Thursday, August 1, 2013

The heart of the matter: Mary Immaculate

Over on the sidebar here at SFC, we keep a reminder of the traditional Catholic devotion of the month. For a Church that's nearly two thousand years old, it shouldn't surprise you that there are prayers, traditions and devotions which cover every conceivable aspect of human existence. So yes, there are even devotions for each month of the year, meant to hold up for us Catholics a particular mystery of the Faith to contemplate in our prayer during that month.

Some of the devotions are obvious in the applicability to our growth in faith, hope and charity. December, for example, has as its monthly devotion, the Incarnation of Christ and March gives us the saintly example of St. Joseph. The devotion for August, however, may not be as obvious. The Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary's heart? For a lot of honest, 21st century Catholics "in the pews" -- especially those of a younger generation, the Immaculate Heart of Mary seems to be a devotion that is particularly obscure, dated, and maybe even a little weird. How on earth do we approach this devotion and use it, in our prayers and contemplation, to better our faith lives and to help us on our road to heaven?

Here are three practical points on the Immaculate Heart that will, hopefully, answer some questions, help you to better understand this devotion and incorporate in your faith life:

"Behold your Mother"

As simple as this concept seems, on its face, Mary is our Mother, and this fact is really the basis for all that we do as Catholics to honor and venerate her. As he hung on the Cross in his final agony, Jesus looked down at the disciple John and gave the final command before his Death:

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)

John, "the disciple ... whom he loved," is an important symbol for us. He was the only one of the Twelve that did not run away and hide during Jesus' hour of need. For this reason, he symbolizes all faithful followers of Christ. The lesson is that if you are faithful to Jesus, one of your duties is to make Mary your Mother. And since she's our Mother, we follow the Fourth Commandment when we honor and esteem Mary. So, all devotions to Mary (including a devotion to her Immaculate Heart), are rooted in the commands of God - pretty important stuff.

Why the Heart?

The Catechism teaches us that "the heart is the seat of moral personality" (CCC 2517). It is also traditionally considered to be the seat and center of our will and our emotion; the home of moral decision making. In other words, the heart symbolizes our interior life, the place from which we make decisions of the spirit. In the deepest sense, our hearts are the real "us" - with no veneer and no pretense. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught that the "pure in heart" are "blessed" (Mt 5:8), urging to turn our thoughts, our will and our emotion towards God and his plan for our lives for then, and only then, will be find God's ultimate blessing.

Mary's heart is "immaculate" - free from the stain of sin. She was (and is) the first and most perfect follower of Jesus Christ and Scripture tells us that her heart was attuned to seeking the will of God, no matter the price. Time and again, we're told in the Gospels that Mary "kept," "treasured," and "pondered," the life of Jesus in her heart. So, Mary's heart, her "Immaculate Heart," is a perfect reminder of all that we should strive to be as followers of Christ. Veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is closely linked to the worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because Mary willingly united her heart to Christs and their two hearts are intimately connected and aflame with love for each one of us! That's deep but oh so profound a truth!

Uniting our hearts to Mary's in prayer

Here's where it all comes together. If you now understand why we have a deep devotion to Mary, our Mother, and can see how her Immaculate Heart is the perfect example for those of us who want to follow Christ more closely and who want to unite our wills with his, the next step is to follow countless saints and to be devoted to Mary's Immaculate Heart in our prayers. Here's a couple of suggestions:

1) Ask, regularly, for Mary's intercession before God's heavenly throne through praying the Rosary, the Angelus, or even short "aspirations" throughout the day such as "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us," or "Mary, Mother of God, pray for us," or "Mother of Mercy, pray for us." You can also become devoted to wearing the Scapular and/or the Miraculous Medal - putting it on every morning and feeling it throughout the day are great reminders to quick but meaningful prayer.

2) We can spend time in prayer considering and contemplating the perfect example of discipleship that Mary is for us as Christians and, then, we can prayerfully begin to make the changes necessary in our lives to be more selfless, giving, thoughtful, kind, patient and loving. We can earnestly ask God to help us to grow in the virtues of faith, hope and love (a dangerous thing to do if we have too much attachment to pleasure and selfish ambition!).

Finally, remember that images of the Immaculate Heart show Mary's heart aflame for love of God, another example that we should emulate. It's a powerful symbol that reminds all of us of Jesus' intentions for us as his disciples: "...I have come to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish that it were kindled!" (Lk 12:49)