The Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Rosary, And the Survival of Our Faith
“But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)
My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge, and The Way that will lead you to God. (Our Lady of Fatima)
One day, through the rosary and the scapular, she [the Most Blessed Virgin Mary] will save the world. (St. Dominic)
Let us be honest.
We now experience a situation in the Church (and obviously also the world) in which fear and trembling almost inevitably penetrate to the very marrow of our faith and charity. Virtually no one living only half a century ago could have conceived of a Catholic Church so weakened, stained with moral filth, outwardly compromised in the teaching of Christ’s Truth, and prostituted to the world as we now see before us. And, possibly most debilitating, no one could have imagined that this charge into a seeming hell of philosophical, theological, and pastoral disorientation would be led by a Pope (or Popes).
Christ promised a Church built upon a rock against which the gates of hell would not prevail. Much of what we now receive through our mind and senses testifies against such perpetuity – just as a scourged, spat upon, bloody, and crucified Christ appeared to testify against His Divinity, and His promises, on that day almost 2,000 years ago when He was put to death. It therefore creates a deep uneasiness within our souls which challenges us to the depths of our faith.
In this time of severe crisis, it behooves us therefore to passionately seek the answers to two questions: What is faith – what is the deepest nature of the act by which man possesses that theological virtue absolutely necessary for salvation? And secondly, what is the surest means by which that faith is protected and retained?
The definitive teaching on the nature of the act of faith is to be found in Vatican Council I’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith:
“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. (Heb 11: 1).”
It is quite easy to quickly read over this passage, to render assent to what it says, and yet never penetrate to the depths of the words contained herein, or to their implications.
However, this dogma was given to us by the Holy Spirit at the beginning of this Modern Age which has seen virtually every conceivable deception being thrown at the intellect of man in order to make the Christian faith appear impossible, irrelevant, and simply false. If we are not to be drawn into the vortex of this almost universal deception, it therefore behooves us to look very closely at this definition of our own act of faith.
What should impress us most powerfully and immediately in the definition of Vatican Council I is that all the truths contained therein proceed inexorably from that single truth which is proclaimed in the first five words: “Man being wholly dependent upon God…” Faith itself therefore must be seen as a Gift from God. This means that no matter what support the human mind and will may give to the sustenance of and preservation of our faith, they do not in themselves constitute the rock-bottom reality of what faith is. Moreover, the other side of this coin is the truth that to lose one’s faith is therefore not primarily a product of some sort of mental disorientation or gymnastics within the mind itself, but fundamentally a denial and rejection of the Gift of God. Spiritual, intellectual, and emotional disorientation may indeed constitute a temptation towards rejection of God’s grace, but such temptation does not define or determine the sin of unbelief in itself. Only the individual, in the depths of his own freedom, can choose to reject God and His Revelation.
The immediate effect of the acceptance of the gift of faith is the freely chosen act by which man submits his mind and will to God as He has revealed Himself. The above definition makes it quite clear that such submission is not to be equated with rational understanding. The act of faith is in itself a supernatural virtue expressed in that assent to God’s revelation made “not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive”. The act of faith can, and therefore should, exist despite the most severe intellectual and emotional disorientations and tribulations.
It is important to be very clear at this point in our examination of the nature of faith that this definition has nothing to do with Fideism, a heresy often promoted by both Protestantism and Modernism. Fideism asserts that the human mind, under its own natural power and operation, can know nothing about supernatural realities. Faith is thus seen as truly blind. Vatican Council I, on the contrary, teaches very specifically that faith is not blind, and that “God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason by means of created things – for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” Here the Council refers to Romans 1;20, and St. Paul’s very precise words in this regard:
“For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.”
We may then rightly ask the reason why faith is necessary for salvation. The answer is essentially twofold. First, as taught by the Council, “because God of His infinite goodness, has ordained man to a supernatural end, viz., to be a sharer of divine blessings which utterly exceed the intelligence of the human mind”. Although it be true any man is “inexcusable”, even from the perspective of natural reason, who does not acknowledge the existence of God, yet there are many mysteries regarding both God and man which can only be known through Divine Revelation, and which can only be assented to through the supernatural gift of faith. Such, for instance, are the truths about the Trinity and the Incarnation. And since there is no salvation except through Jesus Christ, then clearly faith in such Divine Revelation is necessary unto salvation.
Second, as delineated by the Council:
“But though the assent of faith is by no means a blind action of the mind, still no man can assent to the Gospel teaching, as is necessary to obtain salvation without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who gives to all men sweetness in assenting to and believing the truth….Reason, indeed, enlightened by faith, when it seeks earnestly, piously and calmly, attains by a gift from God some, and that a very fruitful, understanding of mysteries; partly from the analogy of those things which it naturally knows, partly from the relations which the mysteries bear to one another and to the last end of man: but reason never becomes capable of apprehending mysteries as it does those truths which constitute its proper object. For the divine mysteries by their own nature so far transcend the created intelligence that, even when delivered by revelation and received by faith, they remain covered with a veil of faith itself, and shrouded in a certain degree of darkness, so long as we are pilgrims in this mortal life, not yet with God: for we walk by faith, and not by sight.”
In other words, the supernatural Gift of Faith itself provides that “sweetness” of surety which no human intellect can provide in this life.
It remains for us to understand how faith can be so certain in the midst of the deepest darkness, and especially in the face of so much, both from the world without and the mind within, that would wage war against this certainty.
St. Thomas defines the act of faith as “an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God….” (ST, II-II, Q. 2, A.9). This is completely in accord with the Vatican I definition. However, even though much shorter than the Council’s definition, it penetrates deeper into the relationships between intellect, will, and grace which are integral to the act of faith, in which each must perform its proper function in relation to the others in order that faith be retained and preserved. We need have no concern in regard to the fidelity of God’s grace. We need always tremble and fear in regard to our own intellects and wills.
St. Thomas teaches that, absolutely speaking, when considering the makeup of human nature, the human intellect holds primacy over the will. We cannot will what we do not in some way know, and therefore we must understand the will as what Thomas calls the “intellectual appetite”. Further, our eternal fulfillment and happiness is to be found in that direct vision of God which we term the Beatific Vision – an act of the intellect ennobled by what theologians call the “grace of Glory”. Once in our possession, this direct Vision will ensure that our free wills never fall away from Divine Truth, or into sin and rebellion. The Beatific Vision therefore also determines the perfection of our free will, and therefore of all love.
In this life, however, the will can possess a certain precedence over the intellect. We now see only “through a glass in a dark manner”, and the intellect cannot therefore be gifted with perfect vision, and therefore certainty, in this life. In Thomas’ very descriptive phrase, it “remains restless”. Its understanding is partial: it can be confused, disoriented, and it can suffer much at the hands of all the passions. The will, however, with the aid of supernatural grace, possesses the power to perform that perfect act of charity, even in the midst of severe intellectual disorientation and doubts, by which it moves the intellect to certainty in the act of faith. This is why St. Paul could declare “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” In this life, therefore, our free will, moved by God’s grace, is the final determiner of salvation. It moves the intellect to assent. It is to this choice, and this grace, that we must remain faithful. It is here where certainty lies.
What should be most clear from all of this is that the fundamental grace of the act of faith is that which establishes a state of spiritual childhood in the mind and heart of the believer – that state which, according to the Vatican definition “yields” both intellect and will to God as He reveals Himself. This spiritual childhood is that root-act of humility, called by Our Lord “poverty of spirit”, which is the first of the Beatitudes, and the foundation of all the rest. According to the teaching of Thomas, it is to be seen as directly corresponding to the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is Fear of the Lord, and is the beginning and root of all other gifts which determine our growth towards Wisdom.
In many other articles I have spoken of the loss of Catholic faith caused by the penetration of false science into the depths of modern man’s intellect, heart and perception. Reductive science has undermined all the basic principles of human sanity: the Principle of Non-Contradiction; the concept of substantial being, and all that is integral to the concept of absolute and immutable truth. But even more fundamental, it penetrates to that deepest recess of the human soul where it chooses whether to look up towards God for the ultimate source of its knowledge, or whether it chooses, as the determiner of its own knowledge, to look below and within its own intellect. The fundamental temptation offered by Satan to man was that he would be like Gods “knowing good and evil” under his own power and faculties. In other words, such pride penetrates to the depths of the human soul, makes it impossible for man to recognize his own poverty, and therefore makes him essentially incapable of receiving the gift of faith.
This original temptation of Satan is now virtually a universal rule of life, according to the principle that anything which cannot be rationally explained is seen as detrimental to human integrity and aspirations. It began with original sin, blossomed into a mighty tree with the Greeks, inundated Christian civilization during the Renaissance, has grown geometrically with the “progress” of science over the past several centuries, and now threatens the entire human race with a Satanic pride which cannot even imagine kneeling to a God Who is the determiner of all Truth.
The Refuge of the Children of God
On the cusp of the exponential explosion of “scientific” hubris (pride) in the first part of the 20th century, Our Lady appeared to the three children of Fatima and told them that Her Immaculate Heart would be their refuge and the way that would lead them to God. The primary means by which this spiritual childhood to Our Lady was to be perfected was the rosary. During all six of her apparitions from May 13 through October 13, 1917 she instructed the children to pray the rosary every day. During the final apparition she identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary”, and requested that a chapel be built dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. During the “Miracle of the Sun” on October 13, three scenes appeared in the heavens (all three were seen by Lucia, but only the first was visible to Jacinta and Francisco): The first depicted the Joyful Mysteries with St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus, and Our Lady of the Rosary. The second consisted of a vision of Our Lady of Sorrows, and of Our Lord overwhelmed with sorrow on the way to Calvary, thus representing the Sorrowful Mysteries. During the third vision, Our Lady appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth, and thus symbolizing the Glorious Mysteries.
Our Lady also revealed the Five First Saturdays devotion, requiring the recitation of five decades of the Rosary, and a fifteen-minute meditation upon one or more of the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.
Our Lady, in other words, could not have been more clear or insistent as to what consecration to Her Immaculate Heart – and therefore that spiritual childhood which leads to God – requires. The Rosary is our refuge in the Days of Final Deception.
It has frequently and rightly been said that the heart and soul of the rosary is meditation on the fifteen mysteries themselves. This proves a great sign of contradiction to many people. Such meditation is a function of the intellect – of discursive thought and reasoning. It requires a state of concentration on specific facts and concepts which it is impossible to maintain during each Hail Mary recited one after another, decade after decade, mystery after mystery, day after day, year after year. And this is true even with the employment of something like a scriptural rosary. The mind – and the heart which follows it – has a tremendous difficulty being attentive in any really deep way to what might seem endless repetition. This can lead to a great deal of ennui (boredom, weariness, and discouragement). Thus the guilt which I think so many of us experience in relation to our praying of the rosary. We know, at least intuitively, that in order for Our Lady’s Heart to be our refuge, it needs to be that our hearts are engaged with Hers. This becomes very difficult for us to affirm in the midst of dull repetition, distraction, and torpidity. Yes, we initiate and say the rosary with some basic good intention towards God and Our Lady, but this becomes deeply vitiated if we do not somehow find a way to engage our mind, will, and affections beyond this basic “saying”. It would in fact seem very indicative of this problem that good Catholics often speak about “saying” the rosary instead of praying the rosary.
I would suggest therefore that the rosary is far more than just meditation, even though such meditation is integral and necessary for its recitation. I would be very skeptical about any method of praying the rosary which does not, at least in the beginning of a decade, focus at least briefly on the particular mystery and its meaning. But the rosary is a prayer which should engage all the many faculties of our soul, all the way up to and including those moments when these faculties become passive, but fully alert to the infused action of God.
I believe that the key to this deeper engagement is the Hail Mary itself. St. Louis de Montfort wrote, “St. Augustine, surpassing himself as well as all that I have said so far, affirms that in order to be conformed to the image of the Son of God all the predestinate, while in this world, are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin where they are protected, nourished, cared for and developed by this good Mother, until the day she bring them for to a life of Glory after death….” The first part of the Hail Mary, in which we pray “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus” is not only an act which acknowledges the Incarnation of Christ, but should also be that moment when all our faculties, and especially our simple affection of childlike surrender, follow Christ into the Immaculate Heart of Our Mother, which is her spiritual womb.
St. Louis de Montfort also said that the Incarnation is the greatest of the mysteries of Christ’s life on this earth because it contains the grace and intention of all the rest of the mysteries. If that be true of Christ, then our surrender to spiritual childhood to Mary contains the grace and intention of following Christ through all the mysteries of His Life, and therefore through all the mysteries of the rosary.
The second part of the Hail Mary continues this prayer for total spiritual childhood to the point of our death. It has been said (from a certain perspective) that the grace of final perseverance is the greatest of graces, simply because it determines our final destination in Heaven or Hell. To pray, “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” amounts to the total surrender of ourselves to the protection, nourishment, and care of Mary all the way through our lives up to and including that moment when all our faculties in this life are dissolved in death. It is, in a profoundly real way, the supreme act of total consecration to Mary, and therefore the following of Christ into eternity.
The key to this total consecration would therefore seem to lie in the simplest movement of our hearts in childlike surrender to Mary during each Hail Mary. It is this simple, affective prayer which moves beyond discursive meditation towards those moments of silence in which we may more fully experience the embrace of God. And should we become distracted, our return is as easy as a child turning, and once again looking at his mother. There is nothing complicated about it – nothing requiring the reconnection of the threads of a narrative or train of thought – but only the return of a child’s gaze. It is the simple “practice” of love, at which even the most foolish sinner can become better if he so wills.
The rosary, because of its structural content, is something that requires a certain time set aside for its proper recitation. It is clearly the will of God and of Mary that it be part of every person’s daily prayer life. It is the basis of our spiritual childhood lived within Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
It is my belief, however, that especially in these times of virtual universal disorientation and distress, the structured rosary, while indeed being the foundation of our personal prayer life, requires much more in order that such spiritual childhood be protected throughout the day. The rosary itself requires less than one-half hour. If this is all we do, then the rest of the day may well be surrendered almost entirely to forces which seek our spiritual death.
The Hail Mary, on the other hand, takes only about fifteen seconds. There is almost no limitation to the situations and times in which it can be prayed, even in the midst of the most worldly activity; in situations of temptation, anger, doubt, confusion, or even despair; and, especially valuable, as we are falling into sleep. Even if there is only time to pray “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”, this provides a powerful means by which we may be affectively drawn into Our Lady’s Heart as her spiritual children. It is in itself, when said in the humble spirit of a simple moment of offering one’s own heart to Our Lady, a most profound act of love and consecration which flees from the world in order to take refuge in Mary’s certain and protecting faith.
Our Lord instructs us that we are “always to pray, and not to faint [lose heart]”. He further makes it quite clear that it is this heart which must be maintained if there is to be any faith upon His return (Luke 18:1-8). For us to truly take this seriously, we must first fully admit that we are extraordinarily vulnerable children who, especially in the overwhelming spiritual crisis of our time, must find refuge in Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, or perish. The rosary, and especially the frequent praying of the Hail Mary, is the gift from Our Lady to secure us in this certainty of faith.
To Release Love
In his encyclical The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, Pope John Paul II wrote that “suffering is present in the world in order to release love”. This is a statement that has haunted me for the past 31 years. It has become a principle necessary for my understanding of the crucifixion of the Church which I have witnessed occurring over the past 35 years since my conversion. It has pursued me in my own life, and especially in my children who I have watched grow from the innocence of childhood into being subjected as adults to the crucible of suffering which is this modern Christ-hating world.
It was Blessed Simeon who prophesied to Mary that “thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed”. This verbal image of Mary’s pierced heart calls to mind the artistic representation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by a sword and releasing the flame of love towards Christ, and towards all men and women created in His Image. The spiritual maternity of Mary is, in its most profound essence, the transforming of human pain and suffering into the light and life of Christ. When, through the praying of the Hail Mary, we place ourselves and those we love within Her Heart, we are therefore exercising the supreme mercy towards souls for the glorification of God.
The Rosary and the Hail Mary are not therefore primarily about focusing on our own personal sanctification, but rather about striking the fire of love upon the flint of our hearts hardened by the effects of original and actual sin. If it be true, according to Christ’s words, that we must die to self in order to gain self, then it must be equally true that in our prayer life it is in loving God and praying for souls that we are meant to be perfected in that love which cannot help but be our sanctification. If our prayers are beset by dullness it is most likely because they are, at least secretly, turned inwards primarily towards ourselves.
Focusing on self-love, even in the virtuous cause of self-sanctification, inevitably leads to the torpidity of spirit which is possibly the most constant effect of original sin upon our minds and hearts. Interiorly, we are all dull unless our hearts erupt into love.
This is why the “other half” of the Fatima message concerns the necessity of reparation. We tend to conceive of the Catholic concept of reparation only in terms of “making reparation” for offenses committed against God. But the term reparation is a relational term. Reparation is therefore primarily concerned with the militant effort to “repair” souls to God. This is the most profound way in which we glorify God and make “reparation” for the offenses committed against Him.
The Rosary and Hail Mary are therefore prayers of “repair” not only for ourselves, but for others. And since our own hearts are most easily moved out of dullness not only by our own personal suffering but by the sufferings of those we love (our spouses, children, friends, and the whole suffering Church and world), then the Rosary and Hail Mary prayed for those we love should be the means by which our hearts are set afire. It is in this fire that our hearts become one with Mary, and through her to Jesus: “I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12: 49).
The Rosary is a violent prayer, demanding a violent love. Our Lord said that “the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away”. Such a concept may indeed come as a shock to those who envision the Rosary as a prayer predominantly consisting of peaceful meditations and gentle consolations. If, however, St. Dominic is correct in considering that it is through the Scapular (consecration to Mary) and the Rosary that the world will be saved, then we should be willing to seriously consider that these devotions necessitate the violence and “fire” of which Our Lord speaks.
The nature of this “violence” is unraveled by Our Lord in that same parable which contains the two passages we have already examined concerning prayer and its relation to the question of Our Lord as to whether there will be any faith left when He returns:
“And he spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint, saying: There was a judge in a certain city who feared not God, nor regarded man. And there was a certain widow in that city, and she came to him, saying: Avenge me of my adversary. And he would not for a long time. But afterwards he said within himself: Although I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her, lest continually coming she weary me. And the Lord said: Hear what the unjust judge saith. And will not God revenge his elect who cry to him day and night: and will he have patience in their regard? I say to you, that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?”
We need to penetrate to the spirit of this passage if we are to understand Our Lord’s demand that we “always pray” and not lose heart, and the connection which this fervent and persistent prayer bears to the survival of faith.
The widow who is the object of this parable is clearly operating almost totally in the realm of passion – of vehement anger and vengefulness. Obviously, when considering what Christ is trying here to impart to his listeners, this is a metaphor for spiritual realities. We see this sort of figure of speech used often in scripture, as for instance when scripture speaks of God’s anger. God is not subject to sensible passions. The word “anger” is thus used as a metaphor for His judgment and chastisement. All the violent language used in this passage is therefore constituted as a parable signifying those “elect” who will retain their faith because they “cry to Him day and night”.
There is, however, another great distinction to be made between the widow and the “elect”. The widow’s cry comes naturally. She is consumed by passion, and her vengefulness consumes her night and day. She does not have to labor to make this thing come alive in her heart. This is not true of the “cry” of the elect.
The Rosary and Hail Mary are a cry of the will. They may sometimes be accompanied by sentiment or passion, but this certainly is not the norm, nor does it provide sufficient motivation for the “praying always’ commanded by Our Lord. In order for them to become habitual, we must make a very conscious commitment to militantly praying “day and night”. It is not enough therefore to sit back and rest in the fact that we “say” our daily Rosary. We must strive with all our heart to correspond with the unceasing love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This, I believe, can be accomplished by the constant effort to extend our daily Rosary throughout the day by the frequent praying of the Hail Mary. It is a work of love.
“Pray, pray a great deal and make many sacrifices, for many souls
go to Hell because they have no one to make sacrifices and to pray for them.”
Our Lady of Fatima (Aug 17, 1917)