Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today, on the day after which we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we commemorate the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy calls this memorial “a celebration of the complex visceral relationship of Mary with her Son’s work of salvation: from the Incarnation, to his death and resurrection, to the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

I’ve written about Mary at various times, and posted some podcasts from a retreat I gave on Embracing Mary. This memorial of Mary’s Immaculate Heart reminds us that Mary’s consent to the Incarnation, her Yes, was not merely a consent to bear a child in her womb for nine months. Instead, in the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar, “she speaks her perfect Yes to the person and work of her Son, who himself cannot be understood except as one of the divine Trinity.” While he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, that Mary’s Yes was a consent “a priori to her child’s whole destiny.” She births a child, watches him grow and lets him go so that he may enter upon his mission. She watches him arrested, stands at the foot of the cross (where she accepts her motherhood of all of his disciples) and holds her dead Son in her arms. (Ratzinger describes the image of Mary holding the dead Christ as “the purest reflection of the divine compassion that is the only true consolation.”) And she remains in the upper room with the disciples afterwards, and receives of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, writes Ratzinger, to say Mary is “full of grace” is to say that her life was “intimately connected with God.” So when we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we celebrate a way of live intended for all of us. A Yes to the fullness of Christ in us and in the world.


Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Sacred Heart “the chief sign and symbol of that…love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception.” So we are invited this day to appreciate in a deeper way the “love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians).

The first reading from today’s Mass is a good way to get in touch with that overwhelming love of God manifest through Jesus. We read from the Book of the prophet Hosea,

Thus says the Lord: When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.

That is the love reflected in the Sacred Heart of Jesus – the love of a parent holding a child lovingly in her arms, surrounding them with bands of love.

At one level we are invited to luxuriate in that love. But as is always the case for us as Christians, the love is not simply shared between me and Christ, but is meant to be spread throughout the whole world. One of the versions for the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass begs, “Teach us to see Christ in the lives we touch, to offer him living worship by love-filled service to our brothers and sisters.” Thus, the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes both Jesus love for us and our charge to be that love for the world.

Theology of Her/His Body: A Discussion of Femininity and Masculinity

I read Jason Evert’s Theology of Her Body and Theology of His Body as part of the Catholic Company’s review program. Evert is the author of a number of books and spends a lot of time talking to high school and college teens about sexuality. The book is divided into two parts: Theology of Her Body and Theology of His Body and teens of both sexes are encouraged to read both parts of the book.

I have mixed reactions to this book. The effort to take John’s Paul II’s Theology of the Body and present it in a manner that average readers, especially young ones, can appreciate is a worthwhile one. The book is very readable and easy to understand and one hopes it will succeed in getting young men and women to think hard before jumping early into sexual relations. The book also makes wonderful use of the Song of Songs and other Biblical references to talk about the beauty of human love and sexuality. Equally important is the effort to explain that the receptivity of women, exemplified by Mary, is not a prescription for passivity, but for an active receptivity to God’s will.

Although I am not bothered with some of the author’s assertions having to do with males and females, for example, the claim that women are “able to enter into the emotions of another with much greater ease than men,” there are a few things I do find problematic. One is the remarkable claim that God is never referred to in Scriptures as our mother, which is not unrelated to the author’s criticism of the use of gender-inclusive language in our liturgy. While I share the author’s belief that it would be inappropriate and dangerous to “rid God of all masculine qualities” and to “strip out any references to God our Father,” the idea that the incorporation of some references to the feminine and maternal side of God (of which one can find many examples in the Bible) is to blame for the fact “that the majority of people in church are woman,” is a difficult one to credit.

Second, the emphasis on rigid gender roles is a sticking point for me and will be for many people. Even for those who accept the idea of the complementarity of men and women, the implicit suggestion that there is something wrong with a man who is sensitive (in the way women are sensitive) or with a woman who, for example, suggests going out on a date with a male or proposes marriage (because it is the man’s “job” to ask her) is disturbing to me.

Neither of these is a reason not to read the book. Apart from the fact that there are doubtless many who do not share my concerns on these issues, there is much here that will give teens a lot to think about.