This Friday, June 7, is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion is a centuries old tradition in the Catholic Church, but I confess: I have had a hard time with it.
One reason is because many of the illustrations of the Sacred Heart show a “wimpy” Jesus. (This is my personal opinion. You might find them “tender.”) Also I think the disconnected heart with thorns around is a little gross. Yet, after some personal prayer and reflection, I have come up with three aspects of this venerable devotion that I do find meaningful and relevant for our time. I can summarize them by saying the Sacred Heart of Jesus is human, wounded, and loving.
Years ago I saw a typo in a spiritual book. Instead of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the book said the Scared Heart of Jesus. The typo wasn’t so far off, really, for there were probably many times Jesus’ heart was scared! The fact is, Jesus was fully human. The Sacred Heart reminds us of this vital truth. But his incarnation was not a one-time event that ended at the Ascension. No, the incarnation continues into our own day—in the Eucharist and in the whole of humanity—including me! The Sacred Heart tells me that Jesus needs my humanity—my hands, my feet, my voice, my mind, and yes, my heart—to do good in the world and thus to help bring about the reign of God in my time and place.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is also wounded. Jesus was vulnerable. He was open to pain, suffering, and failure. When we are the most vulnerable, God (it seems) has easier access to our heart and soul. As the writer Father Phil Murnion once said, “It is in the concrete, imperfect, and even sinful activities that we are most likely to catch a glimpse of the grace of God.” Wow! That means that the “fractures” and “ruptures” in our lives, though painful, can be the openings through which God’s grace pours in.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart centers on a heart, the organ we traditionally associate with loving. The Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of God’s unconditional love for us. It also calls us to love as expansively as Jesus did. And there’s more. The psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan defined healthy adult maturity as “a state in which tenderness prevails.” I like that! Perhaps we can ask ourselves regularly, “How expansive is my love?” And “Does tenderness prevail in me–or have I allowed some negative quality (like impatience, pettiness, arrogance, or self-righteousness) to take over?”
A little kindergarten girl once said, “Jesus is God’s show-and-tell.” How profound are her words! For devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus “shows and tells” us that our faith, like the heart of Jesus, must also be incarnational, vulnerable, and tender.
Let us pray:
Heart of Jesus, you are human.
Give me a greater appreciation of your incarnation
extended into my time, my place, my circumstances.
Heart of Jesus, you are wounded.
Give me the courage to be vulnerable to pain and failure.
May the “fractures” in my life
be openings through which your Grace can freely pour.
Heart of Jesus, you are loving.
Help me to experience your unconditional love for me.
Give me strength to love more expansively .
May tenderness prevail in me–as it did in you. Amen.
Here are two other images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by artists Joseph Fanelli (left) and Salvador Dali (right).
Does devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus speak to you and your spirituality? Why or why not?