“There is no storm that can shipwreck the most sweet heart of Mary. When you see the squall coming, if you seek safety in the firm refuge that is Mary, there will be no danger of your being hurled off course or going down.”St. Josemaría Escrivá
On June 20, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Catholic devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary focuses on the interior life of the Blessed Mother, meditating on both her inner joys and sorrows, the virtues she exhibited, and her threefold love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary
The heart of Mary has been attracting Christians from the very beginning of Christianity. There are countless names, titles, and devotions bestowed upon Mary, Mother of God. She has been called Holy Virgin of Virgins, Mother of the Church, Mother of Mercy, Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star, Queen of Angels, Comforter of the Afflicted, Undoer of Knots, Star of the Sea, and Refuge of Sinners.
Mary is known not only for her names and titles, but for the many locations of her apparitions which have bestowed on her the names: Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Knock, and countless other appearances. She also stands at the heart of the Rosary prayed in mediation on the biblical joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous mysteries of her son. She is also recognized in our feast day celebrations of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven.
St. John Eudes was one of the early leaders in the devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and was part of her first feast day held in 1648. After this date, religious orders dedicated to the devotion of Mary’s heart began to rise. Then with the revelation of the Miraculous Medal in 1830, even greater attention was drawn to Mary’s heart. In 1855, the office and Mass in honor of The Most Pure Heart of Mary was approved. Pope John VI has said on behalf of this day:
“May the Immaculate Heart of Mary shine before the eyes of all Christians as the model of perfect love toward God and toward our fellow beings.”
The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a specific devotion to Mary’s heart, and thus her full and total self-surrender and love for her son, for God, and for all of us as her adopted sons and daughters. But with such intense and total love and surrender often comes great suffering, and this is the perspective I take in my own reflection on the power of the Immaculate Heart.
Hearts of Suffering
The Immaculate Heart of Mary is often pictured as being pierced by a sword, just as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is often pictured as being surrounded by a crown of thorns.
In harkening back to the early life of Mary, we are told in Luke 2 that shortly after Jesus’ birth, he is taken by his parents to the temple in Jerusalem to be consecrated to the Lord as was Jewish custom. Inside, they meet an old prophet named Simeon, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, it had been revealed to him that he would not taste death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. When Mary approaches him with Jesus:
“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own heart too.’”Luke 2:34-35
Simeon foretells the work and mission of Jesus but adds also the immense spiritual pain and suffering Mary herself will undergo as a result of love for her son and obedience to God’s will. Indeed, nearly Mary’s entire life is an act of self-surrender, love, and suffering for her son and for God.
Sufferings of the Immaculate Heart
She undergoes the shame of a pregnancy that her friends and neighbors thought to be sinful. She rides for days, uncomfortable and fatigued on the back of a donkey before giving birth in the cold of a cave. She is forced to flee to the safety of Egypt to keep Jesus from harm’s way of King Herod. She undergoes the depressing prophesy of Simeon, loses her son when he is still a boy while they are traveling, searching for him with great anxiety for days. She weaves in and out of the crowds, following after Jesus as he is escorted to Calvary. And she is the one kneeling at the foot of the Cross and staring up into the dying, bloodied face of her only son unable to stop his pain and suffering.
She endures all things for her son in his mission to save us. Mary’s life is full of tremendous suffering and yet she stands as a model for us of true devotion, love, sacrifice, and obedience for us to emulate.
Likewise, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a meditation on suffering, particularly on the physical pain of Christ: the nails in his hands and feet, the wound in his side, and the crown of thorns placed on his head. The devotion to the Sacred Heart, like the devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, focus on an interior image of threefold love, in Jesus’ case: his divine love, the burning love of his human will, and the sensitive love of his interior life.
Cling to Love
In both of these devotions, the heart leads to suffering: for the Sacred Heart this is physical suffering and for the Immaculate Heart, spiritual suffering. How often in our own lives this spiritual suffering of the heart rings true: the broken heart of a failed relationship, the desperate yearning of the heart for a wayward child or the pain of losing a loved one. The spiritual pain one feels in the heart is so overpowering and strong at times it can almost be just as tormenting as any physical pain. And yet, even in the sufferings of the heart, where love and longing are greatest, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary encourages us to cling all the more tightly to love, not to shy away from it or push it under the rug simply because love is hard.
I am reminded of a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta:
“Love, to be real, must hurt. It must cost, it must empty us of ourselves.”
This might be contrary to the societal view of love as infused with convenience and satisfaction, but the Immaculate Heart of Mary challenges us to love deeply and fully both God and man even when it is difficult in order that we might experience greater holiness in our hearts and in the lives of those around us.
Legion of Mary
My mother has been a part of our parishes’ Legion of Mary for the past three years. In her ministry, she meets weekly with other men and women from the parish and they pray the Rosary together, report on the condition and needs of the homebound they visited the past week, and offer faith stories to encourage and educate the group. One other day a week, my mother brings Communion to the homebound: those who are sick in nursing or family homes, and anyone otherwise unable to make it to Mass because of poor health and/or lack of transportation.
My mother would visit with these homebound men and women, hearing about their lives and sharing her life with them as well. She would tell me how they often spent their days cooped up in small rooms watching EWTN Mass on TV. Sometimes her weekly visit would be the only time they experienced face-to-face connection with someone in their faith.
My mother was the face of Christ’s love to these people who so desperately needed to feel that love of Christ in their hearts. And through her prayers and bringing them Communion, my mother had the privilege to offer the physical Eucharist for the enlivening of the spiritual life within the hearts of others.
Draw Closer to Mary’s Heart
Over the past three months as a result of the pandemic, my mother became like the homebound she visited, unable to leave her home to attend Mass and receive Communion. In an instant, she was resigned to live-streaming Mass on television, just as these individuals had been for so many years. She told me of how shocking it was to find herself without Communion and the community of faith at her parish. Just as her body needed physical food, sleep, and exercise, so too did her heart and soul need spiritual fuel of Mass and Communion. And the Immaculate Heart of Mary encourages the strengthening of our spiritual hearts. Whether we can receive Communion or not, we can always draw close to the image of Mary’s heart and her closeness to Christ, developing in our own hearts a greater capacity for love as Mary has and continues to have for us all.
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Allison DeBoer is a Washington native and longtime parishioner at St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Federal Way. She worked in her college writing center for four years and graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2019, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English creative writing. She works as the benefits assistant for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. Her work has been published in Our Sunday Visitor and Radiant Magazine. She is an avid reader, devoted to her faith, family, and friends. In her free time, Allison loves caring for animals, training dogs, watching old-fashioned films, and dancing. Her favorite Catholic voices are Flannery O’Connor and St. Teresa of Avila.
Featured image of stained glass window of the Immaculate Heart of Virgin Mary, choir of Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain, sourced from Wikimedia Commons