The feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary clearly belong together. They are side by side in the liturgical year, just as the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are often represented side by side in Catholic art. (One well-known example is on the back of the Miraculous Medal.) In such artworks, the two Hearts are remarkably similar in size, shape and color. Usually the only major difference is that Jesus’ Heart is surrounded by a crown of thorns, while Mary’s Heart is pierced by a sword. The central message of images depicting the two Hearts together is that Jesus and Mary share one love, perfectly united in living by the two-fold commandment of love, love of God and love of neighbor. However, we should not conclude from this that their Hearts are equal. Jesus’ Heart represents the fullness of divine love; Mary’s Heart represents the perfect response of human love. In a similar way, we commonly use symbols of the sun and the moon that are roughly the same size as each other, but in reality the sun is far larger than the moon. The sun generates its own light, while the light of the moon is entirely dependent on the sun. The love of Mary mirrors Jesus’ love to us, as the moon reflects the sun.

Today’s Gospel records one of the moments when Mary is described as treasuring and pondering the mysteries of God in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). This was her attitude at all times, but the inner process of continually conforming her heart to the heart of God usually remained a secret. After Mary’s puzzling and painful experience of losing track of Jesus in Jerusalem, the Gospel lets us in on the secret of her interior life, telling us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.”

Mary’s dedication to “keeping in the heart” is much more than storing a collection of past events in her memory. She remembers events in order to be more attentive to the Lord who is at work in every event. Mary did not immediately understand why Jesus remained in the temple when he was twelve years old; even his answer at the time was not at all clear to her. She kept the event and what Jesus said about it in her Immaculate Heart – not doubting or resisting – confident that in time God would enlighten her mind. Even when she did not understand, she was able to believe and to love.

Mary’s sorrowful experience and her way of handling it give us a valuable instruction. Very often we do not understand what God is doing in our lives, or why he is allowing contradictory things to happen. Even when we feel we have lost God and are actively searching for him, we do not immediately find him. God is not obliged to fulfill our expectations and demands. At such times, we can be tempted by discouragement. Why bother praying if God chooses to be silent? Mary teaches us a better way – if we allow ourselves to be led by her Heart. She teaches us to persevere in our search, to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. She draws us back to the temple of our hearts, that is, to the place where we know God dwells. She encourages us to keep pondering in our hearts the word of God, the mysteries of the Rosary, and the unfolding of God’s will in every person and every moment.

Mary also guides us toward Jesus in the Eucharist. Her Heart is a tabernacle. She is the new Ark of the Covenant. When we go to her, she leads us into communion with the Heart of her Son. Even if Jesus is silent, he is present in the tabernacle, as we recalled last Sunday on the feast of Corpus Christi. Mary teaches us to adore him, trust him, and love him.

Today’s reading from the Book of Lamentations and today’s Psalm were not chosen for the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but they can give us further insight into why Mary, who reigns in glory in Heaven, is still often spoken of as a “sorrowful Mother.” The Lamentations reading is a cry of anguish over the destruction of the Jerusalem and the sufferings of “daughter Zion.” The city is in ruins, the temple is destroyed, and little children are dying of hunger in the streets. Judging from all the external evidence, God has abandoned his people. What can they do now? Even though they feel cut off from God, they cry out to him. This is the only proper response. When we are grieving, we must turn to the Lord, not away from him; cry out to him, not against him. We cannot help feeling anguish in our suffering, but suffering does not have to separate us from God. He is still with us.

In situations like this, we need stronger faith, and the greatest example of faith is found in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She too knew what it was like to feel totally abandoned. When her Son Jesus was dead, it looked like God had given up on all his grand promises. Sorrow pierced her Heart like a sword (cf. Lk 2:35). But Mary did not despair; she kept the word of God and pondered it in her heart. This is the secret that she teaches us, and this is the gift that we celebrate today.

How have I reciprocated the merciful love of Jesus for me? In my grief and pain, do I cry out and call to him? Like Mary, do I ponder the word of God in my heart to help me understand my life experiences?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.