Ever tried to peel an artichoke? Do you even know how? I am among the millions who do not know how to peel this prehistoric-looking edible thing. I don’t even know if it is a fruit or a vegetable. In all truth, they very sight of a fully grown artichoke bewilders me. What I do know is that, in the canned food section, I can find a jar of soft and tender artichoke hearts. That is what I go for. I go straight for the heart. (If I was a hunter, I am sure that would be a good slogan…but I can’t hit a target to save my life…never mind a deer!)
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is always followed by a day in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her heart is hidden, just like the heart of an artichoke, and requires a certain level of understanding to access it. Mary is a tender mother who never obscures our vision of Christ; on the contrary, she leads us closer to Him. Many Christians honor Christ, and this is good. Very good, in fact. However, as Catholics, we hold a precious key to the Sacred Heart: the hidden Heart of Mary. Christ came to us through her. Her last words to us were, “do whatever He tells you”. No self-promotion there! I know that some people are afraid to approach her heart for one reason or another. And who wouldn’t be fear-filled? In many images, she has swords sticking out of her heart! How do you get through that tough-looking exterior so as to reach the softness of the heart?
Mary was just another girl in her hometown (a home-girl?) of Nazareth. She was just like everyone, except for one small detail; she was perfect from the first moment of her conception. We call this the Immaculate Conception, and we even hold it as a dogma of the Catholic faith. But what does this denote? Simply put, she had none of the “junk” we got as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. She was free from the stain of Original Sin. This was not because she was some special little girl in God’s eyes…and yet she was. Each human being, regardless of age or statue, is precious in God’s eyes. If God ceased to love you for a single second, you would cease to exist. Not even a “poof” would be left behind. You just would not be. In singling Mary out to be the Mother of His Son, God made her perfect. Would you not want to make your own mother flawless in every way before being born to her? That’s what God did.
Mary, however, was not immune to suffering, and that is what those swords represent. They are the battle scars of love, caused by the struggle between good and evil. The artichoke looks tough, but it’s only a result of its survival mechanisms. If the heart was laid out for all, it would quickly become overly familiar to us, and forgotten. If Mary’s heart was not surrounded by sorrows, we would take it for granted. Furthermore, we would not dare approach a pain-free heart in times of struggle, because we need to be consoled by someone who has suffered also. Mary has suffered, but she has also triumphed, in the shadow of the Cross, over the greatest suffering—eternal separation from God.
The artichoke looks like a mean green food-like machine, but it is not so challenging once you come to understand it. In like manner, Mary may at first appear like a pierced and inked diva, until you come closer and realize that the piercings are swords of sorrow, and the ink is His Precious Blood. Mary’s heart longs to embrace each of God’s children, but she will not force herself upon us. She is a hidden mother. What is her only message? “Do whatever He tells you.”