When you start to read something on the Immaculate, do not forget that at that moment you are coming into contact with a living being, who loves you, who is pure, without any stain.
Also, remember that the words you see are unable to express who she is, because they are human words, drawn from earthly concepts, words that present all things in a human manner, while the Immaculate is a being totally of God.
Thus, she is in some way infinitely more sublime than all that surrounds you. She will reveal herself to you through the phrases that you read and will convey to you thoughts, convictions, feelings that the author himself could not possibly even imagine.
Consider carefully, also, that the purer your conscience is and the more you wash it with penance, the closer to the truth your knowledge about her will be.
Recognize also with sincerity that without her help, you are utterly unable to do anything in the work of knowledge and, consequently, of love of her. Acknowledge that she alone must enlighten you more and more. She alone must draw your heart toward herself with love. Remember, therefore, that all the fruit of your reading depends on prayer to her.
Do not start reading, then, before appealing with some prayer for her help. Do not worry about reading much, but rather interweave your reading with elevation of your heart to her, especially when feelings of another nature awaken in your heart. Then, when you finish your reading, entrust to her the yield of an ever more beautiful fruit.
— From the writings of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, SK 1307
The beginning of a life of genuine holiness, of a foretaste of the heavenly life to come, is the desire to lay hold of that life—to possess that valuable pearl of which the Lord speaks in the Gospels. That desire would come to naught, however, unless God in his infinite kindness were not to reach down and draw us to himself. The proof that he has done just this is found in the person and work of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The eternal Father has, furthermore, set his seal on the Mother of Christ, so that “through two unchangeable things… we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18).
In short, the valuable pearl is none other than Jesus Christ, and He has come to us and continues to come to us only by way of Mary, His Mother. Likewise, we return to Christ only through her:
“The Virgin Mother is our Mediatrix with Christ as Christ is our Mediator with the Father” (cf. St. Bonaventure, III Sent., d. 3, p. 1, a. 1, q. 2). “This is because our only way to the Savior is through her by whom He first came and continues to come to us” (cf. St. Bonaventure, Commentarius in Evangelium Lucae I, 70). For the Savior-God she is “gate to earth”; for us sinners, singly and assembled, she is “gate to heaven.”1
Because Mary possesses Christ whole and entire, she has plumbed and scrutinized the “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33). She has been given possession of all these riches by a singular grace and mercy of the Most High which may be summarized perfectly in these two words: Immaculate Conception—a privilege confirmed at the most solemn level by the Magisterium of the Church and by Our Lady herself to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, less than four years after the dogmatic proclamation of this truth.
As such, it is given to her not only to possess, but to communicate these unfathomable riches. For this reason, her teaching magisterium becomes indispensable for us if we ourselves hope to come into possession of the depth of these “riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” Note well that her role as Teacher does not supplant or substitute that of Christ or the Church; but rather, as Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church and Mediatrix of all graces (a consequence of her Immaculate Conception), she has been entrusted once for all by God himself with the dispensation of these riches:
As the fullness of divinity dwells in the human nature of Christ—not making his humanity infinite, but conferring on it such perfection as to be beyond compare with any other creature and to be the source and cause of perfection in His mystical member’s sanctity, wisdom and merit—so that same fullness of grace predicated of Mary implies a same primacy, paralleling the gratia capitalis [grace of headship] in Christ, with one difference, that Mary is not its author as is Christ, but the one through whom, by her maternal mediation, all grace passes from Christ to us. She is, therefore, the Mediatrix, not only of grace in general, but of wisdom, i.e., the understanding of God in particular.2
Fr. Fehlner goes on to elaborate:
Her witness is related to the teaching office and mediation of Christ and His ministers, not in a subordinate, so much as a complementary manner, much as the mission of the Holy Spirit is related to that of Christ in the fulfillment of His various offices of teacher, king and priest. Without a willing acceptance of this witness of Mary, no effort on our part aimed at apprehending the matter of theological study, let alone understanding this, can transcend the level of plausibility and probability and reach that of faith. Hence the love of Mary as teacher by those who would believe Christ is as indispensable as the love of Christ.3
As the above citation indicates, and as we have seen in a previous article of this series,4 knowledge and love of the Immaculate goes hand-in-hand with knowledge and love of Christ. Or better, knowledge and love of Our Lady is the gateway to the knowledge and love of Christ which surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph 3:19). “My Immaculate Heart,” Our Lady of Fatima told Lúcia, “will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”5
Moreover, the ancient antiphon of the Church—“You alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world”—which is reprised in the act of consecration to the Immaculate composed by St. Maximilian,6 emphasizes the universality of Our Lady’s magisterium. Therefore, nothing that can be known about God in this life is subtracted from the sphere of influence of the Immaculate. Hence, for St. Bonaventure she is the Magistra Apostolorum (Teacher of the Apostles).
These theological premises regarding Our Lady’s mediation of divine wisdom constitute the underpinning of St. Maximilian’s concise but illuminating presentation on her role in our spiritual development. It is clear that the Martyr of Charity already presumes this objective reality in his reflection which forms part of the material for a projected book on the Immaculate. What particularly interests the Saint here is the personal character of the intervention of the Mother of God in drawing a soul to herself and, through her maternal mediation, to Jesus and the whole Holy Trinity: “Do not forget that… you are coming into contact with a living being, who loves you.”
He who accepts this maternal invitation by Our Lady, whose mysterious presence vivifies the words written in her praise, taking her “into his home” (cf. Jn 19:27), enters into a unique and exquisitely intimate “I-thou” relationship permeated by the fullness of divine grace. Thanks to an “inexhaustible outpouring of the Spirit”7 at the hands of his Immaculate spouse, the child of Mary is ever increasingly immersed into a reality that is “infinitely more sublime than all that surrounds” him.
It is clear, then, that, coming into possession of the riches of divine wisdom at the feet of Our Lady involves something far different and more exalted than the mere reading of a Marian text—whether this be a book of devotion or a speculative treatise—or the accumulation of “facts” about her. “Under [Mary’s] guidance,” writes St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort,
[the elect] will perceive the splendors of this Queen and will consecrate themselves entirely to her service as subjects and slaves of love. They will experience her motherly kindness and affection for her children. They will love her tenderly and will appreciate how full of compassion she is and how much they stand in need of her help. In all circumstances they will have recourse to her as their Advocate and Mediatrix with Jesus Christ.8
St. Bonaventure relates something of this personal encounter with the Mother of God in the life of St. Francis of Assisi:
[St. Francis poured] forth continual prayers to her who had conceived the Word, full of grace and truth, that she would vouchsafe to be his Advocate; and now, by the merits of the Mother of Mercy, he conceived and brought forth the spirit of evangelical truth.9
In these few words, the Seraphic Doctor admirably summarizes the personal role of Our Blessed Lady in communicating an “inexhaustible outpouring of the Spirit” of truth whereby one comes to possess the fullness of the riches of divine wisdom.
While “without her help” we are “utterly unable to do anything in the work of knowledge and, consequently, of love of” Our Lady, apparently there is still a certain work of cooperation required on the part of one who wishes to be a true child of Mary. We have to “consciously and willingly and deliberately and unconditionally cooperate with her. This is what is meant by total consecration to the Immaculate Heart.”10
St. Maximilian identifies two specific elements of this cooperation: prayer and penance. “Do not start reading,” he states, “before appealing with some prayer for her help.” This prayer, notes the Saint, must continue during the reading (with “elevations of the heart”) and at its conclusion (“entrusting the fruit of the reading to her”). In other words, prayer must thoroughly permeate our relationship with Our Lady, just as St. Bonaventure described it in the life of St. Francis. “By the merits of the Mother of Mercy,” the man of prayer “conceives and brings forth the spirit of evangelical truth.”
Concerning the second element, penance, St. Maximilian states that “the purer your conscience is and the more you wash it with penance, the closer to the truth your knowledge about [the Immaculate] will be.”
Suppose [writes St. Augustine] that God would fill you with honey: if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey? That which the vessel bore in it must be poured out: the vessel itself must be cleansed… albeit with labor, albeit with hard rubbing, that it may become fit for that thing, whatever it be.11
Let Our Lady, exhorts St. Maximilian in a letter to the seminarians of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, “proclaim repentance in us and through our Order with the aim to renew souls… Let her preach to us such penance.”12
He adds in the same letter: “Let us open our hearts, let her come in, and let us generously give up our hearts, our souls, our bodies and all to her without any restriction or limitation. Let us devote ourselves to her completely without any limitation.” That is to say, let us permit our Mother and Teacher to truly introduce us into the “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge” and love of Christ which surpasses all understanding.
1 P. D. Fehlner, “Mariae Advocatae Causa. The Marian Issue in the Church Today,” Mary: Unique Cooperator in the Redemption, (New Bedford: Academy of the
Immaculate, 2005), p. 538.
2 P. D. Fehlner, “Mary and Theology: Scotus Revisited,” The Newman-Scotus Reader (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015), p. 137.
3 Ibid., pp. 153-154.
4 Cf. L.M.M. Smith, “Deign to Tell Me Who You Are,” Missio Immaculatae International, Vol. 13, No. 2 (March/April 2017), pp. 27-29.
5 L. Kondor, ed., Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, tr. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary, 16th ed., (Fatima: Secretariado Dos Pastorinhos, 2007) p. 84.
6 Cf. SK 1331.
7 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 15.
8 St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, n. 55.
9 St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, 3, 1.
10 Fehlner, “Mariae Advocatae Causa,” pp. 538-539.
11 St. Augustine, Homily on the First Letter of John, 4, 6.
12 SK 486.