External Devotion: A Word of Warning

In today’s blog post I do not intend to take any political positions or show any political bias. I’m simply using a factual situation to make a point. That the situation involves the current president of the United States is simply accidental to the story.

Our choices reap consequences, and they also set an example. Sometimes that example is good, sometimes it is bad. Whether it is one or the other depends on the kind of choice we made.

A few days ago, the President of the United States publicly spoke about the death of his son. As proof that the memory of his son was still alive and well in the mind of the aging president, Joe Biden turned to the aid of the rosary.

He said that ever since the day of his son’s death he has worn a rosary that his son gave him from Our Lady of…

The president drew a blank. He could not remember the title of Our Lady he was trying to invoke. Without wanting to read too much into the slight slip-up in memory, I cannot also help but notice the appeal to devotion.

In trying to prove his devotedness to the memory of his son, the president calls upon a popular sign of Marian devotion. Given the purpose of this blog—helping us to live and grow in true Marian devotion—I could not help but seize the moment.

I have written before about true devotion to Mary through the practice of praying the Rosary. I do not want to repeat what has already been said. But if you haven’t read that post you can find it here.

I do not fault President Biden for cherishing a gift that his son gave him and wearing it every day. It was a rosary from the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary’s shrine at Tepeyac is a place that is dear to the hearts of many Catholics—myself included.

But what I would like to say to President Biden and to all of us is this: wearing the Rosary is one thing, praying it often is another, but living according to what the Rosary teaches us is a far deeper expression of devotion.

Rosary beads, statues of Our Lady, and medals around our necks are all wonderful exterior expressions of devotion. But if these exterior expressions are not wedded to true interior devotion they are emptied of their meaning.

Continuing with our series of reflections on St. Louis de Montfort’s teaching about false devotees, we can listen to what he says about people who live their devotion to Mary only externally without fostering true interior devotion.

External devotees are persons who make all devotion to our Blessed Lady consist in outward practices. They have no taste except for the exterior of this devotion, because they have no interior spirit of their own.

They will say quantities of Rosaries with the greatest precipitation; they will hear many Masses distractedly; they will go without devotion to processions; they will enroll themselves in all sorts of confraternities, without amending their lives, without doing any violence to their passions, or without imitating the virtues of that most holy Virgin.

They have no love but for the sensible part of devotion, without having any relish for its solidity. If they have not sensible sweetness in their practices, they think they are doing nothing; they get all out of joint, throw everything up, or do everything at random.

The world is full of these exterior devotees; and there are no people who are more critical of men of prayer, of those who foster an interior spirit as the essential thing, while they do not lightly account of that outward modesty which always accompanies true devotion. [96][1]

In God’s Loving Providence, there will be men and women whose good example edifies, strengthens, and encourages us. But His Providence also includes those who set a bad example. Since all things work for the good of those who love Him, even the bad examples of others can teach us a lesson.

I present to you Montfort’s teaching on external devotees for that purpose, hoping it will be a stimulus for renewal in true Marian devotion. Dedicating some time to a personal examination of your own devotional signs and practices, is a practical way to take a spiritual inventory of the state of your interior devotion to Mary. For only by living as true devotees of Our Blessed Mother will we reap the fruits of its promises which is perfect love and conformity to Jesus Christ, Her Son.

Seize the day and make it all Hers!


Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE


(Photo credit: Diego Prado Alonso, “Durmiendo con la Virgen”, CC BY-SA 4.0)

[1] Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration (London: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014), 67.