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.

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