Light and Life – May-June 2019, Vol 72, No 3 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
The human heart is the universal symbol of love. It is also the vital organ at the center of the body that directs the blood flow throughout the body. When the heart is healthy and thriving, we thrive; however, when the heart withers, we wither, and when it stops—we die. In “The Immaculate Heart of Mary”, Fr. Paul Duffner, O.P. teaches that while the heart controls the flow of blood through the arteries and veins according to the needs of the body, it is itself influenced by thoughts of the mind and acts of the will which affect our emotional nature. Thus, the heart can beat fast or slow, strong or weak—according to how it reacts to these impressions. This interaction between body and soul seems to affect the movement of the heart more than any other part of the body. Thus, we can begin to realize how love and other acts of the will are linked to the heart.
The lexicons of many languages are filled with sayings that use the heart as an expression of the emotions that dwell deep within us. We speak of people having a big heart, of being faint-of-heart, of being broken-hearted, of having a heart of gold, of having a bleeding heart, of having a heavy heart, of being young at heart, or speaking to each other heart-to-heart.
The heart is recognized as the spiritual core of the human being. In Judaism, as seen throughout the Old Testament, the heart is perceived as being the seat of the emotional and intellectual life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.” This speaks of the moral, spiritual and the physical life of the human being. (Jewish Encyclopedia)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter . . . it is the place of covenant.” (CCC #2563)
The heart is the place where we give love and receive love; it is the well of compassion and mercy. It is the place where we retreat from the world, where we go to reflect, where we grapple with mysteries, where we make decisions, and especially where we meet God himself. Sometimes even our own heart can be a mystery to us.
The human heart takes on a different dimension though when we speak of the Heart of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is fully human; he has a human heart that beats just like ours—even now in his resurrected body! Where this image begins to test our comprehension is when we recall that he is also fully divine as the only begotten Son of the Father. His divine nature however has not “swallowed up” his human nature. In the Incarnation, his human nature, body and soul, was assumed by his divine being for all of eternity. “The Son of God therefore communicates to his humanity his own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In his soul as in his body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity.” (CCC #470) Thus, we can say that in Jesus Christ God truly loves us with a human heart.
In his time on earth, Jesus expressed human emotions that revealed what was hidden in his own heart. We can recount when Jesus was sorrowful and fearful, when he laughed and felt joy, when he wept, and even when he got angry. We recall how Jesus showed empathy when he encountered people who were lost, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36); or, when they were hungry, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat” (Mk 8:2); or, when they were ill, “His heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick” (Mt 14:14). In all cases, his heart was grieved and Our Lord filled the needs of the people. Then of course there is the poignant event after Jesus died on the cross, documented by an eyewitness (Cf. Jn 19:35), when a soldier thrust his lance into Jesus’ side and immediately blood and water flowed out. (Jn 19:34) This profound symbolism of blood and water flowing from the Heart of Christ calls to mind the beginnings of the Church with its two fundamental sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist.
Lumen Gentium explains, “To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By His obedience He brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the Kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world. This inauguration and this growth are both symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of a crucified Jesus, and are foretold in the words of the Lord referring to His death on the Cross: ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.’” (LG, #3)
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus most-likely originated in the Middle Ages; however, it reached its pinnacle with the apparitions to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). To this day though the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Many faithful Catholics still honor and revere the Sacred Heart for all of the reasons mentioned above.
In the Church’s long history there have been times where the faithful could relate easier to either the divine nature of Christ or to his human nature. Some theologians theorize that the devotion to the Sacred Heart was born out of a need to relate to the human side of Jesus in an age where Jesus, as the Son of God, seemed difficult to approach. However, as believers we need to see the whole person of Christ who is both human and divine. The Divine Person who is the Son of God, who has no beginning and will have no end, is the same Person who is the humble Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, loves the adulterer and forgives her, chats with the woman at the well, dines with sinners, and offers paradise to the Good Thief!
The Son of God worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will and loved us with a human heart. (CCC #470) For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, “is a symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit but which He, the Word made flesh, alone manifests through a weak and perishable body, since ‘in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ (Col 2:9)” (Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, #55; Cf. CCC #478)
It is this same Jesus who refers to his own heart when encouraging us to not be afraid to approach him and to accept the challenges that we each face. He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)
It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus who invites us to enter into his own heart, where we will find a place of rest and peace, the well of Divine Mercy and forgiveness, intimacy with God (!), the origins of Love itself, and the wisdom to help us fathom all of the deep mysteries of God. But how do we enter into the Sacred Heart of Jesus? The Blessed Virgin Mary understands the heart of her Son and seeks to assist us in this endeavor. When Jesus was still in her womb, their two hearts beat in unison only a few inches apart. Then at Jesus’ birth, as Mary pondered all of the amazing things the shepherds told her about her child that they heard from angels, she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19) After Joseph and Mary has lost Jesus for three days, once they had found him Mary had to return to her own heart to ponder the deep mysteries of just who this child is. As scripture tells us, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51) Finally, we see the ultimate link between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus as she remained with him at the foot of the cross, with their anguished hearts intertwined.
As we reflect upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and what they symbolize, let us also turn to look into our own hearts. Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21, Lk 12:34) Where is my own heart? Does it seek to be united with that of Our Lord? Pope Leo XIII says, “There is in the Sacred Heart, the symbol and express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return.” (Annum Sacrum #8) If we are not at the place yet where we can unite our own heart with the Lord’s, then let us take scripture to heart: “Seek the LORD, your God; and you shall indeed find him when you search after him with your whole heart and your whole soul.” (Dt 4:29)
Perhaps the best way to enter into the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to go in to the very recesses of your own heart, and in the quiet of that place make an act of the will where you openly invite the Love of God to dwell there—even if you don’t quite know what to say to him—then let the Good Shepherd show you the way from there.
Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, we are grateful for your support. We could not fulfill our Mission if not for our benefactors. After decades of constant use, the Rosary Center, the home of the Rosary Confraternity, is greatly in need of renovation. Please consider making a special gift to help make badly needed repairs, and to refurbish the offices, chapel and kitchen. Thank you for your generosity! Fr. Joseph Sergott, O.P., Director.