The Birmingham Oratory parish is dedicated to our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and so we have the privilege of being under her special patronage. In order for our understanding of our Lady’s sinlessness to be more than merely theoretical, God has given us a way of approaching it that is personal and truly human. He has given us the beautiful devotion to her Immaculate Heart. We know the Immaculate Conception best by drawing close to the Heart which that miraculous Conception produced.
We recall the words of scripture where the Heart of Mary is mentioned. St Luke tells us that when the shepherds had visited the Infant God in Bethlehem “… Mary kept all these things, pondering them in Her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again, after the Finding in the Temple, when the hidden life at Nazareth was resumed we learn “…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 2:51). Hers is a prayerful Heart, a contemplative Heart.
Scripture is the start of our devotion to our Lady’s Heart, the start but not the end. Heaven has done other things in addition, to encourage our devotion. We can hardly think about the Immaculate Conception without thinking of Lourdes. We can hardly think about the Immaculate Heart of Mary without thinking of Fatima. Devotion to Mary Immaculate was given an enormous impetus by the events at Lourdes in 1858, and then again at Fatima in 1917.
At Lourdes in 1858 the beautiful young woman who appeared to Bernadette identified herself with the words “I am the Immaculate Conception”, words which at the time meant nothing to poor illiterate Bernadette. Yet it was those words which convinced the sceptical parish priest, and later the Holy See, that the apparitions to Bernadette were indeed from God. At Fatima in 1917 a Lady shining more brightly than the sun appeared to the three Little Shepherds. She told them “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart“. Lourdes and Fatima are two conspicuous examples of how private revelation, when properly tested and judged by the Church, can have a positive influence, not mandatory but positive, on the spiritual life of the whole People of God.
Why would God want to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary? Obviously our Lord would want us to love His Mother, but why devotion to her Immaculate Heart in particular? When we speak of someone’s heart, we speak of that person in their truest and deepest nature. Our heart is what we are. But it is also what we do. If we say that someone has a loving heart, a generous heart, a pure heart, we are referring to how they live their life, and how their life impinges on others.
In the case of our blessed Lady, when we venerate her Immaculate Heart, we are embracing her in her totality: conceived without original sin, her life-long freedom from all actual sin, her perpetual virginity, her divine maternity, her hidden contemplative life, her faithful discipleship, her co-operation in Christ’s Passion, her joy at His resurrection, her sharing with the apostles in the outpouring of His Spirit, her Assumption and coronation in heaven, her continuing role there as the Mediatrix of all graces.
Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart is the heart of our Mother, a Mother who cares for all her children, and does everything she can to help them flourish and succeed. She assists us on our path to salvation by what she is doing now, at this very moment, and at every moment. She is doing her work, yes, her work; a work which began on earth, exemplified in the miracle of the wedding feast at Cana. That maternal work of intercession continued when her life on earth was ended and she was raised to the glory of heaven. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was taken to heaven. Why? To continue interceding for us. She intercedes for us until the full number of the elect is complete. She prays for us until the Church Militant and the Church Expectant shall finally have become what God has destined them to become – the Church Triumphant. A blessing I wish for you all.