Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Isaiah 61:9-11; 1 Samuel 2:1; Luke 2:41-51
When we speak of someone in terms of their heart, we mean more than just describing what they’re like. We want to understand what it is that makes them who they are; their essence, if you will. That’s hard to do with anyone, let alone a person who walked among us so long ago, let alone a woman so devoted to remaining in the background and exalting her son and Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet that is exactly what we want to do on this, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The gospels give us only a glimpse into Mary’s heart. The best comes from Luke, who actually mentions her heart two times. The first came the evening of our Lord’s birth; he notes that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (2:19). Today we hear the second; Luke tells us that, while returning to Nazareth after finding Jesus in the Temple, his mother kept all these things in her heart (2:51).
If the words “kept” and “reflect” meant to Luke what they mean to us, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to say this. Most parents have memories of their children and events in their lives. Rather, in the original language, his words imply that in her heart, Mary is doing much more; she is actively pondering the events, searching out their meaning, struggling to interpret them. Of course, the mysteries she struggled with are supernatural; no one but God can understand them. But that isn’t the point; the point is that in her heart Mary possessed the humility, docility, and wisdom to surrender herself to them, and allow their meaning to work itself out over time in her own discipleship.
That is what happened. As time passed, the fruit of Mary’s contemplation showed itself in her words and her actions. For example, at the wedding feast of Cana she offered that resolutely faithful advice: Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5). In the same gospel, she displayed the strength that many disciples lacked: Standing by the cross of Jesus (John 19:25). Finally, while awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, she was one in prayer with those to whom Christ made her mother (John 19:26; Acts 1:14). Open to discipleship from the very beginning, Mary made clear to everyone what her son said in his ministry: that hearing the word is only the first step; what is required is to embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance (Luke 8:15).
On a spiritual level, we may not think about the Blessed Mother as someone in need of growth. What could she who has already been perfected in grace need to learn? Didn’t she have all the faith she would ever need? Certainly, but as the Catechism reminds us, the relationship between faith and understanding is not a straight line but a circle; the stronger our faith, the greater our desire to know God and understand what He has revealed. In turn, the better we understand, the deeper our faith, which “‘opens the eyes of our hearts’ to a lively understanding of Revelation” (CCC §158). Again, Mary is a perfect model of this; whose faith was greater than hers, yet who demonstrated more than she a desire to know God and better understand what He has revealed? Or, rather, who He has revealed – for there is no greater revelation of God than His only Son, Jesus, and who understands a son better than his mother?
This is the heart of Mary Immaculate, the heart she encourages us to have; not one who hears the word of God and understands it, but who hears the word of God and does it – surrendering to it, and allowing it to work through us for the good of ourselves and the world. Our Blessed Mother wasn’t spared from difficulties and suffering; we should expect no less. But, if we persevere, we should also expect no less than the same glorious triumph she now enjoys. Mary is the ultimate example of what all faithful hearts can expect. So, here and now, let us recommit ourselves to taking her advice by doing whatever He says, enduring whatever crosses we are given, and praying and working for unity with each other. This is the heart that, like Mary Immaculate, always and everywhere exults in the Lord, our Savior.