Monthly Archives: February 2013

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 3)

A Word About Hearts

            Some people ask why Catholics are devoted to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as if we were focusing our attention and prayer merely upon a 2 heartsbodily part or organ.  But the heart means so much more.  The whole tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Fathers of the Church is filled with references to the heart as the spiritual center of the person, the seat of love and even of thought.  One’s heart is most specially one’s very self, one’s deepest identity and inner life.  When we speak of someone as having a “good heart,” we are saying that he or she is a loving, generous, compassionate person.  The heart is synonymous with the person.

            So to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to be devoted to Mary herself, her essential self, which is her love, her inner truth and goodness, her pure and holy interior in which God dwells more completely and profoundly than anywhere else in the universe.  The pictorial image of the physical human heart, especially if it is beautifully adorned, is an appropriate symbol of the inner reality and is a helpful way to focus our attention on the essence of the person.

            In Mary’s case, since she already experiences with her Son the full glorification of both body and soul in Heaven, her actual bodily heart does in fact share in this glory.  If only we could see the awe-inspiring heavenly beauty of her Immaculate Heart, we would have no more questions about the fittingness of being devoted to her Heart!   Besides, we don’t need to reason whether or not this is a good and holy thing to do.  If we will only listen to the voice of the Queen of Heaven—“God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”— we will know that this is pleasing to both the Lord and his dear Mother.

            This little book is primarily about the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but it should be understood that Mary’s Heart is inseparable from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The love of the Heart of Mary derives from that of the Heart of Jesus and depends upon it, for the Lord is the Source of all love, goodness, grace, truth, and blessing.  The Lord has made it clear to us through several saints that He desires devotion to the Heart of Mary to be practiced along with devotion to his own Heart.  We will meet some of these saints later in this book.

            Our Lady has offered us her Heart as our “refuge and way to God,” so it is within Mary’s Heart that we most sweetly encounter the Heart of Jesus.  It is also through her that we most worthily approach Him.  We give ourselves to Mary so that she will give us to Jesus, thus giving Him the greatest glory possible.  Keep this in mind as you read about devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart.

            I would like to emphasize from the beginning the teaching of the Catholic Church that the whole of our life is oriented to God and to everlasting communion with Him in Heaven. As our Mother, Mary nourishes our life in Christ and provides heavenly assistance surpassing that of all the angels and saints.  We experience what a priceless gift Our Lord gave us when He made Mary our Mother.  Our consecration to her secures this loving relationship and enables us consistently to benefit from her maternal care.  Therefore the immediate goal of Marian consecration is union with Our Lady, but this is always in service of the ultimate goal, which is union with Christ in God.  Marian devotion is thus not a sort of parallel spirituality or an interesting option for those who like that sort of thing, nor is it a minor or dispensable element of Christian life.

            As Blessed John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Mother of the Redeemer, Mary “is in the mystery of Christ,” and therefore she is not merely alongside it or, worse yet, irrelevant to it.  If Mary is in the mystery of Christ, then this mystery is incomplete without her.  The Blessed Virgin Mary has an essential and integral place in the whole plan of salvation, and therefore she has her rightful place in our spiritual lives and in our hearts.

            In taking us to herself, Mary ensures that we will stay on the narrow path to the Kingdom of Heaven.  For in taking us to herself, she takes us to her Son.  Our spiritual life ought to be Christ-centered, for He is the Lord and Savior.  Yet it should also be Mary-surrounded, for she is the Mother, the Protectress, in whose arms we find shelter and warmth.  Our Lady helps open our eyes to see the majesty of the divine mysteries, for she has shared more deeply in them than anyone else.

            Mary guides us lovingly in the ways of God, as the Flemish mystic Venerable Marie Petyt wrote: “She has taken me under her maternal guidance and direction, much as the school mistress guides the hand of the child when she teaches him to write.”  So to give ourselves to Mary is ultimately to give ourselves to God.  Or, perhaps more precisely, it is to allow ourselves to be given to God by the loving hands to which Our Lord entrusted us when, at the climax of his Sacrifice, He said: “Behold, your mother.”

To be continued…

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 2)

Chapter One: The Immaculate Heart and Our Hearts

            “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”  Thus spoke the Queen of Heaven to three Portuguese children in 1917, creating the opportunity for countless souls to embrace a profoundly rich spiritual life and a uniquely sweet and fruitful way to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even though some form of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary had existed for centuries before Our Lady appeared at Fatima, this particular heavenly manifestation of the Mother of God was unprecedented in its influence upon the Catholic faithful.  This devotion has lit a fire in the hearts of millions of Mary’s children and is destined to remain a rich source of grace and heavenly blessing until Our Lord returns in his glory.

            Various types of devotions and spiritual practices are introduced at different times in history by certain holy men and women, often in order to meet a particular need of the faithful or to encourage them to greater fervor and love.  What is striking in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is that it was directly willed and initiated by God Himself, who made his holy will known by sending the Mother of Jesus from Heaven to announce it.

            The reason for the establishment of this devotion, in addition to deepening our own spiritual lives, is nothing less than the eternal salvation of immortal souls!  God’s desire that his children be devoted to the Heart of the heavenly Mother was made known immediately after Our Lady had shown the children of Fatima a vision of Hell.  They were overcome by the horror of it.  The thought that some, perhaps many, people would have to spend all eternity there due to their sins and failure to repent moved them to a deep anguish of spirit, especially little Jacinta.  She subsequently made it her life’s mission to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of souls.

            Immediately after this vision, Our Lady spoke to the children: “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. In order to save them [that is, in order to prevent souls from going there], God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If people do what I ask, many souls will be saved…”

            Devotion (and, as we’ll see, consecration) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is therefore not merely another more or less helpful spiritual practice.  It was chosen and blessed by God Himself as a particularly effective means of obtaining the grace of repentance for souls, so they can be spared the eternal torments of Hell and enjoy endless happiness in Heaven.

            Even though the precious fruits of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary reach all the way into eternity, this little book is written primarily to focus on what we can do here and now.  It is written simply to invite you to love the Heart of Mary.  Yes, just to love her Heart!  Once this sweet fire of love is enkindled within you, your heavenly Mother will take care of the rest, enriching your spiritual life and bringing to the most needy souls the grace of repentance unto salvation.  She is willing and able to do more for you than you can imagine, but first you have to be hers!

            Your love for Mary, your devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart—and the graces she will bring to you from Our Lord because of it—can transform your whole life, as it has transformed mine.  I now love her so much that I cannot express adequately in words how profound and beautiful this heavenly mystery is to me. This complete surrender to Our Lady, with all its marvelously rich fruits, is not something I am capable of producing on my own.  It is God’s gift, and I will be eternally grateful.  If you pray for this gift and give yourself to your heavenly Mother, you will discover that the Heart of Mary is the path to Heaven and is a foretaste of Heaven along the way.  She said the following at Fatima, and we would do well never to forget it: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and your way to God.”

            Our way to God.  Our whole life is about going back to God, who created us, who sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us, who sent his Holy Spirit to sanctify us and thus prepare us to enter his Kingdom.  God also has sent Our Lady to help us return to Him.  Mary is Daughter of the Father, favored as no other creature ever was or will be.  She is Mother of the Son, uniquely privileged to impart humanity to God, who became man inside her own body. She is also Spouse of the Holy Spirit, completely and inseparably united to Him since the moment of her conception.

            Mary was created solely to become the Mother of the Son of God.  But because He loved her (and us) so much, Jesus gave her to us to be our Mother as well, so we too could love her and feel her love as He did.  He did this from the Cross when He said to John and thus to all his beloved disciples, “Behold, your mother” (Jn. 19:25-27).

Mary, Heaven, Church

            Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, we all have been in exile from Paradise.  This life is meant to be a pilgrimage of return, a pilgrimage of the heart and soul.  In a poetic expression of yearning to return to the temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament psalmist exclaims: “They are happy, whose strength is in You, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion” (Ps. 84:6).  In Mary’s precious Heart we find the “road to Zion,” the path to the Heavenly Jerusalem, of which she herself is the icon and the mystical embodiment, since the fullness and the destiny of the Church are expressed in her divinely-radiant body and soul.  She is the Queen of Heaven glorified by the King, her Redeemer, her Lord, and her Son!

            We can begin to experience something of Heaven in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Mother of God not only dwells in Heaven, and she is not only the Queen of Heaven—in certain sense she is Heaven!  Not in the most literal sense, of course, but the Church in her liturgical poetry sees her that way.  Heaven is simply where God dwells.  Because God dwelled uniquely and bodily in the Virgin Mary, and has filled her whole being with his grace and life at every moment of her existence, she herself has become in her heavenly glory a kind of sweet paradise for all who would enter into the light and love of God through her Immaculate Heart.

            In the prayers of the Byzantine Christian tradition, Mary is called the “Gate of Heaven,” “heavenly tabernacle of the Divinity,” “spiritual paradise,” etc.  In one of the prayers, she is called “a heaven…a chamber full of light.”  This reminds me of one of the Fatima apparitions, during which she opened her hands to the children, and then from within her came the Light of God which penetrated their hearts and souls and took them into his presence.  She is the tabernacle, as it were, of that Divine Light, and entering therein we find Heaven!

            The Heart of Mary is the way to God, the way to Christ, in a similar manner as is the Church.  Christ Himself is the Way to the Father, but we enter into communion with Christ through the Church, especially through the sacraments and the whole life of faith, worship, righteous deeds and charity that characterizes the Catholic Church as the way to God.  The Church is like a mother, giving birth to children of God through baptism, nourishing them through the Holy Eucharist, teaching and correcting and guiding them in many ways.  That is why our Mother Mary is both a symbol and a real, living expression of the mystery of Mother Church.

            So it is that in our spiritual lives we have recourse to the Heart of the Mother, who  nourishes and  “brings us up” in the faith through her guidance, intercession and protection.  We are safe in the sheltering presence of her arms, and she presses us lovingly to her Heart as a mother would do with her dearest little child.  She brings us thus to the Lord, presenting us to Him as her own.  This is more pleasing to Him than if we thought we were worthy to approach Him by ourselves.

            You can become aware of all this in prayer, in the depths of your soul, if you take the time to seek the Heart of the Mother, to allow her to be your way to the Lord, to reflect upon her mission in this world, and to enter into a dialogue of love with her.  Allow Mary to bring you to the Lord, and you will find Heaven in her Heart.  Let her show you what you mean to her, and you will feel something of her tenderness and gentle love.  You may also experience a mother’s correction if you start to stray from the path to Heaven, but even her reproaches are offered with such love that you will be happy to mend your ways, knowing how much this pleases her.  And what pleases the Mother pleases the Son, so you will experience the blessing of the Lord.

To be continued…

Heaven in Her Heart (Part 1)

[I have written a booklet on devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which I’m going to post here a little at a time, once a week, for six months or so.  An abridged version is forthcoming in print form, for free distribution, and the entire version is available on this blog in the Heaven in Her Heart page above.  It’s quite long for a blog page, so if you’re not in a hurry, you can just read it in short portions, to give yourself some time for reflection.]

Introduction: Rebuilding the House of the Lord

On Pentecost Sunday 2012, I sought a word from the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, as is my custom.  When I opened the Bible to the first two chapters of Ezra, I wondered what the Lord could possibly say to me there, since these chapters consist mostly of long lists of names.  But there was an important word there for me, in the very first verses. Because those verses mention the accomplishment of “the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah,” I then turned to the Prophet Jeremiah for additional insight and direction.

Let’s begin with the word from Ezra: “The Lord, the God of Heaven…has charged me to…rebuild the house of the Lord” (1:1-3).  This sounds quite solemn and dramatic, and it is well beyond my capacity even to begin to do anything like this, but there it was.  Saint Francis once received a similar message, hearing the voice of the Lord Himself, but I don’t mean to suggest I’ve attained anything like his spiritual stature.  Yet even that great saint had to take some time to reflect upon the word of the Lord, to interpret and understand it correctly.

The “house of the Lord” can be considered the Church.  This could certainly apply to the clarifying words I received in Jeremiah (chapters 18-20), as they contain the Lord’s lamentation over his beloved ones: “My people have forgotten Me…they have stiffened their necks, refusing to hear my words.”  Everyone knows of the various crises that afflict the Catholic Church today, and that she is in urgent need of renewal on several levels.  But what she needs is not the “renewal” that many people promote, which is little more than the adoption of the mentality and agenda of the largely degenerate societies that should instead be her mission field.  Rather, true renewal is a revitalization of the Church’s living Tradition, a re-opening of the sources of grace that have sustained her through her 2000-year history, a recovery of that which once created saints and ignited their hearts with divine love.

Still, this interpretation indicates a task of such magnitude—bringing about the cleansing, illumination, and inner transfiguration of the mystical Body of Christ—that even the great saints of our own times have enjoyed only modest success in it, despite their extraordinary efforts.  So I had to find my special place in this vast undertaking, which must be carried out in various ways by many people all over the world.

Then the thought came to me: Mary!  Could my task in rebuilding the house of the Lord have something to do with helping restore devotion to Our Lady, or perhaps with offering reparation to her Immaculate Heart?  Is Mary, is her Heart, the “house of the Lord” to which my energies are to be directed?

I wondered if I was stretching the interpretation a bit.  But immediately after this I opened a book of Our Lady’s messages from Heaven, and there before me were the words:  “My Heart is the house where the Word was formed.…”!  This made sense.  Mary is traditionally known as the Lord’s house, temple, city, or any image that refers to a dwelling place, for she was the “place” in which Our Lord chose to dwell, in a unique and unrepeatable manner.

The chapters of Jeremiah where I found the first words also contain these:  “The word of the Lord has become…in my heart as it were a burning fire” (20:8-9).  The Divine Word breathed by the Holy Spirit is the Flame of Love in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Therefore it is her mission to work in union with the Holy Spirit to communicate this Fire to the hearts of all her children.  But if, as the Lord lamented through Jeremiah, many people have forgotten Him, how many more ignore or reject his beloved Mother?

In her apparitions at Fatima and subsequent ones, Mary makes it clear that God is not pleased with the sins committed against her Immaculate Heart, and that He requires reparation to be made, if the souls of these sinners are to be saved.  But who thinks about these things anymore?  How many people take seriously and practice devoutly what Heaven has communicated to us through the Blessed Virgin?

The level of the vitality and fervor of Marian devotion has always been a major indicator of the spiritual health and fruitfulness of the Catholic Church.  When the faithful begin to ignore the Mother of God or devalue the importance of Marian devotion, they also tend to fall away from the sacraments and all the means of salvation offered by the Church, and even from Catholic  moral teachings as well.  Once that happens, they begin to look to the secular trends of the present age for direction on making the Church into what they think she should be, if they don’t forsake the Church altogether in favor of the ways of this world.

I believe, then, that in asking me to share in the work of “rebuilding the house of the Lord,” God is directing me to the Heart of Mary.  He wants me to help restore devotion to her, and to encourage more loving reparation to this motherly Heart, pierced, as she has said, by the thorns of the blasphemies and ingratitude of men. When Mary’s children are all united to her in love and devotion, she can form in their souls the capacity and desire to offer a complete “yes” to God’s will as she herself did.  Thus the Church shall be renewed.

Therefore I offer these reflections on the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a way to invite you to help revive Marian devotion in the Church—starting with the consecration of your own heart to hers—and thus to share in the great renewal willed by the Holy Spirit, who wants the Catholic Church to be, like the holy Mother of God, the immaculate dwelling place of the Lord.

To be continued…