I have a wee confession to make. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is one of those Catholic things that I’ve just never got. I grew up seeing the pictures and statues, of course. None in my parents’ house; but plenty in the Catholic bookstore they owned. I know many people have a strong devotion and cherish their Sacred Heart images; but they never moved me. Still don’t. I look at the bared heart surrounded by thorns sitting oddly outside of Jesus breast and feel nothing but puzzlement. It doesn’t help that most of these images are sentimental in the extreme, Catholic kitsch with little artistic merit. I know that to the devout artistic merit isn’t the point, the image reminds them of a spiritual reality. Still, it doesn’t help explicate the mystery to me.
So I sighed a bit when the calendar told me today was the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and I began to flip in my Liturgy of the Hours volume to the correct pages. And then I recollected myself and decided to offer up a little prayer. Something like this: “Lord, I don’t get it. But I’d like to understand more. Help me to see what others see. Help me to understand what this devotion is trying to teach me. I’m sure there is something here that I need, that will feed me. Help me to find it.”
He is so good. Here’s the passage by Saint Bonaventure from today’s Office of Readings:
Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.
It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “They shall look on him whom they pierced”. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.
Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove “that nests in a hole in the cliff”, keeping watch at the entrance “like the sparrow that finds a home”. There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, “draw water from the wells of your Saviour; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers”, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.
Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart. “O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendour the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time! Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows “the river which gladdens the city of God” and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that “with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light”.
The part that really spoke to me was the image of the sparrow that finds a home. A strange image took roost in my imagination: a little bird nestled in the hole in Christ’s side. Me, staying close to Him. Protected. A place to build my nest and raise my children, safe from everything that could harm them.
I still don’t get the Sacred Heart image. But maybe that will come in time. Even if not, I have plenty to ponder as I go about my day.
Almighty God, we glory in the loving heart of your beloved Son.
As we recall the great things his love has done for us,
may we become worthy to receive overflowing grace
from his heart, the source of heaven’s gifts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.