The Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is one of the interesting “diptychs” that crop up during the liturgical year, nearly always in relationship to a Feast of Solemnity of the Lord. A diptych is two paintings which are attached to each other and inform the meaning of each other. They often were painted to serve as an altar front or set of tabernacle doors. Often a painting of a mystery of Jesus on one side has a parallel depiction of Mary on the other to show the relationship of Christ to the Church. A liturgical diptych is celebrated when we have a Feast or Solemnity of the Lord followed soon by a kind of subordinate, but similar celebration in honor of Mary.
The Old Testament reading, from Lamentations, in today’s liturgy helps us to recognize that Mary’s very human love illuminates and gives immediacy to our ecclesial vocation to love God by loving our broken and sinful world. For me it was very powerful to pray the first reading while gazing at some of the recent pictures of the war in Syria, the attacks in Iraq, the desolation after recent tornados or other devastating natural disasters. The text speaks poignantly of grieving old men sitting and staring in dazed amazement on the devastation of their land caused by sin and greed; the loss of life of children and adults, of houses and businesses in ruins; mothers weeping, shrilly lamenting their stunning losses of children and spouses; hungry and disconsolate toddlers wandering aimlessly through terrible devastation looking for parents or begging for food or water. We can almost hear the groans, weeping and shrill cries of anguish as we listen to the Biblical passage. And the writer of the Book of Lamentations commands us to gather up such suffering and grieving and present it from our wounded hearts to God in prayer. So we, the Church, are called, through the person of Mary, to stand in the presence of God’s deep and abiding love on behalf of our own broken hearts and all the shattered and grieving peoples of the world, who have been brought to destruction by the lying promises of false prophets.
Pope Francis reminds us that all of us who call ourselves Christian must stand with Mary and exercise the same profound compassionate care to those who are suffering among us. That is true of nations as well as individuals. The Immaculate Heart, standing in a subordinate posture next to Jesus’s Sacred Heart, helps to illuminate the interaction between God’s love for us and our responsive love for God BOTH poured out to heal a deeply wounded and suffering world.
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