Saturday, 20 June 2020

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Readings: 2 Chronicles 24:17-25; Psalm 89; Luke 2:41-51

The day after the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Church's liturgy honours the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There are two explicit references to Mary's heart in the Gospel of Luke. They speak of her keeping in her heart the things she was experiencing at the time of Jesus' birth along with the things that were being said about him (Luke 2:19; 2:51). She pondered these things, not surprisingly, for they were strange and wonderful things, what the shepherds had to relate about the vision of angels they had received, and what Jesus himself said to her and to Joseph when they found him teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem.

In the Bible the heart refers to the centre of the person, the deepest core of a person's being, from which originate all good and evil things a person does. It is the place of moral responsibility, of energy and life, the place where intentions are formed and commitments are decided. Hearts can be hard or soft, they can be open or closed, hearts can lose hope so that people need to be encouraged anew, to take fresh heart. The great commandment is to love, with your whole heart, God and our neighbour as ourselves. The seed that falls on good soil refers to those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and upright heart. Where a person's treasure is, there also is their heart.

All of this can be applied to Mary as we ponder in our hearts what we hear and read about her. She is contemplative, meditating on all that is happening. She is good soil, holding fast the word of God and bearing the fruit of that word. She is one who loves God deeply and tenderly, without compromise, with all her energy, life and commitment. 'I am the handmaid of the Lord', she said to the angel Gabriel, 'let what you have said be done to me'.

What is caught by adding the adjective 'immaculate'? Literally it means without sin, without spot or stain. We can gloss it to mean without deviation or distraction, without qualification or condition. Her heart is given, and it is given completely. Her heart is open and pliable, ready to be used for the work of her Son. We can imagine her saying 'did you not know that I must be busy with my son's affairs? So do whatever he tells you'.

Her son's affairs are the salvation of the world, the healing of the sick, the reconciliation of sinners. So she is fully given also to that work, the work of the Father. It is not unusual to meet a mother who is totally dedicated to the affairs of her son or daughter. There is something fierce and uncompromising in the natural love of a mother. Mary is at least as passionately devoted to her Son's mission, and is devoted in that way not just by nature but by grace. Her devotion is fittingly described as immaculate - pure, unconditional, absolute.

We can turn to her with confidence therefore for we are among those affairs with which Jesus is busy and so we already have a place in her heart. Let us do it using the oldest known prayer to  Mary, from the 3rd century, which already recognises her love, her heart, as immaculate -

Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in time of trouble but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one.

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