There is no surer proof of true love than self-sacrifice. There is no greater and purer love than that which moves one to sacrifice himself for the one he loves. Jesus said, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).
In order to be certain about love, it has to be tested by sacrifice. Otherwise we are likely to be deluded.
But there is more. True love reaches the point of not being able to operate without sacrifice: it needs sacrifice. It craves it and seeks it. “Let me either suffer or die,” was the plea of St. Teresa of Avila to Jesus.
Love for Our Lady, too, is evaluated on the scale of sacrifice. If one knows how to sacrifice himself for her, there can be no doubt about the purity of his love.
Among the Saints, sacrifice has always played a dominant role. They felt a need to nourish their love for Our Lady with sacrifice. One can say of each of them what was said of St. Catherine Labouré: “She lived with a continual desire to suffer for her love.”
For example, St. Joseph Cafasso devised a system of devout pledges, a special Rosary of pledges, that he himself called his “burden.” It was composed of fifty small mortifications to be offered to Our Lady. He loved to prepare for Mary’s feasts and observe the month of May in this manner, thereby enriching his love with daily voluntary sacrifices.
Bl. Fortunata Viti prepared for Our Lady’s feasts by wearing a cilice for an hour a day, or by taking the discipline for several minutes, and she mortified her palate by mixing ashes into her soup.
Before the feast of the Assumption, St. Paul of the Cross devised for himself a “Lent for the Assumption,” during which he fasted rigorously, abstained from fruit, and prayed the complete Rosary every day. Once the Saint became ill during one of these Lents and completely lost his appetite. The Brother infirmarian was worried, and managed to obtain an apple for him, hoping to get him to eat it. The Saint would have liked to eat it, but did not want to touch it because it was during Our Lady’s Lent. The Brother insisted that he at least taste it, but the Saint excused himself by saying, “We are in Our Lady’s Lent. Let us make an offering of it to her.”
Practices that have been characteristic and common with the Saints, include a fervent preparation for Our Lady’s feasts and a dedication of every Saturday to Mary, hallowing it by a fast or by abstaining from meat (or from fruit, or from desserts and other sweets). The Saints who so honored Mary include St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Catherine of Siena, Bl. Anna M. Taigi. We venture to say that the number of Saints one might include would be almost beyond calculation.
From Devotion to Our Lady by Fr. Stefano Manelli, FI