As a theology major, I enjoy an occasional theological puzzle the way that some of my peers in the Knights of Columbus enjoy an occasional cigar. I have sat through entire classes on Thomas’ threefold sacramental formula, and at the end of the semester have not decided to transfer to the College of Engineering, despite the better employment prospects.
In theology, we are often reminded of the importance of the intersection of vita and doctrina—that is, the way that we live (vita) should prepare us for and ultimately reflect the truths of the faith that we are studying (doctrina). When I have faithfully sought to embody this intersection by allowing my understanding of moral and spiritual realities to permeate my thoughts, words, and actions, I have found the study of theology to be extremely beneficial to my spiritual life.
Nevertheless, theological puzzles can lead down tortuous paths, and it is not difficult, especially for a novice like myself, to become so entangled in the puzzle that the beauty of the mystery is disfigured. For this reason, when I have the grace to acknowledge that my life of prayer and my attempts to practice virtue are falling short, I am more likely to turn, not to academic study, but to a much simpler source of grace and encouragement: the lives of the saints.
In other words, though I will happily muddle through theological texts all day, I recognize that I am neither Augustine nor Aquinas—and although I admire them both, I do not desire to be either of them. If I want to get anywhere in the spiritual life, I need a route that is direct and straightforward. Thus I have found the lives of the saints, especially those saints who offer us simple ways of responding to God’s love without becoming entrenched in theological jargon, to be both captivating and life-giving.
The champion of spiritual simplicity, of course, is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who famously gifted us her “little way.”
Today, however, I would like to suggest a practice of which no single saint can claim to be the origin, although it has been praised and promoted by countless spiritual giants such as Saint Louis De Montfort in the eighteenth century and Saints Maximilian Kolbe, John Paul II, and Mother Teresa in the twentieth. This practice, known as “consecration” or “entrustment” to Jesus through Mary, can be described as a total gift of self by which we commend our will to Our Lady and become hers entirely.
In performing this act of the will, we make ourselves fully available to Mary so that she can form us in love of Christ according to her own heart. Hers is, undoubtedly, the heart which loved Christ the most, and it continues to be the source of grace by which we receive the strength necessary to grow in holiness. Mary, who in agreeing to become the Mother of God agreed to become the mother of all of humanity, accepts us as her children, loves us with greater and purer love than any earthly mother, and desires our good—meaning, above all, that she desires to lead us to her Son.
I became enamored with the concept of consecration to Mary during the summer before my freshman year. Although I did not understand the theology behind it, I recognized that, seeing as its efficacy had been attested to by saints throughout the centuries, it was not simply “another” devotion. Consecration to Mary possesses a timeless and essential quality because it is ultimately the practice of conforming our own will to that of Christ. It is, in essence, the whole task of the Christian life.
Saint Louis De Montfort, in his classic text True Devotion to Mary, describes Marian consecration as the “quickest, easiest, and surest way” to holiness. Pope St. John Paul II recalls that reading De Montfort’s book was a turning point in his life that nourished his priestly vocation. He even chose the expression Totus tuus Maria (“totally yours, Mary”) as the motto of his pontificate. Saint Maximilian Kolbe founded the Militia of the Immaculata, which now has over 4 million members worldwide, to spread this devotion for the sanctification of the world.
As vice president of the Militia of the Immaculata at Notre Dame, I spend a significant amount of time devising strategies to expose more students to the practice of Marian consecration. I have witnessed the fruitfulness of this devotion among the student body as more and more students—over 100 last December—sign up for consecrations each semester.
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, a member of the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, has made this devotion accessible to the modern reader through his straightforward, easy-to-use, but profound book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. The popularity of this text has become so widespread that many parishes will order copies in bulk and distribute them to their parishioners free of charge.
Like Fr. Gaitley, St. Maximilian, and others, those students at Notre Dame who experience the effects of Marian consecration are, more often than not, set aflame with a desire to follow in the footsteps of those saints who promoted consecration. Their objective is not to add to the “numbers” of those consecrated, but rather to share this efficacious path of spiritual growth with all.
Why is Marian consecration so effective? There are thousands of explanations, and many of them resemble the complex theological “puzzles” I referenced earlier. But for those who prefer simplicity over complexity, the answer can be encapsulated in a single word: confidence. We confidently entrust our past, present and future, our works and prayers, and our sanctification and salvation, to Mary. This is a radical act of confidence, not in ourselves and our own abilities to climb the metaphorical ladder of holiness, but in Mary’s unfailing maternal love for those who give themselves to her as her children.
Venerable María Teresa Quevedo, a twentieth century Spanish girl who died at the age of 20, expressed this way of confidence as she sought tirelessly to become a saint. Rather than relying on her own efforts, she exclaimed, “I expect nothing from myself because I am as helpless as a newborn babe. But I expect everything from you, dear Mother Mary—even sanctity, which of myself I cannot reach.”
Nicole O’Leary is a junior theology and Italian major living in McGlinn Hall. She went to high school in a national park. Contact her at email@example.com.