The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus should not be a surprise to us. Even though it is a devotion which took root in the 17th century after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, there is a long history of devotion to the love of Jesus by adoration of the Heart that lived and died for love of His people. Some say it goes back to the 11th century, though it was a private devotion for many centuries. But it was really during the 17th century when this devotion took off. It is not a devotion to the physical heart of Jesus, though it is often depicted that way, but rather it is a devotion to the incredible love that Jesus has for His people.
It should not surprise us because the entirety of salvation history is a love song by God to His people. Every word of Scripture is part of this long love song. Jesus, the Son of God, who is God's love, came into the world to fulfill the promise made by His Father, which was to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death. I often imagine what it must have been like to have met Jesus during His lifetime. Would I have seen Him as an ordinary man, or would I have been so awed by His presence that I was moved to know He was something more? It is hard to know given that the apostles struggled with it for so long. But one thing is clear: they knew He was extraordinary and they responded to the love with which He lived His life. He lived totally centered on the Father and on serving others, dying for us out of love.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart is indeed a love story which can inflame our hearts as much as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who said "Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" It can inflame us the way it did St. Paul who wrote the great hymn describing Christ: "Who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Phil.2:5-8); or when Paul wrote the most eloquent lines about love in 1 Corinthians 13, which begins: "Love is patient, love is kind...." He is describing not just a poetic imagining of love, but he is describing the actual love of Jesus for us.
It is no surprise then that with our realization of the enormity of the love of Jesus we would want to celebrate and adore the Heart that bore so much suffering for us. It is no surprise that we are so captivated by His heart that we would want to fall to our knees before it, in awe and wonder. It is no surprise that He would reveal His heart to a young sister, Margaret Mary Alacoque, in 1675 and tell her to spread the devotion. It seems that He was not seeking adoration for His own sake, but that He wanted her to spread the word at how large His heart really is. His heart is so filled with forgiveness, healing, mercy, compassion, consolation, understanding, and love that He wants us to know we have a home there. No matter what happens to us in this life we have a place of safety and peace within His heart.
Our hearts, too, can become inflamed by love when we go to the Eucharist and allow ourselves to truly be immersed in what is taking place before our eyes. Every time the bread and wine become the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, we ought to be so awed that we can barely think of anything else but that one reality. Have you ever been so filled with the wonder of it that you are overjoyed when you are in the presence of the Eucharist or when you have partaken of this feast of love? Have you ever felt the joy beyond understanding that only the love of Jesus can bring, the love that brings you so far beyond yourself that you find yourself doing things that you never thought you were capable of doing, or feeling acceptance and yes, love, for those whom you never thought you could feel such warmth for? If not, you can ask the Lord to help you to receive these gifts and trust that whether you feel something or not, that He is infusing His love into you. His love helps us to go beyond ourselves, which I daresay we do more than we think or ever give ourselves credit for doing.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is where we can retreat when we feel our love has grown cold and we need His help so desperately. It is where we can go when we are so stressed that we can hardly take our next breath or formulate a prayer. His heart is where we can go when we are so broken that we cannot feel anything except pain. It is where we can find freedom from that to which we are addicted or enslaved. It is where we can find refuge when there is so much going wrong in our lives that we do not know how much more we can handle or what to do to cope with it all. It is where we can find rest when life makes us weary. When we turn to the Sacred Heart it is not like something magical will happen. No, it is that He is love and compassion: He loves us just as we are, broken and torn. He loves us in the goodness in which He made us. He loves us for who we are, not what we should be. He can send us the grace to persevere and the insight to take that next difficult step when things are tough. All we need to do is turn to Him and ask. It would not make sense that He would leave Heaven, become one of us, die a brutal death and rise again, if He were not preparing a heart such as He has in which we can find our home.
There is much to celebrate in the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Let trust in Jesus’ goodness. Let us share the wealth of love with those around us by asking for the gift of His love. Let us adore Him by being reverent toward others and the world around us, so filled with beauty and the glory of the Lord.
May we be filled with the love of Jesus as we come before Him in adoration and love! May we find the peace and the rest we need in the shelter of His heart when our own hearts are torn and bleeding! May we find the confidence through His love to trust that Jesus is with us in difficult times! May we have the joy and gratitude that comes with recognizing the great gift we have in the Heart of Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the Sacred Heart which is filled with love beyond all telling! Peace!
The icon is The Mystical Marriage of Blessed Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos y Sena, SJ by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at