The Life-Giving Love of Christ
Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus | Fr Leo Edgar invites us to look with him to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with confidence in God’s compassion and love.
In days gone by, Catholic households often had an image of the Sacred Heart hanging somewhere near the front entrance to their house. It was a sign of recognition of the security a family hoped for from the Sacred Heart of Jesus; a recognition of the protection we experienced from the divine person of Christ himself.
Whenever we look on that image of Christ with his heart open, in a gesture of giving himself to those who believe in him, we can encounter Christ in a special way. The presence of the Lord in a place as close and intimate as our own home, indicates the trust we place in the Lord’s promise to be near us and to love us, and for us to respond with our own love in return.
Many Catholic churches have a statue of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place where worshippers light a candle to demonstrate their confidence that God will listen to their prayers and will respond with the compassion of Christ’s own Sacred Heart. The image of a heart always seems to indicate love, and this is the case with the Sacred Heart. Much of St John’s gospel is devoted to impressing on his readers the love of God for mankind, and the love God expects from us in return.
In our understanding of the physical existence enjoyed by all creatures, human or animal, the beating heart is the principle life-giving force that keeps us alive, along with other bodily functions. If the heart stops beating, we are pronounced dead. And so, when we think of our bodily life, the function of the heart is essential; and so too, in spiritual terms, we can perhaps consider the Sacred Heart of Christ as the life-giving source of our spiritual existence.
The heart is also portrayed as the love-giving element of our bodies, portrayed in many different ways. In the post-resurrection life of Jesus and in his appearances to the Apostles, and to Mary his Mother, we read in the Epilogue of John’s gospel (Chapter 21) that Jesus met and ate with them on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, after which he asked the question of Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times he asked the question and three times Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Those words contain such a depth of meaning in conveying the relationship of Christ with his Church. The love expressed is so strong, a declaration of the bond that exists between Christ and each person who follows him.
The whole world was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pope St.Leo XIII on June 9th 1899, and consequently the month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart worldwide. Even before that time, the Diocese of Westminster was dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart on 17th June 1873. In more recent times, Pope Francis addressed pilgrims in Rome in 2013 with the words: “The Sacred Heart is not an imaginary image, but a real symbol representing the source of salvation.”
The Heart of Jesus is an iconic symbol of the love and mercy of God for the whole of humanity; as far back in history as we can go, artists and composers have depicted the Divine Heart of Jesus as the source of God’s love for the whole world. It expresses for us a boundless, unlimited generosity of God’s mercy, and of God’s willingness to forgive.
At the Last Supper, we learn from John’s Gospel (ch.13 verse 23) that “one of his disciples- the one whom Jesus loved- while reclining next to Jesus, asked him, “Lord who is it?” (wanting to know who was about to betray him). Many artists have depicted that moment before Jesus gave the piece of bread, dipped in the bowl, to Judas. It was a moment when love overcame betrayal! And in that historic moment Christ demonstrated the love that burns in his Sacred Heart.
In our world, so full of uncertainties, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus acts as a sign of trust in God’s overwhelming love; but also as a sign of God’s forgiveness for the wrongs committed by the human race. We can look with confidence then, as we reflect on the words of Leo XIII as he consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart, “Today, behold, another heavenly token is offered to our sight – the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendour amid flames of love.”
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in St Dominic’s Priory church in London.