Many non-Catholics (and now many Catholics as well) simply don’t understand why we venerate Mary and the saints. The common question is, “Why not just go straight to Jesus?” In fact Scripture tells us to! (Doesn’t it?) Yes, the Lord does want us to go straight to Jesus, and through Him to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. However, the straight path to Jesus, and through Him into the life of the Holy Trinity, is by way of His Church: in the firm truth of Catholic teachings, in the grace of Catholic sacraments, in the moral living of Catholic Christian life, and in the Catholic communion of prayer.
The straight way to Jesus is in and through His Church! And the greatest of her members as examples, models and prayer-companions for each of us in His Church are the saints. And among the saints, one holy woman is above them all by God’s choice, intention and provision: Mary. The straight way to Jesus is with Mary.
Many non-Catholics (and now many Catholics as well) simply don’t understand why we give such attention and honor to Mary. Doesn’t this subtract from the attention and honor we give to Jesus? No, the opposite is true: Mary enables us to see Him more clearly. Mary orients us straight to Him, that we may honor Him more fully, more intensely, more completely.
To understand the veneration and honor that is due to Mary, I think one has to understand and appreciate the value of a true model or example of something. If as a boy your Dad told you to do something for the family – such as cut the grass in the yard, for example, but never showed you what a good grass-cutting looked like, you would have a hard time doing it right. You might have to try many ways, many attempts by trial and error, seeking the best way to do it. We need an example to follow. If your father first told you to come, watch him very carefully as he did it, then you would have an example to follow.
When a young man begins to sense something in his heart that he thinks might be love for a young woman, it would be good if he has a model of what real conjugal love is – what it looks like. We need examples of doing things – of cutting the grass, or of forming a bond of human love, or of any other human reality. But if our examples are mixtures – goodness mixed in with imperfections, mistakes or downright errors – then such examples are of mixed value in helping us know and “see” what to really strive for ourselves.
Thus the saints are beautiful examples for young people and for us all, of the human call to holiness and the perfection of charity, or holy love. But even the saints in their earthly lives were flawed. Even the saints had original sin and human imperfections as we also have. They can show us models of the heroic overcoming of original inclinations for the sake of Christ! But their examples are not perfect, nor complete. They can’t show us the perfection (without spot or blemish) to which we are all called, and toward which we all ought to aim. The saints can show us how they, in their individuality and gifts, could in a limited way bring Christ to the world in their own personal lives. But only one human person can show us the perfection of the human vocation to bring Christ to the world! Only one person, His mother Mary, can show us both the literal and the spiritual bringing forth of Christ to the world, in the fullness of her “yes” to the will of God.
Jesus does show us the perfection of humanity, but He is not a human person – He is a divine Person, God the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Mary is a human person as we are human persons, and Mary, uniquely, is the perfect example of a human person, having no sin at all nor any sinful inclinations at all, ever. Mary is the perfect human example for us all of the universal human call to holiness and the perfection of charity – the perfect example for all, for men and for women.
Mary is more than that, but she is that – and that is one thing to keep in mind. That alone makes her worthy of devotion – veneration – highest regard and respect.
Mary is also our mother in the order of grace. Mary was given to all disciples at the Cross, in the person of John the Apostle called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John showed us our proper response to this gift from God in his Gospel, “he took her into his own.” We too are called to “take her into our own,” as spiritual mother. Though all who keep the Word of God are “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus, Mary is uniquely one who “kept” and who “keeps” the Word of God, literally and spiritually, thus here too she is uniquely mother to all who keep and treasure and obey the “words” of “the Word.”
In her maternal love, Mary is uniquely ordered to be intercessor for us in prayer. All the saints delight in the work of intercession on our behalf because of the holy love – charity – that they live in glory! But Mary above all, in her perfection in grace, in her maternal vocation, tends to her children by God’s design and intention, in a full and unique way.
These were some of the thoughts that helped me to understand de Montfort’s vision and insight into a truth that changed the spirituality of the man who would be called John Paul II: the mystery of the call to Jesus through Mary – the journey of discipleship to Jesus through Mary – the coming into union with Jesus through Mary.
Mary, because God made her as He did, is the perfect – literally and uniquely the perfect – lens though which (through whom) we fallen human beings can begin to see, in ever growing clarity, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Yes, our vision is clouded by the imperfections and wounds of the fallen nature in us, and in those we look to for guidance and help. Jesus is our Savior, and our intercessor before the Father! Oh how we need to look to Jesus, and to see Him as He is! In our wounds and imperfections, however, we can fail to see Him as He is and instead we can begin to see Him as less than He is. We can begin to see Him as we want.
So God created a New Eve, a new mother for a new generation and a new creation, and her first-born was the Christ, come to save us from our sins. She was made to be the mold in whom His perfect humanity was to be formed and brought forth; hers was the milk to nurture Him and the arms to rock Him to sleep. Hers was the love to mother Him, even to the foot of His Cross. Hers was the maternal heart Jesus entrusted with His beloved disciple, and all His beloved disciples. She is the perfection of His Church, sent to be light to the nations until the end, showing forth with every human movement the way to Jesus our Lord.
I urge you the reader – if you do not yet share that vision of de Montfort, Jesus through Mary – to begin to seek to see it as John Paul II did as a young man. It is a process of growing in appreciation of God’s work and mystery – a journey more and more beautiful in every step.