The devotion of the Sacred Heart is a traditional Catholic devotion that goes back many hundreds of years. It depicts Jesus, looking compassionate and a bit sad, pointing to his heart, which is exposed. The heart is on fire, with flames coming out of the top. Above the flames are a cross. The heart is surrounded by sharp thorns, all around, and has been pierced by a lance. Blood drips from it. Rays of light radiate from it. It is a striking image: emotional, dramatic and a bit bloody. Much has been written it, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. But this is not an attempt to recount the history of the Sacred Heart devotion. I want to do something much more straight-forward. I want to ask a question: what does the Sacred Heart tell us about Jesus, and about us?
The answer is surprisingly simple. The Sacred heart shows us how Jesus feels about us. And how does he feel about us? Passionate! His heart is on fire. More than that, his heart is lance-pierced and surrounded by thorns: Jesus suffers on our account. Clearly Jesus is not feeling comfortable: quite the contrary. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, his suffering is not about anger: the Sacred Heart is not about God’s wrath. It is about God’s love. Jesus is not seething in rage, he is suffering because of his love for us. And yet he loves all the more. This is what makes Jesus different: he suffers, yes, but he loves in that suffering, he loves through that suffering. That is where the rays of light come in. Jesus’ heart, passionate, suffering, and yet full of love, is something he wants us to see, to know and recognize.
So what does this say about us? One thing it tells us is that we are not OK. Jesus’ heart is anything but satisfied, anything but comfortable with the status quo. This is not the heart of someone who is alright with the way things are. This is the heart of one who recognizes great need and cares deeply about it, who wants to make things better, who wants to save. Another thing it tells us is that we are not alone. No doubt there is plenty of suffering in our lives, but Jesus is there too, with us, loving, caring, and suffering with us. This is what Jesus wants us to know about his heart. He loves us. He cares about us. He suffers for us, he suffers with us. He is on fire with the desire to save us, to make us better than we are, to make us the way God has meant us to be from all eternity. Yes, this is dramatic. Fire, blood, a heart pierced with a lance and surrounded with thorns, that is drama, even melodrama. But that is what Jesus is like. He cares, deeply. He loves, passionately. We are the ones he cares about, and he wants us to know it.
What, then, should we do? First, notice. Instead of indifference, instead of dismissing the Sacred Heart as an old-fashioned devotion for overwrought Mediterranean Catholics of a certain generation, let us honestly take in what it tells us, and recognize in it what Jesus is actually like. Second, respond. Someone who loves us this much deserves an answer. Get to know him, learn to love him back. Next, rejoice. We live in a world of many problems and many challenging issues, but when God, the Savior of the world, loves us this much, surely with his help we will be OK in the end. Finally, imitate. If Jesus can love like this, we can too; if not to the same degree, we can still learn from him to love like him, to love despite suffering. With Jesus’ help, each of us can have a heart that is more like his heart. Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like unto thine!