Blessed John Paul II said: “Mary is the most perfect teacher of that love, which enables us to be united in the deepest way with Christ in His Eucharistic presence.”
A seminary professor, when analyzing the episode of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), said that one of the two disciples was most likely a woman. Our teacher based that judgment on the question, “Did not our hearts burn when he explained the scriptures to us?”, as though the heart were only a feminine concern. Are men, then, to be heartless? Blessed John Paul II refutes that idea. In his youth, he frequently visited the great Shrine of Holy Calvary near his town. When he made a pilgrimage there as Pope, he said, “Here, the Mother of God nourished my heart.” John Paul was a man not only of the head but equally of the heart. His heart was not undernourished.
The validity of that last statement can be seen in what Pope Benedict said to a Marian group from Bavaria on May 28, 2011. Speaking of his seminary days, he pointed out: “When we were studying after the war—and I believe that today not very much has changed, I do not think the situation is much improved—the Mariology taught at the German universities was somewhat austere and dull.” It lacks inspiration. Only the head is being taken care of. This brings to mind what St. Therese of Lisieux said about her reading some theological books: they gave her a headache. She emphasized that they did nothing for her heart. Was she a mere sentimentalist? The recognized Dominican scripture scholar, founder of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, is reported to have said this about her: “Therese has saved me from becoming a dry old bookworm.”
The remedy for this imbalance could very well be the “way of experience” which is becoming more acceptable as a theological source. The Pontifical International Marian Academy, described this in their publication The Mother of the Lord—Memory, Presence, Hope: “It should be noted that ‘the way of experience’ puts forth a knowledge from divine revelation acquired, not through speculation, but through a personal encounter of believers with that which they have welcomed in a deeply personal way into their lives” (p. 26).
Those familiar with scripture will readily recall that the heart has a prominent place in both testaments. In the Old Testament, God complains, through the prophets, about the superficial worship of the people, who offer material sacrifice, but their hearts are far from him. Proverbs speaks of wisdom entering one’s heart (Prov 2:10), the need to trust the Lord with all one’s heart (3.5), how a perverted heart devises evil (Prov 6.14), and that the Lord weighs the heart (Prov 21:2). At the beginning of the New Testament, Mary is described as treasuring and pondering events in her heart. Then, there is that intense preacher in the desert, St. John the Baptist, who had people travel from all over the country into the desert to experience his ministry. What did his speech have that converted such difficult categories of people, like the greedy tax collectors, the tough military, and the professional prostitutes? Even the haughty King Herod listened to his prisoner’s words. The key is found in his description as ardens et lucens, ardent and illuminating. He appealed to both the mind, and to the heart. Malachi foretold a prophet who would turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. This was mentioned by Gabriel to John’s father, Zachary, in the Temple. The Letters of St. Paul frequently speak in reference to the heart, such as when he asks Philemon to “refresh [his] heart in Christ” (Phlm1:20). Christ always pleads with others in the hope their exchange enlarges his hearers’ hearts towards him.
Jesus describes himself as meek and humble of heart. This heart expressed itself outwardly. This was evident when he sorrowfully wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. The people present immediately recognized the significance of that response: “See how he loved him.” Then, again, when the rich young man told Jesus that he kept the commandments from youth, the gospel says that Jesus looked at him with love, which implies a joyful response from his heart. He knew what was in the hearts of people, especially those who opposed him. There is also his emphatic injunction to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; a distinction is made here between the mind and heart. Wasn’t the Agony in the Garden an anguish of his heart as he sought companionship in that struggle? The Emmaus episode shows that Our Lord prepared both the minds, and the hearts of his disciples before “the breaking of the bread”—the original scriptural signification for the Eucharist.
Through his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Blessed John Paul II wanted to “re-kindle a Eucharistic amazement” that once permeated many parts of the Church. To re-kindle means to re-ignite. Fire gives off both light and heat—a reference to the mind and to the heart, probably with more emphasis on the heart. He concluded this document with the section, “At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’” In that section, he highlights the fact that “Mary is the most perfect teacher of that love, which enables us to be united in the deepest way with Christ in His Eucharistic presence.” In addition, he emphasized our Lady’s singular relationship to the Eucharist, and declares that: “The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery.”
Why this emphasis on Mary? Because as St. Luke tells us twice: “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” Our Lord said that where your heart is, there is your treasure. Pondering is an action of the mind. Mary’s motive was to enrich her heart. This can explain why Our Lady of Fatima asked for reparation to her Immaculate Heart, in the context of the Eucharist. She requested that on five consecutive First Saturdays, a rosary be prayed in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. This brings to mind what Our Lord told St. Margaret Mary: on the Friday after the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church was to have a Feast honoring his Sacred Heart in reparation for the sins against the Eucharist. This was to be continued in the First Friday devotions.
Pope Benedict XVI has become known for his emphasis on charity. His first encyclical is entitled: Deus Caritas Est, God is Love; and the title of his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist is: Sacramentum Caritatis, The Sacrament of Love. In his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, he focuses on the importance of the heart by writing: “If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good either” (p. 34). The doctor of spiritual life, St. John of the Cross, wrote that at the peak of perfection, is the soul who has been transformed into a living flame of love.
There seems to be an emphasis on Eucharistic love in many recently reported extraordinary graces. These include those of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of The Divine Mercy; the Servant of God, Conchita Cobrera de Armida of Mexico; Sister Mary of the Trinity, a Poor Clare of Jerusalem; the Canadian, Bl. Dina Belanger; and the Italian, Bl. Maria Pierina de Micheli. It is true, that we are not obliged to believe what are termed private revelations; but, St. Thomas Aquinas also pointed out that it would not be wise to ignore them, since they are meant to be remedial. It would be foolish for a sick person to refuse his medicine. Many such remedies for our times link Our Lady with the Eucharist. Blessed Dina Belanger, a Religious of Jesus and Mary in Quebec, Canada (d. 1928), had a vision in which she saw the Heart of Jesus united to the Eucharist. Rays emanated from the Host, while flames burst from his Heart. Our Lady was perfectly united to Our Lord, as both the rays and the flames of Christ’s Sacred Heart passed through her Immaculate Heart.
Relevant to this is the experience of Dorothy O’Neill Weimar,The Star of Mary, who died in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974. Her unique spirituality centered on the Mass and the Rosary. In an entry in her journal, dated October of 1946, she recorded, “About this time, whenever I was attending Holy Hour… and the priest and people would start the rosary, I would find myself kneeling next to our Blessed Mother. She would place her hand over mine. I would hear her voice sweet, rich. I would kneel unable to move as she told me the story of each mystery… Mary has often asked me to ‘Live Her Rosary.’ ‘To all who come to me, I will tell the story of my rosary—the Story of the Mass—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.’” Here, we see our Lady nourishing the heart of Dorothy with the rosary for the appreciation of the Mass, just as Our Lord explained his paschal mystery, in terms of salvation history, to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
As such, the rosary is a very familiar way to be with Jesus on the way to Emmaus. Being with Mary, in this prayer, is to gaze on her Son through the eyes of the woman who loved him most, through the eyes of his mother. As we pray with Mary, we become part of her heart, take on and appropriate her own Immaculate Heart and, in so doing, she becomes for us the conduit of Christ’s spiritual nourishment and purification. “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Purity of heart means the perfection of love. Mary shows how to remove the obstacles to such love, inspiring motives for such love, by manifesting the love of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus in his devoted life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, celebrated in the liturgy of the Church. We thus become, and remain childlike through the Mother of Christ. Truly, as St. Augustine expressed it, here “heart speaks to heart”—the motto of Blessed John Henry Newman.
At the presentation of the Christ Child in the temple, Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. On Calvary, she participated in her Son’s redemptive action with her courageous heart. Some artists portrayed Our Lady in a faint on Calvary. They were officially corrected by having it pointed out that St. John’s Gospel clearly states how she stood faithfully at the foot of the Cross. In this, the Church sees her as the ideal mulier fortis, the woman of strength, not of weakness (Prov 31:15). In the litany of Loreto, she is invoked as the Tower of David—referring to the most prominent part of the impregnable fortress in Jerusalem. There, the people considered themselves safe with that fort to protect them. Mary, Full of Grace, comes to the defense of her children, as shown in the many victorious battles recorded in history. These include Guadalupe, Loreto, and Vienna. The same concept pervades the Mass of Our Lady, Pillar of Faith.
At the Convention of the Diocese of Rome (June 15, 2010), Pope Benedict XVI trusted in Our Lady’s role as Mother of the Eucharistic People of God. He said, “May Mary, who in a unique way, lived communion with God and the sacrifice of her Son on Calvary, obtain that we might live ever more intensely, devoutly, and wisely, the mystery of the Eucharist, in order to proclaim with our words, and in our life the love that God has for every human being.” And, just a few months later (Nov 17, 2010), he stated: “I would like to affirm with joy that, today, there is a ‘Eucharistic springtime’ in the Church… I pray that this ‘Eucharistic springtime’ may spread increasingly in every parish.”
Such exhortations fulfill what was called for at Vatican II: calling us all to a greater participation in the Mass. There are two ways in which a person can participate in something: exteriorly and interiorly. Exterior participation does not necessarily mean interior participation. A waitress at a wedding banquet is present physically, but not necessarily involved interiorly, in the celebration. She, most likely, knows no one at the occasion; she is there only as a worker. On the other hand, the families of the bride and groom are both physically present, and interiorly united, with the newly married couple. They share deeply in the event because of their unique relationship, especially the parents. So at Mass, there are those physically present out of obligation, motivated by duty rather than desire. If you read their minds, there might be a sign saying “I’d rather be fishing” or “golfing.” Their hearts are not in it. They are invited as brides, but remain content being servants.
Some think that participation is merely physical—being ushers, servers, lectors etc.—as though body movement was sufficient for active participation. True participation is interior: connection with the meaning of the celebration, appreciation of the event. One can be present at a fatal car accident, and have a certain degree of sympathy. But, if it were an immediate member of one’s family, normally there would be total emotional involvement with the state of the victim. Those who relate to Christ, relate to his life, death and resurrection, commemorated and celebrated in the Mass.
St. Luke tells us how Our Lady treasured and pondered the salvific events of her Divine Son’s life, death and resurrection. She mastered their meaning. No one has, or can, reach the profundity of her realization. Blessed John Paul II stated that: “Mary was a woman of the Eucharist all her life.” We cannot imagine the intensity of her participation in the Eucharist, celebrated by St. John, the Beloved Apostle, to whom was revealed the mysteries of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus at the Last Supper. It is for such reasons, that John Paul II invoked the assistance of Mary: “Let us together ask her to lead believers toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the saving power of the sacrifice of Christ, who is present in the Eucharist.” She can, and certainly will, fill our empty churches and seminaries with those whose hearts she properly nourishes, especially by her rosary.