Mater. Children of the Sacred Heart love her because she is young and at the beginning of her journey like them. They rub the toe of her shoe for luck and tuck prayer requests into her sewing basket. “Help my grandma who is dying.” “Help me pass my exam.” “Help us win the game.”
However, like all good icons, Mater remains a window of light and hope even as the perspective and experience of the viewer change. Children of the Sacred Heart often grow up to be powerful change agents in the world. How does this image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, eyes cast down, hands at rest, nourish those who look with unblinking eyes at our wounded world and whose hands are busy trying to make things right?
The most effective advocates for social justice are those who draw on a deep, contemplative source for their inspiration. Think Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi.
St. Madeleine Sophie’s challenge to the women who followed her was to learn to be contemplatives in action; deeply prayerful but at the same time, deeply engaged in the social issues of their time.
In 1845 she writes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” These words come from the Word who is truth—the divine Word. But what is this justice for which we must hunger and thirst? It is God, justice and holiness supreme, he who we long for as our goal…We must become like those who really hunger. Starving creatures throw themselves upon whatever can fill them: they must be held back lest they harm themselves. Give me those who hunger and thirst like that for justice.”
Our Mater is young, but she is already pondering something she has found in the sacred scriptures open at her feet. We can imagine her getting up and responding whole heartedly to a neighbor in need at her door; practicing saying “yes” in small ways in preparation for the more difficult “yeses” ahead of her. “Yes, I will allow myself to be a vehicle of God’s love.” “Yes, I will allow my heart to be broken by injustice and human weakness.” “Yes, I will faithfully continue the work of building the kingdom of God on earth into my old age, even when it all seems futile to human eyes.”
At every climate change demonstration and on every picket line for the right of farm laborers I meet young graduates of Sacred Heart schools, on fire with conviction and driven by the hope of a better world. May they continue to be nourished by the words of St. Madeleine Sophie, the example of Philippine and the wise and loving energy of Christ’s earthly mother.
~ Diane Roche RSCJ