Ezekiel 34:11-16; Romans 5:5b-11; Luke 15:3-7
19 days after the Feast of Pentecost, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This feast, usually falls on a Friday, but Dioceses and particular churches that cannot conveniently celebrate during the week, the feast is moved to the following Sunday. The day following the feast of the Sacred Heart is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two devotions to the hearts of Jesus and Mary are, therefore, put side-by-side on the liturgical calendar. Today, we celebrate the HEART of Jesus, a symbol of the overwhelming love for all human beings without discrimination.
1. DEFINITION OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#478), quoting Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Haurietis Aquas (1956), states, “Jesus has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that… love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception.” To appreciate this rich symbolism of the heart, we must remember in Judaism that the word heart represented the core of the person. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart was also considered the center of all spiritual activity. Here was the seat of all emotion, especially love. As the psalms express, God speaks to a person in his heart and there probes him. This notion of the heart is clear when we read the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-6: “You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart.”
A person is his heart. A person with a good hear breeds good deeds, while a person with a bad heart posits bad, evil, wicked acts. As human beings, we sometimes fail in our endeavor to do good. Thus we do evil. What destroys our world is the BAD HEART that some people have. Some people behave as if they do not have a heart anymore. Such people are described in English as “HEARTLESS”. Such people can do horrible and dreadful things to fellow-human beings with no feeling of remorse. They have hearts that seem to be made of stone. They do not feel for other people. Jesus, on the contrary is has a pure and good heart. He has a DIVINE heart. He has a heart that always thinks good and means good. His heart always forgives. His heart is generous and merciful. Members of the Sacred Heart group always pray that Jesus should make their hearts like His own. That is what this feast day call us to. God wants clean hearts. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
2. ORIGIN OF THE DEVOTION TO THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
The early Church Fathers clearly cherished the meaning of the Sacred Heart of our Lord. There is ample evidence of a profound respect for the Sacred Heart of our Lord as a font of God’s love which gave birth to the Church and continues to nourish its members. This devotion came to the fore during the Middles Ages, and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution. Shortly thereafter, the devotion escalated due to the fervor surrounding the apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90). These apparitions provided the catalyst for the promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart: a feast day in honor of the Sacred Heart, and the offering of our Lord’s saving grace and friendship if the individual attended carry out this devotion. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was approved for specified dioceses by Pope Clement XIII in 1765 and extended to the whole Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart in 1899.
Since then, the successors of St. Peter (Popes) have exhorted the faithful to turn to the Sacred Heart and make acts of personal consecration. They have also exhorted the faithful to offer prayers and penances to the Sacred Heart in reparation for the many sins of the world. Considering our present day and age, the temptations and sins of this world, the growing apathy and secularism, this devotion invites Christian faithful turn in loving devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and ask Him to pour forth His grace. We invited to make our hearts like His own, for Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The words of the Preface of the Mass in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also remind us of what we are celebrating: “For raised up high on the Cross, he gave himself up for us with a wonderful love and poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church’s Sacraments, so that, won over to the open heart of the Saviour, all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.”
The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI speaking of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 2005 adds: “In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy. Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life” (Benedict XVI, Angelus 5 June 2005).
3. THE 12 PROMISES OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
Through St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90, our Lord promised many blessings to those who are devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These promises are 12 in number.
I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
I will establish peace in their homes.
I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
Sinners will find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart.
I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
On these promises, popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has grown: Novenas, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, installation and veneration of images of the Sacred Heart in homes, First Friday devotions, etc.
4. THE LOVE OF GOD IN TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READINGS
Today’s readings explain the meaning of Divine love, a love that flows from God towards us. In our First Reading from the Book of Ezekiel, we heard the Lord God telling us that he himself will search for his sheep, just as shepherds seek out their flocks from among scattered sheep. These Words are repeated in Psalm 23, where the Lord says: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.” Similarly, pointing out God’s love for us, the Second Reading tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. It further attests that Christ died for the ungodly. He died for us who are ungodly sinners, always fulfilling what is holy and praiseworthy for the glory of God. While, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, to prove His love for us, while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.
The Gospel Reading of today places before us the Parable of the Lost Sheep. This parable shows the Divine love of the Good Shepherd towards his sheep and he goes in search of the lost one. The difference between the Gospel of Luke and the First Reading is that in the Gospel, emphasis is placed on the personal and searching love of God for each and every one of us. The Divine love of the Good Shepherd is an infinite love and far reaching love that does not want any one person to be lost. Thus prophet Ezekiel says: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.”
The actions of Jesus in the gospel text actually reveal the heart of God. From the manner of the search for the single lost sheep, it is clear that what is lost is deemed valuable enough to be searched for so thoroughly. The search was single-minded. Nothing could distract him. He searched until he could find. The search is diligent and tireless. Because of the value of what was lost, he searched until he found it. God is single minded in his love for each and every one of us. St. Peter tells us that God wants all men to come to Him. (2 Peter 3:9) God’s love and patience is astounding. He uses every means to reach those whom he loves. He uses blessings and he uses trials. God uses people and he uses circumstances. He shouts and he whispers. He will not grow tired or weary (Isa 40:28).
We are told further in the gospel that when the sheep was found there was great rejoicing. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10) here, we can have a glimpse into the heart of God. It is a staggering thought: The God of the universe knows and loves you and me! Notice how the Shepherd brings the lamb back to the flock? He does not put it on a chain or rope and drag it back. He does not beat it with a rod. He does not put it in a sack and carry it back. The Shepherd places the lamb on his shoulders with the legs around his neck and the lamb’s mouth near his ear. It is a picture of love not anger, joy not disgust. It does not even matter if the lamb was dirty. True, God hates sin; yet he does not despise his own children whom we are. Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we perceive that the love of Jesus is Divine love. Jesus is God! And His love for us can be no less than Divine love that shines forth from His Sacred Heart.
5. THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS IN THE DAILY LIVES OF CHRISTIANS
The call which comes from this important feast day is first of all a call to Eucharistic adoration, because in the Sacred Host the Lord Jesus is truly present and He offers each of us His Heart, His Merciful Love. To spend time in the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord, to adore Him, is the best expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which, as we know, spread all over the world thanks to Jesus’ revelations to Saint Margherita M. Alacoque: “Behold the Heart which so loved mankind”!
As a prolongation and accomplishment of this message, the Lord appeared to another Sister in the 20th century revealing the abyss of His unfathomable mercy; she was Saint Faustina Kowalska who wrote in her Diary, now world famous, these words of Jesus: “I have opened my Heart as a living source of Mercy, from it all souls draw life, all approach with deep confidence this sea of Mercy. Sinners will obtain justification and the just will be strengthened in goodness. I will fill the souls of those who put their trust in My Mercy with My divine peace at the hour of their death. My daughter, continue to spread devotion to My Mercy, in doing so you will refresh My Heart which burns with the fire of compassion for sinners. Tell my priests that hardened sinners will be softened by their words if they speak of my boundless Mercy and of the compassion which My Heart feels for them. I will give priests who proclaim and exalt My Mercy wondrous power, unction to their words and I will move all the hearts to which they speak” (Book 5, 21 January 1938).
The deepest longing of Christ’s Heart is that we discover how much he loves us, the extent of his tender love for creatures who, cooled by their selfishness, look only inwards at themselves, as if they were afraid to let themselves be loved unconditionally by their Creator, who asks nothing and gives all!
How society, culture, economy, politics today need this Heart! It is really true, the more man distances himself from God-Love the more he becomes ‘heartless’, agitated about a thousand things because he has mislaid the principal one: to let oneself be loved by Christ and to respond to this Love with our love.
One of the most beautiful passages of the Gospels is our Lord saying, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”” (Matthew 11:28-30). This text points us to a practical implication of this feast in our lives. While meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are called to share in the love of the Lord and strive to express our own genuine love for God, ourselves, and our neighbours.
Since God is lovingly searching for us we should stop running from Him. Since God has such a caring heart toward Him we should stop ignoring him, avoiding him, scorning him, and resisting him. There is this feeling in the heart of many people that if they allow Christ to take over their lives then they would have to give up all the “good stuff of life”. After all Jesus says: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). By “good stuff”, they have in mind: being able to party with friends, indulge in the whims of our desires, shopping excessively, ‘worshipping’ personal status or advancement, etc. For many such good stuff comes from the applause of the crowd. The reality is that one cannot even receive and enjoy the good stuff until one turns to God!
Again, since God loves every human being regardless, we should love others also. If we understand and embrace God’s heart, we will battle the tendency to be self-absorbed. We will look at others not as nuisance but as the Lord looks at them. We will see people who matter to God.