Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sacred Heart: God's Word to Us, Our Word to God

(This reflection on the theology of the Sacred Heart is by
Fr. Mark D. Kirby, O.Cist.)

"...The Sacred Heart: God's Word addressed to us

Theology is, first of all, God's word addressed to us. Apply this immediately to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pierced Heart of the Crucified is God speaking a word to us, a word carved out in the flesh of Jesus' side by the soldier's lance. It is the love of God laid bare for all to see: "God stepping out of his hiddenness".

When we speak of a theology of the Sacred Heart, we mean this first of all: not our discourse about love, but the love of God revealed first to us, the poem of love that issues forth from the Heart of God. This is exactly what St. John, whom the Eastern tradition calls "The Theologian", says in his First Letter: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (I Jn 4:10).

The difficulty here is that, in order to receive this word inscribed in the flesh of the Word (cf. Jn 1:14), we have first to stop in front of it, to linger there and to look long at the wound made by love. "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37). To contemplate is to look, not with a passing glance, but with the gaze of one utterly conquered by love. Jeremiah says, "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I was seduced; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed" (20:7).

The call to be an adorer and an apostle of the Sacred Heart is addressed to every Christian. The apostle is, in essence, the bearer of a word, one sent forth and entrusted with a message. The message that the apostle carries into the world is the one he has learned by looking long with the eyes of adoration at the pierced Heart of the Crucified.

The word of Crucified Love is hard to pronounce — not with our lips but with our lives. Adoration is the school wherein one learns how to say the Sacred Heart. It is in adoration that the apostle receives the word of the pierced Heart that, in turn, becomes his life's message.

Adoration and apostleship together model a spirituality accessible to all Christians: the word received in adoration is communicated in the dynamism of one sent forth with something to say.

The Sacred Heart: Our word addressed to God

Theology is, in the second place, our word addressed to God. Applying this also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we see that all we could possibly want to say to God has already been uttered and is being said eternally through the "mouth" of Christ's glorious pierced Heart in heaven. It is through the Sacred Heart that the Blood of Christ speaks "more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Heb 12:24).

The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: "Christ is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he lives for ever to make intercession for them" (7:25). Christ exercises his priesthood of intercession in "the inner sanctuary behind the veil" (Heb 6:19) by presenting to the Father the glorious wounds in his hands, his feet and his side. The wound in the side of Christ, "great high priest over the house of God" (Heb 10:21), speaks to the Father on our behalf. It is our word addressed to God.

At the core of devotion to the Sacred Heart is a passing-over into the prayer of Christ to the Father, a long apprenticeship to silence by which we begin to let the Heart of Christ speak in us and for us to the Father.

The mystics of the Sacred Heart, in particular St Gertrude and St Mechthilde, speak of offering the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the Father. This means allowing the Sacred Heart to speak for us, to pray in us, to pray through us, taking comfort in what Scripture says, "that we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15).

This suggests a simple way of praying, one accessible to all: "Lord Jesus, I come to be silent in your presence, trusting that your Heart will speak for me, knowing that all I could ever want to say, that all I would ever need to say, is spoken eternally to the Father by your Sacred Heart".

In this way, everything that prayer can or should express — adoration, praise, thanksgiving, supplication and reparation — finds its most perfect expression.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart, thus understood, is a manifestation in the Church of the Holy Spirit, "helping us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). The Sacred Heart is, in the life of the Church, the organ by which "the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27)..."

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