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Part 21: Mary's Heart Leads to Divine Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 27, 2015)
The following is the twenty-first and last part of our Mary 101 series.
As we have seen from the articles in this series on the Immaculate Conception, Mary's heart was filled to overflowing with divine love right from the first moment of her life. However, it was still possible for her to experience an increase of grace and an increase of the virtues of faith and love. After all, Mary was (and is) a real human being, a woman who experienced all the joys, pains, and sorrows of a fully human existence. This means that the more she surrendered in love and trust to the Holy Spirit day by day, in every circumstance, the stronger those virtues in her heart became.
While she possessed the unique, original grace of an Immaculate Conception, this was only the starting point of an increase of grace in her heart throughout her life journey. In a similar way, for us the grace we are given in Baptism is only the beginning of a whole lifetime of opportunities to grow in grace (See Eph 5:18; I Pet 2: 2-3; II Pet 3:18).
In his book True Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (2005), Fr. Robert Fox gave to the Church a clear exposition of the Blessed Virgin's journey into ever-deeper holiness, and we shall quote his excellent treatment of this subject at length. He wrote:
What is holiness? Essentially holiness is the possession of sanctifying grace. It is made present in a person from the moment of baptism, making one resemble God. ... We grow in holiness by doing the will of God once His sanctifying grace is implanted in our souls at baptism. Then everything done for the love of God makes one grow in grace. An increase of grace is achieved by every good work, every prayer, every loving act. ...
God first loves us. If we respond in faith to his love, we grow in grace. That grace first given to children in baptism is entirely out of the goodness of God's heart, with no act of faith or response on their part. The same was true of Mary in an eminent way. Mary did not merit her Immaculate Conception ... this is why Mary is called God's masterpiece. He has given this woman a dignity worthy of his Mother, with more grace than all the angels and saints taken together. ...
What growth of grace took place in her at the Annunciation! ... God chose to use her Immaculate Heart to accept the Savior in freely agreeing to become the Mother of the Most High, the Word incarnate, the Messiah, the long-awaited One. ...
Mary says "Yes." The increase of grace in the soul of Mary when she answers "Yes" for the whole world is unimaginable. The fact that God in his loving providence looked to the free consent of Mary for the Word to be made flesh and dwell among us gives a Marian quality to every aspect of Christianity. ...
There was then the carrying of the Word made flesh in her holy womb for nine months. She became the world's first tabernacle for the Word Incarnate. Today in the tabernacles of our churches, He is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament... as she carried Him under her heart she continuously grew in grace. ...
Grace grew in Mary as she nurtured the infant Jesus, tended to His growing needs, served Him at table, performed domestic duties. In a human way she taught Jesus as any good mother teaches her child. ...
Mary was with Jesus to the end as He hung dying on the cross, redeeming the world. As grace was merited for the world, abundant grace flowed into her Immaculate Heart during those hours beneath the cross of redemption. ...
Mary grew in grace after the Ascension of Christ by the reception of her divine incarnate Son in Holy Communion. After the redemptive acts of the Cross, the Apostle John took her into his own home (see Jn 19:27). We may be sure that our Blessed Lady received the Holy Eucharist frequently, even daily, as was the practice of the early Christians (see Acts 2:46). She lived with John the priest, the beloved disciple. ...
The Holy Spirit came upon Mary when she conceived the Christ Child. Now that the Church is to be identified as Christ's body, with the Holy Spirit as its Soul, this Spirit of Love descended upon all in the upper room and found a special temple adorned for His presence in Mary's heart. ...
Such magnificent beauty, such radiant brightness of the light of life, we see in Mary's Immaculate Heart. (Father Robert J. Fox, True Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fatima Family Apostolate International, 2005, pp. 84, 90, 92-96)
The result of this incredible journey of growth in grace was that Mary's heart became the source of the greatest possible joy to the Heart of Jesus. Proverbs 8:31 tells us that "The Lord's delight is in the children of men," and in the gospels we are taught that the Good Shepherd "rejoices" whenever He finds His lost sheep and brings them home (Lk 15:5-7).
How much greater must be His delight in the heart of His mother Mary, whose soul was always perfectly receptive to His grace, and never failed to return love for love!
Mary's Immaculate Heart is Full of Divine Mercy
At the same time, while Mary was growing every day in sanctifying grace, and united at all times, in the center of her soul, with the Heart of her Son, she was also completely filled with His merciful love. Saint John Eudes tells us:
To the heart of Mary God communicated in great abundance His merciful inclinations, and established in it the throne and reign of His mercy more gloriously than the heart of any other creature, save the sacred humanity of Christ.
Divine Mercy reigns so perfectly in Mary's heart that she bears the name of Queen and Mother of Mercy. And the most loving Mary has so completely won the heart of God's mercy that He has given her the key to all His treasures, and made her absolute mistress of them. St. Bernard says, "She is called the Queen of Mercy because she opens the abyss and treasure of divine mercy to whom she chooses, when she chooses, and as she chooses."
Divine Mercy holds such complete sway over Mary's heart and fills it with such compassion for sinners and for all persons in need that Saint Augustine addresses her thus, "Thou art the sinner's only hope" after God. "My dearest children, " says Saint Bernard, "her heart is the ladder by which sinners go up to heaven; this is my reliance; this is the only reason of my hope." (The Admirable of Heart of Mary, pp. 126-127)
What does this mean for us today? It means that Mary's heart is now a living fountain of divine love and sanctifying grace. She looks upon the hearts of her children as parched and arid ground, but with plenty of potential, needing only to be watered by divine grace, and planted with the seeds of the gospel in order to spring into abundant life.
In fact, there is no place in the whole created universe where we can draw closer to the Heart of Jesus than the heart of Mary. Her heart is the chapel where Jesus forever dwells, ready to pour out His merciful love upon us whenever we come to Him.
Let us always seek Him there, in the Heart of Mary, where we shall always surely find Him.
Blessed John Henry Newman's Litany to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Immaculate Heart of Mary, gentle and humble of heart—make our hearts like the Heart of Jesus.
Heart of Mary—pray for us!
Heart of Mary, united with the Heart of Jesus,
Heart of Mary, Temple of the Trinity,
Heart of Mary, home of the Incarnate Word,
Heart of Mary, overflowing with grace,
Heart of Mary, blessed among all hearts,
Heart of Mary, abyss of humility,
Heart of Mary, sacrifice of love,
Heart of Mary, crucified,
Heart of Mary, consolation of the afflicted,
Heart of Mary, refuge of sinners,
Heart of Mary, hope of the dying,
Heart of Mary, seat of mercy,
Heart of Mary—pray for us!
Immaculate Mary, gentle and humble of heart—make our hearts like the Heart of Jesus.
Questions for Discussion for Parts 20 and 21:
1. What does the Catholic Tradition mean by the human "heart"—and especially the Heart of Jesus?
2. How can we grow in grace, throughout our life journey, as the heart of Mary did?
3. How would you describe "the heart of Mary" to someone who had never heard this phrase before?
Suggestions for Further Reading
• Read Michael Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning Glory (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2011), the section entitled "Week Three: Blessed Mother Theresa," on her devotion and consecration to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pp. 65-83.
View the entire Mary 101 series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.