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“Salve, radix, salve, porta…” – 12th Century Marian Antiphon
There are many ways to love. There are ways that cut through the different times in our lives and that often dwell together in our hearts.
There are people who love to feel less lonely or to give meaning to their lives. There are those who understand love as a conquest, like a place to go back to when they feel like it. There are those who love their own image, who love an unattainable image of themselves, who are unable to love because they do not make room for others in their lives. There are those who love playing the servant, with the conviction that the only way to be loved in return is by pleasing others.
In love, one can also err. You might fail to understand things; you might get distracted. The drama begins when you begin to hide yourself. It is when things start to work in a relationship that no one fears their own vulnerability: they were naked and unashamed. If I trust you, I am not afraid for you to see my weaknesses. The problem is when I start to hide myself: when I mess up, but I’m unable to take responsibility for it. The problem is when I no longer want to see your vulnerability: when I turn away when I see your weaknesses.
Adam and Eve hide themselves because they are ashamed to be seen by God. They don’t trust Him anymore. How can love be real when the other tries to cover himself with the leaves of a fig tree?
This is the first gesture of God’s mercy: “The Lord God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them” (Gen 3:21). To clothe someone means to take care of them, to give them back their dignity: I was naked and you clothed me becomes one of the corporal works of mercy!
Humanly speaking, it is unthinkable to take care of someone who has just betrayed you, disappointed you, who has chosen to leave you.
But this is immaculate love, that is, the love that has no stain of egoism. Immaculate love is not pure – as in perfect – love, but it is the love that allows itself to be stained by the humanity of the other. Immaculate love is not ascetic love, love that feels no feelings, love that is not moved or that does not suffer doubt.
I hope I never think of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as an insensitive heart!
Mary is not immaculate because she is incapable of having feelings. Mary’s purity is not that of a sterile hospital room!
The Word of God reaches Mary where she is, in her house, in her daily life, in her story. It is there that He asks her to love with an immaculate heart.
Mary chooses to love even though she doesn’t feel ready, though things are unclear, though her path is not a straight one, even though it means not thinking of herself first, though it means caring for another person, though she risks being rejected, misunderstood, ridiculed.
The Immaculate Heart is a paradox because it is a heart that allows itself to be stained by sorrow, that does back out of difficult situations, it is a heart that is fully involved, committed.
Be careful not to try to have pure, as in untouched, perfect hearts, because, we will end up with hearts that are unable to love anything but themselves.
Questions for personal reflection:
• Try to reflect upon the way you love.
• When is it that you feel like you are truly loving?
Fr. Gaetano Piccolo