This homily was given on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at a High Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, at St Mary Moorfields, London:
Since 2002, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart has been kept as the World Day of Prayer for Sanctification of Priests. This feast is now closely tied with the life of the Priest, and his ministry as one who stands in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. The patron of the Year for Priests, which we kept a few years ago, was S. John Mary Vianney, the Curé of Ars, and in his Little Catechism, the Holy Curé speaks beautifully of the gift of the Sacred Priesthood, saying, “The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the Priest, think of Our Lord”.
As with so many images in traditional Christian devotion, there is a striking contradiction in depictions of the Sacred Heart. Nineteenth and twentieth century depictions where we see the Lord’s heart on fire, burning, can be alarming, even disturbing for the uninitiated, just as looking with love to the cross can be seen to be perverse by those without a knowledge of the great act of love that it represents.
We know, of course, that the love which Christ has shown us in his sacrifice on the cross is a love which gives itself up for us. God is Love, personified in the person of Christ, and his offering of himself for us on the cross takes on a glorious, even beautiful, image which is folly to those who are perishing but the power of God to those who are being saved (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). So, then, with the Lord’s Sacred Heart. Here we see the very Heart – the physical Heart as well as the spiritual lesson it gives us – burning for love of us, giving itself for us (as Christ himself did) as a holocaust – a wholly consumed sacrifice – in order to bring us to salvation.
And as with the depictions of the Cross, that teach us more about the life we must live united to the Lord’s passion, so with images of the Sacred Heart we are taught more about what it means to be united to the Heart of the Lord, and to have the same love which he has for those of us he calls to be his children: a love which is selfless, which is sacrificial, and which comes from God himself.
That sense of offering oneself to God is perhaps the strongest message we can glean from today’s feast. If we desire to have our hearts united eternally to the Heart of the Lord, then we must be prepared to set aside our own desires, ambitions, and selves, in favour of Him. We must be prepared to allow our hearts to burn with a love for Christ which is so intense, that it entirely consumes us, and leaves only him. We must be prepared, with S. Paul, to say ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me’ (Gal. 2:20). This is the call of each Christian person, but in a particular way it is the call of those who are called to live their lives consecrated to the service of God in the Sacred Priesthood (and, I should say, this can be applied to those who live the consecrated life, also).
The Priest, in a special way, sets himself aside completely for the service of the Church, consecrated in her service, united to Christ and the Church, and set apart within the Church for the good and sanctification of her members. The Curé of Ars says that the Priesthood is the love of the Sacred Heart of the Lord, because for a man to be a Priest requires him to have his own desires and will be utterly consumed by a desire and will that is not his own, but Christ’s. The Priest must look on the Sacred Heart as the model for his own heart, his own life – giving of himself entirely for the glory of Christ and the sanctification of the Church.
“When you see a Priest”, says S. John Vianney, “think of Our Lord”. When we see a Priest, we should see a man who has given himself unreservedly to Christ – not simply for service as a Priest, but to encourage all of us to give more freely of who we are, and to become more perfectly what we hope to be – entirely united to the Lord, and entirely his for all time. When our priests live this example, it is – for all of us – an opportunity for sanctification, and for a growing-in-love of the Lord, becoming more and more enveloped by his Sacred Heart.
So may the Lord, whose Sacred Heart burns for love of all who entrust themselves to him, give his priests and faithful his own Heart, that we may be united eternally to him. May his priests, unworthy as we are, be drawn into an ever closer reliance on the love of God, and may their example spur us all toward the fullness of the life we are offered: union with God in our heavenly home.