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Monday, February 10, 2014

Confessions of a Scrupulous Devotee to Mary

(The article was originally published in Queen of All Hearts Magazine January-February edition 1992. Sadly, this great defender of True Devotion to Mary has ceased publication. The magazine’s founder Father Roger Mary Charest, S.M.M., died on Aug. 16, 2012.  He established the magazine in 1951 and edited it through most of my lifetime. He blessed me with a relic of St. Bernadette when I was pregnant with my son, James.)

by Susan Fox

St. Louis de Montfort described Scrupulous Devotees as people “who imagine they are slighting the Son by honoring the Mother. They fear that by exalting Mary they are belittling Jesus.” (T.D. No. 94)

My first conversion to Christ occurred at the age of four, shortly after I learned my father had died as a result of a car
accident in New Orleans. My mother and my grandmother were each barely able to support the other as they walked me down to the hospital chapel. The place was dark and empty except for the light on the tabernacle. In the quiet hush of the room, my mother pointed there – at the light. She told me Jesus was really present, and I should pray for my father.

My first remembered prayer therefore was one of denial. I was angry and told Jesus I wouldn’t pray because my father wasn’t dead.  But that was the beginning of faith because since that day I have never doubted the Real Presence of Christ, and I grew up with a wonderful love of the Eucharist. It was as if on that spring day in 1957, Jesus had said, “You lost your Dad? Well you can have Me instead.”

Ah, but Mary, His Mother, was another matter. I went to St. Joseph’s Catholic grade school in Placentia, California. I was taught by a wonderful group of Franciscan nuns. Surely I heard about Mary in school? My mother, who was active in the Legion of Mary, said the Rosary every day. Surely I heard about Mary at home? But the four-year-old girl who lost her father haunted me. The child in me jealously guarded her relationship with Jesus. Let’s face it. Mary represented some heavy competition. She was His mother.
"This is just a statue!" I thought

So I became like Saul of Tarsus every time I confronted a devotee of Mary. During my visits to the Eucharist when I would see some needy soul kneeling before a statue of Mary, I would think to myself: “That is just a statue! Why don’t they kneel before the living Presences of God, the Holy Eucharist?” 

St. Louis Marie de Montfort knew me 300 years before I was born. He wrote about my condition when he described the seven kinds of false devotion to Mary – among them “scrupulous devotion.” (True Devotion, 94)

“Scrupulous devotees are those who imagine they are slighting the Son by honoring the Mother. They fear that by exalting Mary they are belittling Jesus. It annoys them to see more people kneeling before Mary’s altar than before the Blessed Sacrament, as if these acts were at variance with each other or as if those who were praying to Our Lady were not praying through her to Jesus,” the saint wrote.

Alas, it was true. That was I. I’ll admit that God sent me a lot of clues about the real state of affairs, but I didn’t listen.  I spent my Junior year of college in France studying the language. I visited the site of the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France. It was a miraculous day. The French people there were so transformed with love. For one day I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere. But I still didn’t get it. I didn’t realize the Spirit of God was there because He was the Spouse of the Virgin Mary. And she, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, would naturally radiate His living Presence.

I went to graduate school in Kentucky, and my best friend there was devoted to Mary. She was a new convert and a little afraid of Christ because He was so awesome and He was God. She could relate to Mary’s humanity. We used to have frequent Mary vs. Christ arguments. In retrospect, we should have saved our breath. I knew someday I’d have to face the issue of Mary as a believing Catholic, but I honestly thought it would be when I was confronted by my own mother’s death.

When I was 25, I joined a Catholic lay apostolate called the Servants of Christ in Spokane, Wash. I was attracted to the work done for the homeless, and the effort to live a simple lifestyle. But I graphically remember one Wednesday night meeting after we’d eaten our soup and bread; everyone sat around and discussed Mary.  Most were openly hostile to her. Others condemned the practice of praying the Rosary. It was dark days in the Catholic Church – the 1970s.

Oddly enough, I was Mary’s only supporter. I argued passionately that though I had no personal experience of it, I knew there was something to saying the Rosary because my mother had done so for years, and she seemed to do a lot of good. I convinced no one.

Interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes
in Spokane, Wash. The legionary approached my
mother and I in the front of the Church on the left side.
When I was still in the Servants of Christ, my mother and I had been praying at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane, when a woman approached us from the Legion of Mary. When she found out that my mother had been in the Legion of Mary for many years in California, she invited me to join her group in Spokane. I refused, saying I was already in the Servants of Christ. But I thought to myself, “What! Join that fuddy duddy organization when I get to do important things like work on skid row with the homeless?” The woman persisted. She bluntly told me that some day I would be in the Legion of Mary. Today, the Servants of Christ no longer exist, but the Legion of Mary continues to prosper. And I am an active member.

Very shortly after that incident, I got a new job in Washington, D.C. I moved to the nearby suburb of Arlington, VA. There was no Servants of Christ there and I was anxious to continue in the lay apostolate, so I joined the Legion of Mary. I’ll never forget my first meeting. The legionaries were mostly older women, who were obviously thrilled to have someone so young to join the group. But I was anxious to start with a clean slate, so I confessed I had no devotion to Mary, but I was attracted to the work. They must have been quite shocked, but none of them showed it. And they kindly adopted me anyway.

International Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima
About that time Louis Kaczmarek escorted the International Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima Statue to a nearby parish in Northern Virginia for an all night prayer vigil.  I went to confession before the Virgin arrived, and the priest told me to ask Our Lady for a miracle.  Then Louis brought in the statue. Her shawl gleamed with beautiful red jewels. Her eyes seemed to dance with happiness. Everyone was singing and clapping. I was thrilled, but very tired. I couldn’t think of just one miracle, so I listed about 20 of my concerns, and told Mary to pick which one she wanted to grant.  Because the priest had ordered me to ask for a miracle, I never doubted I would get ONE. As an afterthought, I said, “Oh yes, please give me a devotion to you.”

Shortly afterwards my Legion president gave me a copy of True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. She told me it was the spiritual basis of the Legion of Mary. I liked what I was doing in the Legion so I read it. Well “read” is not the right word. I fought with the ideas in the book. I now understand what Jacob went through when he wrestled with the angel for a blessing. About three-quarters of the way through the book, I wept and I finally surrendered. I was again converted to Christ – this time through Mary.

My Legion president,
 Pat DeSimone,
who witnessed
 my first consecration in 1981
I found my true devotion in 1981 – 23 years after my father’s death. At the age of 27, I became a slave of love, making my consecration to Jesus through Mary. With my Legion president by my side, I went to confession, communion, and I gave myself, my heart, all my worldly goods and actions to my Queen and my Mother. I now understand that when I say, “Mary,” she says, “Jesus.” And every gift I give her is polished and made perfect, and then handed to her Son, Jesus. True Devotion to Mary is the short, sure and easy road to Jesus Christ.

But Mary wasn’t content to give me only ONE miracle. Once I was wholly hers, everything I had asked for that night was mine. Two years later I met my husband in the Legion of Mary. My stubbornness about Mary had melted just in time because Lawrence had always vowed he wouldn’t marry anyone except a good Catholic girl DEVOTED TO MARY  -- a devotion he’d had practically since birth. And now our three-year-old son (who is named James after my father) frequently goes to the rest home with me, and hands out the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception. The elderly people there are deeply touched by his presence. And my own mother, age 72, is still a healthy active member of the Legion of Mary.  

Only God knows how wrong I was about His Mother’s Army. The Legion of Mary is not a “fuddy duddy organization.” In fact, it was founded quite miraculously to help prostitutes get off the street. And no one could be more concerned with the homeless than its spiritual father, St. Louis Marie de Montfort. In mid-1980s, I was blessed to hear Fr. Roger Charest speak about the saint who self-identified by the city in which he was baptized – Montfort -- because Baptism was very important to him. Father Charest told the story of the 17th century priest finding a homeless man in the street, and returning to the rectory with the man in his arms. It was late at night so the door was locked. The saint knocked, but when the sleeping priests failed to respond he stood outside and shouted, “Open the door to Jesus Christ!” He then took the man in, fed him, bathed him, and laid him on his own bed.

Thanks to St. Louis Marie, I now know the Woman who really supported my mother and my grandmother when they took that difficult walk to the hospital chapel after my father’s death. I now know the Woman, Mary, who gave her Son to a grieving child in the hour of her greatest need. And I have to give praise with her cousin, Elizabeth, and ask, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Postscript: Louis Kaczmarek escorted one of the two International Pilgrim Virgin Statues for 20 years. He wrote a wonderful book called, “The Wonders She Performs.”  He died on Sept. 4, 2011.You can read about the statue and its miraculous mission here: MIRACULOUS FATIMA STATUES First Miracle of the Doves   
I saw Louis and the Pilgrim Statue some years later in San Francisco.  The joyous “presence” the statue exuded on that Friday night in Virginia was miraculous. I say that because in San Francisco I saw the same statue and it was crying.

My first Legion president was Pat DeSimone. I gave the eulogy at her funeral. You can read her story here: Eulogy for the Virgin Bride

I am currently an auxiliary member of the Legion of Mary, which means that I say the Rosary daily. LOL. My my son is now 26 years of age. You won't believe this, but my father died on the feast of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, April 28, 1957.

It was significant that I was able to receive true devotion to Mary through only one reading of St. Louis Marie’s treatise on the subject. Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, had the same struggle I did. He had to read it seven times. And then he founded one of the most amazing Marian organizations the world has ever known. The Legion of Mary is the grandmother organization and model for all of the other lay apostolates we have in the Church today. Frank was the only layman allowed to participate in Vatican II. And many things in the Legion handbook, which Frank wrote, found their way into the Vatican II document.

When the Legion was first founded in 1921, priests sometimes argued they didn’t want it because it did the work of the priest. It’s true. It does. But there were many priests in those days.  By the time, I started extension work in the Legion, the priests were fewer in number and  the pastors said there were already enough lay organizations doing what the Legion did -- nursing home visitation, communion to the sick, Catholic Discussion groups, youth and prison ministry. The layman had responded to the Church’s call to holiness, and moved into the world just as Vatican II had indicated we should. But I always humbly asked them, “Do you have anyone doing door-to-door evangelization?” Every one of the 15 plus Legion groups I started began with the mission of door-to-door evangelization. This work of evangelization is the chief charism of the Legion of Mary.

I am profoundly touched and amazed that all these great apostles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom I have mentioned here, died so recently, each of them having moved me closer to Jesus through Mary at key points in my life. Pat DeSimone and Fr. Charest died in 2012 and Louis Kaczmarek in 2011. Actually, include my mother, Tora Hutchison, in the group. She died in 2001. They all lived to ripe old ages.

Well done, O good and faithful servants of Jesus and Mary; May God give us a bountiful crop of young people devoted to the twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary who will carry on your work to make  Jesus reign through Mary in the hearts of everyone in the world.   #PraytoEndAbortion

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