Monday September 16, 2019
8:27 am
Bishop Hying

The wounds of the Sacred Heart remind us that love and suffering are inextricably intertwined

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on March 24, 2019

 

      For 18 months, beginning in December, 1673, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun of the Visitation order, experienced private revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Lord showed his fiery Heart to her, pouring forth his tender love for humanity, his deep desire to abide in every soul created by the Father and the suffering that he feels when his love is rejected or ignored. 

      In the 17th century, the Catholic Church in France suffered the effects of Jansenism, a Catholic form of Puritanism which focused on the wrath, judgment and fear of God to the exclusion of mercy, forgiveness and tenderness. People rarely received the Eucharist, as the focus was on human unworthiness. Theologically, we could see the divine revelations to St. Margaret Mary as a needed corrective to such distorted belief.

      Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began with the revival of religious life in the 12th and 13th centuries, as saints like Bernard of Clairvaux and Francis of Assisi introduced a more emotive devotional approach to the Lord Jesus. Crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought fresh enthusiasm for meditating on the Passion and Sacred Wounds of Christ. Saints Bonaventure, Mechtilde, and Gertrude added their spiritual insights and mystical experiences to this way of prayer, focusing on the extraordinary mercy of Christ. Modern devotion to the Sacred Heart takes its form - comm and confession on First Fridays, the Litany to the Sacred Heart and personal consecration - from the revelations to Saint Margaret Mary.

      In reading again the details of Jesus’ words to her, I was struck by the emotional transparency of Christ in these encounters. In the face of ingratitude, indifference and even hatred from many people throughout the centuries, Jesus manifests no anger, wrath or revenge. He simply expresses the pain and sorrow of a love misunderstood, rejected or scorned. I have not pondered enough the fact that the quality and fervor of my response to Christ actually matters to the Son of God! 

      Yet it makes eminent sense. If the Lord’s greatest desire and passion is to enter into a love relationship with each of us, whether and how we give our love to him in return is going to have some impact on him. Like any human friendship of depth and feeling, both people are going to be affected by the other. We easily imagine God being somehow impervious to our sin, ingratitude and tepidity or, conversely, that our efforts to pray, love and forgive do not really affect the Lord either, as if he has bigger things than us to be concerned about.

      Jesus’ words to St. Margaret Mary speak the opposite. Our lives matter to the Lord! Our attempts to pray, believe and forgive. The mundane details of our marriages, families and work. The wounds we carry and the painful memories which lie within. Our moments of joy, laughter, sorrow, fear and pain. Our most secret sins and our greatest hopes. The fact that we go to Mass every Sunday or we do not. 

      All of this matters to God because he loves us and as our Lord and greatest friend, takes infinite interest and delight in us, no matter what is going on. His unconditional stance of mercy could not encompass less.

      All of us have experienced the pain of rejection, ingratitude and indifference. You ask somebody out on a date and she says no. You are pouring out your life and love for your teenager and he seemingly appreciates none of it. You help your best friend through a very difficult time, yet she is not there in your hour of need. Someone close betrays you in an unimaginable way.

      We have all suffered these moments, which often leave wounds on the heart. These deeply painful ruptures of love can either embitter us in a percolating anger or they can lead us deeper into the Heart of Christ, who himself bleeds, suffers and weeps in the face of humanity’s indifference, violence, hatred and ingratitude.

      We cannot love another safely from the sidelines. Love gets its hands dirty, is often misunderstood, sometimes betrayed, will always suffer, but is ultimately the essence of God’s inner life and the meaning of our existence. Without love in our lives, we descend into despair, sadness and death. The wounds of the Sacred Heart remind us that love and suffering are inextricably intertwined, but love will win in the end in the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. All the sacrifice, difficulty and heartache are profoundly worth it in the end.

      As we meditate on the Passion of Christ in the Stations of the Cross, in the liturgies of Holy Week, we enter into the vast world of Christ’s Heart, knowing that Jesus’ embrace of the cross has forever changed our sufferings and pain into a powerful experience of redemption, mercy and love.

 

     + Donald J. Hying

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