Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
“Renewal at the School of Mary”
November 7-9, 2003
Luke 11:27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
I. The heart of Mary, which hears, keeps and treasures the word of God.
•We celebrate today the first Saturday of the month, which is a day on which the Church normally celebrates a Votive Mass to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
•The Gospel we have is a short passage from St. Luke, that very often is misconstrued by some as basically Jesus’ attack on “Mariolatry,” giving Mary special praise. Some say that Jesus in fact was not praising the woman.
•Jesus certainly was not contradicting the woman, by implying that somehow Mary’s life-giving womb and breasts were somehow not blessed. We’re talking about the womb in which was conceived the Son of God and the breasts which nourished not only a mere child but him who created both her and the world. Surely Mary’s womb and breasts, and her whole body, were blessed! They were privileged in a way that no other mother’s have ever been or will be. We also know Mary was blessed in an even more particular way. Her whole being, as Pope Pius IX infallibly proclaimed, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Mary’s whole being was full of grace. What a blessing indeed!
•Yet, rather than bless that womb publicly as he had done in secret from the first moment of her conception and had proved by his own conception within her, Our Lord decided to respond “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” In so doing, he was not refraining from blessing his mother. Quite the contrary. In fact, he was far exceeding the anonymous woman’s praise and pointing out the cardinal source of his Mother’s beatitude. Christ does not allow his mother to be objectified as a mere possessor of womb and breasts, however privileged they may be. Rather he points to her as the paradigm of all blessed people, for she more than any other had heard the Word of God and kept it. She heard the Word of God announced by the prophets and kept it. She heard the word of God announced by the Angel Gabriel and kept it, and kept it so well that the Word became flesh within her. The Word in fact took her flesh, and she kept the Word within her womb for nine months and in her heart forevermore.
•But we read elsewhere that she didn’t just keep it. Luke tells us that she “treasured” the words of the shepherds and Magi and “pondered them in her heart.” Later, after she had experienced both the horror of losing her 12-year-old son and the mysterious joy of finding him conversing among the doctors of the law, Luke tells us again that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”
•So Jesus, in answering the woman in the crowd, publicly blessed his Mother not for her inimitable privileges but for her imitable example. She who was full of grace is praised as the model of how to live in the state of grace. And hence she is our model. Let’s see how well we stack up.
•Jesus praises her for two things — hearing and keeping the word of God. First, hearing. To what extent do we try to listen to the word of God each day? We could certainly examine how attentive we are to the reading of Sacred Scripture at Mass. Do the Scripture readings of the day, at Mass and in the breviary, actually make a difference in how we approach the day? Can you recall, for example, what the first reading was? How about the psalm? But there are other places too. Do we hear the word in private mental prayer? Do we hear his word spoken to us through his will in the various events of the day?
•The second thing is to keep the word of God. St. James said, “Don’t be just idle listeners, but doers of the word. To put it into practice, especially when it’s hard, when it pierces our very hearts. Do we hear the word of God about forgiving others, even our enemies and put it into practice? Do we hear the call to be “poor in spirit?”
II. Mary’s pure heart
•We’re called like Mary to do the same, to have a heart like hers that treasures the word of God which we’ve heard and put into practice.
•This was the source of her fidelity.
•Hers was a pure heart, that like the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, “sees God.” It sees him in others. It’s a heart that says yes to God.
•This type of heart is crucial for the salvation of the world.
•In May 1917, Mary appeared to three young shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.
•She first proclaimed the need for penance.
•She showed them an image of an angel saying “Penance! Penance! Penance!”
•She taught the kids about the reality of heaven and the reality of hell and showed them the terrible pain of those in Hell, the place where God is not present.
•She let them see clearly the tremendous suffering that the Church would undergo in the years ahead, the suffering that the Church and the popes have undergone throughout the 20th century up to our own day as a result of various infidelities.
•But she also proclaimed God’s solution. The solution to all of these problems, the lack of peace in the world, the lack of peace in our families and societies, the lack of peace in our hearts.
•It’s an answer that’s always very surprising at first glance, but when you look at it more deeply, you see the wisdom in it. The solution was consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Why?
•Hers is a heart that says yes to God, say a categorical no to sin, a heart that sees God in all things and tries to love and serve God in all things. The pure heart, as Jesus tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, is the heart that sees God in all things. It is a heart that listens and treasures God’s word and gives her yes to it. “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” It is also the heart that prays, that depends on God, that trusts him in all things. A pure heart is a weapon that’s more powerful than all the nuclear bombs, hijacked planes, bullets, hatred and sin can muster. This is the type of heart we’re called to have. If her yes to God’s plans in response to the Archangel Gabriel could change the whole history of the universe, what impact do you think yours will have? Each of ours?
•Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” Our treasure needs to be in God’s word, in hearing it, doing it, treasuring it. Mary treasured it because she loved her son. When we love him we will treasure it as well.
III. The family of God.
•Jesus came down from heaven to establish a family and said in another passage, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” That’s why Mary is the first of his disciples. That’s how we’re called to be his faithful brothers and sisters.
IV. How do we cultivate this type of pure heart, that listens to God, says yes to him, and treasures his presence?
Pope John Paul II suggests one very concrete means: Rosary
•When prayed well, the Rosary helps us to contemplate the face of Christ, to follow him upon his entirely earthly journey alongside the Blessed Mother.
•The more we see him in these mysteries, the easier it will be able to see him in others. The more we hear him in this prayer, the easier we’ll hear his voice in our lives.
•JP II calls it his favorite prayer, because it has helped him so much over the course of his life.
•Contemplating Christ’s birth, they learn of the sanctity of life;
◦seeing the household of Nazareth, they learn the original truth of the family according to God’s plan;
◦listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, they find the light which leads them to enter the Kingdom of God;
◦following him on the way to Calvary, they learn the meaning of salvific suffering;
◦contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, they see the goal towards which each of us is called, if we allow ourselves to be healed and transformed by the Holy Spirit.
•The more we pray the Rosary, the more we see things in Christ’s light.
•But the Holy Father recognizes that many of us do not pray the Rosary well. Many of us pray it mechanically.
•So he introduced to us a spirituality of the Rosary, so that we would gain maximal benefit from it.
•He calls us to contemplate Christ’s face in these mysteries, by listening to the word of God with Mary, applying it to our own lives, and the contemplating this mystery within our own hearts.
•We start with the Crucifix, the alpha and the omega, the sign of Christ’s love.
•Announcing each mystery
◦Announce mystery to focus our attention.
◦Can use image like an icon or a mental composition of time and place with our imagination.
◦This image follows incarnational pattern, starting with bodily reality to get to mystery of the divinity.
◦Mysteries just outline the fundamental events of life of Christ, drawing mind into deeper reflection on rest of Gospel. Rosary presupposes and promotes lectio devina and the study of the Gospels.
•Listening to the word of God
◦To provide Biblical foundation for the mysteries and give greater depth to meditation, we should reflect on a long or short passage of Sacred Scripture, the Word of God, spoken today for me.
◦This will prevent boredom from repetition and upon ourselves to God’s voice speaking to us.
◦In certain solemn celebrations, word can be illustrated by a brief commentary.
◦Listening and meditation are nourished by silence, which helps our prayer.
◦After announcement and Scripture, it’s appropriate to focus quietly on the mystery before moving into vocal prayer.
◦In our culture, silence is rarer and it’s needed to focus on the content of a particular mystery.
•The “Our Father”
◦After listening to God’s word and focusing on mystery, it’s natural for mind to be lifted toward the Father.
◦Jesus always leads us to the Father, so that we can say with him, “Abba!”
◦Jesus makes us brothers and sisters of himself and each other, and Father & Son communicate to us HS.
◦The Our Father is a foundation for Christological and Marian meditation and for ecclesial experience.
•The ten “Hail Marys”
◦Most substantial element of Rosary, which makes Rosary Marian.
◦But Hail Mary is above all Christological, focusing in first part on the wonder of the Incarnation.
◦We share in the heaven’s own jubilant amazement of the greatest miracle of history, for which all generations will call Mary blessed.
◦Center of gravity in the Hail Mary is name of Jesus.
◦Emphasis given to name of Jesus and his mystery is sign of fruitful recitation.
◦Pope Paul VI praised, which JP II affirms, the practice in cultures (like Germany) to add after name of Jesus a clause referring to mystery being contemplated (…Jesus, who carried his Cross for us. Holy Mary…).
◦This gives forceful expression to faith in Chirst, professes our faith and concentrates our meditation.
◦Repeating name of Jesus in close association with his Mother’s, we are heading down the path of assimilation and entrance into life of Christ.
◦Mary’s uniquely privileged relationship with Christ as Theotokos leads to “Holy Mary”, entrusting to her maternal intercession of lives and the hour of our death.
◦Praise of the Trinity is the goal of all Christian contemplation.
◦Christ is the way that leads us to the Father in the Spirit.
◦If we travel way of Rosary to end, we encounter mystery of three divine persons.
◦The glory be needs to be given prominence in Rosary. In public settings, to be emphasized, it could be sung.
◦If meditation is deep and moved by love for Christ and Mary, the glorification of Trinity will not be perfunctory, but contemplative, raising mind to contemplation of heaven and glory.
•The concluding short prayer
◦Normally, there’s a short prayer following the Glory be. These concluding prayers are valuable.
◦Contemplation of mysteries could express full spiritual fruitfulness if we concluded each mystery with prayer for the fruits of that mystery, so that we might “imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.”
◦Such a final prayer could take on variety of forms, allowing for better adaptation to different spiritual traditions.
◦Hoped that appropriate formulas will be widely circulated, after pastoral discernment and experimental use in Rosary shrines, so that people might receive authentic spiritual riches and nourishment for personal prayer.
•The Rosary beads
◦Rosary beads are traditional practical aid for marking the succession of Hail Marys, but they have deep symbolism.
◦Beads converge upon Crucifix, which both begins and ends the Rosary, and hence upon Christ, the alpha and omega. From, through, with Him, in HS, we attain the Father.
◦Bl. Bartolo saw them as a sweet, filial chain linking us to God with Mary and Christ himself.
◦We can also look at the beads as a link between us and others, in communion and fraternity with Christ.
•The opening and closing
◦Many different ways to introduce the Rosary:
◦Psalm 70: “O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me,” reminding us of our insufficiency;
◦The Creed, to make our profession of faith the basis of our contemplative journey.
◦To extend they prepare mind for contemplation, they’re equally legitimate.
◦Rosary is ended with prayer for the intentions of the Pope, to expand vision of prayer to the whole Church.
◦This ecclesial dimension of the Rosary has led to indulgences for those who recite it with proper dispositions.
◦If prayed in this way, Rosary becomes a spiritual itinerary in which Mary acts as Mother, Teacher and Guide, sustaining the faithful by her powerful intercession.
◦This is why soul, having been brought into living contact with the mystery of Christ and his Mother, wants to burst in praise of BVM by the Salve Regina or Litany of Loreto.
◦“Blessed is she who hears the word of God and keeps it.”
◦We’ll probably receive many compliments in our life, for one thing or another.
◦But would that we receive this compliment from the Lord!