Sometimes on my day off I will go to visit one of my sisters who lives in Fairfield. She has five children, so bedtime is not usually the best time for me to stop by. But it’s very nice when the kids are all settled in and I get there in time to say prayers with the family before going to sleep. Two of my nieces, Nora (10) and Mae (7), share a room. Both of them have little shrines on their nightstands. Nora has statues of the Blessed Mother and Padre Pio. Mae has the Blessed Mother, St. Michael, and St. Francis. Included in both shrines is a very silly photo of me on my 40th birthday, holding a red balloon and wearing a party hat. Neither Nora nor Mae has received Confirmation yet, but they nonetheless demonstrate the Gift of Piety through their simple love of the saints, and their love for their ridiculous uncle. This love for the Blessed Mother and the various saints reveals the hearts of children who recognize the goodness of their heavenly Father. Nora and Mae might not be able to articulate that in a sophisticated way, but I think my little nieces know that their pious hearts desire to have the saints close to them because the saints bring them closer to the Heart of Christ.
The Gift of Piety perfects the Virtue of Religion, which is related to the Virtue of Justice. Justice is giving someone what they are due. Religion is giving to God what He is due as God – namely, our worship. There is an exchange at Mass where the priest says to the people: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, Our God.” And the people respond: “It is right and just.” To worship God at Mass and participate as a member of the Church in the Holy Sacrifice of Christ, is a great privilege, but also a matter of giving to the Lord what we owe Him as His creatures whom He has adopted as children through our Baptism. But worshipping the Lord can sometimes feel arduous. Prayer might seem difficult or boring. When we do it, we might do it out of a sense of obligation. This is certainly not the worst reason to do it, since it at least acknowledges our need to give praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty God. But the Lord desires our worship not merely as the fulfillment of strict justice. He wants us to know the profound joy of being in relationship with Him. The Gift of Piety makes the worship of the Lord sweet. It fills us with devotion when we see holy images and objects that make us think of Him. It also makes us more charitable and kind to our neighbors (and uncles), since we see them as those who are loved by the One that we love. And so we should work to cultivate the conditions in our hearts that make us more sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit that prompt us to greater piety. We do this by being more intentional in the way we say our prayers – thinking about the words we’re saying, trying to mean them more. We can do that by “offering up” the little inconveniences of the day, such as household chores and listening to others when we might not want to, thereby making these things offerings of love for the sake of the poor souls in Purgatory or for renewal in the Church. These things help us to develop “devotion muscles” that clear the way for the movement of the Spirit to soften our hearts and help us to live more easily as God’s children in the world.
When I first entered seminary, I noticed that one of the other guys seemed to have a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother – and I realized that I wanted one too. So I asked him how to cultivate a devotion to Mary. He told me that the first thing to do is express that desire to her, and that if I wasn’t saying a daily Rosary by then I should start. And from there, do little things, like touching your heart as you walk by an image of her, or lighting a candle at a shrine dedicated to her, or placing an image of her near my bed. Loving the Blessed Mother is a surefire way to cultivate the Gift of Piety because her greatest desire is to help us love the Lord and one other as brothers and sisters in Christ and children of the Father. Through her intercession, may the Holy Spirit fill us with tender, child-like devotion through a greater share in the Gift of Piety.
Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess my heart; incline it to a true faith in Thee, to a holy love of Thee, my God, that with my whole soul I may seek Thee, and find Thee my best, my truest joy. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.