There are two beautiful Latin phrase that, in the light of our previous reflections, reveal their profound beauty and radiance. The first phrase is: sentire cum Ecclesia. This means “to think with the Church,” or, more accurately, “to feel with the Church,” “to share in the very sentiments of the Church.” The other phrase, which expresses much the same meaning, is used to express a life that authentically flows from a “Catholic” vision, a vision irradiated by the Mystery of God’s Love shining in the heart of his Church: ex corde Ecclesiae. “From the heart of the Church.” We can combine these two phrases to express the inner truth of holiness of which we have been speaking: sentire cum corde Ecclesiae—to feel with the very heart of the Church. What we have been trying to do throughout these weeks of reflection is precisely to experience the pulsing heartbeat that surges unceasingly in the heart of the Church…and to feel it as an intimate motherly heart, indeed as a heart which simply echoes with the reverberations of the heart of the Trinity who lives within her.
We have seen—hopefully we have even felt—that this heartbeat is not the heartbeat of a mere “institution,” nor even of a mere society or community on the model of every other political or social body in this world. No, the Church is an intimate family, a communion of brothers and sisters bound together by the single thread of the ineffable Love of God. Everything within the Church—all of her institutions and laws, the priestly ministry entrusted to the successors of the Apostles, the radiant beauty of her sacramental life, the breathtaking harmony and depth of her teaching and doctrine—all of this flows from, returns to, and serves this mystery of loving intimacy with God and with our brothers and sisters. Nowhere, therefore, can we better discern the contours of this inner mystery of the Church, nowhere can we better feel her heartbeat, than in drawing near to our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. For she has lives this all before us, and she has lived it also for our sake.
Mary bears the whole Church in her fullness within her own maternal bosom, even before the Church is fully born from the wounded side of Christ as he hangs upon the Cross, just as Eve was born from the side of Adam. Mary is there at the foot of the Cross, the Tree of Life, as the woman who—in the name of the Church and of all her children throughout the centuries—receives the outpouring gift of the Bridegroom’s Love. She is there, united to Christ in an unspeakably deep and enduring intimacy, which no suffering, no pain, and not even death can tear asunder. Therefore she is also there, vigilant in faith, hope, and love, when Jesus rises on Easter morning; and she welcomes him with a receptive, trusting, and virginal heart. Finally, now that her Son has ascended to the right hand of the Father and has sent the Spirit into the world—and she has joined him there in the bosom of the Trinity—Mary continues to be present in the heart of the Church, unceasingly at work in the life of each one of us. She simply cooperates with the work of the Blessed Trinity in this world, seeking to be the sheltering “womb” in which God continually loves us, touches us, and prepares us for the final rebirth at the end of our life.
The ancient Christian writer, Origen, called a person who lives this heartbeat of the Church—in other words, the inner “Marian mystery” that illumines the whole life of the Church—an “ecclesial soul.” An ecclesial soul is, a person who, in their very individuality—in the very depths of their unique and unrepeatable intimacy with God—allows their heart to expand to share in the very mystery of the universal Church as she tenderly embraces humanity. Their own personal life, while not being destroyed or absorbed, is opened wide to a greater mystery and participates in it—indeed, they find themselves truly precisely by receiving the gift that can only come from the outside. This Mystery, first of all, is simply God himself, who gently cradles his precious child, his beloved spouse, within his embrace, and gives them the ineffable joy of knowing and experiencing his Love. As we saw in our reflections on the child in the arms of her mother, to be open to the great mystery of Love, to be utterly surrendered to the Immensity of the One transcends us and yet intimately holds us, is not to lose ourselves, but to find ourselves truly…cradled in the arms of perfect Love.
Within the bosom of the Trinity, from the heart of the intimate and unique encounter that we have with him, our hearts can truly allow themselves to be opened, totally and unconditionally, to love as he loves, embracing every person within the world in a vulnerable and tender receptivity. This is the great gift that comes to us through our incorporation into the Church, through our adoption into the family of God and into the very life of the Holy Trinity. We find our individuality, which has become narrowed and collapsed in upon itself in sin, re-opened radically to the enveloping Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in our communion with him, in our entrance into the “new world” of grace and love, we discover anew every person whom God has made, radiant in the light of his own loving gaze.
This openness to the immense Mystery of God, and to the bonds of intimacy that he knits together throughout the universe in his own Love, was realized first and most deeply in the Virgin Mary. Her heart was totally open to this expansiveness, as we have seen, in such a way that she truly became the “ecclesial soul” par excellence—in a way the very “Church-in-person”—in her unspeakably intimate union with the Trinity, and her union with every person from within the bosom of the Trinity.
In her the personal and the communal are not in opposition, but find a profound harmony—simply because she lives all from love and for love, belonging entirely to the One who made her. She is one who, through living totally in relationship with God—in complete dependence upon him at every moment—experiences the joy of being held unceasingly by Another, of living her own personal existence, not isolated within herself, but as a ceaseless relationship of love. Indeed, through this constant and all-enveloping relationship with God, she is a woman whose entire personality is utterly open to the community—to the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to the community of the Church that would be formed through sharing in the life of the Trinity. In other words, through her surrender into the abyss of the Trinity’s Love, she allowed her heart to be dilated to embrace the entire world, and to carry us all within herself…as she herself is held within the embrace of God.
Each one of us is invited to share in this “sentire cum corde Ecclesiae,” to let our lives be immersed in the mystery of the Church, in the mystery of intimacy that God yearns to establish with all of humanity. In this way, indeed, we will see how our lives are gradually healed from the wounds of fear and sin and re-opened to the relationships that give life and joy. Through letting God draw us to himself—in and through the embrace of our Mother, the Church—we can find ourselves cradled in the arms of perfect Love once again. Yes, we can find our hearts expanding boundlessly into communion with the Trinity and with every person. Thus we can know the fullness of the Reality that, as a child, we only glimpsed, truly but imperfectly, in the smile of our mother.
– Do I feel in myself a desire for, or a sharing in, this “inner heartbeat of the Church,” which is intimate communion with God and with others within the Love of God?
– Do I see how Mary reveals, and safeguards, the intimate personal character of the Church, so that the Church never becomes an “impersonal institution”? In other words, do I see how Mary reveals the tender maternal (and spousal) heart of the Church, in which each individual is seen, loved, and desired absolutely and uniquely?