A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself. (SIRACH 6:14-17)
The heart that loves without waiting for a reward is a chaste heart.
One of the Marian titles that we find in the Litany of the Virgin Mary is “Virgin most amiable”. Mary is amiable because her heart is virginal, pure, and able to give and receive love. Purity and intimacy are intertwined. For this reason we can look with admiration upon the relationship between Mary and Joseph. For many centuries Joseph was represented in the arts as an old man, so as to “safeguard” Mary’s virginity. Pope John Paul II, in his general audience on August 21st, 1996 said that “we can suggest that Joseph was not an old man when he married Mary. His interior perfection, the result of God’s grace, brought him to live his spousal relationship with Mary with a virginal affection”.
Mary’s question to the angel Gabriel “how is it possible, since I do not know man?” can only be understood in light of her decision to live as a virgin. Upon discovering that Mary is pregnant, Joseph decides to “divorce her quietly.” The traditional Hebrew marriage was celebrated in two different moments. The first phase consisted of a wedding contract; the second took place when the bride and the groom would begin their life together. When the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were therefore not simply engaged to each other, but they were already married, though they had not yet moved to live in the same house.
A famous theologian, Ignace de la Potterie, suggests that Joseph wanted to divorce Mary quietly not because he doubted her innocence; rather because he recognized God’s work in her and did not feel worthy to be a part of the life of the mother of the Messiah. This very same thought had been expressed in the past by both Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
St. Bernard said that “St. Joseph remained chaste out of respect for Mary and he received the gift of the Bread from heaven to be shared with the entire world”. Here the words of the Book of Sirach come to fulfillment. “For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself” (Sirach 6:17). Mary is the woman who, more than anyone else, has the true fear of God. In return, God gives her Joseph, whom the Holy Spirit has shaped to resemble her.
Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the marriage between Mary and Joseph is a true one even though it is not consummated, since in it we find the fundamental elements that guarantee the validity of a marriage: the union of souls, the union of hearts and the consensus. The intimate union between Mary and Joseph has much to say to married couples and to celibates as well. The more we fear the Lord, the more capable of friendship we will be, as attested by the Book of Sirach. Intimacy with God purifies the heart and makes it capable of giving and receiving love. Intimacy with God leads to purity and chastity of the heart, which in turns leads to intimacy with our brothers and sisters. If the heart of the husband and the wife are truly chaste, the union of their souls and the intimacy for which they strive will be even stronger.
If the heart of the celibate person is chaste, then there will be an intense intimacy between them and the people with whom they come into contact. Often the celibate life is misunderstood as an existence doomed to loneliness. The chaste heart is thought of as a cold heart, unable to love. If this were true, we’d reach the paradoxical conclusion that in order to be chaste and to love God we need to close ourselves up in fear to the love of our brothers and sisters. The heart of the celibate person instead is called to be loving towards all.
Both the married and the unmarried are called to be people who love passionately. The Second Person of the Trinity chose to use the love between Mary and Joseph to “advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52). Relationships with others are the means that God has chosen for us, so that we may progress in our relationship with Him. We learn how to love by loving. This is why from time to time we face dangers and temptations. This is where we need God’s help to come and show us what it means to love another in the concreteness of a situation. True love implies at times a drawing closer to the other, while in some circumstances we are invited to keep a healthy distance so to guarantee another’s freedom.
To love truly means to put the other first, even when it costs much sacrifice and it hurts. Consider the words of the song “When my Heart Bleeds”: “My child, I love you, when my heart bleeds, your heart beats, you are mine.” Even Mary’s heart bled united with Jesus’ heart. In the Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion, there is a beautiful exchange when Mary at the foot of the Cross tells her Son: “Flesh of my flesh, bones of my bones, let me die with you.” A sword pierced her heart. The chaste heart is a pierced heart through which multiple graces flow as through a special channel.
Let us read the characteristics of love, of the heart of Mary, as written by St. Paul: Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.(1 COR 13:4-8)
Today, let us ask our loving Mother to make our hearts more like hers. Let us do so with faith and perseverance, knowing that she will intercede for this “miracle” to happen in us.
Mary, make my heart similar to yours. Each day of the month I will try to live one of the qualities of love that Paul offers in his letter to the Corinthians.