12 Jun 2015
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
In most Catholic churches, the main piece of art in the sanctuary is a crucifix. We don’t have that here. Instead, we have the statue of our patron, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And yet, it isn’t quite right to say the crucifix is not here. And that’s because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is what’s behind the crucifix; it’s what led him to the Cross; it’s the indomitable Spirit of divine Love poured out.
The bleeding Heart of Jesus and the open wound on Jesus’ side from which blood and water flow are the same. The human body of Christ is broken open as is the divine Spirit of Christ—they both overflow with blood, with life and divine love. And this gush of Body and Spirit is the love of the Bridegroom for his Bride, the Church.
Some people jokingly say that their wedding day was their funeral. But for Jesus, his funeral—his crucifixion—was his wedding day. It was the day and the place that he gave himself, definitively, to the Church, his Bride given to him by God the Father. And behind that act of spiritual and bodily love for us is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
His love is not given in a spirit of sentimentality, as we so often take “love” to be today. Instead, the sacredness of his love is that it is unconditional; it is freely given and sacrificial; completely selfless and given for the good of those who are open to receive it. This kind of love is, ideally, seen in marriage, in the family, within intimate friendships. And this relational, sacrificial love is central to the Sacred Heart.
The image of husband and wife, where God is the husband and Israel is the wife, is a thread that runs throughout the Old Testament prophets. So, too, is the image of a parent’s love for a child. The prophet Hosea speaks of God who “fostered [Ephraim] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.” It’s a touching image, one that has a sentimental and emotional aspect to it. But beneath that is the more primordial, unconditionally devoted love of a parent for a child. We adore God. But it’s important to remember that God adores us first. That divine adoration is his Sacred Heart poured out for us.
But Hosea notes also that, although God “stooped to feed [his] child, they did not know that I was their healer.” The love of God was not acknowledged nor returned with any gratitude. And that’s the overarching story of Scripture; it’s the story of the whole of salvation history. God loves us and creates us. For a time, humanity returns his love. But then we go on this roller coaster relationship of fidelity and infidelity. We are faithful. We are unfaithful.
But the Sacred Heart of Jesus pours out one last definitive show of divine love for us. And we have the crucifixion, the wedding day when Christ the Bridegroom pours out his love for his Bride the Church. The day when his Sacred Heart moved him to give his whole body, his whole being in love to the Bride, to us. And he says to us: “Return to me.”
That’s the message of the prophets, the message of Christ’s teachings, the message of our Scripture and Tradition as a whole: return to God. Entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to that love which knows no limits, which is eternally forgiving, which is kind, gracious, and merciful.
This is the prayer of St. Paul when he writes to the Ephesians. He kneels before the Father interceding for us so that we might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, . . . [and] be filled with all the fullness of God.” In effect, his prayer is that we be able to pray the psalm from today: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.”
And he shows himself our Savior on the Cross. There, his Sacred Heart is poured out in sacrificial love: the Bridegroom gives himself to the Bride. And he says to her—he says to us: Come to me. Follow me, whose Heart is aflame with love for you.