August 29, 2014 by lucieromarin
In my (vast) experience, when conservative Catholics admit to difficulties with Marian devotion, the difficulties aren’t intellectual, but emotional. That is, the person finds it easy to love the Church’s teaching about Our Lady, but difficult to love Our Lady herself.
Someone with bad memories of his mother can feel shut out of sermons or texts about Our Lady’s maternal love. “She has the tenderness of all mothers” sounds – to one who hasn’t experienced maternal tenderness – not only incomprehensible, but also as though the speaker doesn’t really know the truth about what mothers can be, and that’s annoying. Similarly, a series of doctrines, expounded and understood, may be intellectually satisfying, but can also leave the student feeling that she has been told to love a string of propositions. Highly-imaginative people, who are aware of the influence of their imaginations upon their thought, do not want to love a Queen who is, in some way, a work of their own creation, and they will hold in suspicion any sort of preaching or writing which seems to have been similarly affected.
Any of these factors – alone or in combination – leaves some conservative Catholics in the disheartening position of being unable to cast Our Lady from their lives, while simultaneously feeling themselves shut out of a relationship that other people appear to enjoy with ease.
What to do? As the fortunate possessor of a hard-won devotion to Our Lady, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve found helpful:
1) Know your reasons for feeling this way. There’s no point praying for healing from maternal rejection if your problem is scrupulosity about your imagination. Likewise, if your problem is a one-sided intellectualisation of Our Lady, then you need to stop reading and start praying, rather than praying less and reading more. And so on.
2) Stop comparing yourself to other people. There’s no point envying feelings you judge as genuine or scorning sentiments you judge as false. (I’m not talking about judgements such as ‘this statement is heretical’; I’m talking about judgements like, ‘She really loves Our Lady,’ or ‘She’s just emotional and imaginative and she doesn’t even know she’s not really praying to Our Lady at all.’) For a start, you can’t actually know another person’s internal dispositions. Second, whether you’re judging other people positively or negatively, whether you’re condemning yourself or condemning them – either way, there’s never been anyone who grew in love because she spent time making comparisons and judgements!
3) Stop feeling oppressed by the example of other people. It is easy to think that love of Our Lady means loving every expression of love for her. It doesn’t. Don’t waste time trying to reconcile yourself to this prayer group or that statue or this series of sermons or that book simply because someone else’s love for Our Lady is nurtured by that thing. His devotions is his. Your devotion is meant to be yours.
While you’re discovering what that is, stick with a) that which she herself has asked for, and b) anything licit that you happen to like. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to or like every possible sermon about the Rosary! It does mean you’re letting her direct you, instead of just floundering about in an unhappy sea of imitation. By the very act of choosing something simply because she likes it, you place yourself in a right relationship with her, and this is a good beginning.
The ‘anything licit’ goes for both sacred art and prayer. On the one hand, you don’t want to spend all your time judging things; if a prayer is badly-written, do not agonise for hours over the relationship between devotion and ghastly writing and wonder what you’re meant to do about it. You’re not meant to do anything about it. We’re not all Shakespeare, and in a universal Church, there’s room for a few soppy love-poems. On the other, you’re not bound to eliminate all judgement altogether. In your private devotions, you’re free to let your taste in art, poetry or music direct you to those expressions of devotion that turn your mind to God most easily.
I know this can be hard if you’re worried that you’re just Making Up a Devotion with Your Imagination. However, it’s important to remember that imagination, like everything else, can be placed at the service of love. If an image of Our Lady dressed as a Chinese Empress gives you pause, and makes you offer her a real act of virtue, then your imagination is doing exactly what it’s meant to do. It is true that love is founded upon knowledge; but you already know who she is. Imagination as a substitute for knowledge is not the same as imagination placed at the service of expressions of love. Who she is is more important than how she looks. If you know she’s the Mother of God, you can paint her as a Chinese Empress if you want to; the image puts your imagination at the service of the doctrine. It’s not the same as a locution-fantasy feeding your desire to be special!
4) Research lesser-known accounts of Our Lady’s appearances. Sometimes, familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes, too, the amount of devotion poured out by others on the most famous images and sites can damage your own growing devotion. It’s odd, but I find that reading about the lesser-known apparitions sometimes makes me feel that I can see and hear her better, without a great, noisy crowd around me. This is unfair to other people, but there it is!
I’d start with Beauraing, Banneux and Dong Lu.
5) Light a blessed candle when you pray. It’s a bit like the mantilla at Mass – it helps you focus and it lifts the prayer out of duty and into private, treasured ritual. Prayer is the raising of the mind and the heart to God (or, in this case, to His Mother), and, ultimately, being thus lifted, you’ll have prayed, however it is that you feel.
6) Okay, this sounds awful, but it really helps to have some kind of dreadful experience in which you feel almost completely powerless. (Er – I don’t mean like being sold into slavery. I mean like workplace bullying or getting dumped by a friend.) What I mean is that there is such a thing as too much thinking. If you’re in the habit of over-thinking, your Dreadful Experience can shake you out of that habit just long enough to actually focus when you pray, to see – perhaps for the first time – your limitations for what they really are, and, thus, to see her comparative greatness for what it really is.
Um – I’m not actually wishing a Dreadful Experience on anyone. I’m just saying that, if there is one, you can get something astonishing and wonderful out of it.
8) Time. It sounds terrible to say, “Just persist,” but it really is the best thing. All loves and all friendships grow differently; if your late-blooming love is not caused by lukewarmness, or unconfessed sin, or whatever (which, presumably, it isn’t), then it doesn’t matter that it’s late-blooming. When the blossom appears, it will be just as beautiful as any other – and maybe more so, because, by your very persistence, you’ll have given her the truest love, which is, as we know, not in the emotions, but in the will.
This year was the first in my life in which I happily bought roses for Our Lady. It was worth the effort and the wait.