How can a soul benefit from a “Mariform” life? Because Mary is everything good and perfect, the Holy Spirit has made her our Mother so that we might draw from her virtues and imitate her in the love she bears her divine Son. A “Mariform” life is, in fact, a foretaste of “eternal” life.
Let us meditate on the Marian doctrine of Venerable Michael of St. Augustine, a 17th century Carmelite religious, author of a precious work entitled, The Mariform and Marian Life: In Mary, For Mary. In just a few short chapters, the author lays out for the devout soul the path which leads to transformation in Mary. The term “Mariform” is used to denote this transformation, which gives our life a “Marian form.”
Union with Mary is a special gift of the Holy Spirit who, in certain moments, renders Marian devotion deiform. It is characterized by a great impulse of tenderness and innocence:
When this tender, filial affection for our lovable Mother is caused in the soul by the Spirit of God or divine love, then all happens, as it were, spontaneously. Nature itself seems to be, for a time, changed; it seems to assume the innocence and tenderness and other attitudes of a child towards its dearest and most lovable Mother. In this way the soul treats with Mary most innocently… This innocent dealing with Mary, Mother most lovable, is simply the exuberance or overflow of divine love which leads and tenderly draws the soul to her; in such a way, however, that the soul, carried towards Mary on the floodwaters of divine love, draws Mary with it and returns to God, without medium or hindrance of any kind.1
The Holy Spirit perfects in us the practice of the virtues in such wise that, by virtue of the gift of piety, our Marian devotion is also made perfect. This gift makes us love all that God loves with a great tenderness, in the measure that he loves. Jesus, the Son of God, makes us love the Holy Virgin as He loves her. Our devotion thus becomes an extension of the love the Son bears his most holy Mother.
It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to her and stirs within us an immense tenderness toward her. It is the Holy Spirit who enkindles within us the flame of true devotion and who makes us as infants in the arms of the most tender of mothers. Apart from this divine impulse, our Marian devotion will be more “reasonable” and less spontaneous. However, the soul devoted to Mary must take care not to forestall the action of the Holy Spirit, not to simulate it, not to force it; otherwise, it will fall into an artificial devotion, one that would be dangerous and illusory:
Aside from this actual operation of the Holy Spirit or divine love, Mary’s loving child will remain mindful of her and lovingly inclined towards her, without, however, such innocence and tenderness, but with a more sober and virile affection. In fact, even if it so wished, the soul could not then behave with such innocence and tenderness as before. Such a manner of acting would then be almost hypocritical.2
The work of the Holy Spirit makes our Marian devotion particularly tender and affectionate. So great is our love for her that it is as if someone else in us loves Our Lady. These visits of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with joy, and we must receive them with great gratitude. Venerable Michael of St. Augustine explains well how we must be ready to draw profit from these “heavenly visits,” during which it seems as if we are another person:
It might be said that there are two persons, totally different, in the soul, and each, in turn, plays his role—not affectedly, but naturally… The soul wonders at itself, because it discovers in itself such contrary dispositions from time to time, almost as if it were not one and the same person. Therefore, lest this drama of love be spoiled, the soul should ever attend carefully to internal inclinations which proceed from it almost spontaneously, so that it may simply follow these and do no violence to its spirit.3
Our author speaks of two persons in us. By ourselves we are insignificant, and our love for Our Lady is very destitute. But when Jesus acts in us, our Marian devotion “takes flight” and is lifted up beyond all imagination.
By the action of the Holy Spirit, our devotion to Mary reaches such a state of perfection that our thoughts become fixed on her, and we become, as it were, absorbed in her, lost in her. Venerable Michael of St. Augustine beautifully expresses this reality in words replete with filial love:
Marian souls reach a point where they are scarcely able for a moment to forget Mary, their Mother… Because of the tenderness of their love, they seem to lose themselves in Mary, to be almost absorbed in her… At times they experience great joy in seeing their dear Mother so powerful, so greatly loved and honored by God; they know not what to do or say in thanksgiving to God for having thus honored their Mother.4
After Jesus, the greatest joy for these souls is now Mary. Even hearing her spoken of is, for them, an indescribable sweetness, as we read in the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino, who went into ecstasy simply upon hearing the Holy Name of Mary:
The Marian soul sometimes seems to have Mary as its very life-breath. When hearing or speaking Mary’s name, or even when writing or merely thinking it, the soul is filled with joy and takes the occasion to renew the complete oblation of its heart to her, so that in her hands it may be cleansed from all that displeases her and God.5
The Venerable goes on to explain how love of Our Lady leads to being transformed in her, living in her, because love tends to union with and transformation into the person loved:
Many other outbursts of love are experienced by souls in this Marian life, so that, at length, a soul seems to live more completely in Mary and in God than in its natural abode. For a soul is more properly where it loves than where it lives; and the Marian soul so sincerely and tenderly loves Mary in God that it can be said to live in Mary, with and in God. This love is also the explanation of union with Mary and transformation in Mary, for love tends to unite and to liken, as experience teaches even with regard to inferior forms of sensual and carnal love.6
Reading these pages, one might think that this powerful devotion to the Immaculate could somehow place an obstacle to Jesus and relegate Him to a secondary plane. In reality, love of Mary facilitates our union with Jesus. In a certain sense, the Immaculate is like a most pure crystal that permits us to fix our gaze more securely on Jesus. Looking at her and loving her, we see and love Jesus and the Most Holy Trinity, and vice versa. Venerable Michael of St. Augustine expresses this thought in these moving words:
The soul, led by the Spirit of God, keeps but few images of Mary in its mind: it sees Mary as so completely one with God that God and Mary become one simple object of contemplation and love for it.7
Wherever Mary is, there is her Son. He who contemplates Mary comes to know her Son better. St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, the “fool of love for the Immaculate,” gives us a most beautiful example: he instituted perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in the City of the Immaculate, Niepokalanów. His devotion to Our Lady paved the way to Eucharistic devotion. This is the reason why, in recent magisterial documents, the Church teaches that it is a praiseworthy practice to pray the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed on our altars. When we pray to Mary, we adore Jesus.