Dom often tweaks me about my lack of a sense of humor. Often when he tells a joke I seem to miss the point entirely and respond not to the joke but the factual error that the joke relies on in order to be funny. Oh, I get that it’s a joke; but I get too stuck on the literal and respond to that rather than to the funny twist. Too stuck on the literal meaning. It’s kind of a funny failing for one who chose Literature as her avocation. It’s certainly not that I don’t get metaphor and imagery. I’m actually quite good at it. I think in metaphor and symbol. But for some reason there are some areas where I have a hard time getting past the literal. Or maybe it’s just that I think that all good poetry must begin with the literal before it can jump to the figurative. So I stop there to ponder the literal, to really think about what it means. And only when I’ve come to grips with the literal can I allow myself to delve deeper into the realm of symbol.
And maybe that weird hangup about the literal is at the root why I have always had such a hard time understanding the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mind you, I haven’t spent any time at all really reading up on the devotion. It’s always seemed a little strange, alien. Something that other people do. All I do know is what you absorb by osmosis just by growing up Catholic. I know the image. I have heard some of the prayers. Something about it just misses me. I’ve often wonder if it isn’t because most of the popular devotionals I’ve seen are very much on the sentimental side and I’m just not a very sentimental gal. But I’ve been drawn to St. Claude de la Colombiere and through him drawn to wonder what I’ve been missing. I feel like I’m supposed to keep probing at this devotion until I do get it. And so I keep thinking about it and the more I ponder I wonder if it isn’t my literalism tripping me up.
I have this weird hangup about the heart as a symbol. I don’t know at what point it started to bug me because when I was younger I was like most girls and loved to draw hearts on everything. But at some point in my life I began to wonder why the heart is the symbol of love. Maybe it was when I read that other cultures have seen the liver as the seat of passion. The heart shape isn’t literally the shape of a human heart, only a vague approximation. Likewise, we don’t literally feel love with our hearts. All emotions must really be centered in the brain, if you are going to connect them to any organ. And so at some point the heart as metaphor for love began to seem odd and arbitrary to me. I somehow dissociated myself from it. And if the heart is an arbitrary symbol for love, then isn’t it arbitrary to have a devotion to Jesus’ heart?
To me the only way I can begin to approach the Sacred Heart of Jesus is through another symbol: the Sacred Blood. I have no problem grasping a devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. That one isn’t too weird for me at all. I receive it every time I receive Communion. If Jesus’ Blood is so sacred, so precious, then surely the heart that pumped that blood though his body is also sacred. And that Body… I receive that Body too. Somehow hidden in the form of bread I receive the fullness of that Body. And somehow, mystically, by virtue of my baptism, I am a member of that Body. A member of the Body of Christ. And that Body is not just a metaphor. It is a real body. It began as a small cell dividing and dividing and dividing in the womb of Mary. It had a heart that pumped blood. On the day he died that heart stopped bleeding. That heart was pierced by the soldier’s spear. And when he rose from the dead… did that heart begin to beat again? And now that that body is in heaven does that heart still beat?
He is the Vine and I am a very small branch on that vine. If I am to have life I must be connected to the Vine. If I am to have life, I must receive his Blood. If I am to have life that Sacred Heart must pump that Blood to me. Perhaps instead of a branch, I am a very small capillary? If I am a vessel, connected to that Vine, receiving that Blood, then I must be beating in time with the beating of that Heart.
Every time my heart pumps my entire body throbs. That rhythm of my beating heart is the first sound my little baby will know. Can I think of myself as being a small child, nourished by the Blood pumped from that Heart? Nestled secure in the dark listening to the beating of that heart… Oh to be that secure, to have that rhythm be the one that governs my every moment!
Now I think I may begin to understand a love for the Heart of Jesus which is the organ that will deliver to my hungry self the blood I so desperately need. But I still don’t find myself moved by the pictures. The images of the stylized heart. Oh no, I want to imagine the dark, hidden pulsing of it, the constant pumping life of it. Those images don’t convey that to me.
What about you? Do you have a devotion to the Sacred Heart? How did you come to it? What images speak to you the most? What prayers do you pray? How does this devotion help you to draw closer to Christ? I’m struggling to understand, to learn.
Maybe I just need to pray this over and over again until I get it.
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us*
God, the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, One God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty,
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven,
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke Thee,
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
Heart of Jesus, obedient to death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and our reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints,
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world; spare us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
V. Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
R. Make our hearts like to yours
Let us pray;
Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of your most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers You in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Your mercy, in Your great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, You Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.