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“When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”-Luke 2:48-51

It is fitting that this celebration of the heart of Mary should follow the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For most of us clinically minded moderns, it takes a bit of quiet reflection to get into the spirit of this heart-talk. Obviously, we are not celebrating cardiac muscles here, wonders of creation though they are. The heart has long been the symbol of the center or interior of the human person—especially as the seat of our deepest thoughts and desires. To speak of the human heart this way is to name what makes us most human. And to speak of the hearts of Mary and Jesus is to get to the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation itself.

I was surprised to discover that heart-talk occurs three times in this second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The first instance occurs shortly after the birth of Jesus, when the shepherds, responding to the message of the angel of God, visit Joseph, Mary, and the child lying in the manger, and tell them how they heard the news of the birth of the Messiah. “And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (v. 19)

Later, when Mary and Joseph present the child Jesus in the temple, Simeon says to Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (v. 34)

The third instance of heart-talk is the moment quoted at the top, after Mary finds the adolescent Jesus in the temple and hearing his puzzling response to her, asks, “Son, why have you done this to us?”

The heart of Mary was a sinless one, but also a very vulnerable one. That the birth of her son should be preceded and followed by angelic messages about Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited Anointed One, gave her plenty to ponder. How did her status as “unwed mother” fit into God’s plan? Was her son going to be a warrior like his ancestor David? Did Simeon’s reference to Jesus as a “sign of contradiction” mean that he was going to be some kind of troublemaker? And what was the meaning of Jesus’ sudden burst of independence, staying behind in the temple and playing “quiz kid” with the priests? Whatever privileged information she had received at the beginning, it was clearly not enough to exempt her from a mother’s anxiety and puzzlement about the behavior and prospects of her son.

Hardest of all had to be the arrest, imprisonment, and execution of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. (However one evaluates the merit of Mel Gibson’s filmic rendering of the Passion, one must grant that he conveys a powerful image of Mary’s suffering and compassion during those final hours.) The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a time to allow our hearts to ponder what she pondered. The fact that this memorial comes right after the feast of the Scared Heart of Jesus helps us appreciate that the man Jesus grew up to be, and the compassionate heart that he displayed in his teaching, healing and table fellowship—all derive in a profound way from the heart he came to know in his mother. Our best response will be to ponder these things in our own hearts. Such pondering will bear fruit in our actions. 

By Dennis Hamm

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