THE JOY OF MARY AS THE BASIS FOR A HEART OF CHARITY AND MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 61:9-11; EPHESIANS 1:3-6.11-12; LK 2:4-51 ]
The origin of this feast of the Immaculate Heart came from St John Eudes in the 17th century. Through him, this devotion received widespread approval from both the laity and the Church authorities. But this feast became popular only after the apparition of our Lady of Fatima in the 20th century. It received impetus because of our Lady’s commendation to the three shepherds that “Jesus desires to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”. Again, Our Lady said to the visionaries, “I shall come to ask for consecration to my Immaculate Heart”and “At last my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” (June 13)
Indeed, this feast is a fitting conclusion to the series of solemnities that the Church celebrated, from Holy Thursday to Easter, followed by the Feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. Capturing the whole economy of salvation, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Trinity because salvation comes from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, and happiness and fulfillment in life is to be in communion with the Holy Trinity. To further contemplate on the love and mercy of the Father in Jesus, the Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi followed by the feast of the Sacred Heart, underscoring the utter love of God in His self-giving.
Whilst the feast of Corpus Christi speaks of His self-giving and continued presence in our lives, the feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us of His passion and love for us, and a heart that is wounded and bruised because of rejection and the sins of men. The feast of the Immaculate Heart that follows immediately after the feast of the Sacred Heart shows that there is a creature like us who responded readily to the grace and mercy of God. And it is Mary, whose feast we celebrate. Whilst the Feast of the Sacred Heart celebrates the outpouring love and mercy of God for us, the feast of the Immaculate Heart speaks of our response to that love and mercy. This, then, is the motif and theme of our celebration. How can we acquire a heart like Mary in our response to God’s love and mercy?
When we speak of the heart, we are dealing with the center and source of the interior life of a person, namely, the will and the affective faculties. In the area of affectivity, Mary, like all of us, needed joy to motivate her in life. Indeed, if many of us find that our life lacks enthusiasm and passion, it is because joy is not present in our lives, whether in our marriage, relationships, work or business, or involvements. Joy is an important factor in giving ourselves fully to what we do. When a person is joyful, he brings joy to others and infects others with his joy. A person who is motivated by an inner spirit of joy is driven to do things for others not because of mundane motives.
Indeed, in the gospel, Mary is portrayed as a woman of joy. What then was the basis of Mary’s joy? The first reading is applied to Mary when the prophet said, “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity, like a bridegroom wearing his wreath, like a bride adorned in her jewels.” Mary was indeed the bride of God, the spouse of the Holy Spirit. She gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. It was a joy that is incomparable. In the Magnificat, she sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Lk 1:46f)
Her joy therefore came from God’s election of her to be the mother of the Saviour. She was graced by God, not by her own merits. She was humble to acknowledge this fact when she said, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:49) She was blessed by God and was called by the angel, “full of grace” whom God had highly favoured. (cf Lk 1:28) This is what St Paul wrote with reference to all Christians. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes.”
So the joy of Mary came from her humble recognition that all she had was the grace of God and not her own doing. Consequently, there was nothing to boast about. The responsoral psalm in which Mary echoed in the Magnificat says, “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the weak are clothed with strength. Those with plenty must labour for bread, but the hungry need work no more. The childless wife has children now but the fruitful wife bears no more. It is the Lord who gives life and death, he brings men to the grave and back; it is the Lord who gives poverty and riches. He brings men low and raises them on high.” Indeed, if there is anything to boast, it is the grace of God. St Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor 11:30) Again, he reiterated, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
It is this realization of God’s immense grace for us all, especially for Mary, that we too are called to be blessed for others. This is what Isaiah said of Israel. “Their race will be famous throughout the nations, their descendants throughout the peoples. All who see them will admit that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.” Mary in the Magnificat said, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” St Paul confirms this when he wrote, that God intends “to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, chosen to be, for his greater glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.” We are blessed by God, never for ourselves, but for others.
Out of this heart of joy and love, Mary’s heart reached out to others in charity and mercy. She was a woman of action. Upon receiving the call of God to be the mother of the Messiah, she did not hesitate in saying “yes” to His election. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) The next thing she did was to reach out to Elizabeth her cousin who was pregnant with child in her old age. “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah.” (Lk 1:39) Mary did not keep her blessings to herself. Then again, at Cana in Galilee, when Mary observed that there was no more wine at the wedding, and feeling embarrassed for the bridegroom and the needs of the guest, she told Jesus, “They have no wine.” (Jn 2:3) These incidents demonstrate Mary’s charity and compassion for others.
Out of this heart too, was a woman of mercy. Simeon already prophesied to Mary the future she was to suffer as the mother the Messiah. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2:34f) True enough, Mary followed Jesus right to the cross when He was abandoned by His disciples and friends. John noted, that “standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (Jn 19:25) Mary stood up for Jesus. And she joined Jesus in forgiving His enemies, uniting her heart with the heart of Jesus who too was pierced with a lance at the cross. We can imagine the horror and pain that Mary witnessed, not just at the cruelty of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion but seeing her only Son pierced with a lance.
Indeed, when we contemplate on the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in her obedience to God’s will, sharing in His divine plan for the salvation of humanity, through charity and mercy, we see the powerful effects of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Contemplating on God’s love and mercy in Christ, we too will be empowered to do what Mary did. Her heart beat with the heart of the Lord. She was one with the Lord in everything she did, in mind and will. For this reason, the Church gave her the title of co-redemptrix and mediatrix because of her close association with the saving death of our Lord.
Let us therefore take heed of the instruction of our Lord who asked us to cultivate a devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. According to our Lady who appeared at Fatima, we must therefore seek conversion of heart through penance, sacrifices and mortification so that we will be focused not on self but on God and others. Secondly, we need to pray the rosary and contemplate on the love and mercy of God as she did. The gospel said, “His mother stored up all these things in her heart.” When we contemplate with Mary on the heart of God in Jesus, we too will be filled with delight and joy to do what they did.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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