The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated in the month of June. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of my favorite devotions, which I suspect can be traced to my childhood during which this devotion was very popular. I can still hear the robust singing of the hymn, “To Jesus Heart All Burning,” that took place in my parish church at a time when singing in church for Catholics was a rare occurrence. First Friday Mass and devotions were very popular with wide participation by the faithful. The image of Christ with His blood red Heart exposed and His hand pointing to it was everywhere. The revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French Religious, were quite influential on the church. She helped popularize the devotion.
When I was studying theology in the seminary and was introduced to the brilliant reflections on the devotion to the Heart of Jesus by the German theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, I was convinced about its importance. It spoke to me; it helped me to pray better and to understand myself in relation to the mystery of God.
The power of this devotion was demonstrated to me by my Latino parishioners at Saint Teresa Parish on the lower east side of Manhattan. Each year a novena to prepare for the Feast of the Sacred Heart would be organized by the parishioners. It would take the form of traditional novena prayers, the Litany and hymns in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. These exercises in church were followed by small group discussions on themes that were selected by the organizers of the novena.
To this day, I recall some of those themes: the Wounded Heart of Jesus connects to our broken hearts which are in need of the love of God; the Giving Heart of Jesus invites us to give of ourselves in our relationships; the Saving Heart of Jesus who came to earth to save us; the Loving Heart of Jesus enflamed — burning on fire with God’s love for all.
I also recall some of the wonderful insights of the participants in the small group discussions. One evening sitting in one of the groups I listened to a woman who said about the heart of Jesus, “there is room for everyone in the heart of Jesus, even my drug addict son.” Yes. Yes. Yes. I thought. There is. No one, not even the worst sinner, is excluded from the love of God, made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. This is one of many important lessons the devotion to the Sacred Heart offers us.
On another occasion I listened to a man speak about his wounded marriage and the pain it had caused him and his wife and children. He spoke about the Heart of Jesus inviting him to heal those pains by restoring the relationships between himself and his wife and his children. Again, the devotion connected with a real life situation. He saw his broken marital and familial relationships connected to the broken Heart of the Lord Jesus to whom he looked for healing.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes the infinite mercy of Christ. It signifies the wellspring of life. Sometimes our hearts are fearful, cramped, cold, irritable, unloving, worried, etc. We need to go to the Heart of the Lord which was pierced on the Cross to show the depth of God’s love for us. The Lord invites us with these words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
The familiar image of the Sacred Heart invites us into the warmth of the fire of His divine love, wherein we can experience being loved by God, an experience needed by so many. Belief in the love of God is fundamental to our faith. The image of the heart of Jesus says very graphically to the viewer, I love you and I have suffered for you. My sufferings have repaired our relationship. You can help the work of reparation by your offering up to God your struggles and difficulties.
Devotion to the Heart of Jesus draws us to the Person of Jesus Christ who has revealed Himself in time and space out of love for us; who in His Passion and Death has shown the extent of God’s love for us; and who teaches us to love God and have charity toward our neighbors.
To the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praise and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Bishop of Camden