My evangelical friend is struggling with Catholic devotion to Mary. In particular he has a problem with what St. Louis DeMontfort said when he said:
Devotion to our Blessed Lady is necessary for salvation,and that (even in the opinion of Oecolampadius and some other heretics) it is an infallible mark of reprobation to have no esteem and love for the holy Virgin; while on the other hand, it is an infallible mark of predestination to be entirely and truly devoted to her.
He’s really bothered by that idea — that we must be devoted to Mary or we are reprobate — and I’m wondering how I can help him. I’ve always thought that devotion to Mary was an extremely beneficial but still entirely optional devotion. Am I wrong? How are we supposed to understand St. Louis’ words here?
I think the mistake here is turning the language of love into the language of law. St. Louis writes in love, like a devoted son, and cannot imagine the idea that somebody, laboring under all sorts of false apprehensions about Catholic theology, might be genuinely frightened that Marian devotion is a form of idolatry, a snare, and a deception. So such language strikes many a Protestant ear as a form of spiritual strong-arming: an attempt to intimidate a troubled conscience into knuckling under to goddess worship. It is virtually guaranteed to provoke a hardening response in the troubled Protestant’s heart. That is certainly not what St. Louis intends, but it is the almost universal response nonetheless in Mary-fearing Protestants.I think the better approach, which I tried to use in Mary, Mother of the Son, is to walk with the Protestant with all his fears and questions, doubts and misunderstandings of Marian devotion until it becomes clear that there is no There there when it comes to supposed “Mary worship” and that, in fact, the point of Marian devotion and doctrine is to point to and guard the truth about who Jesus is and about who we are as disciples. Once this is seen–and once it is seen that it is to us Jesus speaks when he says, “Behold your mother”, then we can return to the language of love and realize that a healthy Christian life means, in the words of Mother Teresa, “Love Mary as Jesus loves Mary and loving Jesus as Mary loves Jesus.” If we are serious about being disciples, who would not want that? If we are not serious about being disciples, we will continue to ask “What is the absolutely least I have to do to be saved?” At that point, the issue is no longer Mary, but the question of whether we are really interested in following Jesus completely or just in taking the bits and pieces of the gospel we like and ignoring the rest.