Growing up as a Catholic in the 1950s two statues stick in my memory from our parish church. One was red, the other blue. One we referred to as ‘Our Lord’ and the other as ‘Our Lady’.
‘Our Lord’ was a figure of the Sacred Heart. As I grew older, the Sacred Heart appealed to me less and less. The exposed heart of Jesus didn’t work for me. While sentimentality felt appropriate in Mary’s statue, Jesus portrayed with flowing locks seemed effeminate. He didn’t match my reading of a more robust figure of Jesus in the Gospels.
A number of years later I made an individually directed retreat at St Beuno’s in North Wales. In 13 years in the seminary from the age of 12 I had hardly thought beyond Ordination. That goal achieved, I was finding the reality of day-to-day life as a priest tough going. Many priests were resigning from the active ministry. These included not only some of my friends but several of the priests who had taught me over the years and whom I had come to admire.
One afternoon at St Beuno’s found me walking in the grounds. I was feeling sorry for myself. My father had recently died and my mother was very ill. I meandered along the gravel paths between flower beds and hedges. My head was bent. I wasn’t looking where I was going and I nearly collided with a white figure. It literally stopped me in my tracks. It was a statue of the Sacred Heart on a plinth. What struck me most were his outstretched arms. I thought, ‘Jesus wants to give me a hug.’ His exposed heart suddenly made sense.
I’ve been a fan of the Sacred Heart ever since.