Wednesday 14 June 2023

The Sacred Heart

Love is a funny thing. Materialists will tell us that it is purely the result of a series of electro-chemical responses in the brain, and yet others will tell us that it is the result of fate, the conspiracy of the alignment of the planets or the times we find ourselves in. The heart has long been understood as the centre of a person, a place of knowledge as much as will. It makes us do unreasonable things like acts of unwarranted kindness and altruism and by the edge of its blade we can be hurt in ways that we just can’t speak about. And yet none of these express what love is in itself — only God does that.

On Friday we venerate the Heart of our Lord as the symbol of his human love in which God’s divine love is revealed to us. In most of the prayers to or the meditations on the Sacred Heart, even those very ancient prayers, the woundedness of our Lord’s heart comes to the fore. That heart pierced with a lance and bruised with outrages and blasphemies is a stark and realistic image of the extent to which Christ loves us. Christ, who is the image of the unseen God, the Icon of the Father, shows us precisely what God’s love for us looks like. And it looks like a heart pierced and bruised on account of our sins, yet burning with ardent love for you and for me. This divine love is not for softies.

The time when we celebrate this feast is very fitting. We have come to the end of the Church’s celebration of the mysteries of our redemption: the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Feast of the Blessed Trinity and Corpus Christi. But today we commemorate the divine-human love which motivated them all. In adoring the Sacred Heart, we adore the totality of Christ’s saving work — it represents the way in which God holds nothing back from us. And in order to share his divine life with us, he reaches down into the very depths of our life, even — and especially — where it is painful, difficult to speak of, hidden. By taking it all and joining it to himself, he scoops us up, he enables us to become like him. By sharing our life, and by sharing our pains, he heals us, he sanctifies us, and he strengthens us.

It is also true that his heart welcomes us precisely so that we might become like it. The whole thrust of our Christian life is that we might be conformed to our Saviour, that we might resemble him, and in this sense, in the life of faith, we should ask ourselves continually whether our heart resembles his. His Sacred Heart is both the example and the cause of our becoming like him. His love is attractive. The more we consider the love with which Jesus acted, and spoke and gave of himself for us, the more we can begin, by his grace, to imitate him — it is truly the school of Christian perfection.

And we begin in that school by prayer. When St John Henry Newman, our Cardinal, chose his motto, he looked to St Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God. The phrase he chose and paraphrased, Cor ad Cor loquitur represents for us the central mystery of the prayer that can begin to transform us. St Francis de Sales wrote:

Truly the chief exercise in mystical theology is to speak to God and to hear God speak in the bottom of the heart; and because this discourse passes in most secret aspirations and inspirations, we term it a silent conversing. Eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart, and none understand what passes save those who speak.

We may be no great shakes at the spiritual life, or prayer, or we may feel that excelling in virtue is beyond us, but if we can in the simplest of ways open our poor heart to his Sacred Heart, and speak to him as to a friend, if we can entrust our lives to him and ask him devoutly and sincerely to shape us after the model of his Heart, then our Christian life will be all the more graced.

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