PURE, UNDIVIDED AND FAITHFUL LOVE FOR GOD AND MAN
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Isaiah 61:9-11; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 2:41-51 ]
Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. Following this feast, we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two devotions are celebrated next to each other because the love of Jesus for us and Mary’s love for God and for the Church are closely intertwined. Everything that Mary did was in union with her Son, from the incarnation to the passion for our salvation. Whilst the Sacred Heart directs us to focus on God’s love incarnated in Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to reflect on Mary’s response to God’s love and invitation to her. Indeed, Mary is our exemplar of one who responds without reserve to God’s love for her.
What is the secret of Mary’s capacity to respond to God’s love so perfectly? It is her immaculate heart. In other words, she was born without original sin and the effects that came from original sin, which is a wounded and fallen nature. She did not suffer from the disorientation of the will or from dullness of the intellect. She was able to give her consent much easier than we who are fallen creatures because being sinless and immaculate, she is full of grace, that is, in perfect relationship with God unhindered by sin. However, this does not mean that her decision to say “yes’ to God is not a human yes. Indeed, it was also a difficult “yes” because of the implications of that response to be God’s mother. It was a decision filled with uncertainties for the future. Yet, because her love for God was perfect, she said “yes”, regardless of the sufferings and sacrifices ahead of her in living out her decision.
Being immaculate does not mean that she did not require faith. She too had to exercise pure faith in God. Although her exemption from original sin made it easier for her to love God, it does not make her less human. In fact, to fall into sin is to make us less human. To be without sin is to be truly human. This is why Jesus is truly God and truly man. Indeed, St Augustine says that Mary conceived Jesus in her heart in faith, then in her body. Only faith in God’s word spoken to her could make the conception possible. Jesus of course is the Word of God made flesh. And it would be this faith in God’s word that would sustain her throughout her life as she shared in Christ’s suffering and sacrificial death on the cross. Only because of her faith in God, could she be used by God without reservation. Her faith was not just at the beginning of the incarnation but right through the passion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord.
Indeed, no one can be more worthy to be the mother of Jesus than Mary whom God had graced with holiness and freedom from original sin. She is called to share and cooperate with Christ’s redemptive work for humanity. As a mother, she gave herself totally to look after Jesus when He was young, instructing Him in the tradition of their Fathers, and teaching Him how to read and pray the scriptures. The gospel tells us that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Lk 2:51f) Under the tutelage of Mary and Joseph, Jesus grew up as a carpenter and most of all, a young man, an adult until the age of 30 when He left His home for the ministry. Thirty years with Mary is indeed quite a long time, considering the fact that today, some young men leave their parents’ home to live out on their own from the time they enter university in their early twenties.
Of course, Mary’s role as mother of the Saviour was aided by the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her. The angel assured her that she would not be alone in fulfilling this role given to her. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Lk 1:35) It is therefore not incidental that the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is celebrated near the feast of Pentecost because from the very beginning of her conception of Jesus in her womb to the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was with her when He descended on her. She was always conscious of the work of the Holy Spirit in her life.
Most of all, she expressed the love of God in her daily life, a love that is lived quietly without any show or fanfare. Her love was not just confined to God but in a life of extreme charity in humility. We saw this in the way she reached out to Elizabeth in her pregnancy. Her immediate response was that her cousin would need help in her pregnancy, especially when she was already getting on in years. She would need someone to look after her and to take care of the child. When Elizabeth praised her for being the Mother of her Lord, she directed the praises to God Himself. She never felt important but saw herself as just an ordinary handmaid of the Lord. Then at Cana in Galilee, again, she came to the help of the wedding couple, unasked, and interceded with her Son to help them as they were short of wine. She did all this without even letting the steward know. Mary would choose to help out quietly, never putting herself in the limelight. She was contented simply to help and remain unknown. She never looked for attention, praise, or recognition. Her love for others and those who were in need were never politicized or publicized for personal gain, but solely out of concern for them.
Hence, in celebrating this feast of the Immaculate Heart, we are called to ponder the depth and purity of her love both for God and for her fellowmen. Reflecting on how she loved God and her fellowmen should also inspire us to turn to her for help as well. She is the Mother not just of her Son our Lord but also of the Church, a feast which we celebrate on the Monday after Pentecost. We can surely turn to her to bring us closer to God by leading us in love; and also to be our Mother by praying and interceding for us. It is for this reason that she revealed herself to the three seers at Fatima as the Immaculate Heart. She asked us, through the visionaries, to pray the rosary daily and to consecrate ourselves to her so that we can also imbibe in her love for God and for our fellowmen. We are called to do penance and fast.
Mary is our mother who teaches us how to be a true disciple of God, doing His holy will, just as she said to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.” This is the way Mary lived her life, in obedience to God and in service to her fellowmen. We too are called to turn to her for help and also to imitate her example of obedience to God’s will. She assured us at Fatima that her Immaculate Heart will triumph. This means that if our heart is like hers, open to God, always contemplating the Word of God, and doing His will, we will always triumph over the world. The heart of Mary is one of total obedience to God’s will.
Like Mary, we must continue to ponder on the Word of God and His holy will. Only by pondering and reflecting in silence can we discover the mystery of God and His plan for us. She would have reflected deeply on her Son’s teaching, suffering, passion, death and resurrection. Just as God revealed His plan to Mary gradually and helped her to understand the salvific role of Jesus over the days, we too will find His will and be given the strength to do what we are called to do. Mary’s Immaculate Heart is an invitation to us to strengthen our contemplative spirit so that we can become more aware of how God is working in our lives.
Indeed, by touching the heart of Mary, we also touch the heart of our Lord. This is what the gist of the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is asking of us. So let us turn to Mary and discover the heart of God’s love in her, and her singular-hearted response to God’s love. In spite of the challenges and living under the obscurity of faith, she was steadfast in loving God, totally, purely and without reservation. Her heart was always with God, her Son, and with the people whom she loved. We too must love like her, immaculately.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.