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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Saturday, 4 June 2016

HEART TO HEART: THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY


The feast of the Immaculate Heart, eccentric as it may appear to non-Catholics, point us to a wonderful truth acceptable to most: our religion is a religion of the heart, of grace that has its home in our deepest self.   This is illustrated in the Gospel of St Luke in which the Blessed Virgin kept all that God told her, either by words or in events, in her heart.   She did not allow them to become fleeting memories, here today and gone tomorrow: she allowed them to sink in to become ruminations in her very soul, part and parcel of what she was becoming, our most holy Theotokos (God Bearer).

She took into her heart the words of the angel, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow, and so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God;"  and from her immaculate heart came her answer, "I am the  handmaid of the Lord.   Let what you have said be done to me."   It can be said that Jesus was conceived through the heart of Mary.  

The Visitation is a story of the meeting of John the Baptist with Jesus within the depths of Elizabeth and Mary, and it is from within the heart of Mary that the Magnificat flowed. The events and words that express the meaning of Christ's birth are also contemplated by Mary, deep in her heart.  At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, Simeon prophesied to Mary that a sword would pierce her soul " so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”   For the first time, St Luke hints that will happen in the depths of Mary will have a direct effect on others. Finally in St Luke's Gospel, we have the Holy Family visiting Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.   Mary and Joseph have the experience of losing  Jesus for three days.  They are  reminded by his replies that, although they are the legal parents, Jesus belongs to the Father and thus has a prior loyality.   This loyalty would lead him to the cross.  St John's Gospel shows Our Lady, with sword in her heart, suffering with Christ deep down in her self.   When her heart had expanded by its synergy with the love of Christ crucified, she became our mother as the disciple whom Jesus loved took her into his family.

We saw in yesterday's feast that, according to Thomas Merton, "in the deepest ground of our being we remain in metaphysical contact with the whole of that creation in which we are only small parts."   It is that point within us in which God breathes on the matter of this world to make each one of us a living soul.  It is our point of contact with God by which we are human: it is what we call "our heart".   When Mary received Jesus into her heart by her humble obedience, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord..." and continued to receive him by her life of humble obedience, right up to the foot of the cross where she stood with St John, her heart became the heart of the human race, and the situation of every other heart "metaphysically" in contact with hers, humans across time and space, now beat in a new context: the offer of grace was everywhere.   For this reason we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary involves a total commitment to respond to the Gospel with the same wholehearted humble obedience that Mary displayed, not just with words but with deeds.

Mary's message is always that which she gave in the Marriage Feast of Cana, "Do whatever he tells you."   It involves listening to and reading the Word of God meditatively, openly, in an attitude of humble obedience so that the Holy Spirit can speak to us as he spoke to her.   Praying the rosary is another way to place yourself in humble obedience to the truths of faith in union with Mary; but this prayer, however important, holy and wonderful it is in the experience of the Catholic faithful, should never be a substitute for the meditative reading of Scripture; but rather, it should be a way of extending its influence into the rest of the day.

Another dimension of our relationship of humble obedience to the will of God is penance, somthing we all tend to neglectAt least, we should not put off till later what we can do today.  On hearing of the plight of her cousin Elizabeth, even though this was not the main thrust of the message given her by the angel, she downed tools and, with haste, went to look after her cousin who was about to have a child. To learn to do unpleasant or difficult things immediately it is a good thing to take on fasting or 'giving up things'.  This strengthens our will to do the will of God when it is really important to do so.   Most of all, we should remember that what happens in our hearts is important, not just for us, but also for others, perhaps others we don't know or may never meet in this life.   We, like Mary, are  "metaphysically" connected with everyone else.

This brings me to the message of Fatima.  What I find most challanging and most exciting is the claim in Fatima that prayer and penance can alter history, but is no different from the claim of Saint Therese of Lisieux she can practise the love that causes martyrs to be ready to shed their blood and missionaries to spread the Gospel.  Both the Fatima messages and the teaching of St Therese take for granted that there is a unity of the human race that has its origin in God and of which we are only sometimes aware.

Part of the message of Our Lady in Fatima is about Russia.   Unfortunately, there is an apocalyptic right wing, both in the Catholic  Church and in the Orthodox, so that Youtube is choc-a-bloc with interpretations of the "secrets of Fatima" that say more about those who make them than about either Fatima or Russia.  What is true is that the Blessed Virgin told the three children that Russia would become a source of great evil, of persecution of war etc, and she told us to pray and do penance for Russia.

This happened.   We used to say "prayers for Russia" after every Mass; children gave up sweets for Russia, many went to Mass and said the rosary for Russia.   I doubt if any part of the world prayed so earnestly and over a prolonged period in favour of Russia and its conversion.  It is also true that when Communism eventually fell, with the loss of very little blood, the Orthodox faithful attributed this to the protection of Our Lady of Kazan.

I don't think the Russian Orthodox have generally appreciated the amount of prayer that was offered up in the West for them.   Some are intent that only bad things come from the West and have even; so they accuse us of praying to convert them, a prayer of aggression. The same would be only too glad to convert us.  However, most of us were thinking of the Communists who persecuted Catholics in other countries and were genuinely praying for their Orthodox brethren, even if they often had no idea what an Orthodox is.  On the other hand, a Catholic monk friend of mine was once taken on a tour of churches, Orthodox and Eastern Catholic in Minsk, and asked to guess which were Orthodox and which were Catholic. He was certain about one church because it had inside a statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  In fact, it turned out to be Orthodox - so some know of the deluge of prayer on their behalf because of the Fatima apparitions.

What is the difference between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the symbol and devotional expression of the divine and human love that the triune God has for us, for all human beings and for all creation through Jesus Christ.   The immediate object of that love is ourselves.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is the symbol and devotional expression of that human, creaturely love that is enabled by the Holy Spirit to receive Jesus Christ himself with the fullness of divine-human love that is his, in which we participate and, by so doing, share in the divine life.  The immediate object of this love that comes from the Immaculate Heart is love of the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  The reception of this love has two essential characteristics:
i)  Once Our Blessed Lady's heart  receives this love, Jesus uses it to "contaminate" as many other hearts as possible so that all these hearts become instruments of his love;
ii)When, through conversion, we receive this love of Christ, we never receive it as an individual, but always in communion with others: this is because of the nature of the heart which is in "metaphysical" contact with all other hearts; and it is also the nature of the Church.   As "those in communion" we are welded together in Christ as the Giver of salvation, and with Mary as the prime receiver of salvation.   As Khomiakov wrote:
We know that when any one of us falls he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her, and in unity with all her other members. If any one believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer. Wherefore no one can rest his hope on his own prayers, and every one who prays asks the whole Church for intercession, not as if he had doubts of the intercession of Christ, the one Advocate, but in the assurance that the whole Church ever prays for all her members.(The Church is One by Alexei Khomiakov 1804-1860)






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