BEFORE I MET the man, feelers about him were already rife. Steeply spiritual, profoundly simple, easily likeable, no-nonsense, grows on you, silent like Mary, keeps to himself.
Rev. Fr. Federick Yumang, his fellow Montfortian missionary, did not have a hard time introducing him that Saturday morning of May 6. They concelebrated a Good Shepherd Mass before Fr. Fed gave him to us. He, too, thought it opportune to use the reputation that preceded the priest and, after a token take on his personal knowledge of his friend, simply presented Rev. Fr. Hugh Gillespie, SMM, Province of Long Island, NY, as St. Louis-Marie de Montfort’s mirror.
When I heard him talk, I needed no convincing.
Talk he did right away. He was nothing like the other speakers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to or the displeasure of tuning out. He went straight to the core of his cause, never beating around the bush, engaging each person in the audience like a personal other in a one-on-one. It was such a personal conversation you had to hold on to every word he said in order to tie it up with all his other words even as he spoke.
Yet he did all those only immediately after acknowledging Mary as Queen of all Hearts.
He said things happen all around us all too quickly because we are good in preparing but get lost in the middle of the happening. Because of traps. We prepare but do not know what happens next. We prepare programs for the youth, for marriage, but on the next day there is no program anymore. We fuss like Martha but do not listen like Mary.
Many times, the problem is not the act of consecration (he knew his audience consisted of legionaries who may have gone through the totus tuus journey or are aware of what it is) but where it leads us. Because Mary’s act is different, because consecration is complicated, and people use it all the time but hardly know what it means. Mary appeared at Fatima for people to consecrate themselves to her which is not the same as consecrating to Jesus because that can only be done after the first requirement. To use Sis Gelly’s sharing of their first encounter with Fr. Hugh at the Marian Congress in Cebu, “… we have so many devotions… but let’s talk about devoted.” Her daughter Tish is a legionary like Mom and was at the Legion House the next day to verify the word-of-mouth. Tish vividly recalls his exhortation of the Catena Legionis, which is the focal frame of the Legion’s mind: who Mary really is. Which is why, to the legionary, a day, nay, a rosary, is not complete without the Catena in it. The light in our darkness. Tish validated the phenomenal priest herself.
True-blue Fr. Hugh used himself as an example, supposed that he was wealthy and needed to make good use of his wealth. He finds a banker he can trust, gives him all his money, with the confidence that the banker will bring it to fulfillment. Like a child in prayer to Mary, like a mother praying for her child, like a pastor praying for his parish. The money is still his but he entrusts it all to the banker, to put it to good use, to bring it to a safe harbor, protect it as it grows.
Mary goes beyond that. She gave herself, she did not say the prayer, she did not give the gift, she lived it. Consecration is giving of the self, praying the self be put to good use, set aside, that God may be glorified and served.
So the priest gives his wealth away. All his works, his offering, to be brought to fulfillment. To be safe, sustained, set aside. Like the self. How Montfortian. How Marian. How genuinely God-glorifying.
Jesus asks that if anyone wants to please Him, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Him. What better way to follow Him indeed than to fill the starving with good things and send the rich (and riches) away empty.
Some of the good Catholics are those in the back of the church. The act of consecration is opening the door and standing in it, sitting in the back, trying to learn a hymn or prayer. Like Mary, Montfort had the patience to wait out those in the back to go up front slowly one day at a time. The recognition of opening the door leads to not only standing in it but also entering a little, then a little further, then further up.
If it’s love, said Fr. Hugh, it wants to love rightly. It may not succeed but it will keep on desiring to be right. The act of consecration desires to do it better. Montfort said better was not good enough. He was so in love with God he wanted to love Him in the best, perfect way. The act of consecration is the room to perfect devotion to Mary and Jesus and also to perfect unity with Jesus, Who shares His mother with us. The room for perfect devotion to Jesus, according to the Saint, is to do it perfectly like His Mother. Montfort’s spirituality is incarnational and has a very clear focus. That Jesus lays aside His glory to depend on Mary so He can bear the cross. He was the first one to say Totus Tuus to Mary.
The mirror marked March 25 as the feast of the annunciation and reminded that rule one of living Montfort’s spirituality is a true devotion to Mary. While at it, one may try celebrating Jesus living in Mary and thinking of the mystery and understanding it. The act of consecration is honor and thanksgiving and gives us focus in the Mystery of the Incarnation. True devotion to Mary has five marks: it is interior, not shallow; holy; tender; constant; and disinterested. Constancy keeps us moving even when it’s not easy; holy means eschewing sin and watching behavior and character to acquire virtue; tender is like the trust of a child in mom, as beautiful as the Filipino culture that spawned the mama in Mary. Interior does not involve feelings because they cannot be trusted more than knowledge and devotion. It means how to pray the rosary well to linger in the company of Mary (at this he takes out of his breast pocket large wooden beads); lips that never cursed; a heart that never felt negative; and eyes that never judged. Disinterested holds no obligations to apparitions if they are not anchored in truth. It is a devotion that has no what’s-in-it-for-me interest, it is not about me, but about seeking her honor and doing all things for her, a what-can-I-do-for-Mary quest.
The Association of Mary Queen of Hearts, Fr. Hugh intoned, is a confraternity of the faithful in the Catholic church with a personal and spiritual devotion to Mary. Membership is requested, not obligatory, the fruits of which are the sharing of the association’s communion of spiritual goods.
During the open forum, he addressed the anxieties of a few (me included) who wished to be enlightened. Devotion to Mary is only for Christians because of Jesus. As Christians, we have to work to promote the reign of Jesus in the world through her. Mary is starting to be felt in the Philippines so we are in the beginnings. Conversion is the Lord’s job. Only grace can soften hearts; hardened hearts only argue. Condescension is the attitude of the arrogant. Take advantage of the treasure of suffering, frustration is a fundamental reality of life, offer it up. Jesus saved by suffering, not by feeling good. Mary’s pierced heart opens us to the Gospel. Two kids of Fatima offered their suffering for the lost in sin and dishonoring God. We can also offer our blessings and goodness. If you don’t have Mary in your life you are not really as close to Jesus as you think. When we suffer from a lack of words to explain, know Mary more to find the words. The truth of apparitions lies in the heart, when traditions weaken, faith does too, like when real flowers are replaced with plastic. No tradition or scripture is bad. When in doubt, recall Regina Coeli or another tradition where Jesus dances.
As is the wont of Montfortian missionaries, Scout Madriñan Mission House hosted dinner. Solid food the multitude partook of while ingesting the spiritual grace Fr. Hugh just blessed them with.
ABRAHAM DE LA TORRE