The Spirituality of Totus Tuus
Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716). St. Louis was a French priest who is remembered for his love for the Blessed Mother and being the author of the classic True Devotion to Mary. Within that great work is a prayer where St. Louis writes of Mary: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt…I am totally yours and all that I have is yours.” With these words, St. Louis not only expresses his love for Mary but his desire to belong completely to God like her and with her. Louis believed that this Marian spirituality of “Totus tuus…totally yours” is “the most perfect of all devotions” because “it conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ” (St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary).
Roll on to October 1978 when the newly elected Pope John Paul II revealed why he chose St. Louis’ words “Totus tuus” as his episcopal motto. Throughout his life as a Christian, priest, bishop, and finally as Pope, John Paul II remained “totally hers.” But what does a spirituality of “Totus tuus” imply for the rest of us and how can we live it?
The Irish writer George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once wrote: “When I die I want to be thoroughly used up.” Although these words were not inspired by faith, they do express the natural desire to give everything we have to living this life meaningfully and with fulfilment. We sometimes hear the same desire from determined sports people before a big game: “I want to leave it all on the pitch, to give everything I’ve got.”
In the spiritual life, our greatest desire is precisely the same: to give everything we have with all the love we have to God, out of love for him. What God asks of us is expressed beautifully and simply in his Word: “My child, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26). Not some of your heart. All of it. In the Gospels, we are told that the Apostles “left everything” and followed him (cf. Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:11). In order to follow Christ, they did not leave some things but everything.
What all this amounts to is the simple but profound truth that it is impossible to love by half. If we try to love people or things by half then there is a doubt whether we really love them at all. How hard it is to love with a divided heart! Yes, how hard it would be without the love of God revealed in Jesus who shows us the way. Without the love of God that comes first, this call to love completely would be impossible. God loved us first (1 John 4:19) and sent his Son into the world to show how deep and unconditional that love is. As we see from the cross and from Jesus’ whole life, the Father’s love for us is total and complete. He loves us completely, not by half, and wishes us to share not some of his love but all of it: “My child you are with me always and all I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).
We experience this total self-giving of God at every Mass. Through Jesus really present in the Eucharist, God offers himself to us over and over again: “Take this and eat it. This is my Body, given up for you.…This is my blood, poured out for you” (Matt. 26:26; Luke 22:19). Having received the total self-gift of God at the Mass, his love moves us in return to offer our lives totally to him and those to whom God’s love sends us. The infinite love we receive in Jesus inspires us not to love by half but to give ourselves totally to God and to others, just as he did. Here is the spirit of “Totus tuus” that is both Marian and Eucharistic, in that it begins with God’s total gift of himself and leads to our lives becoming total gifts of love to God and of service to the world.
Of course, this aspect of the Gospel is counter-cultural. Some would say it is impossible to love totally, to give all we have to one thing, to one person, or to one cause. Many would discourage such a giving away of one’s short life to anything or anyone. But deep down in all of us is a desire to do something beautiful with our lives, to give everything we have, to love not by half but completely. At the end of our lives it will be a source of great joy and consolation if we can look back and say, “I have left it all on the pitch; I have given everything I got; I have done your will and am all used up in fulfilling the mission you gave me.” This is how Søren Kierkegaard defined a saint: a person who wills the one thing. One such saint was St. Anthony, who encourages us to give everything to God for God has given everything to us: “By his whole self, he redeemed your whole self that he alone might possess you wholly. Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your heart. Do not withhold part of yourself...Love wholly, not in part” (Sermons II).
This spirituality of “Totus tuus” prompts challenging questions is us: “Am I really ‘totally his’? Is every aspect of my life under the Lordship of Jesus? Is every aspect of my private life, public life, affective life, intellectual life, and emotional life under the guidance of his Spirit? Am I ‘totally his’ or do I engage in making deals with God by giving him some of my love but remain afraid to offer myself completely? If so then am I like the rich young man in the Gospel (Matt. 19:16ff; Mark 10:17ff) who was prepared to follow Jesus but not on the condition that he renounce what he was most attached to?” These are some key questions that we might ponder on the feast of the saint who first gave us those two short words that say so much: “Totus tuus.”
I conclude with Mary with whom we are united in a profound bond of love for God. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and asked her to be mother of the Saviour, Mary instinctively knew that this was no ordinary request. She knew that her “Yes” could not be by half. It had to be all or nothing. Her response revealed a woman of faith whose “yes” to God was total and was given with all the love of her heart: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done on to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Of herself, she said “Totus tuus” to God at that moment and throughout her life. She is the one who teaches us to do the same and to live the spirit of that beautiful prayer of consecration. On this feast of St. Louis de Montfort, may we be inspired to love totally in her spirit of “Totus tuus.”