Thirteenth Sunday: The Freedom to Love

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

1 KGS 19:16b, 19-21; PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; GAL 5:1, 13-18; LK 9:51-62

Our readings for this coming Sunday are about true freedom – and truly being ruled by love.

And so they are also about turning points.

The first reading is about the great prophet Elisha, successor to Elijah. He will have a great career, through the books of First and Second Kings, as a healer, above all of Naaman the Syrian leper, but also fighting poison, restoring wells, recovering what was lost – and battling and anointing kings.

But this prophetic career begins in our reading today. Elijah has just heard the still small voice, and he has been sent with three tasks: to anoint a King of the foreign nation of Syria and a new king of Israel, to scourge the wicked house of King Ahab – and also to anoint this great prophet Elisha. These are men on a mission. We are not fooling around.

He finds Elisha plowing. Notice in the reading how it emphasizes that Elisha had twelve yoke of oxen. That’s a lot! He was a rich man.

But the central point of our reading is that Elijah casts his spirit on Elisha, and Elisha is driven.

There is one strange line. Elisha asks to say goodbye to his parents. In the translation at Mass, Elijah will respond, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” But the original is simpler. Elijah says (he does not ask): “Go, return, I have made” – that is, Elisha is free to go, because Elijah has done something to him, changed him.

There is no rebuke, and Elisha’s actions indicate no hesitance: he slaughters all those oxen, gives them to the people, and follows. Elisha is not hesitating, he is going. Elijah has cast the spirit on him, and he is driven.


Our Gospel reading is the turning point of Luke. Again, our translation is weak. It says, “He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” But the Greek, here and through the rest of the Gospel, is more vivid: he sets his face toward Jerusalem. He is focused. He knows exactly where he’s going.

He passes through Samaria. Now, the Samaritan religion is precisely a Judaism that thinks that Jerusalem is unnecessary. Can’t we just stay here? It’s the perfect foil for Jesus’s determination.

But it’s interesting: the disciples are too focused on Samaria, too. “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them.” Our translation says, “Jesus turned and rebuked them.” The Greek is stronger: Jesus twists around. He has to twist because his face is set on Jerusalem, and the disciples are stuck behind him, focused on Samaria. Our anger, too, prevents us from journeying on. But Jesus is focused, driven.

There follow three more short stories about being driven. First: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The head is a nice juxtaposition to the face: Jesus does not rest, because his face is set on Jerusalem. Forward!

Second: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Ah, the Greek is so tight in this week’s readings. The real tension is not between burying our father or not – again, Elisha is not condemned for burning his oxen and feeding the people in preparation to follow Elijah. The question is how we do it.

Jesus says, “Send away the dead to bury the dead, but you, going, proclaim the kingdom.” The dead are those who merely go away. The living are those who, going, proclaim. Do what you need to do – but as you go, proclaim the kingdom, be ruled by the kingdom. As you bury your father, keep your face set on Jerusalem.

Third: “Let me say farewell to my family”; “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom.” (The references to Elisha are clear – but what is the lesson of Elisha?)

With the plow, you have to keep looking straight ahead or your furrows are crooked – if you look back, you will see that you are not plowing straight. With the kingdom, you have to keep your eye on the prize, your face set toward Jerusalem. In fact, it doesn’t say, “no one who looks behind is fit,” as in, worthy. It says, “no one who looks behind is set, or fixed, on the kingdom.”

We have to have our faces set. We have to be ruled by the kingdom, driven.

Jesus doesn’t scold any of these three. The first says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” That’s a good thing. But Jesus says to each one, do what you need to do, but with your face set toward the kingdom. Be driven, ruled.


Our reading from Galatians reminds us that the key is grace, the Holy Spirit living within us.

The Spirit is both freedom (“you were called for freedom”) but also service (“serve one another through love”). If we love, if we are driven, if our face is set toward Jerusalem, we are set free from all that would distract us (“for the flesh has desires against the Spirit”), and the obligations of our faith don’t feel like obligations at all (“if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law”) but the desires of our heart.

The Spirit reigning within us is the freedom to love. Jesus and Elisha are not constrained by the kingdom, they are on fire for it.

What makes your heart wander from our true love?

The Sins of Fathers and the Hope of Fatherhood

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_Joseph_and_the_Christ_Child_-_Google_Art_ProjectFor Father’s Day, I’d like to spend a little more time on a phrase I’ve mentioned here a few times.  At the end of the First Commandment, God says, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9).  

The idea is repeated when God walks before Moses: “who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgressions and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:7).  

Almost the same idea is repeated in Numbers: “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).

Now, one way to interpret these verses is the standard old heresy of Marcionism: to pretend that what God says in the first commandment or in his self-revelation to Moses is some evil revelation that Jesus undoes.  But I think – and the Church teaches – that the God of Moses was a good God, our God.  And I think there’s a lot we can learn about fatherhood, and Father’s Day, from these strange verses.


In the song, “I’ll Carry On,” Rich Mullins says,

“I’ll carry the songs we learned when we were kids

I’ll carry the scars of generations gone by.”

The first line is positive: we carry on the beautiful things we learned from our parents.  But the second line is painful: we also carry the scars.

My children bear the scars of my father and my step-father, because I carry them.  My father carries the wounds and dysfunctions of his father and grandfather; beyond three or four generations, I don’t know the stories anymore.  I hope my children will be better than I am, in part because I hope I will give them better than my father gave me – but I know my dysfunction will carry on.  

This is a hard topic to talk about.  I don’t want to talk about my father’s failings.  Like the sons of Noah, we are all called to cover our fathers’ nakedness.  But we cover our fathers, and we bear their scars (and songs), because fathers are important.  

All of this can be said, of course, about mothers, too.  But as you think about the scars you carry from generations gone by – and the scars you are passing on to your children, if you are a parent – I would guess you’ll see that fathers and mothers have their own unique ways of wounding their children.  We are scarred by our mothers and fathers, but in different ways.

And that’s what is meant, in these key passages from the books of Moses, about third and fourth generations.  Whatever we believe about the forgiveness of sins, we all know how we have been hurt, and how we hurt.


Now, that’s a pretty negative way to think about Father’s Day: our fathers are the ones who screwed us up.  But that suffering is the reverse side of the awesome mission God has given to parents.

We carry the scars of generations gone by because parents matter.  It is not hard to argue against infant Baptism.  It seems wrong that we should get grace from sacraments we didn’t even know were happening.  But the heart of infant Baptism is the bizarre importance of parents: we are of our parents before we are of ourselves.  We carry their songs before we make any of our own.  We learn the fundamentals of our faith, for good or for ill, whether it is the True Faith or all the alternate things we are brought up to believe, from them.  

Grace is stronger than nature.  All of those Bible verses also say that God sends away our sins.  He can set us free from the wounds of our parents, and he can set our children free from our wounds.  And so another key theme in the Bible, even in that frightening Old Testament, is that we mustn’t judge others based on the sins of their parents.  But those sins do affect us, they are the raw material on which grace works.  We are wounded by their sins, but we must also carry their pain, and be healed by accepting its reality.

This is the mystery of fatherhood.  God has not set us in the world as radical individuals, but as members of families.  And this is the mystery of mission: other people, especially our children, are affected by our actions.  It’s crazy, but it’s true.  We really do have fathers, and some of us really are fathers.

Let us thank God the Father for bestowing such an awesome mission on mere men – and beg his grace to live it well.

And let us reveal to the Father the scars we bear from our fathers and grandfathers.  How can acknowledging those scars make you more open to his healing grace?


Twelfth Sunday: Conversion

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

ZEC 12:10-11, 13:1; PS 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; GAL 3:26-29; LK 9:18-24

This past Sunday, our readings taught about the connection between turning to God and lamenting our sin.

The first reading was from the prophet Zechariah. The prophets are a hard read, and this reading is typical.

At first glance it seems a jumble of unconnected ideas. “I will pour out on the house of David . . . a spirit of grace and petition.” “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” “The mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Meggido.” “A fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.”

Four, or more, heavy ideas. Sometimes we need a moment to let them come into focus and fit together.

First, we see the connection between grace and petition. Our asking is itself God’s gift. It is his pouring out on us that leads us to ask and we ask him to pour out more of that same spirit.

Next, we look to the Cross. The spirit of grace turns our eyes to Jesus, the one whom we have pierced. In the Cross we see both our misery and his love for us. From this vision comes our spirit of petition.

In the third line, we get a “type,” an Old Testament partial image, of Jesus. Hadadrimmon in the plain of Meggido is where the good king Josiah lost his life to the Egyptians. Josiah was a reformer; he restored the Temple and the observance of Old Testament ritual, and put an end to idols. (The modern scholars who like such claims even say that he invented much of the ritual because he was such a great Restorer.)

Like Jesus, he brought people back to God. And like Jesus, he was slain (by the Egyptians). He is the original one whom they have pierced, this is the original lamentation for the destruction of the Restorer. He gives more shape to our mourning at the Cross: here was the one who brought us back to God, and our sin has attacked him.

And from the pierced side of Christ – and from the ground where Josiah was slain – springs forth “a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” In our mourning is our conversion.


The Gospel was Luke’s version of Peter’s confession: “But who do you say that I am?” “The Christ of God.” Luke does not give us Peter’s denial. He just gives us the juxtaposition in all its horror:

As soon as Peter identifies Jesus, Jesus tells them he “must suffer greatly . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised.” There is consolation in the Resurrection – but it comes only through the Crucifixion.

And lest that seem too easy, Jesus then applies it to us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The key is in our reading from Zechariah. We have to deny ourselves because our desires are not right; we are sinners. We have to deny ourselves because we have pierced the Redeemer.

Peter has recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Savior. But to know him as Savior he must know his own need for salvation. We must look on him whom we by our sins have pierced, and lament.


The second reading, from Galatians, like Zechariah, is challenging. It’s at first hard to see what it is saying and even harder to see how it fits with the others. I point out this difficulty to encourage us to undertake a kind of liturgical lectio divina by juxtaposition. Sometimes the richest insights come from putting two seemingly unrelated passages next to one another, and gazing on them until their connection comes into focus.

In this reading, Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

It is the classic passage where grace seems to destroy nature. It works from extrinsic to intrinsic. Jew or Greek is a matter of nationality; so frivolous to think that one nation is holier than another. Slave or free at least hints at individual differences – the ancient world, well aware that slavery was mostly based on unjust historical accidents, debated whether there at least might in theory be some reason that one man would be lord over another.

And then comes gender itself. We follow the same debate today: if racism is wrong, shouldn’t we outlaw gender, too? If grace transcends nationality, doesn’t it also eliminate sexual differences?

Paul’s answer is subtle.

He does not think nature, or biology, is irrelevant. Less than two chapters later in Galatians, he will put “sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality” alongside “idolatry, strife, and jealousies” as exemplary rejections of the Spirit. God’s Spirit does not make us forget that we are woman and man – God teaches us to live our identities more truly.

And yet in this week’s passage, Paul warns us against mentalities of privilege. Yes, nationality and gender remain – but they are no reason to look down on one another, no reason not to love. Deeper than our natural differences, we are all “heirs according to the promise,” “children of God through faith.”

Paired with our other readings, this passage in Galatians reminds us to beware our tendency to fall into earthly ways of thinking – the ways of thinking that crucify Christ and deny our own crosses. Instead, let us lament our lack of love and cry out again to him who loves us.

How does your sense of privilege stand in the way of true conversion?

Eleventh Sunday: A Severe Mercy

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

2 SAM 12:7-10, 13; PS 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11; GAL 2:16, 19-21; LK 7:36-8:3

Sheldon Vanauken, a master of the English language, wrote an autobiography called A Severe Mercy, about the premature death of his wife.  The name comes from one of the many letters in the book from his friend C.S. Lewis.  It is the only book that has ever made me weep, and I recommend you read it.

But Scripture is better.  Last Sunday’s readings give us a deeper insight into the severity of God’s mercy, the Cross that is united to our healing.


The Old Testament reading was the repentance of David, after his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, Uriah.

The first thing to notice is that the Psalm that follows is not Psalm 51, which David seems to have composed to express this repentance.  It doesn’t need to be Psalm 51, because the repentance that Psalm expresses is not rare.  Repentance is everywhere in the Bible.


In the story itself, God threatens David: “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have looked down on me.”  It is this threat that evokes David’s repentance: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”

But you might have noticed that the reading skips some verses: “2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13.”  In verses 11 and 12, the threats go deeper: God threatens to give David’s wives to adulterers, to treat him as he has treated others.  And in the verses immediately after, despite David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness – “Nathan answered David, ‘The Lord on his part has forgiven his sins, you shall not die’” – nevertheless, God does punish David by the death of the son he has conceived with Bathsheba, and David is so upset that his servants fear “he might do himself harm.”

David repents, but sin has consequences.  


We can think of the consequences as God’s choices: God does not want us to take sin lightly – and, more important, he does not want us to take his mercy lightly – so he shows us the depravity of sin.  

But we can also think of them as natural (and so as a deeper form of God’s providence).  Sin does have consequences.  When we act against marriage and the family, it takes no special act of God to harm our families.  It is David himself who has brought the punishment.  

Sin is horrible.  That’s why God wants to save us from it: because it is the reverse of the goodness he wants to show us.  God didn’t hurt David’s child, David did.  God made marriage and family, David unmade it.

That’s what it means when God so often punishes “even unto the third and fourth generation”: our sin itself has repercussions that hurt ourselves and our families, for a long time.  That’s why God wants to save us from sin.  That’s how good God is.


In the reading from Galatians, Paul tells us we are “not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”  (I pray that, now that the Magisterium has restored readings in the vernacular, we will rediscover this message.)

Goodness is God’s creation.  God alone made marriage and family, and God alone makes us able to live it.  Alone, we only unmake things.

But St. Paul goes further.   “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.  I live by faith in the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself up for me.”  

Sin has negative consequences – and Christ has joined us in those negative consequences.  He has taken on the “punishment” – the inherent pain – that comes from sin.

And so we are not alone.  We can rise again because those punishments themselves can become the place where we rediscover the good we have lost.  Christ does not unmake the punishment of sin, he redeems it.  As we experience the horror of sin, he fills us with his love – because he is there, with us in the fiery furnace.


The Gospel is the sinful woman who anoints Christ’s feet with an alabaster flask of ointment.

The Pharisee thinks, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

But Christ does know.  He knows.    

Jesus says that the sinner “whose larger debt was forgiven” will love him more.  He knows that her debt becomes a path to union, when she does her best to repay it.  The ointment is costly.  Her sin costs her.

But deeper than repayment, “she wept.”  Elsewhere we read that “Jesus wept.”  

It is not in turning away from the pain that we find God, but in the hurt itself.

Where are you experiencing the punishment of sin?  How could you make that hurt a path of love?

Lead Us Not: The Anointing of the Sick

seven sacramentsWe come at last to the end of our series on the Seven Sacraments and the Our Father. We conclude with the strangest, and perhaps the most interesting, part of each.

The Anointing of the Sick is a strange sacrament. Like Confession, it deals with things we don’t like to think about.  The old name was Extreme Unction. Unction and Anointing are two translations of the same idea. The classic verse for the sacrament is James 5:14: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” The Greek for “anointing” is a slightly eccentric word, from which the Latin tradition gets “unction.” But the “oil” is the standard olive oil always referred to by “anointing.” In short, anointing and unction are two words for the same thing.

The bigger difference is “extreme” and “sick.” The old name emphasizes that the sacrament has to do with facing death (in extremis). But there was a bit of an abuse that grew up in the early modern period, parallel to the withholding of other sacraments, whereby this sacrament wasn’t given until you were basically dead. The new name, “of the sick,” is supposed to highlight that yes, it’s about facing death – but we face death before we’re dead.

All in all, this sacrament is about that strangest fact of human life: death – and the way that Jesus is present to anoint us at the hour of our death.


Meanwhile, our final two petitions of the Lord’s Praye r– or are they one? – are even stranger. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Lead us not? It’s not, “lead us out,” which would make sense, but “do not lead us.”  Are we really worried that God will lead us “into temptation”?  And why is it “but” deliver us? That’s a curious word, suggesting a connection between the two phrases that is not obvious.


If we think about the Anointing of the Sick, with some help from the Greek of the Our Father, we can get some insight.  The word for “temptation,” peirasmon, is about testing. It has the suggestion both that we can pass the test – and that we are being put to the test, facing something really difficult.  There are many tests in life – but the ultimate test is death. How will we react? Will we submit to temptation – the temptation to despair, to deny God’s mercy? All of the little tests of our life prepare us for this one. All the little times we are challenged lead us to this ultimate challenge, where we will either accept God’s mercy, extended through the sacrament of Anointing, or reject it, as we so often reject God when put to the test.


The next key word, however, is “into.” The prayer does not talk about being led while “in” temptation, but about being leading “into” temptation. This is even stronger in the original languages, but “into” talks about your ultimate destination. To be led “into” a house is to end in the house. To be led “through” a house is to end on the other side.

Perhaps what we are saying is, yes, God will give us tests. It is God himself who, somehow, in some hard to understand way, gives us death as the ultimate healing from sin. But death is not meant to be our end. Too many people – and too many of us, too many times – go “into” temptation, but never come through on the other side. If God is going to give us the test, we pray that he lead us “through.”

If you lead me to temptation, let me not end in it.


The prayer expresses this idea with the word “but.” Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. “But” signals that these are not two separate petitions. Deliver us from evil is the alternative to being led into temptation. The test itself can be our ultimate destination – we can end in death, and despair, and emptiness – or it can end with our liberation from evil.

You likely know that the “evil” of our English translations is a bit abstact compared to the Greek. In Greek, it’s in the masculine, not the neuter. Neuter would signal a thing, but masculine signals a person. And it is a definite article, “the evil one,” not just abstract “evil.” The evil one – the word has overtones of both “hurtful” and “guilty” – wants to claim us. He wants us to end in despair. We will face the evil of death – but let us be delivered by it from the grips of the destroyer.

We pray for God to lead us through the test, to pour his anointing oil on our tests, and make death itself our final liberation from evil and sin.

If you had to predict based on how you dealt with the tests of this day, how would you expect to relate to God at the hour of your death? How could you prepare for that final test better?

Tenth Sunday: The Power of the Word


St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

1 KGS 17:17-24; PS 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; GAL 1:11-19; LK 7:11-17

Last Sunday our readings talked about prophets and healing.  The connection goes deeper than it first appears.

We are at last back to Ordinary Time.  In this third year of the cycle, we are reading through Luke’s Gospel in order.  In this section of the year, we are also reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians; since we are reading both of these things in order, the connections are somewhat coincidental, typically rich but subtle.  But the Old Testament reading is chosen for its explicit connection to the Gospel.

The Gospel for this tenth week is the widow of Nain; the Old Testament widow of Zarephath is an obvious parallel.  In both cases, a widow has lost her only son.  There are immediate emotional resonances.  These resonances are powerful, but they go deeper.

In both cases, the man of God–Elijah and Jesus–accomplishes one of his greatest miracles by bringing the young man to life.  Elijah is thus a “type,” a pre-figurement, of Jesus.  The Old Testament is like a prism, separating the intense light that is Jesus into myriad lesser lights.  The prism makes a rainbow – and all those colors are contained in the white light that enters the prism.  Jesus contains the greatness of Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Elijah, and all the rest.  The stories of Elijah bring out certain parts of the greatness of Jesus.  

But it is deeper than it seems.


In each case, the response is not just about the emotional experience of receiving the dead son.  The widow of Zarephath says to Elijah, “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God.”  The miracle points beyond the gift it gives, to the power from which that gift is given.  It testifies beyond itself, to Elijah’s message.  She adds something deeper and more specific: “The word of God comes truly from your mouth.”

So too, the people who surround the widow of Nain say to Jesus, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst” and “God has visited his people.”  This is the essence of a miracle: not only that something remarkable is done, but that it points beyond itself, to God’s deeper gifts of presence to his people.

In both cases, they note that the wonder worker is a prophet, a speaker.  “The word of God comes truly from your mouth.”  

The prophet speaks to God and for God.  “Elijah called out to the Lord.”  He remonstrated: “O Lord, my God, will you afflict even the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son.”  And he pleads with God: “O Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child.”  And “The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah.”  

Elijah is a prophet – one from whom we hear God’s word – because he is first a man of prayer, someone who speaks to God and is heard.  Yes, the miracle testifies to God’s favor in him.  But it goes deeper.  There is something deeper here, about speaking with the Lord.


It goes even deeper.  Elijah’s prayer emphasizes the breath of the young man.  (I am on vacation and don’t have my Bible software, but I think there are important Hebrew words here about the Spirit and the Word.)  “Let the life breath return to the body of this child.”  “The life breath returned to the body of the child.”  It is not just life that comes to the young man, but the power of speech.

In the Gospel, the same thing is explicit.  “The dead man sat up and began to speak.”  The gift of God, the gift of life, is the gift of speech.

These prophets, these men who speak God’s word, are men who speak to God and give the power of speech.  God’s spirit, his own power of speech, empowers them to prayer, it empowers them to speak his word, it empowers them to put the word into others.  God’s word that made the world gives life and speech to us.

There is more going on than we realize when God gives us his word in Scripture.  The Bible itself is this power of life-giving speech, God’s word become ours.


And this is the theme at the beginning of Galatians.  Galatians 1 is the central discussion of what it means to be an Apostle.  Paul is confirming the authority of his preaching.

Here, the first authority is a different kind of healing.  Whereas Elijah is proved a prophet by giving breath to the young man, Paul is proved a prophet by the changing of his speech, from persecution of the Church to proclamation.  Elijah and Jesus gave speech to the young men whom they raised from the dead; Paul was dead not in body but in speech, and Jesus restored him by giving him new speech.

Paul emphasizes that he didn’t need to learn the Gospel.  This is a strange theme: Paul did not become an apostle because he read it in a book or learned from tradition, but because God’s spirit, God’s breath, was in him inspiring his speech.  

And yet for this reason, Paul himself becomes a font of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium.  And so the central act of his conversion is to go spend fifteen days “conferring” – that is, speaking – with Peter and James, the leaders of the Apostles.  

Their words are inspired.

How can you let yourself be filled with God’s speech?

The Two Hearts and the Rosary

sacredheartThis past Friday and Saturday we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  These feasts go together: the fruit of the Heart of Jesus is the Heart of Mary, the source of Mary’s heart is Jesus’.

But before we speak of these two hearts, we should speak of Jesus’ own two hearts.  The Sacred Heart itself is a celebration of the union of God’s heart with man’s.  The Sacred Heart is God’s heart beating in man’s, or man’s heart beating in God’s.  

This is the mystery of grace: the love of God poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5).  St. Thomas makes a kind of analogy of grace.  He speaks of the Incarnation as “the grace of union,” distinct from but analogous with sanctifying grace.  Sanctifying grace enters our hearts to unite us to God.  The grace of union is the deepest reality of Jesus.  

They are different, as the difference of being Son of God by nature and son by adoption.  In the case of Jesus, it is inseparable from who he is; in our case, a change must come about, and it can be undone.  

But they are similar, for in each case it is the union of God and man.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what Jesus desires for us.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what happens in the heart of Mary: God’s love poured into our hearts, total union of God and man.


The rosary is a kind of meditation on this union of the two hearts.  It is a meditation, first, on the life of Jesus, of God’s love in the human life of Jesus — and most deeply, in his human heart.  But it is a meditation, second, on Mary’s participation in these mysteries.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what happens in the heart of Mary.

In the Eastern Church, they constantly rediscover the icon of the face of Christ, even tracing its outline with their fingers.  In the rosary, we retrace the face of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, rediscovering over and over again his mystery, which is the mystery that he recreates in us.


The Hail Mary is a meditation on the mystery of the two hearts.  It has three acts, tracing three directions in the relation between these two hearts.

The first act commemorates the action of Jesus’s divine heart on Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”  What does it mean to say Mary is full of grace?  It means that the Lord is with her.  Praying this prayer alongside the mysteries of the rosary, we see the heart of the Lord who is with her.  The Lord – the Lord whose heart is on the cross, or in agony in the garden, or rising to heaven, or making wine at Cana, etc. – that Lord, is with Mary.  

The fruit of his presence is that his heart is impressed on hers.  That is what “full of grace” means: he is with her, and acts on her.  And what he brings about is a re-creation of his heart in hers.


immaculateheartThe second act commemorates the similarity of the two hearts: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”  His blessing is her blessing.  And she is truly blessed.  She has all the riches that humanity can receive, the riches that set her above all her kind.  And that is the blessing of the one who, as fruit of her womb, shares in her nature.  He too, her child, has all the riches of humanity.  The two hearts are alike.

(Again and again, as we trace the faces of Jesus and Mary, we turn to their hearts, their innermost depths: that is where they are truly similar.)


Finally, the third act commemorates Mary asking Jesus to share this favor with us:  “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the heart of our death.”  She prays for us, asks God’s blessing on us.  

But what blessings does she ask for?  Well, she is holy – conformed to Jesus.  Because her heart is like his, she asks for the blessings that he considers blessings, the blessings of the heart of Jesus.  

That is why we, who are sinners, so close to death, ask her to pray – because as sinners, we tend to ask for the wrong blessings, so forgetful of the hour of our death and focused on things that do not endure.  She who is holy asks for the blessings of the heart of Jesus.  

And as his mother, mother of God, she has, not power over him, but influence – the influence he chose to give her, in uniting his divine heart to a human heart, becoming her child.

In the mysteries of the rosary, we trace over and over the face of Jesus, the heart of Jesus – the heart he gives to Mary, giving her true likeness to his heart, so that she can beg the same blessing for us.

What do the two hearts mean to you?