Friday, April 20, 2012

A Few Brief Thoughts on Devotion

            What exactly is devotion? The general meaning rests on the commitment of oneself to a certain cause or person.  In terms of Christian devotion, however, what can we say is the drive behind the action?  Is it out of love or is it sometimes incentive-based? Only Christ can truly know one's heart and desires. But what does it mean to be truly devoted? Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27), basically leaving the world with the proper definition of devotion to our God.  But how can we, as a humans, begin to succeed in loving the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, strengths, and minds? The answer is through prayer.

            But what exactly does it mean to pray? Jesus taught us how to pray to him and his father. He said, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14) and gave us the Lord's Prayer. What we must understand as Christians, however, is that communication with God exists on ascending levels.  The more grace one possesses, the more clear and open he or she is to receive the abundant love Christ has to offer and the understanding the Holy Spirit can bring.  The human being who did and still does this best is, without a doubt, is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Possessing grace in its finest portion, she is the greatest saint and model for humanity second only to her Son. While Christ is in actuality the prime role model, we must remember that Christ was 100% human and 100% divine - a mystery of the faith.  Mary, who maintained no divinity, walked the Earth like every other human being making it easy for us to relate to her in so many ways.  Deeping a relationship of God, therefore, finds an incomparable catalyst through loyalty and prayer to Our Lady because of her paramount understanding of the Father that we as humans do not posses while still present here on Earth. 

            But in petitioning to Mary, does this mean that we are worshiping our Purest Mother?  The answer is no.  In many Christian denominations other than the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, adoration of the Blessed Virgin, as well as other saints, is not practiced because of the misconception that it places her in divine authority equal with the Father.  When praying to Our Mother, however, we are not praying to her with the belief that she will answer our pray through a divine power that she possesses, but through her petition to the divinity of the Holy Trinity, prayers may be answered.  We must understand that when asking the Blessed Mother to pray for us, it is the same act as asking a fellow friend to do the same. Only Mary is the closest human being to the Holy Trinity in the Heavenly Kingdom, and by her unmatchable grace she can communicate with God in a way we humans on Earth cannot even begin to fathom.   Thus in petitioning to Our Lady, her state of grace can substitute for ours in petition to the Christ. 

            The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour as well many other ancient accounts of the Blessed Mary's intervention may actually seem to portray Mary as possessing divine power more often than more modern accounts of miracles. Titles such as A Mortally Wounded Woman Cured By the Blessed Virgin as well as verses such as "The woman who could not be cured by doctors' medicines was cured by the Blessed Virgin and restored to her former health" make no reference to Christ or the Holy Trinity.  What we as readers must keep in mind is that the Roman Catholic Church was not yet divided when these articles were written, and thus different Christian denominations did not exist at the time of their authorship. The Christian readers of the time, who were all Catholic, most likely understood the fact that Mary was working through her Son without the need of it to be stated continuously.  Nonetheless, in the prologue the author does indeed mention, "she gives grace to the humble through the grace of her son", clearing up any minuscule instances of confusion among the readers of the time.

            Overall, a relationship and devotion to Christ is superiorly fortified through devotion to his Blessed Mother.  But we still must answer the question of what it means to be truly devoted. A wonderful explanation for this is found in the humble widow who offered two copper coins in Mark 12:44: "They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on."  In "The Tumbler of Our Lady", we see an excellent example of the process of devotion.  A young man enters an order as a monk, yet does not know much about the traditional way of praying (he doesn't even know the "Our Father") or how to form a relationship with God.  His solution?  He began his devotion to Christ through the Blessed Mother in prayer through an act he knew best: tumbling and dancing.  The young man offered himself completely with his heart, soul, strength and mind for hours and hours per day until he would ultimately faint from exhaustion.  He "put in everything", and the Blessed Mother was physically present there to respond to him in his needs, as observed by two other monks while the young tumbler was asleep from exhaustion. The young man did not use fancy language or rhetoric, or pray in tongues, or prophesize.  But with the gifts that he had, he gave all that he could through what he did best, all because he loved the Lord his God so much - true devotion.

- AM


  1. This reflevtion really incited a lot of thought within me. As a Catholic, I too question prayer and devotion. It seems that as you said, sometimes prayer is really only for ourselves--we pray to God asking him to grant us something, to make our lives easier. It seems very few pray to thank God, only praying with a request.
    Furthermore, I really enjoyed the explanation of the role Mary holds in the Catholic Church. Many criticize Catholicism for putting so much emphasis on the Mother, but it is because of her that Christ came into being in the first place. She had to consciously agree to the idea of conceiving Christ through God, which must have seemed absurd at the time. She knew she would have to at first endure embarrassment and ridicule for conceiving a child ot of wedlock, for who would believe her that it was an act of divinity? She, a human born with free will, is the reason we have been saved.
    Also, Catholics don't "worship" Mary, we revere her. We look to her for hope, strength, and guidance, and we must respect her for the amazingly incredible role she has in our religion. On another note, as a female, one of the reasons I choose to practice Catholicism is the emphasis Catholics place on Mary, a woman. Very few religions hold women in places of honor, and I really love the fact that the Virgin Mary holds such a high place in my faith.


  2. This is a beautiful explanation of how the Catholic Church understands prayer to Mary. I would have liked to hear more in detail about how the present-day model of praying to Mary matches (or conflicts) with what we saw in the stories that we read for the day. Yes, absolutely, prayer to Mary is effective not because she herself answers, but because she intercedes on behalf of the one praying, but it would have been interesting to explore how this intercession manifested itself in more detail. For example, as we discussed, there is no real "miracle" in the story of the tumbler; he is not healed or revived after death. It is simply that his devotion is accepted. How does this story compare with those in which Mary's intercession actually works a miracle in the physical world? The latter kinds of stories tend to be harder to read in contemporary terms--or do they?


  3. This discussion about devotion interested me greatly. As we have discussed in class, there is an emphasis on understanding through experience. This is reflected in the way some of the people we have read approach devotion. John of Caulibus, for instance, constantly demands that we meditate and concentrate “with full force of mind” (pg. 237) on the specific events of the passion of Christ. He stresses that we “notice every detail as if you were present” (pg. 239). This seems to me to be Caulibus’ attempt to experience the passion, for it is only through experience that one gains understanding. He in fact states that this is all for the purpose of further understanding Christ and his glory. “For the soul searching through the passion … with every fibre of her being, many unexpected pathways would open up… ; all of which would seem to her like foretastes and shares of glory” (pg. 237). St. Anselm, in his prayers and meditations, also seems to be obsessed with experiencing the passion, even asking that God make it up to him for not letting him be there to see and feel what those who were there did (pg. 97). For as he says to Mary, “what do I know of the flood that drenched your matchless face, when you beheld your Son, your Lord, and your God, stretched on the cross…?” (pg. 96). He cannot know the true feelings of experiencing the passion as Mary did and thus he cannot understand them, and it is only through understanding that he can truly devote himself to God. So, he prays for the ability to experience these feelings and thus to be able to give the devotion that God deserves.


  4. Ok. Without trying to make this into a theological debate, I present some of my observations/concerns. (As a precursor, I was not raised Catholic. In fact, I was raised in a Southern Baptist home, went to a Reformist high school, and currently go to a Presbyterian church. Just so you all know where I am coming from.)

    I guess I'll work bottom up. You mention in your 3rd paragraph the "misconception that [praying to Mary] places her in divine authority equal with the Father." While this is true, I believe that the issue with praying to Mary runs a little deeper and affects praying to saints as a whole. I believe that we can agree that we of our own sinful selves cannot approach God the Father because He is Holy and cannot look upon sin or have it in His presence, right? Yet, Christ's sacrifice on the cross rids us of our sinful nature so that we can have "access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him [Christ]" (Ephesians 3:12). Going further on this point, the writer of Hebrews says: "For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses... Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16). Even further one more step: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works that these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:12-13). I just don't see where or even how Mary and the other saints fit into this if even Christ himself says ask in my name. Why ask Mary if you can get to the "source" (for lack of a better term) directly?

    This is the biggest that I can't seem to wrap my head around. Another is mentioned in your second paragraph: "What we must understand as Christians, however, is that communication with God exists on ascending levels." Again, using the same verses used above, I am just not seeing this communication levels very clearly.

    Lastly (I promise), you use Luke 10:27 to say that true devotion to God is loving Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Yet in the same verse, the lawyer adds "and [love] your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:36-40 has a longer version of this and adds, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." If loving God is true devotion, loving our neighbor is just as important and I don't think can be separated from loving God with our everything. Just a small bit to help you with that part of your argument(?).

    Ok. Sorry for the long rambling.


  5. I think prayer would certainly be included in the commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and that, ideally prayer should be performed with all of one’s heart, etc. As you indicate with your references to the Rocamadour and other stories, there are many activities that can be counted as devotion. It looks to me like your take on “prayer,” as you discus it in the first half of your post, could be defined as “any activity that is performed in and with devotion [to God or the Virgin],” which provides an interesting angle on worshipful actions. It would be helpful from the beginning to see the stories engaged with the statements on devotion and prayer that you provide.