Wednesday 5 June 2024

“You can only see properly with your heart.”

The Feast of the Sacred Heart, which we keep this Friday, is a much-loved day for Catholics celebrating a much-loved devotion. At times, the Sacred Heart has been looked on as too emotional or sentimental and as a distraction from the purity of the liturgy or intellectual theology (and both views are nonsense), but the Sacred heart has had a treasured place in our Catholic life for centuries. It has a treasured place because it goes to the heart (if you will) of our faith in Christ.

But what is the heart? Often we think of it as the seat of our emotions or a way of talking about our affections and it is both these things. But it is also much more. In the Bible and in the Fathers of the Church the heart signified the totality of man — it represents the whole person, all of what it is to be us. It is the whole of one’s being. When we then look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus we are looking at the sign of his human love for us and his boundless divine love for us, and these ways of loving are who he is in himself — he is love. When we talk about the Sacred Heart we are talking about the totality of Christ, all that he is. And so when we look at that image of the Sacred Heart, pierced through for our sins, and yet ablaze with the fire of charity for us, we are given a marvellous look into who Jesus is. His heart speaks to our heart.

In his little book on this devotion, Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that “you can only see properly with your heart.” Our Lord sees us with his heart. He sees our wounds and our fragility and he loves us with an inexhaustible love because he knows that is what we need. His heart — pierced and bruised in his Passion — is able to identify with us and love us all the more. And we must learn to see him with our heart. We must learn to see him with our whole life, with all that it is to be us. If we can make him our constant companion, we will see him through all the moments and experiences that make up our life and he will know he is with us to love us through them. It gives new meaning to our prayer too. When we remember the words of that old man to the Curé d’Ars, when he asked him what he did when he prayed, and the old man responded, “I look at him and he looks at me.” It is a lovely kind of prayer that is looking to God, seeing him with our heart and knowing that he sees us with his.

Pope Pius XII in his letter on the Sacred Heart reminds us that that heart of Jesus, wounded for our sins and loving us, is not something in the past, like a memory, but just as Jesus’ body still exists, that heart carries on loving us in reality. The sign of the Sacred Heart contains all the mysteries of Jesus — his becoming one of us in the Incarnation, his Passion and Death and his Resurrection and Ascension. And because of this, the sign if the Sacred Heart is a sign of joy.

Our Lord speaks of remaining in his love so that our joy may be complete, indeed, so that his own joy may be in us (Jn 15:10–12). He says this just after he says that we are to be his friends, and so the fulfilment of our devotion to him, to his Sacred Heart is joy. Dom Paul Delatte, the great Benedictine monk, once wrote that the message of Christianity may be summed up in “joy”. He wrote, “It is a remarkable religion in which joy is a precept, in which the command is to be happy, in which cheerfulness is a duty.” For Dom Delatte, joy is the “distinguishing atmosphere of the Christian life” on account of all that we have received. That Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a sorrowful one, and so we must have great confidence in it because the love that it has for us is unbounded. We can be certain that through thick and thin, that Heart burns with love for us and so we can rejoice that he loves us still and that has saved us.