The Broken Heart

The Broken Heart

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus  |  Fr Bruno Clifton meditates on the broken-heartedness of Jesus which heals the brokenness of Humanity.

I hope you will allow me to begin with a quotation from country singer Willie Nelson.
‘Ninety-nine percent of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play.’

Nelson’s cynicism comes from the very common human experience of unrequited love and rejection by those to whom we offer our hearts. Hence the metaphor of the ‘broken heart’ to describe the pain love can bring.

St John on the other hand urges us to love one another because God loves the world first and we know this because He sent us his Son (cf. 1 John 4:9).

Our faith teaches us that His Son was like us in all things but sin. God becoming like us is how He saves us: to cleanse our sin and make us like Him. Again, John teaches us this (cf. 1 John 3:2).

But if God loves the world and shows it by becoming human in Jesus for our salvation, then as a human lover, Jesus is bound to have His heart broken.

This is the mystery of His Sacred Heart.

When Jesus appeared to St Margaret Mary Alacoque for the third and fourth times in 1674 and 1675, on both occasions He contrasted the burning love of His own heart with the cold indifference of the heart of humanity. We might think here of the words of the prologue in John’s Gospel.

‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; but the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received him not.’ (Jn 1:10-11)

God loves us infinitely, but with a human heart. In terms of Willie Nelson’s observation, every human being is God’s first choice to love. Yet, as is the case with human hearts, He experiences the pain of every human being’s rejection in our sin.
A Crown of Thorns surrounding Jesus’s Sacred Heart was seen in Margaret Mary’s second apparition (1674). It represents our sin. And moments in the Passion of Our Lord show how God’s human heart is pierced and broken by the sin of His lovers.

Luke tells us Jesus’s pain at the manner of His betrayal, ‘Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ (Lk 22:48).

And John tells how the side, the heart of Jesus is pierced with a spear, ‘and out came blood and water’ (Jn 19:34). The very last drops of Christ’s blood are shed for the world from His heart.

It may seem from this description that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is about wallowing in judgement. That it is about covering ourselves with guilt at the ingratitude of man for redemption. Indeed, the pain of Jesus that humanity does not love Him is why the apparitions instructed Margaret Mary to pray and receive communion in repentance and reparation.

Yet it is this ingratitude, selfishness and sin that the broken heart of Jesus hanging on the cross cleanses and removes, enabling us to love Him back with the love with which He loves us (cf. Eph 2:4). For His yoke is easy and His burden light for those heavy of heart.

‘Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’ (Heb 10:22-23) The sprinkled blood and pure water from his pierced heart.

One of the representations of the Sacred Heart shows Jesus, heart in hand, offering it to the onlooker. His other hand too stretches outward, empty, waiting to receive from us our heart in exchange.

Devotion to Christ’s Sacred Heart is turning back to the one who loves us infinitely and humanly regardless of rejection. It is giving Him our withered, sinful heart and receiving His heart to love Him infinitely too.

Before Margaret Mary, in the twelfth century St Gertrude was permitted to see Jesus and lay her head on His breast as a beloved disciple to hear His beating heart. She wrote this prayer:

Now I offer you my heart
as a morning sacrifice:
I place it in your most tender Heart
And entrust it to your keeping;
Deign to pour into it your divine inspiration,
And to enkindle it with your holy love. 

 Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the Sacred Heart statue in St Dominic’s Priory church in London. 

fr Bruno is Vice-Regent of Blackfriars Hall and Studium, Oxford, where he teaches Biblical Studies.