The Immaculate Heart of Mary: A Model of Purity

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

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This past Friday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recalling that the human heart of Jesus Christ is the prototype of a heart totally directed to and united with God. On the following day—Saturday June 28—we commemorated the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The main promoters of the veneration of Mary’s Immaculate Heart (St. Anselm, d.1109; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, d.1153; St. Bernardine of Siena, 1380-1444; St. John Eudes, 1601-1680) were solicitous in emphasizing the intimate union between the two hearts of Jesus and Mary. Sacred and Immaculate HeartsThe Gospel of Luke speaks twice of Mary’s pondering heart: “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (2:19) and “His mother meanwhile kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).

The heart as the expression of the core of a person is universally accepted as the symbol of love. It is likewise the heart from which our choices and commitments originate. Thus we can say that Mary’s fiat given to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation reveals her innermost disposition to serve God with an undivided heart, no matter the cost. Thus writes St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater:“By her loving consent, Mary first conceived Christ in her heart and then in her womb accepting fully and with a ready heart everything that is decreed in the divine plan” (RM, §14).

Mary’s Immaculate Heart is God’s gift to her, preserving her from original sin and strengthened her in her resolve to remain sinless. In actuality, sin—to say it simply—is a lack of love. Mary does not experience this lack, because the ecstasy of her heart leaves no room for sin (cf. RM, §36). Thus, when Mary ponders all she has experienced in her heart, she does so with a purity of spirit which allows her to “see” with her heart the ways God wants to lead her.

Unfortunately, it is not so with our hearts: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mk 7:21-23). Yet, a heart which at baptism has received the “purification for sins” through the Son of God has become a pure und undivided heart (cf. Heb 1:3), capable of loving God and neighbor with heart and soul.

Love washed, cleansed, and transformed through the Blood of Christ does not wither, but is passionate in seeking the integral good: “Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §10). Indeed, true love cannot be disimpassioned! Immaculate Heart of Mary-largeThe purified heart is a strong heart because with the help of grace it can succeed in channeling all antagonistic powers wrestling within towards God and His reign. Such a heart is also brave because it has persevered and matured amidst trials and challenges. Those who may call such a heart their own are allowed to see God (cf. Mt 5:8).

“Here is my secret. It is very simple. One sees well only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” These words of the Little Prince could also have been spoken by Mary. A heart that sees well has acquired the art of love; it perceives God’s gifts reflected in His goodness, His creation and creatures! We may want to ask, “How well does a heart need to be in order to see rightly?” Or “what obstacles prevent a heart—my heart—from seeing well?” Celebrating the Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to take stock of the condition of our hearts.

Purifying the Polluted Heart
Daily we are confronted with the devastating effects pollution has on the earth and are taught preventive actions. Yet, hardly anybody speaks of the pollution of the human heart! Nonetheless, the abiding contamination of the world around us corresponds to the increasing threat and devastation of our inner world caused by the poisonous impressions we permit to enter our heart.

Do we need to pay better attention to the hygiene of our heart? This could start with a good confession and the decision to regularly allot time for the sacrament of reconciliation. The prophet Ezekiel tells us rather bluntly: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ez 18:31).

Sincere efforts to purify and beautify our hearts will by necessity have an impact on our daily decisions and personal style of life. At stake is a sincere (re)evaluation of our habits concerning prayer, language, and choice of entertainment, to name but a few. Needless to say, the cultivation of our hearts is no romantic waltz. On the contrary, it involves pertinacious legwork, patience and humility, since this endeavor will doubtlessly bring us to remove the different layers with which we cover, protect, disguise, and even harden our hearts.

The following scriptural passages could accompany us on the journey:

   I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you
your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26).

   Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing heart, to sustain me (Ps 51:12).

?     My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music (Ps 57:8).

   So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people
and to distinguish between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9).

?     Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt 5:8).

By commemorating Mary’s Immaculate Heart we can confidently turn to her knowing that she is our Mother and teacher. We can take her hand and tell her:

Blessed Mother, your heart is well-ordered and in harmony with the heart of your Son. Your favorite occupation is to treasure and ponder Him in your Immaculate Heart. In many ways, my heart lacks this order. Let me participate in the richness and beauty of your heart. Teach me in my struggle to surrender my heart undividedly to Jesus and His work. Strengthen me in my efforts to depollute the trash accumulated in my imagination and consciousness. Then I, like you, will discover my heart as the temple of God and learn to see and ponder Him in my everyday life. Amen.

Liturgy and Justice: An Exercise of the Imagination



Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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I was recently making my way through a rather lovely, albeit deeply challenging book, by Fr. Emmanuel Katongole (a colleague here at ReconcilingAllThingsNotre Dame and teacher at this year’s Symposium) and Chris Rice (Duke University) entitled Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing. This book offers a vision of reconciliation not as an isolated ministry of the few but a challenge and gift offered to the whole Church.

In the midst of reading this book, I came across a series of comments on reconciliation and justice, which are helpful in considering the relationship between liturgy and justice. Often, I have heard this relationship articulated in a consequential manner. When we engage in Eucharistic worship (or any other liturgical rite), then we are obligated to live in justice. Justice becomes an act of the individual will of the one who celebrates the liturgy.

Katongole and Rice offer a different vision, one that is perhaps more true to the pedagogy of the liturgy itself. They write:

Reading Scripture and dwelling within its distinctive vision shapes new possibilities in our response to the conflicts and brokenness in the world. Quite often the brute realities of the world intimidate and overwhelm us. According to the world’s logic, it takes power, strength, money and influence to effect change. And so, given the widespread realities of war, conflict and violence in the world, we feel terribly over-powered and helpless, as if we lack the necessary resources to make any difference (66).

The liturgical rites of the Church are nothing less than an embodied participation in the distinctive vision of the Scriptures, one in which we are invited to consider new possibilities. That my body is valuable because it is a living stone, the temple of the Spirit. That bread and wine are destined to become Christ’s body and blood. That the rising and setting of the sun are natural phenomenon that take on new significance in light of Christ’s rising and death through the Church’sPeaceableKingdom embodied practice of chanting psalms. That humanity is not destined for violence, warfare, or division–but that every human being is called to the peaceful worship of the kingdom.

Justice is therefore not a consequence of liturgical participation, an act of the will of the one that has worshipped. Rather, through liturgical participation, I am shaped to see new possibilities of justice, of God’s justice, where before I could perceive only the darkness of death, grammars of power and control, of violence itself. Again, turning to Katongole and Rice:

“…early Christians did not start out with a quest for justice. Rather, they were captured by a fresh story of God’s new Pentecost, and as they were drawn into this story and its communion, they found themselves practicing a far more radical version of justice than they could ever have imagined” (74).


We learn to desire and perform God’s justice not through an act of the will alone. Instead, we come to be taken up into a vision of something larger, something for which our vision was too small to perceive. We are invited into the logic of the kingdom through the practices of worship that spill out into practices of radical hospitality, practices of forgiveness, practices of patience, practices of rest, practices of prayer.

Living justly is therefore not something separate from liturgical worship. It is not a consequence of this worship pure and simple. Instead, we begin to live justly when we lift up our hearts to the Lord, when we dwell in the peace of the Church.

Of course, our individual parishes or congregations are not always places of justice themselves. They too need to be lifted up into God’s own imagination. Too often, our parishes and congregations are concerned more with self-maintenance than dwelling in the distinctive vision of the kingdom (St. Paul addressed the Corinthians on this exact point). Yet, if we are to truly proclaim the living memory of the God who loved unto the end, then our parishes and congregations must become sites of this radical love.

FraAngelicoNativityPerhaps, the problem with such parishes and congregations is not simply that they have grown used to living unjustly. Perhaps, our parishes and congregations are afraid to teach and preach that vision of total, self-giving love revealed in Christ. Perhaps, our worship has become less about entering the life of the fearfully hospitable triune God and more about a divine praise of ourselves. Perhaps, what is needed is not simply exhortations to be more just; but instead, a renewal of the very heart of the Church to perceive anew how even now God takes flesh in the justice of a kingdom that is continuing to unfold in the power and wisdom of God. In the simple rites of the Church, in the simple life of the family, in the streets of the most violent neighbors: it is here that the Word seeks to become flesh and dwell among us.

Novena to St. Jude

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic.

Must be said 6 times each day,
For 9 consecutive days,
Leaving 9 copies in Church each day.



Sound familiar? Of course!

You’ve seen it many times: Photocopies of photocopies, usually in small stacks, scattered here and there in church – at the end of pews, stuck in the hymnal racks, or back in the vestibule with the bulletins and pamphlets. They’ll appear and disappear depending on when they’re left – and when the janitoStJudeLeafletrs get around to pitch ‘em.

I love those little prayers – I freely admit it! Yes, they’re like spiritual comfort food – junk food, really – and so we’re reluctant to fess up to praying them, or anything like them. With their elaborate directives, they’re the equivalent of heavenly chain letters, and, like chain letters, they make us uneasy – as if we’re doing something wrong; as if we’re guilty of trying to manipulate God to do what we want.

Eh? So what. It’s prayer at its rudimentary best – a child bugging his dad for something – and we could do much worse, as in, let’s say, not pray at all.

And then – BOOM – I got the word from my daughter recently: Prayers like the St. Jude’s Novena are a sin! At least they’ve been declared as much by the good people at the Midwest Theological Forum. They’re the ones who put out Joan’s religion textbook, Our Moral Life in Christ from the Didache series, and it’s there that she directed my attention:

A sin of superstition occurs if one insists that certain prayers be said a particular number of times for an exact number of days in order to obtain favors from God…. These practices are wrong because they attribute the results to the external rituals involved and not to God’s goodness.

I have no beef with the Forum or their Didache series. Our bishop has adopted it for the high schools, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, it has blurbs of support from Scott Hahn and other trusted authorities, and an introduction from Bishop Jerome Listecki, now Archbishop of Milwaukee. And, of course, it goes without saying that the series is published with ecclesiastical approval and conforms with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, I must protest.

The Didache textbook itself refers to novenas and other sacramentals as “legitimate religious devotions,” so that begs the question: What is a novena other than praying “certain” prayers for a “particular number of times” and for an “exact number of days?” The word itself – novena – is derived from the Latin for “nine,” and refers to the exact number of days the Apostles and Our Lady prayed between the Ascension and Pentecost.apostle-st-thaddeus-jude

So, then, is it the objective of obtaining “favors from God” that make the St. Jude’s Novena a sin? There again, I’m wondering what a novena is if it’s not a persistent badgering of the Father to do what we think He should do.

In any event, Jesus Himself tells us to pray that way – nagging, hounding, not taking ‘no’ for an answer:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’?

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs (emphasis added).

Note that Jesus is hinting here that the Lord honors persistence itself – interior disposition isn’t a factor, at least in this story. The Catechism underscores this emphasis as well: “‘Knock, and it will be opened to you.’ To the one who prays like this, the heavenly Father will ‘give whatever he needs,’ and above all the Holy Spirit who contains all gifts.”

Scripture gives us plenty of other examples of this kind of tenacious petitioning – like Abraham cajoling God to ease up on Sodom, Moses doing the same in defense of the golden-calf worshiping Hebrews, and then there’s the classic image of Jacob wrestling with an angel all night for a blessing. “From this account,” the Catechism explains, “the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance.”

One could object that there’s a big difference between steadfastness in prayer and the elaborate mandates that some novenas impose. Consider, then, the healing of Naaman which required his bathing in the Jordan exactly seven times – no more, no less. Or the Israelites’ victory in the Battle of Jericho, involving six daily circumnavigations of the city, and, on the seventh day, a full seven additional circular marches, with precisely seven priests leading the way blowing seven rams’ horns – again, no more, no less. Nobody’s going to dismiss these seemingly arbitrary requirements as superstition.

A pause here to list a couple disclaimers: Clearly, persistent prayer of this sort ought to include a unquestioned deference to God’s will. Even when all the prescripts of a particular novena are followed to the letter, the faithful supplicant will still acknowledge that God might just have something else in mind.

And it follows that outright superstition and magical thinking – that is, using novenas and other sacramentals completely apart from any relationship with God – are to be avoided altogether. Again, the Catechism:

To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

But our interior dispositions are fickle,and that’s where the value of following a novena to the letter comes in: It’s a reaching out to God and a sign of simple trust, despite the fact that I’m just trying to get my own way.

Here’s a parallel example: My participation at Mass. The Council fathers wrote:

In order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain

How do I know I have adequately adored and worshiped at Mass? That I’ve rendered unto the Father the attention and reverence that is His due? That I really cooperated with grace and haven’t receSantaTeresaived it in vain?

Who knows? I can always second-guess my thoughts and aspirations, even when they appear to be pious. Besides, pious or not, my thoughts are only intermittently “attuned” to my voice at Mass since they’re perpetually mixed up with shifting moods, varying degrees of fatigue, and the most mundane of distractions.

Nevertheless, I was there! My mere presence at Mass – even if I’m only fulfilling a Sunday obligation – is a sign of filial submission, however reluctant or imperfect. It’s better than nothing, in other words: It may not be a solid foundation, but it could very well be the few bricks that God desires from me as He shapes and molds me to His liking.

Novenas – even the complicated ones like those photocopies in the pews – are like that: They’re not the highest reaches of prayer, but they’re a place to start – at least they get us actually praying. Who cares if we’re just trying to get God to do what we want? St. Teresa wrote that “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s like whiny children bugging their dad for stuff. Even when the dad turns them down, isn’t he delighted that they’re coming to him with their requests?

Of course he is.