His love is real: the Sacred Heart
June 1, 2012
By Father Earl Fernandes
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an ancient way within the church to discover, know and understand who Jesus is as Son of God and one of us.
The reality is so vast that we lack the depth and breadth to grasp the reality of what we believe to be true. In our modern world, this seems to be part of the problem of religious belief. Our culture has become so self-aggrandizing that many have a tendency to think that if something is beyond our ability to understand it, it can’t be real. The exact opposite is true, and many past ages have realized this in their thought and in their faith.
The Sacred Heart entered Catholic devotional and prayer life as a bridge between the finite and the infinite, the natural and the supernatural. We find images of it in the both the Old and the New Testament and certainly it emerged in our life of prayer through the centuries.
St. Gertrude the Great in the 13th century spoke of the Heart of the Lord as the place of contact and relationship with the Living God. It was important in the preaching of St. Bernadine of Siena in the 15th century. St Peter Canisius spoke of it in the 16th century, as did St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
This devotion found its way into the liturgical life of the church through the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque of Paray-le- Monial from 1673-1674.
Encouraged by St. Claude Colombiere, her spiritual director, she made public her visions and the process of acceptance began. First Friday devotions in honor of the Sacred Heart flourished even into the late 20th century.
With the long story of an image of the heart of the Lord winding its way through the tradition of our people, what can it mean for us in the modern world? Aren’t we, perhaps, too sophisticated for an ancient devotion? Father Karl Rahner, one of prominent theologians of the 20th century, reminded us that “devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a casual stroll through the rose gardens of the past.” He held that love never grows tired and never grows old. If love is a part of our lives, a value in our lives, the Sacred Heart can have a meaningful and important place in our daily lives and in our life of faith.
We all need to love and to be loved in some way. Pop culture has cheapened the word, but in our hearts, we still know what it really means. It is here, in our hearts, that we can understand the love of God for us in the concrete situations of our lives. Do we ever sense a love within that is greater than we are? If so, we have encountered the loving heart of the Lord. Do we see good things happen around us that we do not understand? If so, we have encountered the loving heart of the Lord. Can we sense the presence of a profound caring about our lives? If that is the case, we have experienced the presence of the heart of the Lord.
The devotion encourages us to name that goodness and presence as the center of the person of Jesus Christ still present in our world and still active in our lives. It keeps God from being an abstraction and the distant mythical figure espoused by the agnostics and secularists of our age. The heart of Jesus says to us that He is real, present and able to be sensed and encountered. It is a devotion of love for and from God to and for us. It is where we can go to know the mystery of love, both human and divine.
Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.