“Mary’s Memories” is a spiritual concept that encompasses more than our Blessed Mother remembering the past. Saint John Paul II used the concept in his apostolic letter On the Most Holy Rosary (Rosarium Virginis Mariae). In the section titled “Mary, Model of Contemplation,” he writes: “The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary” (RVM 10).
When we pray before an icon, we place ourselves in a powerful space. We are pulled into a sphere of divine energy and mystery. In this space we open ourselves to be touched by grace. This is the fruit of the contemplation that St. John Paul talks about in his apostolic letter. It’s so important that, when writing of Mary, Scripture and the Church often speak about the pondering of the Blessed Virgin.
“Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: ‘She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart’” (RVM 11, quoting Luke 2:19; a similar reference is in verse 51). Her pondering occurs within Luke’s narrative on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In the prophecy rendered by the words of Simeon, “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34–35).
Her pondering is expressed in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The flow of reading it starts with gazing upon her face, where we are captured by her penetrating gaze toward us.
Mary serves as our example. In the icon she points to the Christ Child she holds in her arms and presents him to us. We are called to keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), contemplate the gospels, and follow the teachings of Jesus—the heart and soul of the Christian life.
Ancient Marian writers often presented a reflection on the image of Mary’s heart being pierced by a sword. They suggest that this piercing represents more than the great sorrow she experienced in witnessing the crucifixion, but a process of her own soul being pierced as she gazes on the crucified body of Jesus. It speaks to Mary’s gift of insight into the presence of Christ everywhere in life, through joy, pain, and sorrow.
This is the contemplation of Mary, which is more than simply her recollection of past events. The Greek word used in the Scriptures is translated as “piecing together.” For Mary, pondering was contemplating and meditating on all the events that happened in her life concerning Jesus. Through contemplation, she sees into the deeper, inner meaning of everything happening around her.
Through the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we are invited to do the same. Imitating Mary is what true devotion to our incomparable Blessed Mother is all about. Through contemplative prayer we open our eyes to understand the inner meaning of our everyday lives. During this process we begin to see the many experiences of our lives, which gives us the grace to piece together how the mystery of Christ is being formed in us.