The Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary

Fifth Virtue: Devotion

From the Head to the Heart to the Feet

by Felix Carroll

Ten Virtues

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Because my family has always been one that prides itself on leveling with each other, there came a time growing up when my mother, my brothers, my sister, and I felt it our duty to inform my father that dancing probably wasn't for him. He took it well.

We had spent a couple years watching him lay out numbered, shoe-shaped cardboard cutouts or plug in a videocassette from time to time to learn the Fox Trot, the Lindy Hop, the Merengue, and more.

We watched as he more or less moved in a manner that approximated the rhythm at hand. His feet went where they were supposed to, though the movements looked pained and mechanical, like he was drawing logarithms on sand using his big toe.

His lack of expertise, however, wasn't the problem. What finally prompted our intervention was his longstanding refusal to dance with another person and in a public place. Like, for instance, with my mother at a wedding.

To her chagrin, it became apparent that dancing to him was more a cerebral exercise in memorization — a personal obsession — rather than an act of joyful devotion. What good is knowing the dance steps if we refuse to actually go dancing — if we refuse to allow our knowledge to move from our head to our heart to our feet?

We can sometimes fall into a similar trap in our spiritual lives. We know the dance steps, per se — we've memorized the prayers and participated in the Sacraments — but true devotion requires the willingness to put what we know into practice.

Mary is called "most devout" because she was willing to do just that. She not only professes her love of God, but she also allows the word of God to come alive in her and direct her daily actions.

Devotion is defined as an ardor to serve God. It is a joyous dedication of the whole self to God, and to others for the sake of God. Certainly, Mary not only had a dedicated prayer life, but she also put the word into practice by being dutiful to the laws of God and available to people in need.

In regards to Mary's faith, The Rule of the Ten Evangelical Virtues states: "The Virgin Mary was always Most Devout, and to please God, out of her devotion, she thought, spoke, and acted in the following ways: She praised God with great attentiveness and joy, saying: 'My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord' (Lk 1:46). Every year she went up to Jerusalem, and following her Son, she listened with greatest devotion to his preaching. She returned often to Nazareth, and finally, with the Apostles also persevered in prayer."

Importantly, the rule notes her thoughts, words, and actions.

Mary's prayerful devotion to God manifests itself through humble surrender at the Annunciation; through her concern for others at her visitation of Elizabeth; through thanksgiving and praise of God in her Magnificat; through obedience to the laws and customs of her faith in her presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple; and through painful acceptance of God's will on Calvary, to name a few.

Jesus Himself praised His mother as one of those "who hear the word of God and act on it" (Lk 8:21). Indeed, the Gospels tell us it is no good merely to hear the word of God, or even to take it to heart. The Gospels give marching orders to those who say "Yes, Lord" but do nothing about it.

As the Letter to the Hebrews states: "The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow" (4:12). Thus, the word of God must not only be felt deeply in the soul, but it must become the engine for our activities.

As Catholics, we are encouraged to lead rich devotional lives. That requires a balance such as Mary had. As a model disciple, Mary shows us that devotion to God should be a marriage between prayer and action. Like Mary, we need to pray "with a generous and good heart" (Lk 8:15) seeking to hear the word of God, take it to heart, and then yield a harvest through our perseverance.

After attending Mass and praying the Rosary, that may mean caring for a sick neighbor, serving in a soup kitchen, donating money to a charity, or listening prayerfully to a friend in crisis. The call of God is a living thing, not something solely to be mulled over in private contemplation, and not something pained and mechanical!

Consider that Mary, after the Annunciation, didn't rest on her laurels of being chosen the Mother of God. She said yes to God and then made haste for the hill country of Judah where she cared for her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant. She went where she was needed.

Similarly, we must not rest on our laurels of a devoted prayer life. As with the case with my father, who learned the dance steps but never put them to use, true devotion involves thoughts and actions that flow from a heart of love for God and neighbor.

With joy in our hearts, like Mary, we must be willing to do the footwork where it counts!











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