Friday, June 15, 2012
The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Icon of God's Compassion
"The solemnity of the Sacred Heart sums up all the phases of the life of Jesus recalled in the liturgy from Advent to the Feast of Corpus Christi. It constitutes an admirable triptych giving us in abridgment all the mysteries, joyous, sorrowful and glorious, of the Saviour's life devoted to the love of God and men...
Coming after the feasts of Christ, this feast completes them, concentrating them in one object which is materially Jesus' Heart of flesh, and formally the unbounded charity [love] symbolized by this Heart. This solemnity therefore does not relate to a particular mystery of the Saviour's life, but embraces them all; indeed the devotion to the Sacred Heart celebrates all the favours we have received from divine charity during the year,...and all the marvellous things that Jesus has done for us...It is the feast of the love of God for men, a love which has made Jesus come down to earth for all by His Incarnation,...which has raised Him on the Cross for the Redemption of all and which brings Him down every day on our altars..." (Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B., The Saint Andrew Daily Missal, pp. 783 & 785)
My friend, Fr. Leo Joseph, OSF, reminded me that the Franciscans celebrate this feast as the feast of the Divine Compassion. That seems to resonate better with a 21st century mentality, and is surely consistent with the passage from Matthew 11:28-29, used as the first option for the Alleluia verse prior to the Gospel: "[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.]"
It's a stretch for people today, I think, to relate to the physical heart of Jesus as an object of devotion, despite the fact that there are numerous examples of previous noted Christian writers referring to it. Lesson iv in the 3rd Nocturn of Matins for the feast says that "during the course of past ages, Fathers, Doctors, and Saints have celebrated our Redeemer's love; and they have said that the wound opened in the side of Christ was the hidden fountain of all graces. Moreover, from the Middle Ages onward, when the faithful began to show a more tender piety towards the most sacred Humanity of the Savior, contemplative souls became accustomed to penetrate through that wound almost to the very Heart itself, wounded for the love of men..."
Nevertheless, Christians of our time seem more able to relate to the reality of Christ's heartfelt love and compassion for humankind as a model for their own relationship with the real women and men who enter their lives daily. The Litany of the Sacred Heart, approved in 1899 as a public prayer, alludes beautifully to the love and compassion of Jesus as being the source of many things which you and I need so badly, such as patience and mercy, of generosity to all, of consolation, of peace and reconciliation, of hope, and of delight. The litany concludes with the versicle and response: "V. Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, R. Touch our hearts and make them like your own."
In this year when arguing, wrangling, mean spiritedness, and even violence have so often touched those, both in the areas of the political arena, the civil government as well as the Church, it's especially important for us to call upon God's compassion and love to empower us in our life and relationships with one another. Hopefully we can, with conviction, pray:
"Father, we rejoice in the gifts of love we have received from the heart of Jesus, your Son. Open our hearts to share his life and continue to bless us with his love..."