Chapter Four: The Piercing of the Immaculate Heart
The mystery of the piercing of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart to some extent coincides with her mission on earth, the subject of the previous chapter. The climax of the piercing comes, of course, on Calvary, but Mary’s Heart was not free from sorrow and pain during the years that preceded the saving sacrifice of her Son.
Only forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary learned something of her Child’s destiny and her personal participation in it. As she and St Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, she heard from the aged Simeon that her precious Son would be set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, a “sign of contradiction” that would meet with opposition. Mary also learned something of her own share in Jesus’ Passion: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:34-35).
Mary’s Immaculate Heart is often depicted with a sword piercing it, precisely because of this prophecy. It is a wound she has shared in a mystical way with the Pierced Heart of Jesus. But since she learned of their intimately-united destinies while Jesus was merely an infant, Mary had to carry this “cross” for three decades before the decisive moment of the consummation of our redemption. As the Child grew and lived in his innocent joys, the Mother would feel something of that sword and walk under its shadow, offering in advance her participation in her Son’s future sufferings.
As I wrote in my book A Place Prepared by God:
“We gain here an enhanced awareness of the way the Mother suffered even before her Son’s Passion. For He was just an infant at the time, but already his redemptive sufferings were known by Mary through prophecy, and so her own suffering began in Jesus’ infancy and continued in secret as the Child grew into manhood. Through her contemplation and her ceaseless ‘yes’ to all God asked of her, Mary would guard his mission in advance in her heart. It is worth noting that the word in the original Greek New Testament translated ‘soul’ (which was to be pierced by a sword) is psyche, which can also be translated ‘life,’ as it is in other places in the Bible. This supports the interpretation that it is not only at one moment that a sword would pierce the Mother’s Heart and soul (even if the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion is the climax point of Simeon’s prophecy). Rather, her whole life would be thus mystically pierced, marked as a sharer in her Son’s sufferings. Mary’s ‘passion’ began when she became aware of the destiny of her Son, and it remained integral to her existence, though perhaps muted at times, during the whole life of Jesus.”
Mary had more things to ponder (and suffer) in her motherly Heart as Jesus grew. When the boy Jesus did not tell Mary and Joseph that He would remain in Jerusalem after the Passover, they searched anxiously for Him. Having found Jesus after three days, they were surprised to hear Him say: “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” This was the first indication that Jesus was already interiorly preparing for his public mission, even though it was nearly two decades away. Again, as at the birth of Jesus, St Luke directs us to the Heart of Mary: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).
I have at times begged my heavenly Mother to allow me to be one of those “things” she keeps in her Immaculate Heart, and to be as solicitous for my welfare as she was for that of her only Son. I pray that she would also lovingly attend to the mysteries of God to which my life is directed, seeking me out if I stray and making sure that I return home with her and remain obedient to her, as Jesus did. To be kept in the Heart of Mary is to be assured of remaining on the path to Heaven. If you ever look for me and can’t find me, you now have no excuse. Did you not know I would be in my Mother’s Heart?
Three Moments of the Heart
There are three “moments” in the Gospel, before we arrive at the Passion, which would have affected the Heart of Mary. Each contained both blessing and suffering, and each served to take the Mother deeper into the mystery of her divine Son.
The first moment is the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). The suffering here is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when Mary would have to give up spending most of her time with Him. She surely was glad for others to have the opportunity to know and love Him. Yet she knew that He would also be exposed to the bitter opposition that St Simeon had foretold, which would result in his condemnation and execution. The blessing is, of course, the working of Jesus’ first miracle at Mary’s request.
When Mary pointed out to Jesus the need of the wedding guests, He at first seemed to distance Himself from this problem, evidently not wishing at that hour to set in motion the chain of events that would play out once his divine powers were manifest. But Jesus had been obedient to his beloved Mother all his life, and perhaps this act of filial obedience and deference to her wishes would be the point at which He would assume his role as Master of the disciples who had very recently come to follow Him. It was as if He were saying to Mary: “I will do this for you, dearest Mother, but know that this manifestation of my glory and power will mark the end of our quiet life together, for I will now have to give all my time and energy to preaching the Kingdom of God throughout Israel, gathering souls for the harvest.”
After the miracle, the evangelist adds a rather tender detail: Jesus decided to spend a few days with his Mother and relatives and friends, before launching out on his public ministry. We can be sure that Mary kept all these things in her Heart as well.
We should learn a lesson from what happened at Cana: Jesus still works miracles at Mary’s request. Therefore we should always seek her intercession with her Son and Lord when we discover that we “have no wine,” that is, whenever we are in some particular or urgent need.
The second moment occurred when Mary and some relatives came to see Jesus in a place where He was preaching. He used the opportunity as a “teaching moment,” because his audience needed to learn something. If they thought that Jesus placed family ties above seeking the Kingdom of God—by leaving off preaching to meet with his Mother and relatives—then how could they take Him seriously when He said things like, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37)? So when He was told his Mother and “brethren” were there to see Him, He said: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21).
Did Mary understand right away why Jesus said what He did? We can’t be sure. We do know that from the beginning Mary was the one par excellence who heard the word of God and did it, so it was actually a sort of veiled blessing for Mary. Her whole life, and everything we see in the Gospels—ever since she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word”—testifies to her faithfulness. Yet in the eyes of the people, it would have seemed like Jesus was putting distance between Himself and the one He loved most in this world. So this initial apparent refusal of Jesus to meet with her could have been another wound in her Heart. Yet the Gospel doesn’t say that He didn’t meet with her after He finished preaching!
The third moment is not unlike the second. A woman in the crowd blessed Mary by saying to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus’ response was similar to that which He gave previously: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28). It is incontestable that there is no womb more blessed than the one that held the Lord, and there are no breasts more blessed than those that fed the Divine Infant and kept Him alive. Yet Mary is blessed on both counts, for she also was called blessed for her faith in God (Lk. 1:45), which is a blessing open to all, unlike the other blessing which no one but Mary could receive.
Since Jesus came to this world to bring divine blessing to all (and not only to his Mother!), He had to show how all could share in his blessing. The word “rather” in Jesus response seems to discount the blessing of Mary’s motherhood (which Jesus, of course, would never do), but this isn’t the best or only possible translation of the word. The Greek word menoun, usually translated “rather” in this passage, can also mean, “yes indeed,” for the term is meant either to add something to or subtract something from what immediately precedes it. So Jesus, instead of apparently contradicting the woman, could have been agreeing with her and simply adding something important to what she said. So the best way to understand Jesus’ words is this: “Indeed, and those are also blessed who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Again, we don’t know quite how Mary felt about all the things being said, both the blessings and what may have seemed a redirection of them, but we can be sure that she pondered them all within her Heart.
To be continued…