By Fr Joe Laramie SJ
In this season of Advent, let us gaze upon the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In Luke 1, we see her as a young woman, engaged to be married. Look at her face, her eyes as she beholds this angel. Beneath her expression, consider the emotions in her heart. The Gospel tells us that she was ‘greatly troubled’ and ‘pondered what sort of greeting this might be.’ She asks, “How can this be?” The angel tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” We may get a personal sense of Mary feeling overwhelmed, confused, and yet drawn into this grand vocation. She looks up and slowly exhales, now closing her eyes. God has been with her every day. In the synagogue, she’s heard the stories of God’s power and might, leading the Jewish people out of slavery, through the Red Sea, and into the promised land. She’s heard words from the prophets about a Messiah who will come to save us. She’s chanted the psalms and pondered them at night: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” A tear forms in the corner of her eye, rolling down her cheek. “And name him Jesus,” says the angel. “Me?” she prays. “You’re asking me? Then, Yes. Fiat. Let it be done to me according to your word.” In this moment, her heart is transformed; now and forever, she has a mother’s heart. This tiny child is formed in her womb. In the days ahead, she will feel the heartbeat of her unborn Son: the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
As we conclude the Year of St Joseph, let us look upon his heart. Joseph hears two words from Mary that change his life. Mary approaches, touches his hand, and looks him in the eye: “I’m pregnant.” She is three months pregnant after visiting Elizabeth; the small bump on her belly confirms her announcement. He looks in her eyes and then looks away. He feels confused and saddened. He may wonder if she has been unfaithful. Perhaps she tries to explain, but it’s hard to put into words. “I was praying and then I heard…and he asked if…”
He is a good man, a faithful man, a righteous man. And his heart is broken. Joseph, “unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” His dreams of fatherhood and family life are shattered. He loves Mary, proposed to her, she accepted, and now it’s over before it began. He prays that night before going to sleep. A tear forms in the corner of his eye, rolling down his cheek. Physically exhausted, he crawls into bed and falls asleep. Then an angel appears to him in a dream: “Do not be afraid… For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. Name him Jesus.” He awakes. Dazed, he looks around the room. He is alone in the dark night. But he wasn’t alone, and isn’t. “Do not be afraid.” That’s easy for angels to say! A light wind blows through the open window. Yellow stars glimmer in the black sky. In the dead of night, Joseph feels quiet and peace. Calm and clear like the sky. “Jesus.” In a moment, his heart is knit together anew. The broken pieces are reassembled by the Spirit. His heart is stronger, bolder. He is ‘heartened,’ and his eyes fill with purpose. From now on, whatever it takes, he will love and serve his bride. He will receive this divine Child into his home, loving Him as if he were his own son.
Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” He finds her, looks her in the eye, and touches her hand. “Mary, I love you and want you as my wife. There’s just one thing. I know what we should name the child.” She smiles and says, “Jesus.”
The Lord knows our hearts and what we need. There is a wonderful ‘unity and diversity’ in this mode of prayer; the one Light of Christ shines uniquely in every human heart.
Fr Joe Laramie SJ is the new national chaplain of the Sacred Heart Enthronement Network. He is the national director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network [Apostleship of Prayer], based in Milwaukee. He is the author of Abide in the Heart of Christ: a 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Ignatius Loyola, based on the Spiritual Exercises.
This reflection is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Love Him Ever More: a 9-Day Personal Retreat with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, set for publication August 2022, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame IN. Fr. Laramie serves as the Spiritual Director of the Sacred Heart Enthronement Network and spoke at our 2021 Sacred Heart Congress.