Herald of Hope

This year, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on Friday, June 7. On this great feast, the Church invites us to contemplate the human heart of Jesus, which represents the love of God for us. In the Bible, the heart is the center of the human person. It is the place of consciousness, passion and discernment.

As we celebrate his Most Sacred Heart, we recall that Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, conformed his heart to the will of God the Father. For us, Jesus is the way that leads to the Father. Our faith teaches us that to reach the Father, we must enter into relationship with Jesus Christ, who wishes to unite his heart with ours, so that we might live according to the Father’s will. We know from meditating on the Gospels that Jesus longs for us to be compassionate, kind, loving and ready to serve.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus refers to the center of Christ’s humanity. It is the locus of his freedom and affectivity. Within his heart, Jesus surrendered to the mystery of God. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is always about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When I was a seminarian, I studied theology in Innsbruck, Austria, in a seminary called the Collegium Canisianum, named for St. Peter Canisius. The seminary was dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and the major feast day of the seminary was the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In the lobby of the Canisianum, there once was a traditional statue of the Sacred Heart. It was a statue of Jesus with his heart ablaze surrounded by a crown of thorns. At some point, when the building was renovated, the old statue was replaced with a new one. It was a depiction of the Last Supper, with the Beloved Disciple leaning on the breast of Jesus, an interpretation of the Sacred Heart that was both biblical and relational.

Throughout the spiritual tradition of the Church, the heart of Jesus played a special role. The early Church writers often contemplated the pierced heart of Jesus and interpreted the flow of water and blood from his side as representing Baptism and Eucharist and understood this to be the origins of the Church.

In the 11th century, St. Peter Damian wrote, “It is in the adorable heart of Jesus that we find every weapon proper to our defense, every remedy for the cure of our ills, the most powerful assistance against the assaults of our enemies, the sweetest consolation to relieve our sufferings, the purest delight to crown our souls with joy.” (Peter Damian, Excellence of St. John Evangelist, Sermon 1)

In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the phrase, ‘the heart of Christ,’ can refer to Sacred Scripture,” because Sacred Scripture, opened to us through his passion, reveals his heart to us. (Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in Ps 21, 11; cf. Ps 22:15)

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus between 1673 and 1675. These visions inspired her to encourage frequent Communion, the receiving of Communion on first Fridays, regular Holy Hours and the celebration of an annual Feast of the Sacred Heart.

The Second Vatican Council emphasized that, by his Incarnation, Jesus acted with a human will and loved with a human heart. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ raised our human nature to a dignity without paramount: “By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each individual. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.” (Gaudium et Spes 22)

The 20th century theologian Karl Rahner understood the Sacred Heart as the center of Jesus’ person. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, the heart of Christ mediates the grace of God. Rahner believed that we should become men and women of the pierced heart of Jesus, willing to be wounded by the struggles of this life in order to become more fully compassionate toward our brothers and sisters in their sufferings.

A contemporary approach to the devotion of the Sacred Heart involves not simply engaging in devotional practices, but rather focusing on attitudes of the heart such as mercy, gratitude and trust. Devotion to the Sacred Heart requires sincere conversion, a deep commitment to Christ and a willingness to serve God’s people.

We look to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to transform our hearts, putting our faith in God’s promise, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 36:26) We who have experienced the love and the mercy of God have the mission of extending his compassion and care to all those in need through our works of mercy, charity and justice.