Nineteen days after Pentecost, and the Friday after Corpus Christi, we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus (though in some countries this celebrated on Sunday). We know the heart is an essential organ of human body; however, what we celebrate by the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not just the physical heart. And how does this feast help us become more Christ-like?
Psalm 102:1-4, 6-8, 10
1 John 4:7-16
Symbol of Love
The heart as symbol of love is something that begs no explanation. Even kinder garden children know how to make the shape of the heart, with hands, to say to papa or mom: I love you. Truly, the heart is a household sign of love. We shouldn’t, therefore, have difficulty appreciating the meaning of this feast, the Sacred of Heart of Jesus, through which we celebrate God’s love for us manifested in his incarnate son. But what love are we talking about here?
Love in its extreme
Actually, everyone speaks about love and yet the meaning we give to this word may not always be the same. The Sacred Heart of Jesus as symbol of God’s love is certainly not just sympathetic feelings that we may have towards another person, though not excluded of course. The love we celebrate by this feast goes beyond mere emotional attachment as it involves a free resolve or will to do good to any person. That’s how this love of God goes far as to embrace even the person who may be considered as enemy, that is, the person towards whom we may have no sentiments of affinity. By dying on the cross for our salvation, hence, Jesus drove home his words: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). It’s only by the goodness of the heart that one may arrive at such courageous, loving decision. But that begs a question: what’s a heart?
The heart in the Bible
As mentioned above, it’s not just the physical heart which we celebrate but the depth of love as fruit of the heart. That’s in the bible the heart has a special meaning. In Hebrew the heart is designated by the word leb which signifies: the will, the mind or consciousness. It also implies moral character and determination. Thus, by the Sacred Heart of Jesus we celebrate God who, in his bounty, has chosen to love us lavishly despite our sinfulness.
That’s why we speak of a person as having a good heart, certainly nothing to do with the physical organ, but rather to mean the one who is inhabited by the will and the determination to do good to others. It’s out of awareness of this expression of love, love to its fullest, which has given form to this feast of the Sacred Heart. But where does this feast come from?
History of the feast
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is rooted in the piety which dates since 11th century when Christians contemplated the five wounds of Jesus, of which among them is the wounded heart of Jesus (which is today the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). It’s the devotion to the passion and death of Jesus. Here the heart of Jesus is understood to be wounded doubly: firstly, the physical wound when we refer to the soldier who pieced Jesus’ side with a spear. Secondly, the heart of Jesus is said to be wounded by the ingratitude of the people for whom he died on the cross, that is, our sinfulness.
Despite such early traces, it’s not until 1670 when we have for the first time the feast of the Sacred Heart celebrated, popularized by a French priest, Jean-Eudes. Around the same time, a nun by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque claims to have vision of Jesus who wanted to be honoured through the figure of the heart and encouraged the faithful to receive the Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and to observe a Holy Hour of devotion. However, it’s much later, long after the death of the nun, when the feast was officially established in 1765, but only in France. And later in 1856 pope Pius IX made obligatory the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the whole church.
Sacred Heart today
Observing the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we celebrate and contemplate the incredible expression of God’s love for humanity but not just as spectators. We are stimulated to emulate this love and we become, in our turn, actors of this love in the world today. It’s in this way the feast can procure us graces and, indeed, help us to advance in faith when we have the will and the determination to love others with disinterested love no matter the cost. Consequently, what we do is not just a simple repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we observe every year, rather, each celebration is a grace-filled occasion that enables us to make a step further in becoming Christians after the heart of Jesus himself.
This I ask of the Lord
On the occasion of this year’s celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our hearts and prayers go out to all those persons whose hearts, in one way or another, have been wounded by ingratitude or betrayal. By the grace of this feast may they find new strength to continue being apostles of God’s selfless love!
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