Today we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Back in the 1600’s Jesus Christ appeared to Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque in a series of visions. In the apparitions that lasted over a year and half, Jesus Christ revealed His Sacred Heart to Sister Margaret Mary and invited her to help spread the message of the Sacred Heart to the world.
The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is now one of the most common pictures of our Lord around the world. As I spent some time gazing at the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus during my Holy Hour, I was drawn to the gash in the side of His heart where the soldier pierced Him over two thousand years ago. One of the things I reflected on during my time gazing at the pierced open heart of our Lord was the reality that His heart is always open for us to come in and experience His love… And if we choose to come into His heart, He will allow us to experience the recesses of His love. However, if we choose to walk away from His Heart after we have experienced the depths of His love, He will freely allow us to do so. Why? Because God never forces us to be in a relationship with Him. All throughout salvation History God has invited us to be His Chosen People and He has proposed to us that we worship Him, but He has never forced us to worship Him. He allows us to freely come and enter a relationship with Him, because He loves us and authentic love never imposes. Love only proposes and invites the Beloved to encounter and remain after the encounter. It’s amazing how an Image of Jesus’ heart can communicate so much truth about the notion of love.
Jesus is fully God and fully man. He has a human soul and a human heart, yet He is a Divine Person. He gave us the image of the Sacred Heart to show how His Heart is not only inflamed with love for us, but pierced from our indifference to His love. The Theology of His love for us is written on His human body, pierced for love of us. In his landmark catechesis called Men and Women He Created Them – a Theology of the Body-St. John Paul II goes through salvation history and shows God’s plan for our redemption and salvation. He shows how we are created in the innocent image of God with an untarnished likeness, only corrupted after the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. It is our fallenness and personal sin that causes the woundedness on the innocent Sacred Heart of Jesus and our hearts created in innocence as well.
In his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, St. John Paul II taught us: “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (n. 10).
If we are really honest with ourselves, there is nothing we want more in life than to experience love. Most of the best selling books in our generation are about love. The most popular songs on the radio are about love. The highest grossing movies, even if they are superhero movies always present the theme of love in their story lines!
In his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Today the term ‘love,’ has become the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings” (n. 2).
So if St. John Paul II says that man cannot live without love and Pope Benedict says that it is frequently misused, then perhaps the most fundamental question we can ask is, “What is Love?”
The media will often tell us that love is doing whatever we want, whenever we want with whomever we want, as long as it feels good. But sometimes that which feels good is not what is good for us and that which causes us the most pain is actually what is best for us. For instance, it feels good to eat a whole bag of chocolate candy…. But that isn’t necessarily good for your health. On the other hand, from what I hear, it can be pretty painful to give birth to a baby, but it is certainly best for both the mother and the child that the mother deliver her baby when it is the appropriate time, even if it hurts.
So how does the Church define love? Saint Thomas Aquinas defines love as desiring the greatest good for the beloved. The beloved’s greatest good is obviously their eternal salvation. So how do we reveal to the other that we desire them to be with our Lord for all eternity?
I would like to propose that we express our love for the other through our words and actions. In and through our words we have the ability to communicate both verbally and in letters our desires for the beloved. But our words mean little to nothing if they are not accompanied with actions.
Mother Adela Galindo, the founder of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary often says that love must be perceived. Basically this means that our love cannot be merely limited to words, but must be made manifest in our daily lives. The people who we encounter should be able to perceive our love through the intentional time we spend on our knees praying for them, on the phone listening to them, and in their presence serving them.
Imagine if a husband told his wife he loved her but when he got home from work he never spent anytime with her. Do you think she would be able to perceive love? Certainly not! His words would carry little to no weight unless he would start to show her his love through spending time listening to her, affirming her holiness, and serving her needs.
This is what God has done for us and continues to do for us. In today’s reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, God speaks to us of His love for over and over again. He says that He will look after us, He will rescue us, He will lead us, He will give us rest, He will seek us out, He will heal us, and He will shepherd us rightly (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
These words God spoke to us in the Old Testament through His prophet Ezekiel would certainly inspire us if they were spoken by any other person, but because they were and are spoken to us by God they have the capacity to transform our lives to become saints. Why? Because His Words spoken of in the Old Testament are fulfilled by His actions in the New Testament. He became Man through the Incarnation and spent His entire life putting flesh on all of His words so that we could actually perceive in tangible ways that He loved us and desired us to be with Him for all eternity.
God told us through Ezekiel that He will look after us and He acted on these words in the Gospels as He looked after the Apostles while they were fishing.
God told us that He will rescue us and Jesus rescued Peter as He sank in the waters and cried out, “Save me.”
God told us that He will lead us and Jesus led His followers to the Jerusalem where He would lay down His life.
God told us that He would give us rest and Jesus gave Mary of Bethany time to rest at His feet as Martha worked.
God told us that He would seek us out and Jesus sought out the woman at the well and invited her to be satiated by His gifts.
God told us that He would heal us and Jesus healed the blind, the lepers, and the woman who suffered from hemorrhages for over 12 years.
God said that He would shepherd us rightly and Jesus died for us while we were still sinners!
God has chosen to manifest His love to us through words and actions, because He wants us to know with one hundred percent certainty that He desires heaven for us so much that He would freely choose to suffer and die so that we might have everlasting life with Him for all eternity!
So we know with certainty that God loves us… But does God know that we love Him?
How do we show God we love Him?
Remember, in the 1600’s God exposed His heart to us through Sister Margaret Mary’s visions. Do we ever expose our hearts to Him in prayer? Or do we only allow Him to see certain parts of our hearts?
God told us with words He loves us. Do we ever tell God we love Him?
God spent time intentional time with His Disciples as an act of love. Do we ever spend intentional time with God? Is our time with God consistent?
God went out looking for people to serve. Do we look for opportunities to serve God through serving the least among us or do we wait for people to come to us?
If we love God, then our love should be perceived by our actions towards God in prayer and worship and service to the people we meet in our daily lives.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus reveals authentic Love to us just by looking at it. Let’s pray that our lives may also manifest authentic love to others just by them looking at us.
Fr. Joshua Johnson is a Priest for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. He is the Parochial Vicar at St. Aloysius Catholic Church and the Chaplain at Catholic High School. He is also a presenter with Ascension Press on “I Will Follow,” “Alteration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed”, and “You: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body.”