By Jonathan Lynch
Take a look at the picture of the chain on my wrist. Perhaps you’ve seen just such a chain before, and knew exactly what it was and what it meant. Or perhaps you’ve seen it on a friend and finally worked up the nerve to ask why they were wearing it. Or perhaps you’ve seen it on a coworker and did have the nerve to ask if their beloved pooch ran off and they decided to wear its collar for a memorial bracelet. I’ve gotten all three, I kid you not.
The answer is simple. This, my friends, is the Chain of Awesome.
Or to reiterate in the vernacular, this is the chain of my Marian Consecration. I alluded briefly to Marian Consecration in my article about Saint Francis de Sales. Marian Consecration is a practice of devotion in the Catholic Church which can be easily misunderstood or regarded with undue caution, simply from being misunderstood. Consecration is simply setting something “apart” for a sacred purpose. But some people fear that in handing oneself over to the Blessed Virgin, you will end up short-changed somehow. Some people think that in consecrating oneself to Mary, you diminish your love and service to Christ. Some people may think that this practice is a novel invention with little or no historical grounding in Church history.
All three objections can be answered quite easily, simply by explaining what Marian Consecration actually is. Marian Consecration is the act of totally entrusting yourself to the care, protection, and guidance of the Mother of God. To use a reasonable comparison, it is like a little child allowing his mother to care for him, protect him, and lead him. In the natural world, this period of littleness is the period of greatest, fastest growth. And it is the same in the spiritual life.
Jesus tells us: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 18:3). And when we do become like little children, it is then that we can experience the greatest growth. To be clear, this is not childishness and immaturity, but childlikeness – a simple, humble trust, allowing God to lead us, rather than trying to reach heaven by our own spiritual strength and prowess.
In the Consecration prayers, we promise to surrender to our Spiritual Mother everything that we are, everything that we possess, everything that we do, so that she may be totally unhindered in her desires to form us as followers and disciples of her Son. And frankly, the idea of such total, vulnerable surrender is terrifying at first. But it really challenges us: how much do you trust her? Do you think that the most holy, perfect, and loving mother ever created would take advantage of your trust? Do you think that she could ever forget you or leave you washed up when you need her most? But it goes far deeper even than that. Consecration is not a mere contract; it is a covenant. It is not an exchange of temporal, or even spiritual goods; it is an exchange of persons. You are giving yourself to her entirely as her beloved, little child, and she is giving herself to you as your mother. But isn’t she already your mother?
So why even bother with Marian Consecration? Because in your consecration, you are making a solemn commitment, you are promising that you will allow her to exercise her maternal duties of love in your regard; and you are promising that you will be a good child of hers, placing no obstacle in her way, so that she can lead you in holiness. And you’d better believe it when I say that she’ll bring you farther and faster than you could ever go alone. If heaven is our goal, where is the risk?
But does all of this focus on Mary detract from our love and devotion to Jesus? Absolutely not. Rather, it places Jesus Christ more firmly at the center, for it is Mary’s sole desire to bring her children to the joy of heaven, to form us, and to lead us to her Son. Just look at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee: she brings the people who are in need to her Son, and says, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
And finally, isn’t it all a (relatively) recent invention of St. Louis de Montfort? Firstly, new prayers and devotions are not inferior on account of being newer. Think of Divine Mercy!
Secondly, Marian Consecration is old. We do not only find it in recent great saints such as Maximilian Kolbe, JPII, and Mother Teresa. It goes back even farther than St. Louis de Montfort in the seventeenth century. It is older than the monastic consecrations made by Benedictine and Carmelite monks in the twelfth century. It far precedes the consecrations of the “Servants of Mary” in ninth century Ireland. We find it in the writings of the Church Fathers, such as Saints Ephrem the Syrian, Ildephonsus of Toledo, and John Damascene, who wrote in his Consecration Prayer:
“We are present before you, O Lady… binding our souls to our hope in you, and as to a most secure and firm anchor, to you we consecrate our minds, our souls, our bodies, in a word, our very selves, honoring you with psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles.”
But Marian Consecration goes farther back than the Church Fathers. Saint John the Beloved Apostle took her into his home. We are all Jesus’ beloved disciples, and he invites us, as he did John, to “take her into our homes” and to allow her to be our mother.
I do feel, however, that one more thing should be said regarding Marian Consecration. It is a serious thing, not a whimsical “I’m gonna be real pious and holy-like, and do it because all of my friends are doing it and it’s a popular Catholic fad at the moment, and it’ll be real cool, and then I won’t really have to change the way I live, and I’ll just let Mary make me a saint and I can kick back and get holy fast...”
We live in an age where serious commitments are forgotten or ignored. How many people are serious about the commitments of their baptism? Of their marriage? Of their civic duties? Jesus says, “When much has been given a man, much will be required of him” (Luke 12:48). Marian Consecration is an amazing thing, a beautiful thing to embrace, but it is a serious thing, too; a solemn thing. That is why it is important to prepare for your consecration with intentional prayer and reflection. Two of the best preparations are by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC and by St. Louis de Montfort. The first is more focused on practical daily meditations, while the second is more focused on a regimen of daily prayer. I have used both, and both are amazing. But the period of preparation and discernment is important because it awakens in us the realization that our spiritual life is not a casual, lackadaisical affair; it really does need to be taken seriously. I mean, we are talking about eternity! This realization may cause some readers to wonder if living totally for God is worth the trouble. But no sooner does the question leave our lips than the great Pope Benedict XVI cries back in answer: “We were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness!” God does not call you to mediocrity; he calls each and every one of us to great heroism. And when He has called us by name, He will not withhold the aid that we need to follow after Him.
So now comes the question that you’ve all been wondering: “Why the chain?”
Because a chain is permanent. Ropes break. Bracelets snap. Medals fall off and get lost. Holy cards can be ignored or stuffed conveniently in a book to mark your page. But the chain on your wrist does not break. It does not fall off and get lost. It cannot be flattened and put in a book without considerable damage to your wrist. Since our consecration is a serious commitment, weak, forgetful people like myself need a constant reminder of how I have promised to live, something that I can see and feel, something that gets in my way and makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes because otherwise I would forget all about it. Heck, even as I write this, I am reminded that most of the time, I don’t take my spiritual life nearly seriously enough.
What is more, that chain reminds me that I am in the service of Christ and his mother Mary. Nothing says “I am bound to you” better than a chain. I am bound to Jesus and his Mother in their service permanently. Since July 16th, 2015, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I have been chained. I am no longer my own.
Holy Mary, Mother of God and my own Immaculate Mother, that I may better glorify the Eternal Father, better imitate the Divine Son, and be more perfectly attentive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, I consecrate to you this day myself: all that I am, and have, and call my own, in time and in eternity, trusting that you will lead, protect, and guide me in the ways that will most surely bring about the glory of God and my own sanctification. All for Thee, Sweet Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the glory of God, and the Salvation of Souls!