, ,

Altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Cathedral of Mary our Queen, Baltimore, MD

Image of the Sacred Heart in the Cathedral Church of Mary our Queen, Baltimore, MD

By this feast of the Most Sacred Heart the Church today draws us as individuals closer and closer to the person of Christ by acknowledging that his natural heart—the fleshy reality of the human organ—is itself intertwined with the supernatural reality of his divine and all-consuming love for us. By venerating sacred images of his wounded and flaming heart, and by our own desire to become one with the perfect fire of his charity which such images represent, we are presented with the opportunity to become more perfectly conformed to the Lord; united to his eternal sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the presence of his everlasting Father.

This essential conformity to the heart of Christ is perhaps most clearly understood through the depiction of his heart burning with flames of fire. Far from being some overly-pious icon of sentimentality, such an image is a true sign of Christ’s all-consuming love; a love that invites us to join ourselves to those very flames in order that, one with his own holocaust offering of self-sacrifice, we may be entirely annihilated, that only he remains. Christ’s love for us—and indeed the love that is thus demanded of us for him—is that perfect sacrificial gift of the self for the other. So it is in the sacrifice of the person of Christ on the cross of Calvary that we catch the fullest glimpse of his supernatural love—of his Sacred Heart—a glimpse which is re-presented for us in the Eucharistic oblation.

For this reason the feast of the Most Sacred Heart has something of a priestly sense. The heart of Christ and the love which radiates from it embodies in a particular way the nature of the ministerial priesthood. In this life the person of the priest is to be utterly consumed in a holocaust offering to the Father, that nothing of him remain and that Christ alone may dwell within him. The life of sacrifice undertaken by the priest,  then, and particularly through the continually unfolding gift of celibacy, shows forth in a unique way the all-consuming nature of the burnt offering which is embodied in Christ’s perfect sacrifice: the man who serves his people “with an undivided heart”, consumed not by his own desires but in service to his people and in offering to the Father by his very his life.

Of course the priest cannot bear this burden without the grace of the sacraments he receives, nor without the fervent and assured prayers of the Christian faithful. And so today affords us the opportunity to plead with God not only for more vocations to the sacred priesthood, but for those priests we know—those who inspire and frustrate us alike—who rely so greatly on our prayerful support.

So let us humbly unite ourselves with Christ in this offering of himself to the Father in the Mass. Let us seek to be so consumed by his love that only he remains. And let us take with us into that crucible of refining fire the men who serve us as priests, that conformed to the heart of Christ they might become more clearly icons of the one whom they serve, that all men might come to the knowledge of the truth, and themselves receive the grace which—in his Most Sacred Heart—the Lord offers to all.