Fear not, this blazing fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will fill you, bless you and unite you to Christ

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on March 31, 2019

 

      In six columns, I have been reflecting on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which has also been my prayer focus for Lent. We have pondered the Heart of the Lord through the lens of mercy, humility, glory and suffering, as we clearly come to know that God completely pours himself out for us in the burning Heart of Christ. Our Christian religion is one of love, forgiveness, sacrifice and service for the other; we are called to lay our lives down in a posture of total self-gift in imitation of the Master.

      In my prayer this Lent, I have come to feel the mercy and love of Christ in a much more personal and emotional way. We can easily intellectualize our faith, living solely in our heads, knowing Church teaching, professing to believe, but if none of it melts our hearts or moves our wills, we will not fully know God or be completely docile to his grace. 

      Our Catholic faith forms and inspires all aspects of our varied humanity - our intellect, emotions, desires, values, body and our will. If we neglect one aspect in our faith practice, our spirituality will be lopsided.

      In my prayer, sometimes before the Blessed Sacrament, other times in the morning in my living room with the Sacred Heart statue, I am growing in a much deeper emotional bond with the Lord. I close my eyes, envision the Heart of Christ absolutely blazing with love and mercy and picture Jesus offering that Heart to me.

      Often, I feel afraid to accept it, fearful of my unworthiness or anxious that it will burn me, but when I reach out to hold Jesus’ Heart, the divine fire only fills me with joy and peace. The only part of me that Christ wants to burn away is my sin, selfishness and sadness. 

      I have become deeply enamored of this passage from St. Margaret Mary’s autobiography:

      “Jesus Christ, my kind Master, appeared to me.  He was a blaze of glory - his five wounds shining like five suns, flames issuing from all parts of his human form, especially from his divine breast which was like a furnace, and which he opened to disclose his utterly affectionate and loveable Heart, the living source of all those flames. It was at this moment that he revealed to me the indescribable wonders of his pure love for humanity . . .”

      For some reason, this image of Divine Fire greatly appeals to me. Most of us enjoy watching a fire; some primordial symbolism is probably at work!  I think of Abram’s deeply mystical experience while he offers the evening sacrifice to God, when a fiery torch and smoking brazier pass between the burning pieces of his oblation. 

      “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.” (Genesis 15: 12) In that profound experience of God in fire and darkness, God established the Covenant with Abram, soon to be known as Abraham and his descendants.

      Moses receives his call to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt when he encounters “an angel of the Lord in fire flaming out of a bush.  As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)  In this fiery encounter, God commands Moses to go to the Pharaoh and demand freedom for his people. 

      Later, during the long sojourn in the desert, God will lead the Israelites in the form of a cloud by day, while at night fire from within the cloud will illuminate them.

      On the day of Pentecost, the first followers of Jesus, gathered in the Upper Room in prayer with the Virgin Mary, experience the full force of the Holy Spirit in the form of a mighty wind and tongues of flame which parted and rested on each of them. (Acts 2: 2-3) This holy fire burns away their fear, confusion and resistance. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they emerge in the streets of Jerusalem completely transformed and begin to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus as the source of salvation and the new meaning of human history.

      These experiences of divine fire reach their apex in the flaming Heart of Christ. The three functions of fire discover their ultimate purpose here. Jesus wants to illuminate us with the light of God, heat up our passion for holiness and burn away our sins, tepidity and fear. Christ shares his fire with us so that we become one with him in his deep desire to bring the love of God to every single human person. When we live our faith with passion and purpose, the Lord uses us to bring light, warmth, hope and freedom to everyone around us.

      When I am enjoying a campfire on a starlit summer night, I want to sit close enough to enjoy the warmth and the light, but far away enough so I don’t get burned by sparks or feel too hot. When I pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I hear him saying, “Just jump right into the fire!  It will only burn your sin and selfishness and those parts of you are not really you anyway. 

      Don’t be afraid!  This fire will fill you, bless you and unite you to me.” I pray for the courage to jump!

 

       + Donald J. Hying