Today the Church celebrates the obligatory Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so the sequential readings are set aside so that we can hear in the Gospel something about the Heart of Mary. The verses that have always struck me to the heart and refocused my attention are repeated in two places in the second chapter of Luke: And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19); And his mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).
She knew how to “BE WITH” events and circumstances and to know God in them, which is something that can only be done if we are open to the Spirit in our lives. We often see the events and circumstances and people in our lives as hurdles to overcome, tasks to be checked off, goals to reach. But if we open our hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, these things can reveal to us the will of God, and the gifts He is pouring over us. This is what Mary did.
But Mary sometimes gets a bit sidelined; we’re not sure what to make of all this, so we can sometimes reduce her to a kind of sweet “conduit” through which Jesus appeared on earth for us.
This would be to misunderstand the nature of motherhood in general and of this motherhood in particular – the mother-child relationship can never be reduced to mere passing “functionality.” We don’t give birth and then a child has no need for us! And in this particular case, it would be ridiculous to think that God would use a person and then minimize the role that person would play in the rest of the story.
Christ did not fall to earth, ready-made and complete. He, too, required loving and nurturing and instructing. Christ is the seed of the Word, planted by the Father and the Spirit in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth; and Mary is the fertile earth that nourished and gave growth to that Seed so that we may eventually eat the fruit of the Tree of the Cross, the Eucharist. The Flesh that feeds us was formed under the Heart of Mary. The Blood that we receive from the altar first flowed through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Mary was made for this, and she cannot ever be anyone other than the Mother of God; everything before the angel Gabriel came to her prepared her for this role and there is no point at which she is not the Mother of God. Mary did not stop being the Mother of God once Jesus was born, or once he came of age, or when he left her to preach, or when he died on the Cross, or rose and ascended into Heaven. She is Christ’s mother and – because we are members of his Body through baptism – she is our mother too.
In her fiat at the outset of the work of redemption, she is both accepting God’s gift of redemption for herself and prefiguring/making possible the act of faith of the whole church yet to come. She speaks her YES on behalf of all of humanity, as the new creation begins in her womb.
In fact, “Mary, Mother of God” underlies the whole mystery of our redemption; from the Son’s conception in her womb by the overshadowing Holy Spirit to our own conception in the womb of Mother Church “until Christ be fully formed in us,” Mary is part of our salvation. And the Scriptures tell us that this is because of her great faith: blessed are you because you believed (Luke 1:45). Mary’s deepest identity is believer: one who encountered the Word of God, accepted it, assented to it, and never wavered, all the way to the cross and beyond.
There is nothing that Mary does without its being undertaken under the impulse of that original and ever-active grace of the Spirit that filled her from the beginning. This grace that filled Mary drove her in haste to the hill country of Judah to help her cousin Elizabeth, and also made her sensitive to the needs of the family hosting the wedding feast in Cana; we see in these events Mary’s essential role as Christ-Bearer and ready intercessor, who comes to our aid even without our asking! She is, in a sublime and motherly way, attentive to our needs.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary is the example for us of complete receptivity to the Word and a ready YES to every breath, every movement of the Holy Spirit. Let us allow her to mother us into the arms of her Son, Jesus, and into eternity with him.
Kathryn is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax.