8 Jun 2018
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
In Catholic churches, the most important piece of art in the sanctuary is a crucifix. And ours is very prominent here by the altar. But what’s behind that crucifix is what we celebrate today: the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; 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 of Jesus’ side on the Cross are the same.
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 that he gave himself, definitively, to the Church, his Bride. And behind that act of spiritual and bodily love for us is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
But 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’s not about him; it’s about his devotion to us. It’s freely given and sacrificial; completely selfless and given for the good of those who are open to receive it. This kind of love is at the root of marriage, the family, committed friendships, and so on. 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. And, 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 that familiar sentimental and emotional aspect to it. But beneath that image is a 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.” 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 and unfaithful; faithful and unfaithful.
But then, in salvation history, the Sacred Heart of Jesus pours out one last show of divine love for his people. And we have the crucifixion, the wedding day when Christ the Bridegroom poured 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 his people. 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 the 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, St. Paul’s prayer is that we be able to pray our 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.