The Jesuit mother house is located in Rome.. It is known simply as the “Gesu”. When you step out of the piazza and into the church you immediately step into a spacious nave. In welcoming you the nave also beckons you. She beckons you to discover the many Jesuit treasures that surround her and crown her: St. Ignatius of Loyola’s tomb, the arms of St. Francis Xavier and St. Andrew Bobola, Gaulli’s Triumph of the Name of Jesus, and Pozzo’s Ignatian high altar and “baroque machine”, to name a few.
Beyond this nave lies another treasure. It is tucked away—or maybe even guarded we could say—in the far-left corner of the Church. It is a treasure that one finds not by chance, but by searching. It is the chapel of Santa Maria Della Strada (Our Lady of the Way). The chapel is the keeper of the medieval fresco from which she takes her name.
Neither the fresco, nor the chapel sit in their original locations. Before the Gesu was ever built (1580) another church already sat on the corner of the Via d’Aracoeli: Santa Maria della Strada. The exterior wall of this little Roman church dedicated to Mary was adorned with an exterior mural in honor of Our Lady. In 1541 the church was entrusted to the care of the newly founded Society of Jesus, making it the first Jesuit parish in the world. As the Society grew and its apostolic work increased plans were made for a larger church to serve as the Jesuit mother house. Thus, Santa Maria della Strada had to be torn down. But the portion of the mural bearing her image was preserved and incorporated into the new temple of God.
Seek and you shall find
Finding her image today requires a search. You have to go beyond the nave, beyond the side chapels that vie for your attention, and even beyond the great altars dedicated to great saints. This is as much a reality as it is a metaphor for finding and living out true devotion to Mary. Sacred art is a treasure. Devotion to the saints is necessary. But there is no treasure more precious, no devotion more necessary in our Catholic faith than devotion to Mary. This is the bold claim of St. Louis de Montfort. And just as the sacred art and the saints cannot stand without being rooted in Christ, so also the boldness of true Marian devotion is founded on Christ. St. Louis de Montfort is convinced that without her, we cannot have Him.
I do not believe that anyone can acquire intimate union with our Lord…without a very close union with the most Blessed Virgin and an absolute dependence on her support. (True Devotion, 43)
For those of you who by the grace of God have found this blog and still have not made your consecration to Mary, I seriously urge you to learn about it, prepare for it and make it. But for those who have already made their consecration to Mary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort, there’s work yet to do. The principal aim of this blog is to aid the latter. Making a consecration to Mary is only the start of true devotion. It is the devotion’s birth. Just as life, growth and nourishment are the necessary realities that follow our natural birth, so they are the same for our birth into Marian slavery of love. So, let’s conclude by making this practical.
Growth and nourishment
One way that we can ensure that our Marian devotion is growing is to frequently examine the marks of “authentic devotion”. In his little book, St. Louis de Montfort names five marks of authentic devotion.
- constant, and
- disinterested.” (True Devotion, 50)
You can find a helpful guide to examine yourself on these particular points here.
A second way that we can be proactive in making sure our Marian devotion is alive is by constantly nourishing it. Much has been said about prayer in this blog, so I want to take the opportunity instead to point our attention to spiritual reading. Learn about Our Lady through books. Get a book on Mary. Read it. Write in it. Make it your own. One cause of spiritual lethargy is a lack of spiritual reading. We do a lot of spiritual listening, watching, and perusing, but little to no reading. Here are just few Marian books to help you in your search.
- St John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater
- Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary
- Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love
- Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church
As the Society of Jesus began to grow in numbers, more and more of her sons were sent off to foreign missions. Regardless of whether the church on the corner of Via d’Aracoeli bore the name of Mary or Jesus, in saying goodbye the missionaries had the tradition of also saying their prayerful goodbyes to the Madonna della Strada. She was not only the Mother on the wayside, but also the Mother who they trusted would help them along their missionary way.
I pray that your growth and nourishment in the authentic Marian way of life helps you find the true treasure of her devotion: Jesus Christ. May she not only help you find Christ more intimately, but use you as her loving slave to bring Christ to others.
Seize the day and make it all Hers!