Today’s Solemnity focuses on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a rich symbol of his merciful love for us. Since the heart is a nearly universal symbol of love, and God is love, we can understand almost without reflection why God would use this image to reveal his love to the world. The heart symbol usually represents human love and affection, but God uses it to reveal divine love – God’s own love for us, burning like a fire in the human heart of Jesus, and irradiating the whole world with love.
This devotion is rooted in Scripture. Today’s readings give us a rich basis for pondering the love of God for man. The prophet Hosea compares God’s love with the love of a father when he picks up his infant son. “I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.” The reading makes us think about how we relate to infants, especially to our own children. They cannot understand our words, so how can we tell them that we love them? We pick them up and hold them firmly but gently, often playfully. We kiss them. We use little gestures and facial expressions and sounds – anything that we sense will naturally convey how we feel. It is amazing to think of it, but this is something like what God does: “I took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love.”
However, we are not always so loving to children. We lose our patience with them. We get angry, and sometimes our anger overrides our love. Hosea reveals that God is not like us in this sense. “I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; for I am God and not a man … I will not let the flames consume you.” God does not destroy us when justice would demand our destruction. The flames we see in images of the Sacred Heart are not God’s “blazing anger” but his burning love.
The Gospel takes us to the very center of this mystery, to the moment when Jesus’ Heart was pierced with a lance as he hung on the Cross. It is as though the Lord wanted the soldier to thrust the lance at him, so that his Heart could be exposed to the world – so that all may see clearly how much he loves us. Quoting a prophecy of Zechariah (12:10), the Gospel reveals that this pierced Heart will be the object of special attention: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.” Today, we are the ones who are looking on him whom we have pierced by our sins. As we look on him, we discover, not condemnation, but mercy. The blood and water which flow from Jesus’ Heart represent the endless stream of grace that is still flowing over us, especially in the Sacraments of Baptism (water) and the Eucharist (blood).
When his Heart is pierced on the Cross, Jesus is already dead, yet he is still pouring himself out in love. Death is no obstacle for the love of God. When Jesus rises from the dead, he repeatedly invites his incredulous disciples to look at his wounds – not only to see that he is alive, but also to see that he still loves them, and does not hold their sins against them. This is the invitation he extends to us in today’s feast – to look at this Heart and see how much God loves us. When Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary in 1675, he extended the same invitation to us all: “Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume itself, to prove to them its love.”
In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul echoes the Lord’s invitation to enter into his love. Kneeling before the Father in humble and earnest prayer, Paul implores that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, and that we may be “rooted and grounded in love.” He desires that we may be able to comprehend the entirety of God’s love for us in Christ. We cannot measure this love, for it is without limits. How can we talk about it? Paul mentions every dimension he can think of: “the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love. This is a love that “surpasses knowledge.” If we come to know it, if we enter fully into it, we are “filled with all the fullness of God.”
Today’s feast, then, is a feast day of divine love – love that cannot be conveyed in words alone, love without limits, love that transcends the barriers of sin and death. When we “behold this Heart,” we realize that the only fitting response to such love is to love in return. We renew our consecration to Jesus, asking his mercy for ourselves and for all sinners, and praying for the complete triumph of his love in the world.
Do I seek refuge in the Heart of Jesus when my anger overrides my love? Do I often ponder on the Heart of Jesus who is all mercy and not condemnation? Is love my response to the great love of the Heart of Jesus for me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.