The Virtues of the Children of Mary
Origin of the Association
The Houses directed by the Daughters of Charity – the spiritual daughters of St. Vincent de Paul – for orphans and poor children, having become very numerous throughout Paris and other cities in the early part of the 19th Century, it was found necessary to bestow particular care and attention upon this work, which promised to produce abundant fruits of salvation. To protect the innocence of children, to preserve their early years from the contagion of bad example, to make them solidly virtuous, to give them an education suited to their state, to teach them such handiwork as would ensure for them a livelihood in later life; such were the ultimate objects of these institutions. The greatest obstacle to be feared was the inconstancy natural to children. Means, therefore, were to be sought, to excite their emulation, and to preserve them in their first fervor. Devotion to the Most Holy Virgin Mary – above all, to her Immaculate Conception – seemed to be the best and most efficacious means to obtain this end, as Divine Providence had been pleased to favor this devotion with a number of extraordinary graces. Certainly, one of the greatest of these graces was the apparition of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal to the Daughter of Charity, St. Catherine Labouré, in 1830, and the subsequent promulgation of the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception. These Houses were then consecrated to Mary Immaculate, to engage this tender Mother to extend to them her all-powerful protection. In the schools a Sodality of the Children of Mary was formed, into which were received those children who had distinguished themselves by strenuous exertions in overcoming their passions, and advancing in piety and virtue. In the beginning these associations were not regularly and completely organized. Nevertheless, they produced the happiest results, and they soon spread throughout the province. The blessed fruits of salvation which they produced gave rise to the thought of establishing these sodalities on a more solid and durable foundation.
The Immaculate Mary seemed disposed to encourage the efforts made in her honor, by the most abundant graces profusely shed upon this new family. Early on, it was noted that the Sodality had, in every House where it was established, effected wonderful changes in children formerly reputed as incorrigible. It was only after a trial of two years in several convents and schools that it was deemed proper to agree upon the rules and have them printed, that they might be more easily communicated to all the Houses in which the Sodality was already established. A last, but very powerful motive, determined the execution of this measure. Until then, the Association of the Children of Mary had received no Canonical sanction. The great good it produced in all the schools in which it was established, inspired the Superior-General of the Priests of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity to solicit approbation from the Sovereign Pontiff then reigning, Pope Pius IX. This approbation was given on June 20th, 1847 – five years after the discovery of the manuscript of True Devotion to Mary, by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. It is perhaps no coincidence that so many of the rules seem to have been inspired thereby.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter IX of the Manual of the Children of Mary. While originally these rules were meant primarily for teenage girls, the principles contained are easily applicable to men, women, boys and girls of all ages:
On the Virtues of the Children of Mary
True devotion to the Most Holy Virgin does not consist merely in entertaining for her sentiments of the most tender affection, nor in addressing to her daily prayers, nor even in belonging to an association established in her honor. All this is doubtless very good and most agreeable to Mary, but it does not constitute true devotion to her. There is another indispensable condition – the imitation of her virtues. Such is doubtless the will of this tender Mother, who could address us in the words of her Divine Son: "Not all those who say to Me, Lord, Lord," that is to say, who have great devotion in their prayer, shall be saved, "but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven." If then, we heartily desire to merit the powerful protection of the Immaculate Mary, we must walk in her footsteps. An affectionate child has her eyes constantly fixed upon her mother, to follow her maxims and to imitate her conduct. The Children of Mary should study continually the conduct of Mary, and make it the model of their own. By attentively considering this Mirror of Justice, they will discover admirable examples to direct them in every circumstance of life. For, as St. Augustine remarks, if other saints had been distinguished by the practice of one particular virtue, the characteristic of Mary's sanctity is to excel in all. Among those virtues there are some, however, which belong especially to the Children of Mary, who, endeavoring to imitate their Mother by the practice of all the virtues belonging to their state, should, nevertheless, strive to acquire in a more than ordinary degree, those we are about to mention, and which constitute the basis and spirit of the Association. These essential virtues, which form, as it were, the soul of the Society, are chiefly four: Purity, Humility, Obedience and Charity.
It must be well understood that the first care of a child who has taken Mary Immaculate for her Mother and Patroness, should be to preserve within herself the angelic virtue of purity. Without this virtue it would be impossible to please the purest of virgins, who will never acknowledge as her daughter, anyone who has the misfortune of being the slave of the demon of impurity. This virtue extends not only to the body, but even to the soul. It preserves the body pure and exempt from the least stain, as the temple of the living God, consecrated by the holy unction of Baptism, and by the real presence of Our Lord in Holy Communion. But it guards the soul, which is the sanctuary of this temple, with still more jealous care, lest anything should tarnish its brilliance and beauty.
It watches attentively over the mind, to remove thence all dangerous thoughts; over the imagination to repel every impure representation; over the memory, to banish all dangerous remembrance; and especially over the heart, to guard it from all inordinate attachments and from every merely earthly and sensual affection. A Child of Mary should never forget that it does not suffice to be exempt from those grievous sins which bring instant death to this sublime virtue, but she ought so to love that purity which elevates her to the rank of angels, that she should fly, as from a serpent, all that could sully in her this lily of dazzling whiteness, this precious pearl, this delicate mirror which is tarnished by the least breath.
Modesty is the inseparable companion of purity; it is called by excellence the virtue of young persons, whose loveliest ornament it forms; and with much greater reason should it be the virtue of the Children of Mary. Modesty is a balm, the perfume of which exhales from a pure heart, preserving it, as it were, by its own fragrance, from all dangerous contact, and imbuing all who approach with the good odor of Jesus Christ. This virtue regulates the whole conduct of a Child of Mary – her walk, her tone of voice, her gestures, her postures, above all her eyes, which are, to use the figurative expression of the Holy Scriptures, the perfidious windows by which death so often enters the soul. She gives to dress only what decency and circumstances of the time and place require; but she rejects with horror all that savors of vanity, the spirit of the world, and with much more reason all immodest apparel.
The Most Holy Virgin, prevented by most extraordinary graces, endowed with the most sublime gifts, elevated to the highest conceivable dignity, not only on earth, but in Heaven, was, nevertheless, the most humble of creatures. She was so highly exalted, according to the opinion of St. Bernard, only because she humbled herself beneath every other creature. Thence we naturally conclude that the virtue of humility is indispensably necessary to the Children of Mary.
Moreover, this virtue is the foundation of our sanctification. St. Gregory compares the work of our perfection to an edifice, the depth of whose foundation is in proportion to its height. A Child of Mary, who is called to greater perfection than common Christians, since she makes special profession of honoring and imitating Mary, should, after the example of her Immaculate Mother, have a deep-rooted humility. Consequently, she will be most careful to avoid vanity, the desire of appearing, of pleasing, either in her dress, her carriage, her words, or in any of her actions, which should breathe only the love of retirement and obscurity. She will take for her motto those beautiful words of the Imitation of Christ: "Love to be unknown and reputed as nothing." She will guard against vain complacency in the gifts of mind or body, which God may have been pleased to confer on her, remembering they are only a deposit, of which she will have to render an account. Far from yielding to the whisperings of self-love, she will ever seek the last place, and consider herself the least among her companions, instead of wishing to govern them. Not only will she bear, with submission, humiliations such as admonitions, reprehensions and punishments, which she may deserve, but she will be glad to have these occasions to practice the virtue of humility. She will esteem herself happy, if sometimes she is reproved or even punished unjustly; she will bear the trial in silence. True humility will render the Child of Mary full of deference to her superiors, and even to her companions; she will gladly renounce her own will and judgment to submit to that of others. Thus exercised, humility will become for the Child of Mary the source of all grace, because God "fills the humble with His gifts, while He resists the proud."
The third virtue of the Children of Mary is obedience. This virtue is indispensably necessary for them, particularly during the time they remain in the Orphanage or School, where they live together under one rule and under the authority of their teachers.
The Blessed Virgin is a perfect model of this virtue. From her Presentation in the Temple and Consecration to the Lord, she had the happiness of living in community with companions close to her own age, and in this state we cannot doubt that she was an accomplished model of obedience and submission. After her example, the Children of Mary should practice in the most perfect manner this meritorious virtue: consequently, they should be very docile and submissive to their teachers, in whom they must consider the person of God Himself, whose place Superiors hold, obeying not only their commands, but anticipating their wishes; executing with generosity the most painful, difficult, and humiliating commands; never making any impertinent reply, indulging the least interior murmur, nor speaking to them without great respect and deference.
This obedience extends, in the second place, to the faithful practice of the rules of the house, without excepting a single point. The Children of Mary will give example in punctuality, quitting all at the first sound of the bell, endeavoring to be first at the several exercises, and scrupulously observing the rule of silence. This virtue requires great fidelity to the particular Rules of the Association, to its various pious practices, and a great deference towards its Superiors, in whom they should honor the person of the Blessed Virgin, receiving, with great docility, the counsels they may give.
The fourth virtue of the Association is mutual charity. This virtue, which Our Lord Jesus Christ has given to His disciples as the distinguishing mark, the characteristic of the New Law, His favorite commandment, should also be the characteristic of the Association. The Children of Mary should be remarkable for their charity towards their companions, their mutual support, their meekness and affability.
It does not suffice that this virtue repress in them every harsh expression, all impatience, the least word that savors of hatred, anger and rancor; it should lead them to consult the wishes of their companions, whom they ought to cherish as affectionate sisters, bearing their defects with indulgence, rendering them on all occasions their little services; in a word, making themselves all to all, to gain all to Jesus and Mary. The Children of Mary must be well persuaded that the faithful practice of this virtue will enable them to exercise in the midst of their young companions a real apostolate, very efficacious and meritorious; for there is nothing that draws hearts more irresistibly to the love of virtue than charity and meekness.
But this charity, to be genuine, must exclude two defects, which are equally opposed to it, aversion and particular friendships. The Children of Mary should never entertain in their hearts any aversion, antipathy, or rancor, under any pretext whatever. They ought to accomplish to the letter this precept of the Holy Ghost, "Let not the sun go down upon your anger." If it happen that one companion, even involuntarily annoy another, she should hasten to beg pardon and be reconciled to her, even though she be not to blame.
The second defect would be still more fatal, that is, particular friendships. If they be introduced into the Association, and take root therein, charity can no longer subsist. Particular friendships, in uniting two or three hearts by the bonds of selfishness and natural inclination, bring division among all. They form little cliques, whence spring necessarily detractions, calumnies, murmurs, bitter criticisms and mockeries. We may add that they destroy true piety in its very source. A child who is so unhappy as to entertain a private friendship in her heart, finds her fervor diminish little by little; she experiences disgust for prayer, for the exercises of piety, which she performs only mechanically and by routine. And how could it be otherwise? God does not wish a divided heart; He withdraws Himself from a soul that despises Him to attach herself to miserable creatures. The Children of Mary will endeavor to avoid, as much as possible, all particular friendships, as they well know that this is one of the serious faults which expose them to the mortification of being expelled from the Association.
It is amazing to reflect that these rules were in use throughout the Catholic world, even through the first half of the 20th Century. How completely foreign are they to the maxims of today's world, and to the lifestyle of the majority of today's teenage girls!