The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls this year on Friday 19 June.
This liturgical feast celebrates the heart that loves us so much – but it is a heart crowned with thorns, a side pierced with a lance, hands which have washed the feet of the apostles, and feet which have walked the dusty tracks of Galilee and the polished marble of the Temple of Jerusalem. In other words, the heart of Jesus celebrates that humanity of Jesus who loves the rich young man, weeps over Lazarus his friend and over Jerusalem which had failed to grasp the fullness of the gift that was being offered to it.
The heart is a sign and a symbol. It stands for the humanity of the incarnate Christ Jesus and it is also a pointer to the fullness and perfection of love which we can only strive to imitate and mirror. It is not a love which we have to merit, or attain, or grasp – it is a free gift and what we need to do is learn to receive graciously (as we do with any love, human or divine) but then also to recognise that this love never leaves us where we are, but always seeks to perfect and to ‘bring us on’ to achieve the best we can, to be the best we can. This is because love in its purest and fullest reality ennobles us, it makes us realise our true dignity and worth.
We heard it from the mouth of Pope Leo the Great at Christmas (Office of Readings): ‘O Christian, be aware of your nobility – it is God's own nature that you share: do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness. Think of the Head, think of the Body of which you are a member. Recall that you have been rescued from the power of darkness, and have been transferred to the light of God, the kingdom of God.’
In the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart we give thanks that ‘Christ poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church’s Sacraments.’ In this time when the physical celebration of the Sacraments is not possible in many of our communities, it is perhaps good to reflect on where all of the Sacraments find their origin, their purpose and their fulfillment – it is the pierced side of Christ, the self-giving love of Christ, the invitation of Christ to ‘Come, follow me’.
Having been thirsting for these Sacramental gifts for the past weeks, may we soon return to them with a deeper understanding and a greater love and devotion.