In the rich tradition of the Church, the month of June is set aside in devotion to the Sacred Heart. In a particular way during these weeks we are encouraged to a new fervour and new love for Christ by increasing our fervour and love for his Most Sacred Heart, that font of eternal life and fire of everlasting charity. Depictions of the Sacred Heart remind us of this by the flame that accompanies the Lord’s heart. The love of Christ is so strong that his heart is aflame for us; consuming itself in a furnace of pure love in order that we might benefit from its heat and its light; in order that we might share in the sacrifice it makes by consuming itself, and so have that same love burn deep within us.
In the gospels we occasionally meet a word which, in order to emphasize its particular importance, is left in its original language. This is the case not simply in the English translation we hear proclaimed in the Sacred Liturgy or read in our homes, but in the text of the gospels themselves. We think particularly of the words of Our Lord from the throne of his cross: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27: 46). Or, conversely, of the beautiful moment when Saint Mary Magdalene, recognizing the Lord after his resurrection, cries with a single word, Rabboni, which means “teacher” (Jn 20: 16). Today, too, we find Ephphatha, an Aramaic word which means “be opened” (Mk 7: 34). That this remains untranslated, then, indicates not simply an immediate exterior importance in the healing of the dumb-mute, but a deeper interior significance that reveals something of the very person of Christ.
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.
This homily was given to the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, who have a house in the parish here in DC:
One of the principal calls of the New Evangelisation is the renewal, within the life of the Church, of those who practice the faith, and also those who have lapsed. By this initiative of successive popes, the Church is being called to discover again the unchanging truths of the gospel, and to proclaim them afresh with new ardour, methods, and expressions, in order that all the baptized might be renewed with the grace the Lord offers us by his death and resurrection, and which is the source of our hope in the eternal life he has won for us.
Today’s gospel has something important to say us as we consider this urgent task. Amidst all the excitement and bustle that surrounds the many projects, initiatives, and activities of the New Evangelisation, must be an equally fervent and yet silent interior renewal, that makes us ready to receive the graces of this endeavour and to act on them, as we seek to bring the gospel once more to the world. If we simply continue to pour the ‘new wine’ of a renewed faith into the ‘old skins’ of our unchanged lives, without the interior evangelisation and conversion that is required for each of us, then all the engagement with culture and social media and liturgical renewal that we can muster, will count for little.
On this First Friday, when we commemorate the Lord’s sacred heart, that interior renewal which we require is very clearly presented to us. Just as Christ was entirely consumed by his love for us, so we must have hearts that consume our own earthly desires and wills, in order that his heart might reign in us, and work through all that we do. To have the heart of Jesus Christ within us is to have exactly the ‘new skins’ we require to be truly and profoundly transformed by Christ ourselves, and so be transformative of the culture of death and provisionality that exists around us.
As Pope Francis has said, “evangelisation is done on one’s knees”. Here, in the Mass especially, may that work of our renewal begin again, that Christ may work through us and his mercy and grace and love may be made known.
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.