Earlier today, in the readings of the night Office we learned that this feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—at least in its present form—was ordered to be celebrated by Pope Pius XII, in hope of gaining Mary’s intercession for peace at the height of World War II. But the feast had already taken root under the title of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, instituted by Pope Pius VII in the early 19th century, at the urging of Saint John Eudes who lived about two-hundred years earlier. Even that is not the beginning of the devotion, for we find elements of it in the writings of St. Bernardine of Sienna in the 15th century, and even in those of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 12th.
But to understand the true significance of devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, we must go all the way back to Saint Luke’s Gospel and some very familiar passages. Recall, if you will, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus: Her agreement, virginally, to become His mother; His birth in the stable; the adoration of the shepherds; and the Angel host singing for the first time, “Glória in excélsis Deo—Glory to God in the highest.” Saint Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.”[ii] He relates as well, you will recall, that when Jesus was twelve, for three days He appeared to be lost, until she and Joseph found Him in the Temple, where He was “going about His Father’s business.” And again, Luke tells us that “His mother kept all these words in her heart.”[iii]
We generally assume that the things written in Sacred Scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are all there for good reason. It may well be, then, that these words of Saint Luke are there so that we may recognize the Heart of Mary as a sort of treasure chest, filled with her knowledge and love of her Son Jesus Christ, as only she, His mother, could know and love Him.
Devotion to Mary’s Heart is fundamentally different from our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the Sacred Heart we have a symbol of the love with which God loves us as both God and man. The love which we return in our devotion to the Sacred Heart is rightly thought of as divine worship. But the Immaculate Heart of Mary is different—it is not simply a feminine version of the Sacred Heart, as might be suggested in some of the artwork and symbolism we have all seen. Mary is not God; we do not worship Mary, even though we may venerate her as the most perfect of God’s human creatures.
When, through our prayer and meditation, we enter into the treasure chest of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, we use it as a portal to gain entrance to our Lord’s Heart. We call down upon ourselves that knowledge and love of her Son, so that we can better know and love Him through her. As well, we call down upon ourselves something of her humility, her chastity, and her spirit of willingness to serve God, so that we too can be humble, and chaste, and willing. Following her perfect example, we strive, albeit imperfectly, to make ourselves vessels of the Holy Ghost. Some of this is by conscious imitation of her virtues—but some of it is beyond us, and is given to us only through her motherly intercession. It is always appropriate to speak of going “to Jesus through Mary,” of “loving Jesus by loving Mary.”
In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus dying on the Cross, commending His mother to the care of Saint John, and simultaneously commending Saint John to her.[iv] It is almost unanimous among spiritual writers that in this passage Saint John represents the entire human race—that is to say that all of us are charged with looking to Mary, and that Mary has been charged by her divine Son with looking out for us. This imagery suggests that in the Immaculate Heart, we find not only a portal to the Heart of Jesus, but also we see our neighbors, our brothers and sisters who have been confided to Mary’s care. And, if we are looking to Mary with eyes of love and veneration, we will see the entire race of the redeemed—bathed in the fire-light of the Heart of Jesus, reflected in the mirror that is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Saint Luke also narrated the words of the old man, the prophet Simeon, as he held the child Jesus in his arms on the day of our Lord’s presentation in the Temple: “thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.”[v] We speak of Mary as Mediatrix and co-Redemptorix with her Son—that in her sorrow and compassion at the foot of the Cross, she shared His Passion on the Cross—offering with Him to God the Father the sacrifice of what was truly her body and blood in the person of her Son. Given Simeon’s prophecy, we can again say that the Immaculate Heart of Mary acts as a portal, revealing the thoughts and aspirations and prayers of many to God Himself. And are we not fortunate that God looks into our hearts and minds through this portal of the Immaculate Heart, which He loves unconditionally, rather than peering directly into our sin filled souls?
We ought, also, to recognize in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a dimension of God’s relationship with His people as He reveals it through Christ and His Church—a dimension that is largely missing from those religions of the world which attempt to know God , while rejecting the benefit of His revelation. The dimension I mean is the dimension of the Incarnation. Catholics know that God became man and had a heart like men, and that He was born to a mother who had the heart of human woman.
A few weeks ago, at our study group, we were talking about the terrible state of affairs in the world, but especially in the Middle East. We were talking politics, more than religion—when a young lady piped up with a statement to the effect that “all of the problems of the Church and the world today could be solved only through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” For a few seconds, her statement seemed a bit naive, but then it struck me that she was absolutely correct, and I told her so: “You are absolutely correct, because there is no ‘Sacred Heart of Allah’!” The difference between Christianity, and all of the false gods, and all of the false and incomplete understandings of the true God, is that the true God has revealed to us that He has a heart, and that He has a mother with a heart. And there will be no peace until Christians, and Jews, and Moslems, and everyone else make their peace with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Note that I included “Christians” in that statement, for there are many who call themselves by that name, more for business, social, and political purposes, than because they love Jesus Christ (let alone His Blessed Mother).
So, what exactly, are we to do? Through Saints Simon Stock and Margaret Mary, and through the children of Fatima, we have been told of private revelations, deemed credible by the Church, in which Our Lord and His Mother expressed grief over the way their love has been rebuffed by the world, including the Catholics of the world. Considering the magnitude of the crime of insulting Jesus and Mary, they ask for very little in reparation, and they promise very great rewards to those who respond. They ask simple things, which we ought to be doing anyway: wearing the Scapular and observing chastity according to our state in life; making a good Confession and receiving Holy Communion on the first Fridays and Saturdays of the month; reciting the Rosary and meditating on the mysteries of their lives; and praying in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of those too ignorant or unwilling to pray. They promise not only peace in the world, but the grace of final perseverance for those who are thus loyal to them.
In our October Parish Bulletin I hope to publish an encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII, in which urged all Catholics to implore the intercession of the Blessed Mother for peace in the world and in the Church. And I am going to ask you to do what Pope Leo asked over a hundred years ago: that during the month of October, everyone recite five decades of the Rosary and recite the Litany of Loreto—if at all possible, in church, in association with Mass or with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I am asking you to come, as often as you possibly can, to offer those prayers with me: the Rosary before Mass, and the Litany thereafter. I will try to get it announced in the newspapers, and I ask that you try to bring your friends.
The choice is pretty clear. We can either love Jesus with and through Mary, or we can doom ourselves to eternal conflict. There is no ‘Sacred Heart of Allah’! –there is no Sacred Heart of the United Nations – nor even a Sacred Heart of our very own United States— the only rational choice is found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.