Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and today we follow with the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church has chosen to put these two special days back-to-back to impress on us that the essence of Christian life is love: a divine Heart giving itself entirely in love, and our human hearts responding with love for love. Our quest for holiness is rooted in Jesus’ divine Heart overflowing with love for us; our response, in imitation of Mary’s great love for her Son who is her Lord, is to welcome his love and allow it to bear fruit in our lives. Within these two Hearts we find both the key to our salvation in Jesus Christ and the key to our mission in his service.

The readings today are all about mission, as the young Jesus begins his and as the aging St. Paul perseveres in his. In the Gospel, we find Jesus and his parents on pilgrimage in Jerusalem. They are a faithful Jewish family, fulfilling their mission as they understand it, following the traditions and laws as God instructed his people through Moses. The Holy Family is the model for the life of every family. We are encouraged and strengthened by the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, living in obedient faith in daily life.

Still, it is God who is in charge, not us. Mary and Joseph are surprised to discover that the twelve-year-old Jesus has such a strong sense of his mission from the Father that he stays behind in the temple, absorbed in discussion with the teachers. When his parents discover that he is not with them, they rush back and are “astonished” to find him there in the temple, where “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” We can only imagine their mixed emotions of anxiety, sorrow, surprise, anger, and confusion. When they ask Jesus why he has behaved in such a way as to cause them “great anxiety,” he directs their hearts to the mysterious plan of the Father: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus’ response is not a rebuke but a reminder that our primary obedience is to the Father. Even parents, who have responsibility for the care and welfare of their children, receive their important duties from the Father. Jesus is obedient to Joseph and Mary, but his mission comes from the Father, and it takes precedence over his human family.

The insight of the young Jesus sheds light on our own efforts to be faithful to our mission. How often we struggle to commit ourselves to the will of God first in the midst of daily life with all its practical demands – in our families, in our work and our neighborhood, even in our own hearts. Putting God first takes a life-long effort of wisdom and discernment, and a day-to-day commitment to persevere.

The Gospel gives us a further insight into how to continue in our mission each day. When Jesus returned home with his parents, they still did not understand what he meant, but “his mother kept all these things in her heart.” We are struck by this tender description of Mary’s interior life, characterized by humility and love. We strive to imitate her in our own response to all the things of God that we do not understand. The heart is the place we keep and protect all that we hold dear; it is our treasury of love. Even when we are troubled or hurt or anxious or sorrowful, we can still hold all our concerns in our hearts, in the interior space where God dwells within us.

St. Paul’s heart was full of the love of God; he carried the treasure of the Gospel in the earthen vessel of his humanity (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). In today’s first reading he is aware that he is nearing the end of his earthly mission: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.” His concern is not for himself but for the continued mission of his young protégé Timothy. Timothy has received the same treasure, the Gospel, and must, like Paul, “perform the work of an evangelist” and fulfill his ministry. Paul’s advice to Timothy is also precious counsel for us all: “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” We keep this wisdom in our hearts as we pursue our mission, learning from Mary how to ponder the word and put it into practice each day.

What lessons from the treasury of her Immaculate Heart does Mary have for me today? How has pondering the word faithfully each day enriched my life with wisdom and discernment? What is blocking me from welcoming the word into my heart?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.