genius, his deep knowledge of Scripture, and the penetrating unction of his sermons, and revered in the Church as the “Last of the Fathers,” he is, moreover, the chanter of Mary, of her power and mercy, and of her glories. He furnishes matter for the praises of Mary to subsequent writers, to prove that all divine graces and favors come to us through Mary:
Brethren, let us consider with what sentiments of devotion God wishes us to honor Mary, for He has placed in her the fullness of every good. If we have any hope, any grace or pledge of salvation, let us acknowledge that it all comes to us from her who super-abounds in delights.
If the sun, which imparts light to the world, were taken away, all light would disappear on earth. Take away Mary, the Star of the sea, of our great and vast ocean, and what will remain but a deep obscurity, the shadow of death, and a dense darkness. Wherefore, it behooves us to honor Mary from our inmost heart, for such is the will of Him who willed that we should obtain all we need through Mary. Wherefore, whatever the apostolic man does for his salvation and spiritual progress, and for the fecundity of his apostolate, will rest on a foundation of sand unless it rests on a very special devotion to our Lady.
For, if the apostle, in his interior life, is not sufficiently devoted to Mary, his spiritual Mother, if his confidence in her lacks enthusiasm, if his homage to her is merely external, he will never sanctify himself. Like Jesus, her Son, who beholds the heart, Mary regards only our heart, and looks upon us as her true children, only when the strength of our love corresponds to hers. We should be firmly convinced of the incomparable grandeurs, privileges, and functions of her who is the Mother of God and the Mother of men. We should be fully persuaded that our combats against our defects, the acquisition of the virtues, the reign of Jesus Christ in our soul, and, consequently, all security of salvation and sanctification are proportionate to a degree of our devotion to Mary, and that, when we act with or through Mary, everything in our interior life becomes easier, securer, and sweeter and is much sooner attained.
Our heart should overflow with childlike confidence in her in every occurrence, and we shall experience her considerateness, kind attentions, tender love, mercy, and generosity. “Mary,” says St. Bernard, “is my greatest security, the whole base of my hope.” Our heart should be inflamed with love for her, our Mother, for she shares our joys, our trials. Let us listen to the beautiful words of St. Bernard:
O thou, who feelest thyself tossed by tempests amid the shoals of the sea of this world, turn not away thine eyes from the Star of the sea, if thou wouldst avoid shipwreck. If the winds of temptation blow, if tribulations rise up like rocks before thee, cast a look at the Star, heave a sigh toward Mary. If the waves of pride, ambition, calumny, and jealousy seek to swallow up thy soul, turn thine eyes toward the Star, breathe a prayer to Mary. If anger and love of pleasure threaten thy frail bark, seek the protecting look of Mary. If horror of thine own sins, remorse of conscience, and dread of the divine judgments overwhelm thee with sadness, seeking to plunge thee into the abyss of despair, cling closely to Mary. In thy dangers, in thy anguish, in thy doubts think of Mary, call on Mary. Let the sweet name of Mary be on thy lips, in thy heart; and whilst seeking the assistance of her prayers, lose not the sight of her example, of her virtues. So long as thou followest her, thou canst not go astray. So long as thou invokest her, thou canst not be without hope. So long as thou thinkest on her, thou wilt remain in the right path. So long as she sustains thee, thou canst not fall. So long as she protects thee, thou hast nothing to fear. If she favors thy voyage, thou shalt reach the harbor of safety without exhaustion.
St Louis de Montfort says, “With Mary we make in one month more progress in the love of Jesus, than we could make in many, were we less united to our good Mother.”
In the second place, whether the apostle has to draw souls out of sin, or to cause the virtues to flourish in them, it behooves him, like St. Paul, to have as his first object to cause Jesus Christ to live in them. But, as Bossuet declares, God having determined to give us Jesus Christ through Mary, will not change the order He laid down, because He is unchangeable. Mary, therefore, in accordance with this order, having given birth to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body of the Church, has also to give birth to its members. To isolate Mary from the apostolate would be to misunderstand an essential part of the divine plan of salvation. Hence St. Augustine says, “All the predestined in this world are hidden, guarded, nourished and grow in the bosom of this good Mother, until she brings them forth to glory after their death.” “Since the Incarnation,” says St. Bernardine of Siena, “Mary has acquired a kind of jurisdiction over the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit, so that no creature receives grace except through her hands.”
But he who is devoted to Mary becomes, in his turn, all-powerful over the heart of Mary, his Mother. Consequently, no true apostle should entertain any doubt as to the efficacy of his apostolate if he has a true devotion to Mary, for he will be able to dispose of Mary’s omnipotent power over the Blood of the Redeemer. Experience confirms this, for all who have effected numerous conversions of sinners have been most devoted servants of Mary.
How great and persuasive are the words and prayers of Mary’s devout clients, when they labor to draw souls out of sin, for they are as if identified with the Immaculate Virgin by their horror of sin and their love of holy purity. It was at the sound of Mary’s voice that the Precursor recognized the presence of Jesus Christ and leaped for joy. And what wonderful power have the words of the intimate servants of the Mother of Mercy to prevent despair from seizing those who have long abused grace! How admirably successful is the apostle, who is devoted to Mary, in moving hardened sinners to repentance and perfect conversion through Mary!
Mary living in the heart of the apostle is the very eloquence that enables him to move powerfully souls hitherto unmoved! Jesus seems, by an admirable delicacy, to reserve to His Mother’s meditation the most difficult conquests of the apostolate, and to grant them to her devoted servants, so that we may truly say, “Through them He hath reduced our foes to naught.” We apostles should most tenderly love her, whom Pius IX called “The Virgin Priest,” whose dignity excels that of priests and pontiffs. This love empowers us never to look upon as lost the work we have begun with Mary, and are willing to continue with her, that is, in a manner pleasing to her. Mary, in fact, is at the base and at the crowning point of every work that interests the glory of God through His divine Son.
But let us beware of imagining that we are working with Mary, if we limit ourselves to raising altars in her honor, or in having hymns sung in her praise. What Mary requires of us is a devotedness which enables us to assert in all sincerity, that we habitually live united to her and have recourse to her as the Mother of Good Counsel, that we strive to please her, and that all our prayers to God are made through her intercession. Let us, however, be assured that Mary expects of us a devotion which will cause us to imitate the virtues we admire in her, and surrender ourselves into her hands, that she may enable us “to put on Jesus Christ.”