Let us begin this reflection by recalling what we spoke of at the end of the last week. We will do this, not with our own words, but by again quoting Saint John Paul II:
On the Cross Christ said: “Woman, behold, your son!” With these words he opened in a new way his Mother’s heart. A little later, the Roman soldier’s spear pierced the side of the Crucified One. That pierced Heart became a sign of the redemption achieved through the death of the Lamb of God.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary, opened with the words “Woman, behold, your son!”, is spiritually united with the Heart of her Son opened by the soldier’s spear. Mary’s Heart was opened by the same love for man and for the world with which Christ loved man and the world, offering himself for them on the Cross, until the soldier’s spear struck that blow.
Consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means drawing near, through the Mother’s intercession, to the very Fountain of life that sprang from Golgotha. This Fountain pours forth unceasingly redemption and grace. In it reparation is made continually for the sins of the world. It is a ceaseless source of new life and holiness.
Consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother means returning beneath the Cross of the Son. It means consecrating this world to the pierced Heart of the Savior, bringing it back to the very source of its Redemption. Redemption is always greater than man’s sin and the “sin of the world.” The power of the Redemption is infinitely superior to the whole range of evil in man and the world.
The Heart of the Mother is aware of this, more than any other heart in the whole universe, visible and invisible. And so she calls us. She not only calls us to be converted: she calls us to accept her motherly help to return to the source of Redemption.
Through her union with the pierced Heart of Jesus, Mary’s heart, too, shares in a universal love, in a love of complete openness, in the love of God that is boundless in its depth and breadth. Mary’s love, we said, is universal not by embracing an anonymous mass of humanity, but by being tenderly and uniquely open to each unrepeatable individual, who can be truly seen, known, and understood only within the light of God’s all-enveloping Love. Yes, through her abiding closeness to her Son, through her total surrender to him, Mary becomes transparent to the tenderness of God’s own Love, to the radiance of his loving gaze which is fixed unceasingly upon each one of us.
When we entrust ourselves to Mary, we are giving her permission to exercise this love fully and freely in our life. Indeed, we are consenting to allow her to draw us to the place where we most deeply desire to be, but where we cannot go on our own. We are allowing her to take us by the hand and to draw us with her close to the Heart of Jesus. “Consecrating” ourselves “to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” John Paul said, “means drawing near, through the Mother’s intercession, to the very Fountain of life that sprang from Golgotha.” It means going “back to the very source of Redemption.”
Yes, Mary yearns to draw us to the open Heart of her Son, where his openness meets our openness, his vulnerability meets our vulnerability, his thirst meets our thirst. In this encounter, Divine Love can touch us in the most intimate way, healing, liberating, and transforming us in the places of our deepest need. Then the mystery of that Wellspring that pours forth from the Cross will lead us, with absolute certainty, to the radiant light and the unbreakable joy of the Resurrection.
During this fourth and final full week of our preparation, we are going to focus in a special way on the inner dispositions of the Heart of Mary—and her role in fashioning these dispositions within us as well. We have said that our entrustment to her is a matter of placing the care of our life in her hands, our heart in her heart, our “Yes” within her own perfect “Yes.” This allows her to enfold our life, at its every moment, within her own motherly presence, and to fashion within our hearts her own most intimate desires and dispositions. Thus, just as she loved Jesus so deeply and intimately throughout her life, she will enable us to do the same, in our own circumstances, in the unique story of our life which unfolds within the loving providence of God.
To begin, let us quote one of the earliest and most influential writings on Mary from the early Church. This will provide a basis around which our reflections will turn. It comes from the pen of Saint Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies. He draws a parallel between the Virgin Mary, on the one hand, and the Virgin Eve, on the other:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. Even though Eve had Adam as a husband, she was still a virgin. For “they were both naked in paradise and they were unashamed” (Gn 2:25) since they were created a short time previously to become adults, and only then did they begin to multiply. Having become disobedient, she was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race. So also did Mary, having a man betrothed to her, and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.
And on this account does the law call a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating a parallelism in reference back from Mary to Eve. For what was tied together once cannot be loosened except by untying the knot in reverse order so that the second knot be dissolved by untying it first and the first knot be dissolved by untying it second. In this way the former knots become canceled by a latter untying, and the latter ties are set free by the formed untying. … In this way the Lord declared that the first will be the last and the last first (cf. Mt 19:30).i
This has been quoted often in a shortened form: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied through Mary’s obedience.” Mary is, therefore, truly the “Untier of Knots,” as we see in the beautiful image that has recently become popular. Through her trusting acceptance of God’s loving invitation—through her wholehearted obedience—she allows God to begin untying the knots of sin which bind our hearts.
We immediately see in the above quote two primary dispositions that characterize the heart of Mary: obedience and virginity. We can add a third: poverty. Thus we see in her the wellspring of what tradition has come to call the “evangelical counsels,” the threefold form of surrender that religious and consecrated persons vow when they bind themselves to God. Mary is truly the obedient, chaste, and poor one, who in her complete openness of heart welcomes all that God gives to her at every moment, and surrenders herself entirely to him in return. And precisely through her loving openness, God is able to unite her to himself in the most profound intimacy, binding her to himself as a daughter, spouse, and mother.
But why talk of the evangelical counsels, if these are the prerogatives of religious persons, and not for the rest of the faithful? The simple answer is that they are not the prerogatives of religious, but are intended for all—though their literal expressions are often unique to religious. Indeed, they are the very inner form of holiness that is realized uniquely in the life of each individual person. All love is inherently obedient, chaste, and poor, as we will soon see…and these three realities are ultimately only one. They are simply different aspects of a single interior disposition of the heart—which in turn is manifested in all the external details of our life. This reality is openness is trusting acceptance and loving self-gift, which blossoms in an intimacy with the Beloved…an intimacy that is, in turn, inherently fruitful.
When Mary, as our tender mother, invites us to entrust ourselves to her, it is because she wants to draw us close to her heart and to begin untying the knots which constrict the flow of love in our life. She wants, indeed, to draw us into the flow of love that ever passes between her heart and the Heart of her Son—a circulation of immense tenderness between Lover and Beloved, totally open in radiant trust, confidence, and shared joy.
This is what we mean by the dispositions of obedience, poverty, and chastity, which shine so brightly in the lives of Jesus and Mary; they are simply this openness of love, and the bond of communion that knits their hearts together in an unbreakable unity. This is the bond of love which alone can untie to bonds of sin which keep us closed in upon ourselves, wrought up in anxiety and fear and in the confines of our broken hearts.
– Do I grasp the way in which love is “openness” to another in love, and sin is “closedness”? Can I reflect on the difference between Mary and Eve, precisely as an attitude of openness or closedness to God and his Love?
– Whenever the “knot” of love between us and God is severed through deliberately turning away from him in sin, we inevitably find ourselves “knotted” to other things in his place. However, our knittedness to God is true freedom, but our binding to created things in sin is unfreedom. Do I experience this?
i Adversus, Haereses, III, 22, 4 (SC 211, 439-443.) Quoted in Denis Farkasfalvy, O.Cist., The Marian Mystery: Outline of a Mariology (New York: St. Paul’s, 2014), 71-72.