The feast days of the Church calendar are best understood in relation to one another: Lent is followed by Easter, Easter culminates in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; then we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Finally we come to June and celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary; we celebrate the one person who gave her heart to God without reserve. Yet, it’s important to avoid thinking of this feast in a sentimental way, as if the heart symbolized only warm feelings or happy thoughts. Mary had to accept God’s will on a daily basis and in many difficult situations, as do we. She experienced deep joy in giving herself to God so completely, but not without a fight. What is the meaning then, of this Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
We start with the physical heart, the center of a person’s existence. It is not merely a biological organ, but the center of one’s life-energy; it is the soul and sacred identity of each individual. In the Christian tradition, the heart is also seen as the battleground whereupon God wages war for our eternal salvation. It is the place of conversion, of turning away from ourselves and toward God. This is a gradual process.
Next, consider that every human heart belongs to the owner and can only be given freely, in love.
The heart of each person is unique, like a new territory, discovered and coveted by God, who arrives there like an explorer, ready to plant his divine flag of ownership: “I have wooed you and conquered you with my love, you are precious and you are mine!” God wants to permeate and rule over our hearts not out of a need to dominate and control—a misunderstanding of divine ways that is all too common—but to give us a share in the bliss of God’s own divine life. The heart is where God communicates and receives love.
The heart is also a place of decision. Have you ever had the experience of knowing you had to do (or not do) something, a feeling, an intuition, a kind of insistent nudge that you felt you must follow? This is your heart talking! While not a common experience for most of us—usually, we have to think, plan, deliberate and converse with others to make good choices—this feeling deep within can assert itself at times. St. Ignatius called these tugs “movements of the spirit” and explained that some movements lead toward God and some lead away from God. He spent years testing guidelines or Rules to figure how to discern the movements of the heart, so as to always follow those movements that lead us closer to God and reject those that lead us away. The heart is our sacred identity. It can only be given in freedom. It is the center of our discerning choice for God above all else.
Mary was a champion in choosing God above all else. Her heart was immaculate because of this consistent choice, this fiat, this yes to God. Her purity is a singleness of vision, an intensity of love, and an intelligent devoted choice of those movements that would lead her to God. There was not a spark of idolatry in her and so God could place humanity’s future on her shoulders and ask her to collaborate in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity! What a powerful thing a pure heart can be in the plan of God!
Because Mary’s heart is pure, her love for us is also pure: her one desire for us is that we become more her children through likeness to Christ, and with him belong to and build the kingdom of heaven. Let us pray on this day and in this month of June, when we celebrate the sacred love of Jesus and the pure love of Mary, that she will help us become more single-hearted. This is true freedom and it leads us to the kind of joy no one can take away from us. Mary, Cause of Our Joy, Pray for us.
Copyright 2012 Julie Paavola