THE VATICAN last month elevated the liturgical celebration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from an optional memorial to an obligatory one. This action clearly signals the importance of this feast in the faith-life of Christians. As John Paul II recently put it, “we have greater need than ever to rediscover the dimensions of the ‘heart;'we need more heart.”
One of the greatest propagators of devotion to the Immaculate Heart was the 17th century saint John Eudes, a priest, outstanding preacher, confessor, and founder of several seminaries and a religious community. He composed and published a number of liturgical prayers and theological meditations in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which help us grasp the essence of this mystery.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary reveals the ineffable love of the Father. St. John Eudes calls the Heart of Mary “a living portrait and perfect image of the infinite love of the Eternal Father.”In the profession of love between God and the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation, the Father makes plain the transforming power of His intimate love for Mary and for all of humanity.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary proclaims that the Father's love is not constrained by the limitations or lowliness of humanity. Rather, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, God breaks through the hardness of human obstinacy, doubt, and fear, and begins to reverse the damning cycle of sorrow and sin. He does this by manifesting His divine desire in the pure Heart of a Mother who ceaselessly visits those most in need of seeing and imbibing the beauty of the Father's love. The Acathist Hymn of the Byzantine rite celebrates how John the Baptist, from the womb, recognizes the Father's love in Mary. John cries out to the Mother of God, “bouncing and singing”: “Hail, O Tender of mankind's loving Tender; hail, O you Favor of God to mortal men!”
Mary is called “blessed”because the utter purity of her heart enables her to see God—and we are called to the same. That is why Mary proclaims: “God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts”(Lk 1, 51). For God “looks with favor of his lowly servant,”preferring to comfort and caress us with divine love at the moment we think it's least possible. St. John Eudes heartens us with the reminder that God has impressed on Mary's heart “a perfect semblance of the divine qualities of his love, a perfect image of the sanctity, wisdom, goodness, mercy and charity of the infinite love of our Heavenly Father.”This is ours to claim, too, by our love of the Blessed Mother.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary reveals how Mary loves Jesus. We need this revelation because we are called to love Jesus in the same way. St. John Eudes comments: “What delight the divine Son of Mary found in that motherly Heart which loved him more ardently than he had ever been loved, even by the purest spirits in the heavenly Paradise!”In the Heart of Mary, that privilege of loving Jesus with such incomparable ardor becomes our own.
Moreover, the saint attests that the Heart of Mary is “the faithful depository of all the mysteries and marvels of our Savior's life. Her Heart is a living book, an eternal Gospel. It is this book of life we should incessantly study.”To do so is to imitate the Blessed Mother in the most authentic sense. It was Mary who “treasured in her heart”(Lk 2, 19) the Christmas report of shepherds, and it was Mary who “kept in her heart”(Lk 2, 51) all the mysterious words and actions of her young Son. Mary loves Jesus by embracing every truth about His life and by living that truth from her heart.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary also reveals how the Blessed Mother loves us. Psychologists tell us that a child can only experience his feelings when someone accepts him fully, and understands and supports him. The Immaculate Heart of Mary provides us with such unconditional acceptance so that we can richly experience every dimension of our relationship with God. The Blessed Mother was pierced with a sword “so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare”(Lk 2, 34). Once we give ourselves to the truth that Mary loves us as she loves Jesus, then we can benefit from the reality that St. John Eudes makes clear: “Mary's most gracious Heart is an inexhaustible source of gifts, graces, favors and blessings for all who love this Mother of Beautiful Love, and devoutly honor her most lovable Heart.”
The Immaculate Heart of Mary reveals how we are to love each other. Jesus warns us that “a good man produces goodness from the good in his heart”(Lk 6, 45). Our heart becomes filled with goodness when “we give ourselves to our Lord, to be united with the love of his Heart and Heart of his most Blessed Mother… detached from our own earthly heart, so that we shall gain a Heart truly celestial, holy and divine.”
The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to pray with St. John Eudes: “O Mother of Fair Love, obtain for me that I may have no other Paradise or pleasure in this world than to love, serve and honor Jesus, the Son of Mary, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus.”
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. teaches homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.