The secular world of today is a powerful force in luring young people away from the practice of virtue. First and foremost, parents must entrust their children, from the cradle, to Mary’s care and protection. There is no possible way to combat this cultural decadence unless children are grounded in devotion to our Mother at an early age, so that they can build their lives on a secure foundation, especially in imitation of her unblemished chastity.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother is important for the salvation and sanctification of everyone, but it is especially crucial for the youth to be accustomed to giving her their love, honor and service, and to learn how to imitate her virtues. Children, teenagers and young adults alike, should be taught the significance that Marian devotion should have in every aspect of their lives.
St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort wrote in his treatise, True Devotion to Mary, “All true children of God have God for their father and Mary for their mother.” Children, even more so than adults, find it natural to look with confidence to their mother, to entrust themselves to her, and to confide all their cares, worries and troubles to her maternal solicitude. One of the greatest tragedies of our day is the large number of children who have never known the Blessed Mother and who have never even had the opportunity of learning that they have a loving Mother in Heaven to whom they can go with all their daily concerns. If children grow up knowing Our Lady, cultivating the habit of flying to her arms for refuge, and striving to imitate her holiness of life, they will lay a secure foundation upon which they can build the rest of their lives.
Our Lady, in turn, will take under her protective mantle all those children who show a special devotion to her in their youth, and she will never forsake them. She makes it her particular interest to ensure their eternal salvation, even if they should stray from their childhood devotion. As St. John Bosco said, “The fullness of love in all the mothers of this earth could never equal the love Mary has for each one of us.” Parents who wish to safeguard their children’s innocence and preserve their faith as they grow older, have no better means at their disposal than that of implanting devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in their minds and hearts. They should daily entrust each of their children to Our Lady, asking her to protect and guide them each day of their lives and to bring them one day to Heaven.
Marian devotion is, furthermore, absolutely essential for youth in discerning God’s calling for them. Since it is Our Lady who obtains the special graces needed in discerning and realizing one’s vocation, it is to her that these young people must turn. She will grant them the strength they need to persevere and to make good use of the graces granted to them in order to fulfill their state in life.
In his 2001 Message for Vocations Sunday, Bl. John Paul II gave us this beautiful prayer to Our Lady for Vocations:
Most holy Virgin, who without hesitation offered yourself to the Almighty for the carrying out of his plan of salvation, pour trust into the hearts of young people so that there may always be zealous pastors who are able to guide the Christian people on the way of life, and consecrated souls who may know how to witness, in chastity, poverty, and obedience, to the freeing presence of your risen Son. Amen.
Devotion to Our Lady and a firm determination to practice her virtues becomes even more indispensable as children begin to grow up and start to experience threats to their purity and innocence, and temptations against chastity. St. Philip Neri asserts, “Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Mother are not simply the best way, but in fact the only way to keep purity.” In today’s world, it is supremely difficult to keep purity and chastity completely intact. Our entire culture seems aimed at making young people forget the beauty and importance of the virtues of purity and chastity, telling them that they should do whatever they want. Society employs every possible means to encourage them to not only disregard these virtues, but also disregard the Church’s teachings on life, human sexuality and marriage as well.
The only truly effective means of resisting these snares of the world is a lively devotion to the most pure Virgin and a willingness to contemplate and imitate her beautiful virtues. St. John Bosco asks, “Do you want to please your Heavenly Mother? Practice the virtue dearest to Her—chastity.” He also speaks of the importance of custody of the eyes: “Mortify your eyes now, so that you may see the glory of our Blessed Mother and the glories of Heaven in a purer way.” To his boys, whom he always exhorted to great purity of heart and chastity in their manner of living, he said, “Mary is Immaculate and hates whatever is contrary to purity. An impure boy will never be loved by Mary, nor will he ever make progress.”
Young women can find in Our Lady the perfect example of purity and chastity. By meditation on the Blessed Mother’s exemplary practice of these virtues, they can understand how they are to practice them and gain the grace and strength necessary to do so in the midst of a culture hostile to virtue. Since modesty is an integral part of preserving purity and chastity, young women and girls can also look to Our Lady as a role model in the area of dressing modestly. When choosing clothing, the guiding question should be, “Would Our Lady find this appropriate to wear?”
Whether called to the married state, to religious life, or to serving God as a single person in the world, young women can also look to Our Lady for the grace and example needed. As perfect Mother and Spouse, Our Lady can guide those contemplating marriage or beginning their life as a wife and mother. Unmarried women can also learn how to live in virginal chastity and cultivate the practice of spiritual motherhood. Although they may give up earthly marriage and physical motherhood for the sake of Christ, they become a true spouse of Our Lord and a mother of souls in a mystical way. They can imitate Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross by offering up their prayers and sufferings in union with Christ’s redemptive Passion and Death, in order to obtain the salvation of souls and mercy for the world.
Young men have a beautiful example to follow in St. John, the beloved disciple. He was the youngest of the Apostles and loved in a special way by our Lord for his innocence and purity. Furthermore, he alone of the Apostles had the courage to stand with the Blessed Mother at Calvary. How Our Lady, too, must have loved him!
Like the beloved disciple, young men should cultivate a tender, filial devotion toward the Mother of God. They can be like her knights: soldiers of purity and missionaries who strive to spread love of her to the ends of the world. This is a privilege and duty entrusted in a particular way to young men who are pursuing a vocation to the priesthood; as priests, they will be loved in a special way by Our Lady, and they will have a particular duty to honor her and preach her glories and virtues.
The youth are the hope of the future, and Our Lady is the key to awakening the hearts, minds and souls of young people to the beauty of the Truth. Let us pray that Catholic youth everywhere will show a renewed love for Our Lady and a firm commitment to spreading the Gospel of Christ through her maternal mediation and assistance. May Our Lady raise up a mighty army among the youth to fight courageously for her against the forces of darkness in the battle for souls, spreading knowledge and love of her to all corners of the earth!