Friday, 21 February 2014

Saint Robert Southwell

Today we celebrate the life of the Jesuit Martyr, Robert Southwell.  Born  in Norfolk in 1651, and subsequently became a priest . He was arrested, and remained in jail for three years before being brutally martyred in 1595.  He is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, canonized in 1970. Read more here.

He was a poet and writer of considerable ability.  I have a special regard for one of his poems from  St. Peter's Complaint - I think it is very much a poem of the Sacred Heart.
Icon of St Robert Southwell

By Saint Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

This beautiful poem came to my mind as I remembered him today at Mass in the Anglican Cathedral of St. Albans.  For many years a Catholic mass has been celebrated - most Fridays - in the Lady Chapel.  It is always a special mass - none more so than today as we recall the brutal execution of St. Robert Southwell for the crime of being a Catholic priest. I wish that more Anglican Cathedrals would make a little space for us Romans to attend  the Holy Mass in our ancient Cathedrals!

The Collect was especially appropriate:

'O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling place pleasing to you.'

St. Robert Southwell, pray for us so that one day we too will dwell in the furnace of the Lord's 'faultless breast'. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Reading the icon with Catherine Docherty

At the outset of this blog I was determined to let the blog go where it will.  That is,  to allow the reading of the icon and my own ‘lectio divina’ inform and shape one another.  And in keeping with that approach the writings of  Servant of God, Catherine Docherty,  have just been bubbling to the surface of late. So I guess I should just go with the flow.  She was, of course,  a truly remarkable woman.   Read about her life and work HERE.  and HERE .

By calling people servants of God, and venerable and blessed and ultimately saints, the Church is guiding our spiritual pilgrimage and showing us models of holy lives from which we should learn.  Catherine, by any standard, is a pretty challenging lady to imitate – and her writings are a wonderful treasury of wisdom. As a Russian she naturally had a love of icons and I think that she provides a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. She is clearly is becoming a bridge between the two  - for which we must all thank God. ( see HERE )  Like Catherine Docherty icons are also a bridge between Christian traditions and that is, I think, why they are such an important aspect of  healing the wounds of Christianity.  Two things about her writings which have struck me. The first is that she is very visual.  An example of this visual quality of her writing is her description of the Trinity. When I first read it I wondered if Ian had been aware of  her comments because it is captures what this icon of the Sacred Heart is about perfectly. ( Must ask him when I see him next!)  In the Constitution of Madonna House she says this :

To me the Trinity is fire, flame and movement. It is like an immense disk from the ends of which shoot out huge flames, the whole of which cover the cosmos. But this is not all. I feel myself being drawn into the center of this fire, flame and movement as if into the eye of a hurricane. I am enveloped in it and I envelop it! Because, incredible as it might seem, the Trinity dwells within me.  I am its temple even while I am, in a manner speaking, in its center.  To use human words to explain an unexplainable mystery, I would say that the tips of the wings of the Spirit – for there seemingly are wings – in this movement, in this fire, touch the tip of my heart. Within this movement and this fire, the Father bends over me, as fathers do, with an infinite gentleness, tenderness, and love; and Jesus Christ is at my side, strangely reflecting the face of the Father, whom no person can see and live – unless it is reflected by his Son. 

Precisely, a Cosmic God, who is our loving father and bends down to us with an infinite gentleness, tenderness and love.  The Trinity loves us with a human heart and wants to touch our hearts. Elsewhere she describes the Liturgy of the mass as a  ‘sea of fire into which we plunge and come out burning’.  All very teilhardian!*   The second thing which strikes me about her writings is that, just like Teilhard, she believed that the Sacred Heart was a devotion for the future, not just to be left in the past. ( Although it does have a very long past. ) She believed, like him, that we desperately need the Sacred Heart more than ever before! We need to rediscover the heart of Jesus.

The liturgy is slowly doing away with many private devotions. Yet, it will never do away with the devotion to the Sacred Heart because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the essence of the liturgy expressed in simple and human terms.  For man, the heart has always been a symbol of love. The liturgy was born out of love, Love who is a person, who is God. It is inextricably interwoven with that symbol of love, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Long ago and far away an ordinary man called John laid his head on the breast of Christ and listened to the heartbeats of the Lord. Who can venture to guess what that man felt as he heard the beat of that mighty heart? None of us can ever be in his place, but all of us could hear, if we would but listen, the heartbeats of God, the song of love he sings to us whom he has love so much. If we love him back we can learn from everything, from every creature, the answering song of love that should dwell in our hearts daily. If we stop to listen to the liturgy of nature, to its rhythm, to its songs of obedience to the laws of the Creator, we could hear and learn how to sing our love song back to the God of love. If we listened to the songs of the city, to the noises that sometimes irritate us, we would realize that even they, in their own way, praise God. The songs of the machines would praise God too if we kept them where they belong—as our servants and not our masters. Yes, even the machines could teach us how to return the love of the Sacred Heart. If we meditated deeply on the Eucharist and on the themes of the Liturgy of the Hours, we would distinctly hear the loving, powerful, immense heartbeats of God. We would hear more; we would hear that heart speaking to us. If we meditated on the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist we would not only hear his heartbeats, we would hear our hearts beating in unison with his, we would be united with our Lord and our God. So let us enter the great silence of our own souls. Let us pray there humbly, loving, plunging into the riches of the Sacred Heart. Then we shall know God in a way that no book can tell us or teach us. Then we will love him so passionately, so tremendously, so utterly and completely, that it will become simple for us to be the kind of Christians we must be. We will not have to say very much. We will only have to walk upright, crying the gospel with our lives, reflecting our Lover in our faces. The world needs the Sacred Heart. The world needs human hearts united to the Sacred Heart. Without love the world is very dark. Let us arise and resurrect the world by bringing love to it and it to God.
from The Gospel Without Compromise, (1976, pp 79-80),
Go here for text - see ' Heartbeats and love songs'.

Catherine Docherty is arguing that the devotion to the Sacred Heart  is an important Catholic devotion  because it is the ‘essence of the liturgy’ in ‘simple and human’ terms.   But, of course, by the 1970s it was falling out of favour.  Not the least of the reasons for this was the iconography with which the devotion was associated.  Even people like Teilhard were uncomfortable with the image and the kind of popular piety it tended to foster.  For example, Henri Nouwen ( a favourite author of Pope Francis, apparently) - who was to write the most powerful  set of meditations on the Sacred Heart - admitted that he came to the devotion rather late in life. In his ( must, must read book ) Heart Speaks to Heart,  Nouwen admits that he had ‘never felt any great desire to pray to the ‘Sacred Heart’’.

Nineteenth –century piety and the statues in which that piety was expressed had kept me away from the devotion that for many people had been very nurturing. (p 11 Kindle edition) 

This blog shows that I was in the same boat - with a lot of other Catholics of my generation who just did not get it!  But Docherty argues that we must – as a matter of some urgency – rediscover the Sacred Heart. We need it.  It is not a optional part of the Catholic faith : it is the Catholic faith!  Nouwen - eventually - came to the same conclusion. We need the Heart of Jesus  because it is a meeting point – a hearth – around which all kinds of Catholics - and all kinds of Christian - can gather : it is a devotion which unites both ‘traditional’ and more ‘non-traditional’  Catholics.  For Catherine Docherty a Christianity practiced ‘ without compromise’ needs the heart of Jesus. She was right when she said it, and even more right today when Christianity needs nurturing - big time.

She also makes a point which we find in  Teilhard when he said that , ‘The great secret, the great mystery, is this: there is a heart of the world..and this heart is the heart of Christ.’   She tells us to listen to this heart – like John listened to the heart of Christ at the last supper.  Listen to the heart of Christ in the  liturgy of nature; listen to the heart of Jesus in the Eucharist;  listen to the heart of the saviour in the song of the city and the noise of machines; enter into the great silence in our own souls and listen. The heart of Jesus is beating in the world, but wants to beat inside us. Be quiet, and open your ears and heart, and listen. That was her message. Wonderful words from a wonderful woman!
* I note that on p 37 of The Gospel Without Compromise she commends Teilhard for expressing 'eternal  truths in a way more understandable to modern man' and praises his ability to bring the scientific world and God's revelation into a new synthesis.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Feast of St. Claude de la Colombière.

In an earlier post I mentioned, en passant, that Servant  of God Catherine (Kolyschkine de Hueck )Doherty (1896–1985)  argued in her famous  (must read) book, The Gospel Without Compromise,  that the story of our relationship to God was a passionate love affair.  ( Not like, but was.) It is interesting to note that so many of the saints and mystics who are associated with the heart of Jesus saw and experienced the Sacred Heart in these kind of terms: as a passionate and intense love affair.  We see this in the prayers of those women and men who are closely associated with the development and propagation of the devotion to the heart of Jesus.  Today we remember someone who was to bring the devotion to London in 1676 - St. Claude de la Colombière, S.J (1641- 1682).

As a Jesuit website outlines:  'In 1675 Claude was named rector at the Jesuit college at Paray-le-Monial, France. While in Paray, Colombiere became the spiritual advisor for Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The Lord was revealing to Margaret Mary visions of his compassionate heart for the world. Margaret Mary was filled with anxiety and uncertainty about what she was experiencing. The Lord instructed through Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque that the world be devoted to his Sacred Heart. Colombiere assured Sr. Margaret Mary that her visions were authentic. He also instructed her to write down all that she had experienced. In accepting the authenticity of Margaret Mary’s visions, Claude de la Colombiere pledged himself to the mission of spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.'
 Read more HERE

He was canonized by Blessed John Paul in 1992.

St. Claude was a scholar and noted preacher who was utterly convinced by St. Margaret Mary – unlike her fellow sisters who were very skeptical, if not quite hostile towards her.  Reading the account of her experiences it is not difficult to understand why: they show a young woman who must have been quite difficult to live with - who was passionately and totally in love with Jesus. Her autobiography does indeed read like a love story. She is physically sick with love, longing and desire for Christ, her Lord and her God, her lover and her spouse.  Above all things she wished to be drawn closer and closer  to His heart.  The love story reaches its climax on the feast of John the Beloved Disciple – who rested his heart on the breast of Christ – on the 29th December 1673 when she received the first of her ‘great revelations’ and rests her head upon His Sacred Breast. She offers her heart to Jesus and He places her heart within His ‘Adorable Heart’.

St Claude, thank God,  believed her great love story, and it was his life’s work to promote the devotion to the Sacred Heart – a mission which was subsequently embraced by the Society of Jesus.

Now I have to confess that I feel uncomfortable reading her autobiography because it is so very intimate and personal.  Being a scholar, however,  St. Claude naturally told her to write it down so that these experiences could be read by others.  In the history of the devotion her account is not ‘off the curve’, but actually very representative of the experience of so many saints and holy men and women before and since.  What we see in the lives of so many saints is that  God desires us. God loves us with fire and passion.  God desires to give His love and receive our love in the most intimate sense.  But, in Jesus, the Holy Trinity shows us that God will not force himself upon us.   St. Francis de Sales, who ( with St. Jane Frances de Chantal)  established the order of which St. Margaret Mary was a member,  put this very beautifully when he asked:

But what are then the ordinary cords whereby the divine providence is accustomed to draw our hearts to his love? … we are not drawn to God by iron chains, as bulls and wild oxen, but by enticements, sweet attractions, and holy inspirations, which, in a word, are the cords of Adam, and of humanity, that is, proportionate and adapted to the human heart, to which liberty is natural. The band of the human will is delight and pleasure. We show nuts to a child, says St. Augustine, and he is drawn by his love, he is drawn by the cords, not of the body, but of the heart. Mark then how the Eternal Father draws us: while teaching, he delights us, not imposing upon us any necessity; he casts into our hearts delectations and spiritual pleasures as sacred baits, by which he sweetly draws us to take and taste the sweetness of his doctrine.  (Treatise on  the Love of God, Book 3, chapter 12)

Blessed Henry Suso, another great promoter of the devotion, put it this way:

Oh, eternal wisdom!... how skillfully you play the game of love; how well you can adapt yourself to the one you desire! Who else would woo his beloved as long as you do? Who would wait as patiently? Who else would remain as constant, in face of so many rebuffs, as you do, gentle, faithful, adorable Lord and Spouse of all loving souls? And because of all this, my own soul leans toward you, for you are the Good that—through its essential goodness—draws to itself all the ends of the earth....
Up, my children, the time has come!... Open the door, unlock your heart, let your lover enter, make up for the long time you have wasted by giving yourself to him in tender, devoted love. ( in his Sister's Guide) 

God loves us. Therefore, God plays a ‘game of love’: He does not force us to love him.  But this game is played out differently with every person - because every person is unique and special - thus He 'adapts'  Himself to 'woo' us. Nobody can make another love them – and many have tried.  Love is about an exchange of hearts.  In Jesus God has given His heart.  He waits patiently for ours. As St Louise de Marillac expressed it:

Let us remember that God…has chosen never to put force upon our will. Let this be deeply impressed upon your heart: God in his love for us has desired to save us by his Son, but our salvation is not his will unless it is ours also. ( in Saunders, ed Some Counsels of Saint Vincent de Paul..p14) 

St Claude de la Colombière realized that  the devotion to the Sacred Heart was a powerful way in which we human beings could begin to grasp something of the enormity of  the fire and passion  of Divine Love.  On this special day we can pray one of his prayers:

O God, what will you do to conquer the fearful hardness of our hearts?
Lord, you must give us new hearts, tender hearts, sensitive hearts,
to replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze.
You must give us your own Heart, Jesus. Come, lovable Heart of Jesus.
Place your Heart deep in the center of our hearts
and enkindle in each heart a flame of love as strong,
as great, as the sum of all the reasons
that I have for loving you, my God.
O holy Heart of Jesus, dwell hidden in my heart,
so that I may live only in you and only for you,
so that, in the end, I may live with you eternally in heaven.

The Sacred Heart is nothing less than a request from God to come and dwell in your heart.   Jesus waits patiently for you to unlock your heart.

St Claude de la Colombière, pray for us.
St Margaret Mary, pray for us. 
All saints of the Sacred Heart, pray for us. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Sacred Heart: The greatest love story ever told!

Early February is a time when we see hearts all over the place. St. Valentine’s day illustrates all too well the very long association of the heart as a universal symbol of love – especially of romantic or erotic love.  In C.S. Lewis’s famous book on the ‘The Four Loves’ he discusses the difference between the kind of love that we associate with ‘St. Valentine’s Day’.  Cards are sent to those we love in a romantic or erotic ( eros, ἔρως)  way, but also to those we love in a ‘philial’ ( φιλία )  way- that is tokens of friendship: to show we ‘love our friends’.   You can even get Valentine cards for your family members to show our ‘affection’ ( or ‘storge’, στοργή ). Indeed, you can get a Valentine card for practically any kind of  ‘loving' relationship.  (That includes your ‘teacher’- but I  have never seen one for your college ‘professor’!)  The heart symbol in many way is what we might term in economics a ‘debauched currency’  - it is a means of exchange which has lost its credibility.

The 4th kind of love discussed by Lewis is, of course ‘agape’ (ἀγάπη)  – selfless love.  In Latin, caritas or charity. It is this kind of love which is the highest Christian virtue .  The highest because ‘Deus caritas est’ —"God is love." (1 John 4:8).  As the ultimate symbol of Divine Love the Sacred Heart  asks you to think about agapic love – the love which has God as its main source.  The Catechism states that :

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own "to the end," he makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you". (Catechism, 1822-23)

The relationship between God – who is love – and humanity is a love story. Indeed, it really is the greatest love story ever told. As ( Servant of God) Catherine  Doherty (who had a great love for the devotion to the Sacred Heart)  once wrote, the story of the relationship between God  and humanity is  about a passionate love affair:

For too many people, the Christian faith is a series of dogmas and tenets to be believed, commandments and precepts to be observed and obeyed in a negative fashion. Of course Christians should believe in the dogmas of their faith; of course they must observe the commandments. But Christians must also realize, with a joy that can scarcely be expressed, that the Christian faith, in its essence, is a love affair between God and man. Not just a simple love affair: It is a passionate love affair. God so loved man that he created him in his image. God so loved man that he became man himself, died on a cross, was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven—and all this in order to bring man back to himself, to that heaven which he had lost through his own fault.+

If you would like to read more about Servant of God, Catherine Doherty (1896 – 1985), go HERE and HERE .  (And the title 'Servant of God', is the first stage in the process of becoming recognised as a saint  - canonization - in the Catholic Church.) 

Catholics, of a certain age, who still know large chunks of the ‘penny catechism’ by heart were taught the concise version of this great love story:

Who made you?
God made me.
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next.

We were made to know God and love God.  When human beings do not know God and do not love God, they truly cannot be fully human.  We were made to love God, and were made to love God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. That is agape. St Augustine said it best in his Confessions:

Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

This means  that no amount of the other kinds of love can ever complete us as human beings. Human beings – as we see every day in the newspapers – can have everything they can possibly desire in this world, and yet still be empty and restless.  Sadly, all too often in such a state they turn to drugs and other kinds of addiction: sex, food, money, violence, power etc.  But, we were made to love God, not ourself.  Adam wanted equality with God,  but  God Almighty desires us so much that he humbled himself to become vulnerable like us! That is the most amazing love story ever told.   Amazing, because it is true: God loves us and wants us to love Him - passionately! True love is, of course,  about being open hearted and being vulnerable.  Lewis puts it nicely in his book on the four loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The Heart of Jesus is a doorway into that great mystery: that the Almighty God  became utterly vulnerable; and that the God who made all things opens His human heart to us.  In the Sacred Heart He calls us to enter into His heart. We are restless until our hearts rest in the heart of God.  If we just love ourselves - if we 'lock our heart up' - we will never find the rest our hearts desire.  The deadly sins are so called because they really do kill us! If our ego is the centre of our life, we will never be really complete as a human being.  This can only happen when God is our centre - when we open our hearts and give our hearts ( our real self) to God. We only can become like Christ when our heart is open and vulnerable: when we are prepared for our heart to be wounded and pierced.

This icon is asking you to reflect on this love story - on this passionate love affair between you and God!  Humanity is made for love.  We are made to love God with every fibre of our being and  to go on and harness this love, for God. We were made to 'serve Him in this world', through love.  Teilhard put it so well :

Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu. 

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.*

Sacred Heart  Paray le monial - inspired by Teilhard

+ Catherine Doherty, The Gospel Without Compromise, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame. 1976, p77 
You can read  chapter 4 online  HERE.

*Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, L’Évolution de la Chasteté, ( Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris 1973, p92) 

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Sacred Heart in Lichfield

One thing I remember Ian telling us when we received the icon was that it would change our house.  And that proved to be so very true. It has a ‘living’ presence.  By living I mean that it has this way of catching and attracting light that never ceases to surprise.  I can think of no other kind of art that does this!  An icon seems to change and re-order the space around it.  So, living without the icon is rather odd.  We have a copy, but that is not quite the same.  From experience I find it is quite impossible to take a picture of an icon. No photograph can capture the way it ‘moves’.  So, we really miss it!

Boss in St Tudno's Church, Llandudno

With the icon now in the beautiful city of Lichfield I wonder if there are any pre-reformation  images that are concerned with the heart of Jesus in the Cathedral – or the wounds of Christ more generally. I did not see any.  So, when I return I will have another good look around.  Of course, there are remnants of the devotion to the Sacred Heart  - and the four other wounds of Christ scattered all over Churches in the UK – little bits here and there that the iconoclasts of the reformation overlooked!  (Most often, I think, in roof bosses (left) and private devotional material. Or, in images that survived being whitewashed - as in the image of St Thomas in St. Alban's Cathedral - above right.)

As is well-known, the image of the five wounds was the badge and colours of the rebels opposed to Henry VIII’s break with Rome  in the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’, 1536 . No doubt this political use of the wounds of Christ meant that it was not to be an image which was subsequently to adorn the Churches of the reformed ‘Church of  England’.  It was clearly viewed as the dangerous image of the 'old religion'.

And yet, although images of the five wounds fell out of favour,  the symbol of the open heart remained central in the prayers, hymns and liturgy of the reformed and other traditions. * Therefore, I pray that the icon in Lichfield is not seen as a strange Catholic image, but one which can serve to remind all who view it of the fact which was central to the Fathers, Doctors , saints and mystics of the early Church: ‘By His wounds, you have been healed’ (Peter, 2:24).  May it serve to remind all who see it that the Risen Christ made himself known to his disciples by His wounds (John. 20:20).  Thomas, we recall,  would only believe until he had placed his hand into the Saviour’s wounded side (John 20:24-9).  Thus a devotion to the Heart of Christ is a devotion that should help to heal the wounds of a still divided  and wounded Christianity.  The Sacred Heart reminds us that to be a Christian is to love and care for all who are wounded and all with a broken or a hard heart.   Like the disciples, we are called to recognize Jesus by His wounds. Will he recognise us by our wounds?

Hence, in the icon the five wounds are shown in glowing gold rather than bloody red.  As Christians we venerate the Glorious Wounds of the Risen Christ - for by them we are redeemed.  All an image can do is to remind us of this central doctrine of our faith.  Christ’s heart was opened to provide a doorway into the New Life.  This image was central to  Christians for hundreds of years past – it should also be a unifying image for the future. In the past the wounds of Jesus would have been seen as a divisive image- now, and in the future they should be seen as a symbols of our common faith, hope and love.

As David Williams argues:

The message of the Five Wounds is that we must have a concern in this life for the wounded nature of our lives and those of others, for the wounds in the side of the Church - its disunity, for the wounds in society... When our hearts are moved by them, when we pray for them and give alms to help them, then in a minimal but real way we share in the suffering of the Wounded Christ' ( The Five Wounds of Jesus, p 9)

*An excellent book on this very topic of the Sacred Wounds amongst Evangelical and  Reformed Christians is  The Five Wounds of Jesus by Dr. David  H. Williams, Gracewing, 2004

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The presentation of the Lord

Mary - Softener of Evil Hearts
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Today we remember the heart of the Blessed Virgin. In Luke we read of Simeon's prophecy - that her immaculate heart would be pierced so that the hearts of humanity could be opened. (Luke 2: 22-35).

Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary
(Catholic) Images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary often show the heart/soul  of Mary pierced by a sword- to show her pain and suffering.  She is our mother and a mother who knows the deepest of human pains: the pain of seeing one we love suffering.  Mary suffers with us.

This idea of Mary suffering is to be found in images of  Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows and  Our Lady of the Seven Dolours (right)  in the Catholic tradition. The sorrows  in such  images are represented by 7 swords piercing her heart. *

This image of Mary with a heart wounded by seven swords  is also one we find in the Orthodox tradition - in  icons of Mary of the Seven Sorrows or Mary - Softener of Evil Hearts (above left). Unlike the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the devotion to the Seven Sorrows  of Mary++ is common to both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Such images remind us that the Blessed Virgin - the Theotokos - is our mother  who understands and shares in  our pain and sorrow.

She stood at the foot of the cross and shared in his pain.
She is with us as we carry our cross. 
She was with Jesus as his heart was wounded.
She is with us when our hearts are wounded.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us, now and at the our of our death.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, To thee do we send up our sighs, Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, And after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Akathist to the Mother of God, Softener of Evil Hearts

Soften our evil hearts, O Theotokos,  and quench the attacks of those who hate us  and loose all straitness of our soul.  For looking on thy holy icon  we are filled with compunction by thy suffering and loving-kindness for us  and we kiss thy wounds;  we are filled with horror for the darts with which we wound thee.  Let us not, O Mother of Compassion,  according to the cruelty of our hearts, perish from the cruelty of heart of those near us,  For thou art in truth the Softener of Evil Hearts.

*The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34-35)
The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:43-45)
Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
Jesus dies on the cross. (John 19:25)
The piercing of the side of Jesus, and Mary's receiving the body of Jesus in her arms. (Matthew 27:57-59)
The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb. (John 19:40-42)

++ The Seven Sorrows of Mary. There are many devotional prayers which consist of meditations on her Seven Sorrows. See, for example  Servite rosary,  the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and the Seven Joys of Mary. The "Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary" refers to the combined devotion of both the Immaculate Heart and the Seven Sorrows of Mary.