Why the Sacred Heart of Jesus Matters
On June 28 this year, the Church will mark the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with that beautiful image in so many homes around the world. The Sacred Heart issues a call for recognition, gratitude and reparation.
God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”(31:3) and again he cries, “I will put respect for me into their hearts so that they will no longer turn away from me” (32:40).
The prophets remind us that a loving God seeks some acknowledgement of his eternal, ever out-flowing love.
Prophets and saints have over the centuries sought to convey to us the unquenchable love of the invisible God — a truly unconditional love that is neither deserved nor earned.
And so we have the Lord himself displaying his heart ablaze with a fire — blazing not to be consumed — surrounded by thorns, noting the “coldness and ingratitude of men’s hearts”.
Like the undying flame of the bush which confronted Moses on the mountain, the non-consuming flame burns in the heart of Jesus (Ex 3).
St Margaret Mary Alacoque
When the voices of the saints and prophets were no longer heard or listened to, God chose St Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun in the French town of Paray-le-Monial, in 1674 to carry his message to the Church and to the world.
Jesus exposed his human-divine heart to her on several occasions; her diary recalls at least 13 apparitions. He was grieved over “their lukewarm and slothful hearts that dishonour me in the Blessed Sacrament.” (I see that The Southern Cross’ pilgrimage to France in October includes a visit to Paray-le-Monial.)
Already in the 13th century, the Franciscan friar St Bonaventure was mindful of the blood and water that flowed from the dead Christ.
He preached that “God’s providence decreed that one of the soldiers should open his sacred side with a spear so that blood and water might flow to pay the price of our salvation-blood from the secret recesses of his heart, and living water welling up to eternal life”.
Jesus himself declared: “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37).
Significance of the heart for us
Early Christianity was ever-conscious of the heart being pierced on Calvary, although it was only with St John Eudes (1601-1680) that the public devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart was advanced. Pope Leo Xlll (1878-1903) raised it to the status of a feast which we now celebrate on the Friday following the Sunday feast of Corpus Christi.
The brilliant preaching of St Paul pleads that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8). But why the heart? Why do the psalms so often speak to the heart? Why did the prophet Ezekiel so beautifully express: “I shall remove your hearts of stone, and give you a heart of flesh” (36:25)? What is it about the heart?
Jesus’ human heart was to be the symbol of his divine-human love for us all. We understand the human heart to stand for the inner reaches of our human personality.
It connotes the mind, soul, will, spirit, the core of our being. It is that place where a person thinks, remembers, feels, decides and makes decisions.
Mary “stored all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). Mary’s immaculate heart was totally absorbed by God’s love with the inexhaustibility of a mother, pondering deeply the mysteries of Jesus’ life.
The apparitions of the Sacred Heart to St Mary Margaret in the 1600s now seem very appropriate: as it was then, the cold-hearted world is forgetting the power of loving and being loved.
How sad to learn that the gentle Lord has sometimes to break hearts in order to enter them. This is one powerful devotion, one which promises to help us understand the great commandment of love and how to live it in a very cold and troubled world.
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.