June 20, 2020

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Saturday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time)


First Reading: Isaiah 61:9-11

Responsorial: 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8ABCD

Alleluia: Luke 2:19

Gospel: Luke 2:41-51

             In Sicilian there is an old expression, tanti beddi cosi (“many beautiful things”). It is a term of well-wishing one person would say to another, as in “may you experience many beautiful things.” The root of the expression lies in the understanding that beauty never exists in isolation. It always requires the confluence of multiple beautiful things for any one beautiful thing to exist. Beauty is more than the sum of its parts; some philosophers say that beauty can only exist as a matter of proportion, in the inter se relationship of one thing to another. Perhaps we can use this as a way of understanding why God is a Trinity rather than a solitary God person – his very interior reality is beautiful because of the proportionate relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

            Along the same lines, Plato long ago recognized that good is diffusive of itself. It cannot help but to overflow, to communicate goodness to the things around it. We could thus say, in one sense, that this explains God’s creation of the world. The love that indwells in the Holy Trinity overflows in God’s desire to communicate the good of existence to things, and specifically the self-reflective capacity to freely love given to the rational beings of creation, angels and humans.

            (In saying this, of course, we should be vigilant to guard against the heretical idea, heard occasionally in sentimental and syrupy theology and preaching, that God somehow needed to create us in order to have people to love or to complete himself in any way. God is perfect in himself in the circumincessional love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we must always emphasize that his act of creation was a work of gratuitous love, rather than one compelled by any kind of need or necessity.)

            Beauty is one of the keys to the faith. Human beings are not robots, we are creatures of flesh and blood; our intellect works in tandem with our passions. In order to deepen our own faith, as well as to fulfill our duty as Christians to share the faith with others successfully, our faith must be beautiful. Pope Benedict called this via pulchritudinis (“way of beauty”) because it is the privileged path of the faith in both its devotional and missionary aspects.

            Edmund Burke famous said, “To love our country, our country must be lovely.” It is the same with our faith: to have a faith infused with love – which is to say, a Christian faith – our faith must be lovely. It is the work of all Christians to cultivate beauty in our faith, by our own personal witness of charity and evangelization and also by our participation in the life of the Church, most especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sadly, some in the Church often seem to be working at cross-purposes to that goal, as if austerity, economy, and banality are better expressions of our relationship to God in divine worship.

            Love is diffusive, thus it desires to make things associated with it beautiful. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the soul in union with God as being “like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” This is the way in which we can understand the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her heart glows with the love of Christ because she was the first and primary recipient of that Incarnational love as the infant Christ, like any child, gazed with love upon his mother.  Her heart is beautiful because it was touched so closely by Christ, and thus existed in perfect proportion to his own Sacred Heart. His mission was her mission. Mary could treasure all things of her Son in her heart, even his suffering that she witnessed at the Crucifixion.

            This is why the Immaculate Heart of Mary is meant to be an echo of the life of all Christians. Her witness, along with the lives of all the Saints and the life of the Church expressed through the ages in devotion and sacrament, is one of the many beautiful things that work together to communicate Jesus Christ to the world.