June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Catholic tradition. Here’s the picture of the Sacred Heart I saw most often growing up.
For a long time I have not really understood this devotion, based on revelations to St Margaret Mary (1647-1690). She saw Jesus with His heart exposed in His chest. It all seemed a bit odd to me. Why would you have your heart on the outside of your clothes?
As a child growing up, I was a true disciple of the New Religion, with abysmal catechesis and no idea about the “WHY behind the WHAT” of my faith.
I had no benchmark in the culture for an exposed heart, with the only time I had ever seen this done in any other context was when watching “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” with Harrison Ford. It recounts an occult ceremony where the still beating heart of a victim is held aloft by the pagan priest as the victim is lowered into a pit of fire. That image and the terror on the face of the victim and his rapidly beating heart in the hands of the priest before catching on fire still haunts me. Needless to say, I didn’t get it. Big time.
This year has seen a great change in my approach to this devotion, from a most unexpected angle. My husband was diagnosed with a rare genetic heart disease earlier in the year. This came after 18 months of trips to the Emergency Dept, various heart tests, and lots of sleepless nights.
The sleepless nights would typically go something like:
Me (thinking): He’s not breathing.. I can’t hear him breathing.. Is he breathing?? (Followed by various touches to his arms and face, tentatively, as I didn’t really want to find the coldness of his skin wasn’t just normal coolness and to discover in a fit of terror that he had indeed peacefully passed from this life while I was freaking out)
This was then generally followed by him muttering in a sleepy voice: “Can you stop that??”
Me (apologetic but actually relieved): “Sure, sorry.” (then breathing a sigh of relief and eventually getting back off to sleep.)
I had always taken for granted my own healthy heart, and that of my husband. I never considered how many times a day it beats, giving life to the body it inhabits. How it allows life to flow from it to the furthest cell in the body and how it is essential to a healthy life.
I also never considered how much we use heart in our speech to talk of emotional reactions, from a less enlightened (perhaps) but happier time when people didn’t reduce every emotion to the brain chemistry of its user. Words like heart warming, heartfelt, heartbroken, hard hearted, tender hearted, cold hearted.
So, my journey to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began from this place. With this diagnosis came a much, much deeper appreciation for the gift of a healthy physical heart, and led to me understanding how a healthy spiritual heart is essential for life – here on earth and in the life to come.
Life would cease without the heart in our bodies. Similarly, life in the Church would cease without the ceaselessly beating Heart of Jesus enabling us to live and move and have our being in Him.
There is, as with all things Catholic, so much depth to this devotion. There is the actual representation of the Heart of Jesus itself which is a whole book in itself.
“To appreciate this rich symbolism of the heart, we must remember that in Judaism the word heart represented the core of the person. While recognised as the principle life organ, the heart was also considered the centre of all spiritual activity. Here was the seat of all emotion, especially love.” Fr W. Saunders
“We the Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock.” St Justin Martyr (d. 165AD)
“And since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore is it fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart-an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honour, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.” Pope Leo XIII ANNUM SACRUM ON CONSECRATION TO THE SACRED HEART, 25 May 1899.
“The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy – but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the centre, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth…In the Gospels we find several references to the Heart of Jesus, for example, in the passage where Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Mt 11:28-29)” Pope Francis, June 9, 2013, Angelus Address.
When He appeared to St Margaret Mary on Dec. 27, 1673, our Lord revealed, “My Divine Heart is so passionately inflamed with love… that, not being able any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, It must let them spread abroad through your means, and manifest Itself to man, that they may be enriched with Its precious treasures which I unfold to you, and which contain the sanctifying and salutary graces that are necessary to hold them back from the abyss of ruin.” Fr W. Saunders
“When the Church, in the days immediately succeeding her institution, was oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heavens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed. And now, to-day, behold another blessed and 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 amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.” Pope Leo XIII ANNUM SACRUM ON CONSECRATION TO THE SACRED HEART, 25 May 1899.
The CROWN OF THORNS
“And the soldiers having plaited a crown of thorns put it on his head, and put a purple robe on him, and came to him and said, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ and gave him blows on the face.” John 19:2-3
The PIERCED HEART
“Lifted high on the Cross, Christ gave His life for us, so much did He loved us. From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of the sacramental life in the Church. To His open Heart the Saviour invites all men, to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.” Preface of the Mass in honour of the Sacred Heart.
“Then there is the key story of the death of Christ according to John. This evangelist in fact testifies to what he saw on Calvary: that a soldier, when Jesus was already dead, pierced his side with a spear, and from the wound flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19.33-34). John recognised in that – apparently random – sign, the fulfilment of prophecies: from the heart of Jesus, the Lamb slain on the cross, flow forgiveness and life for all men.”Pope Francis, June 9, 2013, Angelus Address.
On 25th May, 1899, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, praying for all of us. His prayer was as follows:
“Most sweet Jesus, redeemer of the human race, look down upon us, humbly prostrate before your altar.
We are yours and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with You, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your most Sacred Heart.
Many, indeed, have never known you, many too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart.
Be you King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their father’s house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be you King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbour of truth and unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one shepherd.
Be you King also of all those who sit in the ancient superstition of the Gentiles, and refuse not you to deliver them out of darkness into the light and kingdom of God. Grant, O Lord, to your Church, assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry:
‘Praise to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honour forever.’
If you are seeking, as I was at the time of my husband’s diagnosis, a deeper sense of God’s presence in your life, I would encourage you to seek a new appreciation for this ancient devotion.