Inside the Immaculate Heart of Mary
When I was in the seminary, my spiritual director was a Mariologist. It seemed like a natural choice. I had a deep devotion to Mary and aspired to be a Marian theologian myself. It was my fourth year of theology. I was standing in his office with a group of peers. And I began to complain or make some sort of negative comment. The spiritual director said to me, “Edward, you love the Blessed Mother so much. Where is your Marian heart?”
For months, that question was at the forefront of my prayer. I couldn’t just love Mary. I couldn’t just seek her intercession. I couldn’t just know the information about her. I had to be more like Mary. In those following months, I prayed with the Scriptures pertaining to the Blessed Mother, and asked in prayer, “What does this tell me about living with a Marian heart?”
Slowly that question was answered. And then I began to pray for a heart like Mary’s. “Mary, give me your heart, give me a prayerful heart, an obedient heart, a heart full of love, etc.” I realized that as I prayed about Mary’s heart and then prayed to have her heart, I slowly was acquiring a heart like Mary’s.
Ecclesial documents about priestly ministry and formation speak about the necessity of Marian devotion. And the good news is that Marian devotion is multifaceted. The Rosary is a highly praised devotion and can be a tool of intercession for priestly ministry. But the Rosary is not the only devotion. During this month when we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, let us examine how her heart relates to our priestly ministry. In so doing, we will hope to acquire a more priestly and Marian heart.
A Meditative Heart
St. Luke repeats it several times in his Gospel: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19) — or pondered or treasured, depending on your preferred translation. Mary had so many experiences with Jesus throughout her life. She held him as an infant in her arms and received the visits of the Magi and shepherds; in his toddler years, she watched him grow as a boy; then there were the hidden years and later Jesus’ public ministry. All these memories she continued to treasure and replay in her mind and heart. Maybe as she grieved at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, those memories consoled her until Easter morning. For Mary, the experiences and words of Jesus became a source of prayer for her.
The priest must have a meditative heart like Mary: to treasure our own experiences and the words of Jesus. Acquiring a meditative heart happens every day when we pray the breviary, an antiphon, the line of a Psalm, or a reading strikes our heart and takes us further into prayer. The priest daily meditates on God’s word in preparation for preaching both at weekday and Sunday Masses. And then, like Mary, we ponder our experiences. These could be experiences of prayer, recalling and reliving them, drawing strength from those graces received. Or it could be a memory of ministry that one treasures, filling us with joy and peace.
A Prayerful Heart
Mary offers several examples in which we can make her prayers our own. When the angel appears to Mary and announces that she is to be the mother of the savior, Mary receives the news and says, “May it be done to me according to your word.” The prayer of Mary’s heart, which is one of complete surrender to God’s will, might be a prayer we have to pray throughout our ministry. When the bishop calls with an assignment we do not want, like Mary we pray, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). We might not understand, but Mary’s prayer is an act of trust in the God who chose her, just as God has chosen us for our priestly vocation.
The priest makes Mary’s prayer his own every time he prays vespers. He allows his soul to proclaim the greatness of the Lord and rejoices in God his savior. For Mary, this was a prayer of gratitude in response to the words of Elizabeth. When we meditate and treasure the experiences of our lives, that moves us to a point of thanksgiving for what God has done, is doing and will continue to do throughout our ministry. If a priest wants to have a heart like Mary’s, he must be grateful for all that God accomplishes through him and has allowed him to experience.
Mary’s prayerful heart is on abundant display at Cana when she intercedes for the couple and brings their need to the attention of Jesus. Mary’s attentiveness at Cana spared the couple embarrassment. A priest’s prayerful heart is like Mary’s when he intercedes for the people entrusted to his care — praying for parents bringing their child to the font of baptism, the second graders preparing for first Communion, the junior high or high school students preparing for confirmation, couples preparing for marriage, the sick who have been anointed, those confined to nursing homes. The prayerful heart of a priest seeks out and remembers those for whom he should pray. Let us ask to have a prayerful heart like Mary, repeating her prayers, and being mindful of the needs of those we serve.
A Sorrowful Heart
Simeon prophesied to Mary, telling her that a sword would pierce her heart. After Mary said yes at the Annunciation, sorrow immediately ensued. She probably mourned over how people responded to her unexpected pregnancy. Sorrow filled her heart over the death of the Holy Innocents. After the Nativity, she sorrowed over fleeing into Egypt and, later, over the loss of her son at the Temple. And sorrow filled her heart beneath the foot of the cross as she looked upon her beaten, crucified and dying son.
Priestly ministry brings about many sorrows. Just as Mary suffered with her son as she stood at the foot of the cross, when we minister to someone recently diagnosed with cancer or a family that lost an infant, we are called to suffer alongside them. We cry with them and allow God to console our sorrowful hearts.
A Pure Heart
Called to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom, Mary’s example of purity inspires us in faithfully living our priestly vocation. Impurity assaults us everywhere we go — online, when watching a show or a movie, in immodest dress and in many other ways. It was at Fátima that Mary spoke to the children about the sins of the flesh.
As priests, we counsel others in living with a pure heart through the advice we give in the confessional or spiritual direction. Oftentimes, we tell them to turn to Mary’s intercession; after all, who better to pray for purity than the one who was immaculately pure. The Scriptures tell us that a woman would crush the head of the serpent, and many exorcists have spoken about the efficacy of Mary’s intercession against evil. Mary is the perfect intercessor for priests and penitents alike.
In the 1859 Marian apparition in Champion, Wisconsin, Mary told the visionary Adele Brise that she was the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners. Mary prays for the people to whom we are ministering and who struggle with purity, but she also prays for us priests, that we might remain pure, chaste and faithful in our vocation. Over the last several decades we have seen the devastating effects of impurity among the clergy and hierarchy. We need Mary’s prayers as much as the next person. Ask Mary to obtain for you a pure heart. Pray three Hail Marys daily for purity in mind, body and heart, or in honor of Mary’s triple virginity.
An Immaculate Heart
Mary’s heart was immaculate. God preserved her from sin before her conception, and lacking concupiscence, she lived a life in the right relationship with God. The Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to strive to live free from sin in our life. Whenever we mess up or fall short of how God wants us to live, just as everyone else does, we turn to God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In so doing, God changes our hearts and begins to heal the hurts and wounds in our life on account of sin.
You might be like me, in that there will be a moment when you need a renewal of your heart. For me, he did it through the example of Mary. Perhaps that is how God wishes to renew your priestly heart. Ask Mary to give you her heart, for when we live with a Marian heart, we truly will do so with a deep love for God and his holy people.
FATHER EDWARD LOONEY is a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a Marian theologian, author and radio personality. He is the author of “A Lenten Journey with Mother Mary, A Rosary Litany” (Sophia, $14.95) and “A Heart Like Mary’s” (Ave Maria Press, $13.95). He also hosts the podcast How They Love Mary. You can follow him on social media at @FrEdwardLooney.
What is the state of your priestly heart? Just as we undergo a routine medical check-up, perhaps it is time to examine your spiritual heart. In your evaluation, you might realize there are areas of hatred or ill will of which you are unable to let go. Ask God to bypass that area with his mercy and love.