The Immaculate Heart of Mary as the The Perfect Custodian of the Human Heart

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima

Showing us a disposition to be acquired, as well as admired.

Can anyone doubt that we live in times of great moral danger, perhaps as great as at any time in human history? Any recitation of grave evils in the world need go no further than abortion, but pervasive pornography, the rejection of natural sexuality, the refusal to have children, materialism, the dismissal of the family, the distractions of modern life, drugs, etc., are all profoundly and negatively influential. All of them present us with grave temptations that cling to our attempts to rise above these destructive influences, and live the holy, ordinary life to which we have been called. But we are not left orphans. Our Heavenly Mother, the unfailing Mediator of Grace, provides us both an intercessor with unique access to the Lord, as well as an unfailing model of virtuous life which we can emulate.

This essay presents what seems to the author like an under-appreciated perspective relative to our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her great privileges in the Divine plan for humankind almost seem to overshadow her virtuous exercise of freedom. It is that active virtuous pursuit of God’s Holy Will that presents us with an ideal which is based in the human condition. In her wisdom, she always kept evil at a distance. What God made possible, Mary made a reality under the influence of Grace. She was a perfect custodian of her human heart.

On a recent occasion, when I introduced a few of my grandchildren to the Miraculous Medal, and the thrilling story of St. Catherine Laboure, I realized acutely the possibility of misunderstanding the message contained within the words surrounding Mary’s image—Ô Marie, conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous”. It had occurred to me many times before, but explaining it to a young Catholic, newly reaching the age of reason, presented a problem, particularly in the environment of today’s distorted display of sexuality that seems to haunt every form of public communication, corrupting both the old and the young, often polluting the possibility of clear converse. Many uninformed persons express bewilderment at the sentence with which we are presented: “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” How, they think, can an enlightened mind speak of sin in the context of conception, particularly in marriage? Isn’t this just a reflection of Catholic reservations about sex and “impurity”? This made me reflect on my own growing years.

Many years ago when I was a boy in Catholic schools, I think two particular and relevant things were better understood and more heavily weighted: 1) The nature of the Original Sin by Adam, including the inherited effect on his children; and 2) the Catholic ideal of a pure heart. It seems to me that both need a proper, uncomplicated re-introduction to the young because it is clear that those topics are directly influenced by today’s popular excuses for bad behavior. A starting point for any Christian is to ponder what the Virgin Mary said in Paris to St. Catherine in 1830 (as noted above); at Lourdes to St. Bernadette in 1858 (“I am the Immaculate Conception”); at Fatima in 1917 to Lucy and her two companions (“God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart”); and later, this same message again to Sister Lucy in 1929.1 These messages from Heaven help us to see that Original Sin and purity of heart are central points of reference in understanding Redemption, and the Christian life.

The “Immaculate Conception” refers to the action of God in preserving Mary from the inherited effects or “stain,” as it is commonly called, of the Original Sin of Adam, which is shared by the rest of mankind as a fallen nature. As we read in St. Paul, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do.” (Romans, 7:19). Just like her Son, Mary was presented with the same circumstances and temptations of human life as the rest of us are, but through a special gift from God, she had no attachment to sin, and at no time did she ever commit even the slightest actual sin. She had a free will, as all persons do, but she always made wise moral choices when faced with temptation, and so, we may say, she exercised the greatest possible virtue since she chose “the good” throughout her whole life. With a stainless soul, and a stainless humble heart, God thus found her a worthy receptacle for the conception of the Son of God—God Himself—by the Holy Spirit. We can thus begin to see that she provides us with an emulative model of conduct.

In the centuries before the Messiah, it is storied that the Jews wondered why his coming was taking so long. A conclusion was reached that no woman had yet been born who was good and humble enough to be worthy of the privilege of being his mother. Eventually, Mary was that person. Through her sinless life, and profound virtue, came our Salvation. Commonly, when we speak of Mary’s pure heart, we use the words, “The Immaculate Heart of Mary.” It is an implied reference to the result of the “Immaculate Conception,” and the virtuous life she always led. Since she is unique in human history, she was able to say to St. Bernadette at Lourdes,2 using the singular adjective, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” and she thus refers all glory and praise to her Creator for the Grace she received to live her utterly beautiful, and totally praiseworthy, life.

Mary’s unique sinlessness might make us ponder why her intercession is sought under several titles that have particular relevance to the thesis of this essay. In the “Litany of Loretto,” we hear: “Virgin of Virgins, Mother most chaste, Mother undefiled, Virgin most pure.” Oddly, these titles all seem to impute a certain sexual or carnal morality when “purity” is considered. In fact, however, her purity is much more profound. Imitation of Mary should not be constrained by an implicit comparison and preoccupation with our common limitations in dealing with sexuality. Without belaboring the physicality of these titles, all of them seem to fall short of what I am trying to explore, namely the plain reality of Mary’s virtue-filled life—the purity of her “mind, soul, and heart.” It was always focused on, centered in, and exercised, purely and solely, on behalf of her Son. Ironically, perhaps these titles for Mary, in the minds of the poorly informed, may also contribute to the misperception of Catholic teaching about the use of the generative privilege of marital life, portraying it as somehow, in some measure, less than pure. I wish to suggest, however, that an offsetting but deeper, more revealing, and summarizing title for the Blessed Virgin Mary might be added to any litany when we think of Mary, and invoke her help: “Perfect Custodian of the Human Heart, pray for us.” Purity is achieved only with God’s help and a guarded heart.

Always mindful of her lowliness, Mary guarded her heart, and centered it entirely on her beloved son, Jesus. She herself, cooperating with God’s initial and continuing Grace, kept her person solely for Jesus throughout all the events of her ordinary life. Her life was a pure, unalloyed gift to Him. St. Paul’s description of Love, in I Corinthians 13, only hints at the depths of Mary’s virtuous life: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others (objectify others.3), it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

This brings us to a reflection which adds yet another dimension to our consideration of Mary’s pure gift of self. We might, perhaps humbly, elaborate the catalog of St. Paul by considering the nature of all truly “human acts;” that is, those acts which we deliberately and freely perform. Most ethicists separate human acts into three categories: good, indifferent, and evil. It is in the “indifferent” category that we can discover the astonishing depth of Mary’s great virtue—virtue that we can strive to imitate.

We may reasonably suggest that most human acts are what ethicists consider to be “indifferent.” We walk at one speed and not another; we perform acts of minor service for another; we attend to our personal acts of cleanliness; we study for one hour, instead of two; we go to bed at a planned hour, not later; after whimsically reading a book, we use our time well by planning our day, etc.; all with the result that we effectively pass over the opportunity to turn ordinary prose into the poetry of prayer. If each of these acts were done with the intention of honoring God—the more immediately and directly the better—in fact, there might be no indifferent acts as such. This brings us back to our consideration of The Blessed Mother. It seems eminently reasonable and fitting to be convinced that Mary always chose, in her earthly life, to take the better way, or, putting it more appropriately, to modify all her actions in such ways as brought honor and glory to her Son, even in the smallest detail. “Great holiness consists in carrying out the ‘little duties’ of each moment.”4 In this, we find the beginnings of our potential emulation of her virtue—the amazing perfection with which she practiced custody of her heart, not considering anything outside the realm of her Christo-centric life. Everything properly hers was guarded for Him alone.5

In the title of a “custodian,” we may see the possibility of a truly virtuous life for ourselves, whereas, if we focus only on the uniqueness of Mary’s status in Salvation history, and her great privileges, we may also overlook the virtues that we ourselves should emulate, however imperfectly we may succeed. When using the term “Custodian,” our personal spiritual and physical limitations, and our sins, are thus cast in a more “adversarial” way. The lives of us all are not without sin and error, and yet, we can amend them, and gain again, the virginity, and the chastity, and even the purity, and wholeness of a giving and selfless life, after falling in whatever way. The history of Christian holiness is filled with this reality. Going further, giving away one’s physical virginity in holy and Sacramental marriage can be seen as a gloriously virtuous act. Marriage might even be thus represented as the peak of a virginal life, when marriage is seen in its true vocational character, rather than as an anti-pole to the Consecrated life of Religious.

Our admiration for the Blessed Mother should be appropriately extended in our prayers and contemplation from a focus on her unique privileges, to a stimulating reflection on, and a practical emulation of, her most heroic virtue. “Custody of the heart” is, I believe, that central, positive virtue. That virtue can be, not only admired, but also acquired, as compared to her incomparable, and inimitable physical integrity, and privilege, which are, in fact, the exterior “markers” of her personal virtue, and holiness. By so doing, we may move from admiration of the impossible (for us) to an engagement with the truest virtue, and the “Greatest Commandment,” to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, and mind (Matthew, 22:36).

The term, “Custodian of the Heart,” which each of us certainly is, with regard to ourselves, is a consideration which might make us reflect on its many characteristics. Several come readily to mind. The human dimension of Mary’s achievement becomes apparent with but a few moments of thought:

It is an active virtue, not a merely passive disposition;

It keeps the enemy at a distance;

It suggests a focus on a single objective—God’s Will;

It avoids dissipation;

It wills never to waste time;

It orders all things to union with God;

It maintains a sense of God’s presence at all times;

It anticipates moral danger;

It sees God in everyone, and everything;

It refuses to slake human thirst at anything but the well of Life.

The virtuous, humble humanity of Mary might be more easily admired and reflected upon if we consider the custodial life she led in the context of her holy family. It is something for us to contemplate so as to celebrate her truly human, and utterly charming personality, the very one Our Lord still loves so dearly, and that holds Him, and each of us, tenderly in its thrall and, however figuratively, in her arms. Here, we can profitably consider the Holy Rosary.

Of course, anyone familiar in the least way with the appearances of the Blessed Mother at Fatima is deeply committed to praying the Holy Rosary. She asked for this repeatedly—certainly not for any reason of self-glorification. Such a thought is unimaginable. It must simply be to help mankind focus on the central reality of history—

God entered fully into human life by becoming one of us in all things but sin, and this was made possible by Mary’s humble “Yes.” Our Eternal Salvation was hinged to that one word. Her whole life thus became a practical model.

This manifestation of her ordinary humanity might even suggest some new “Mysteries” to use in praying the Holy Rosary—the context in which most Catholics deal with Mary on an everyday basis. I have read (I cannot remember where) that in the original documents which formalized the prayers of the Holy Rosary, it was suggested that nothing should discourage “the faithful” from introducing, and reflecting on, other “Mysteries” in the lives of Our Lord and the Blessed Mother. With this in mind, after considering many situations in the Gospels, in Tradition, and in popular piety for “Mysteries” with affinity to each other, so as to facilitate easier recollection, and appropriate use in the traditional recitation of the Holy Rosary, I settled on the following suggestions that seem to express Mary’s intimate involvement with her family, and her opportunity to hallow the smallest details of life

The Mysteries of Mary’s Ordinary Life

  1. Humble servant of the Lord
  2. Model Custodian of the human heart
  3. Loving wife of Holy Joseph
  4. Homemaker for her Holy Family
  5. Wondrous teacher of her Son’s compassion

There are many Catholics who have grown up with the practice of saying a daily Rosary. They regard it as an assured way to not only contemplate the great events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, but also as a way to increase awareness of the presence of God as they move through their days. That result could hardly be otherwise. Mary’s only intention is to draw us closer to her Son. These Ordinary Mysteries may be helpful.

This Essay leads to a single conclusion given to us in the expressed desire of Our Blessed Lord, as told to us by His Mother, in that initial Fatima message of 1917. It is still of the utmost importance, and in great need of implementation:

Jesus. . .wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. To those who accept this, I promise them the salvation of their souls, and they will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.

Hopefully, this discussion about custody of our hearts in imitation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will make a practical contribution to this devotion.

  1. We may profitably explore certain historical facts that seem relevant. It was Nov. 27, 1830 when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine in Paris, and used the term “conceived without sin.” It was 100 years later, on June 13, 1929, that Mary asked for recitation of the Rosary, and the consecration of “Russia” to her “Immaculate Heart.” It took more than 30 years for a consecration of the whole world to take place, though it was done without the specific mention of Russia. Perhaps, it is not unreasonable to correlate these facts with a similar events in 1689 and 1789. The French King, Louis XIV, ignored a request from Jesus in an apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoqe, to consecrate France to His Sacred Heart, and avoid great catastrophes. It was not done until June 17, 1789, by his successor, Louis XVI, four years before he lost his head to the guillotine in 1793. Sr. Lucy quotes the Blessed Mother in 1931, “Like the King of France, they will repent and do so, but it will be late.” We can see that actualizing our devotion to her must be central to the effort.
  2. Remarkable is the date of the Apparition to Bernadette. It was March 25, 1858, the feast day of the Annunciation and the Incarnation of Our Lord, when the Angel Gabriel told her she was “Full of Grace.” Also noteworthy is that the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854, four years earlier. These notable dates draw our attention to the intimacy of Earthly events with Heaven’s calendar.
  3. Objectifying others, i.e., seeing in another person an object of personal pleasure, use, or satisfaction, is certainly the root of lust, and of unworthy, or deficient human behavior. It is, in my assessment, the psychological basis of the term “impurity” when discussing human behavior, and is the antithesis of true love, friendship, and the service of others, as understood in Christian morality. Objectifying others debases our motives and makes them impure.
  4. Saint Josemaria, The Way, #817.
  5. As we consider our normal human life, hour after hour, day after day, we may think of the seeming impossibility of reflecting and dedicating each moment as it occurs, as if we had a constant “back and forth” between whim and will, so to speak. A thoughtful person has suggested a solution to this seeming impossibility in offering the reflection that time itself is merely a continuous presentation of opportunity to the human person. We can thus see that Mary made a deliberate choice of good at every opportunity. This mode of expression seems to better fit the possibilities of human nature. It also bridges the reality of Mary’s earlier years, and her maturity when moral reflection entered her personality.
Bernard M. Collins About Bernard M. Collins

Bernard M. Collins graduated in 1951 from Maryknoll College with a degree in Philosophy. After service as a Commissioned Officer in the Navy, he worked in international trade transportation with United States Lines during a period of great technological change. He later worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and then in the Maritime Administration on National Defense in sealift and shipping investment. He also represented the U.S. at the U.N. in Geneva, developing international conventions on legal and liability questions, and the safety and customs treatment of shipping containers. He traveled widely in the U.S. and Europe in pursuit of his responsibilities. In retirement, he has recorded, under contract, many books for a publisher relating to biography, theology, ethics, history, etc. also including a major part of Cardinal Newman’s sermons. As a widower, he lives with family in Silver Spring, Md. He has 56 progeny at present, including seventeen great grandchildren.

Comments

  1. Paul Ciborowski says:

    Dear Mr. Collins,
    Your well-written article was a joy to read. Your clarity of writing as well as your points made about Mary provided for a good time of reflection for me. I have oft wondered how to consider Mary in my life. Should I respect her as a pure soul or do I conclude that since she KNEW of God’s existence, that the subject of Faith did not apply to her. In other words, by knowing she is the Mother of God, does Mary lose the need for Faith that the rest of us must hold in our arms?
    Also, you speak of the world as it is. Frankly, if you watch a week of Dr. Phil, you may just be ready to toss in the towel! Transgenders, transvestites, homosexuals, cocaine, flaka, oxycodine, parents killing their children, children killing their parents, and on and on. Are we into the Caligula times of old? Yet the Church teaches us to accept these peoples. How do we do that and keep our sanity? Who will give us answers when we fear our own priests for their ungodly sins?
    Mr. Collins, keep praying and keep writing.

    • Bernard M Collins says:

      I felt privileged to receive your comment. It seems to me you were essentially pondering how Mary could gain merit if she was born without any desire for sin. In fact, however, Mary’s merit lies entirely within her faith – her “yes” which was total. It was Faith that prompted her to keep even the pretensions of sin far from her life, and it was Faith that prompted her total fidelity to God’s Will. In that lies her unapproachable standing in the history of Salvation, as well as her beautiful, understandable and approachable human life. That life can inspire our own behavior and unity with God’s specific Will for ourselves and the ordinary life He wants the rest of us to lead. Imitation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is surely God’s grace-filled way to help each of us in the midst of a world seemingly filled with disastrous behavior. God will take our attempts to follow Him and light up the way for others. God is good and just and merciful beyond any expectation we may have. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.