A Powerful Gift

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Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Luke 2:41-51

Each year Jesus’s parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Opening Prayer: I believe in you, Lord, because you are truth itself. I hope in you, because you are infinite mercy and are faithful to your promises. I love you, because you are infinitely lovable. I need your grace, and as I come into your presence I thank you ahead of time for whatever grace you wish to give me today. Help me to recognize it, receive it, and respond generously to it.

Encountering Christ:

    1. Responding with Faith: Yesterday we celebrated Jesus’s Sacred Heart, the eloquent and powerful revelation of just how thoroughly and passionately God loves us. Today we celebrate Mary’s Immaculate Heart, the inspiring model of how we as human beings can respond to God’s love. Mary’s experiences with Christ were not always easy to endure or understand. Losing him in the Temple, as today’s Gospel passage shows, filled her with “great anxiety.” Her experience on Calvary, watching her son be rejected and crucified, filled her with great sorrow—usually symbolized in images of the Immaculate Heart by a sword piercing Mary’s heart. God’s ways are not our ways, and even for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who had been preserved by God’s grace from the effects of original sin, being faithful to God’s will in her life was hard. It was risky. It was at times confusing. But through it all, she continued to anchor her life firmly and definitively on the rock foundation of her faith. This is why St. Elizabeth was able to say to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). How do I respond to the challenging, confusing, painful circumstances of my life? How healthy is my faith?
    2. Learning to Be Contemplative: Artistic renditions of Mary’s Immaculate Heart usually show her heart encircled by blooming roses. A flower in bloom is open to receiving the light and warmth of the sun and the moisture of life-giving rain. This is why such flowers traditionally symbolize openness to God’s grace. And that was one of Mary’s special characteristics. She was “full of grace” and continued to be open to God’s action in her life. This comes across beautifully in the last line of today’s Gospel passage: “…and his mother kept all things in her heart.” The Greek word for “kept” is “diaterei.” It has connotations of taking care of something attentively, preserving and storing it up as valuable, even treasuring it. Mary’s heart was a place where she did all those things. It was a place of encountering God and contemplating God’s works and actions with that kind of attention and affection. Her heart was like the rich soil Jesus described in his parable of the sower—soil ready to welcome and nourish the seeds God wants to plant there. Here too Mary teaches us about following God; she shares her motherly wisdom. We all must learn to be contemplative, to keep our hearts and minds open to God’s action and give ourselves time to absorb and be enriched by all that he gives us. In a fast-paced, frenetic, noisy world like today’s, this is harder than ever. But if we want our Christian lives to grow and flourish, we have to face that challenge. How do I carve out time and space for quiet contemplation of God’s goodness and action in my life? How can I become more contemplative even in the midst of my activity?
    3. A Presence We Need: Mary not only instructs us by modeling how to live the Christian life. She also accompanies and intercedes for us. She is meant to be a presence in our life. She is, as the Catechism puts it, “a mother to us in the order of grace” (CCC 968). Throughout the history of the Church Mary has made her presence felt in myriad ways: her many apparitions through the centuries; her feast days in the liturgy; inspiring Marian images; devotional practices like the rosary. In images of the Immaculate Heart this loving, grace-filled presence is symbolized by the living flames burning from her heart. In our increasingly post-Christian culture, motherhood and the life-giving genius of authentic femininity is becoming as sidelined as fatherhood and authentic masculinity. God gave us Mary’s presence because he knew we would need it, and we need it more than ever today. We don’t worship Mary as if she were some kind of divinity, as some critics of Catholicism claim we do. Rather, we look to her spiritually as a beacon of hope, a model of virtue, and a caring mother—we look to her now, in our lives as God’s children, just the way Jesus looked at her when he was a child in Nazareth. At least, we are invited and called to do so. 


 Conversing with Christ: Lord, I know you didn’t do anything by mistake, and I know that through the Holy Spirit you have continued to guide your Church in every age. So the presence of your Mother in every corner of our Catholic lives is something you want for us—for me. Thank you for truly making yourself my brother and inviting me into your family. Thank you for working such marvels of grace in Mary, your mother. And thank you for giving her to me as my mother in the order of grace. Help me to value her and learn to relate to her in my life the way you want me to.

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will learn something new about the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I will put one of my favorite images of her in a place where I can frequently see it.

For Further Reflection: The Fire and the Rose: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat Guide on the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.

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