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…