Proper to the Congregation of Jesus & Mary (Eudist Fathers)
& the Religious of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (RGS)
by Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM
Three hundred sixty-eight (368) years ago to this very day, St. John Eudes, the founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (1643), and the Religious of Our Lady of Charity (1641), moved by his deep love for Jesus in the Heart of Mary introduced and celebrated with his confreres the Office and the Mass in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was a first in the history of the Church. (He would also be the first to compose and be the moving spirit behind similar liturgical celebrations in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1672.)
It was not, however, without any connection to the Church’s growing consciousness and understanding of the fullness of God revelation in, through and for humanity. St. John Eudes was himself fully aware of the faith stream from which he was drinking. Touching base with the Church Father’s in a prolonged spiritual retreat due to illness right after his ordination, he must have sensed the gift of faith flowing through human history through the apostles down to the Church Fathers and onto the generations of grateful receivers who would lend their own hearts to a deeper understanding (and its expression in human terms) of God’s self-revelation already perfected in Christ. Thus, in having been quenched and satisfied by the faith stream, St. John Eudes also became a tributary to enrich human acknowledgement and expression of God’s gift of Godself. He became part of the continuing grace of Incarnation in faithfulness to the source while boldly finding expression that is relevant to the needs and idiosyncrasy of his generation as well as ours.
Foundation in St. Augustine
Building on the richness of St. Augustine’s own understanding, he acknowledged in his Book, The Admirable Heart of Mary, that “The divine maternity would not have profited Mary if she had not first borne Jesus Christ in her Heart more happily and advantageously than in her womb.” He agreed with him that “her Heart is preferred to this divine Mother's blessed womb. Then he shares five reasons that made this Augustinian assertion his very own:
“First, this incomparable Virgin conceived the Son of God in her virginal Heart before she conceived him in her womb.
“Secondly, she had made herself worthy of conceiving him in her womb, having first conceived him in her Heart.
“Third, she bore him in her womb for only nine months whereas she bore him in her Heart from the very first moment of her life and will carry him there eternally.
“Fourth, she bore him in a more noble and holier manner in her Heart than in her womb, since her Heart is a living heaven in which the King of heaven and earth is loved more passionately and glorified more perfectly than in heaven.
Fifth, the Mother of our Savior bore him in her womb only when he was in his temporal and mortal state with all the weaknesses of infancy whereas she will bear eternally in her Heart the glorious, impassible and immortal Jesus. That is what allows St. Augustine to rightly say: She bore him in happier and more excellent fashion in heart than in her womb.”
Heart as Scriptural Expression
It must be noted, however, that in all these, his understanding and use of the word Heart is deeply scriptural. He acknowledged that it refers to the “whole interior life” of a person, the same understanding and usage in the Scriptures. Therefore, when referring to the Heart of Mary, he is actually referring to the core of her being, the essence, the totality of her existence, her innermost self which is not any different from ours. This Heart, like our hearts, is the creative and loving expression of God, who gave Godself to us as the true source of our true identity in the divine work of creation and salvation. That identity is synonymous to Love, and the very act of Loving itself. It should not be a surprise that St. John Eudes would identify the Heart of Mary as love. He wrote in the same book, thus:
Therefore when we honor the Heart of Mary, we have in mind not merely a given mystery, action or quality… but the source and origin of the value and holiness of these things, namely her love and charity.
Mary’s love and charity, we must emphasize, is a Person - the second Person of the Trinity. In other words, the totality of her person is solely focused on Jesus. Jesus is the object of her love, and the subject of her charity. It is Jesus that moved her and inspired her.
But wait a minute, St. John Eudes wrote in the same breath that…
Mary is Nothing?
From St. John Eudes, we get a clearer understanding of how a human heart totally open to God finds his/her true essence as a person called to existence through the experience of Mary:
“All you who are thirsty, come to the source! Hurry! Why do you hesitate? Are you afraid that if you go to the Heart of Mary, you diminish in some way the kindness of your redeemer? Are you not aware that Mary is nothing, possesses nothing, and can do nothing except in and through Jesus; that Jesus is everything in her, that he can do everything and in fact does all things in her? Are you not aware that Jesus not only dwells unceasingly in the Heart of Mary, but is himself the very heart of her Heart? Consequently, whoever comes to the Heart of Mary comes to Jesus; whoever honors the Heart of Mary honors Jesus; whoever prays to the Heart of Mary prays to Jesus?
St. John Eudes hit it spot on. Mary is nothing without Jesus. We are nothing without Jesus. In Jesus, she came to be “blessed among women” as proclaim by the Holy Spirit through St. Elizabeth. In Jesus, she owned that truth singing her Magnificat to God that “all generations will call” her “blessed.” That song from her heart, moved by the same Spirit, identified her good fortune with what awaits humanity: the turning of tables between humble and the proud, the mighty and the lowly, the rich and the hungry. She acknowledged that what was an incalculable gift to her, is also an immense gift to Israel and all of creation of which she is only an insignificant part of.
Mary as the First Temple of the Spirit
St. Paul taught us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). It means that each of us is a dwelling place of God and more, through Jesus Christ. St. Paul is a Jew, so we should appropriate the understanding of the Jews when it comes to the word Temple. This, therefore, leads us to the revelation that each one of us is the focal point of the Divine and the human interaction, a meeting point of heaven and earth, a point of union with God. But the very first meeting point and the best possible Temple in God’s mystery of Incarnation is no other than Mary of Nazareth herself. In honoring her Immaculate Heart, we acknowledge that her “yes” from the Annunciation of the Lord’s coming and her painstaking renewal of this “yes” every single moment of her life with her Son, Jesus, proclaims the following truth:
God chooses human participation in his Plan of Salvation; Human participation is possible even in the face of our weaknesses and limits, as well as the seemingly insurmountable blocks and hindrances posed by human-made structures and institutions; and That an open and receptive heart, powered by God’s grace, enables us to embrace and live the will of God.
Implication for Us
The Scriptures proclaims not just God’s salvific action, but also human response and cooperation to this gratuitous act of God, in an ever widening and continuing growth of Divine-Human communion. Mary, giving herself to God, certainly shows us how we can respond to God. Borrowing the vocabulary of St. John Eudes who wrote thus:
This love (who is Jesus Christ, this clarification supplied) sanctified all her actions, all the faculties of her soul, all her virtues and perfections, indeed her whole life, interior and exterior; it made her worthy to the mother of Jesus and of all the members of Jesus, and finally, an abundant source of gifts for us (The Admirable Heart of Mary),
we can dare to claim then: That Jesus Christ who dwells in each one of us sanctifies all our actions, all the faculties of our souls, all our virtues and perfections, indeed our whole life, interior and exterior; it makes us worthy to be brothers and sisters of Jesus, and brothers and sisters to all the members of Jesus, and finally, an abundant source of gifts for one another.
It goes without saying that honoring the Heart of Mary underscores for us how her love for Jesus can also be ours. It opens our eyes to the possibility of greater union with Christ. If the Heart of her heart is Jesus, then it invites us to greater intimacy and communion with Jesus, concretized in the way we deal not only with God but also with one another. The Heart of Mary affords us a way to take a leap faith into Christ-centered life even in the face of human limits and weaknesses. Like Mary, may we begin to think, decide and act for God.