On the Feast of the Sacred Heart

God has told us that He loves us. In the Old Testament — a mere “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1) — we are told of God’s love: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3); “I have loved you, saith the Lord” (Mal. 1:2). But in the Incarnation, He showed us — in the most divinely human of ways — how real that love is.

Before the creation of the world, in His blissful eternity, God was an abyss of love, an ocean of charity. And although Israel, God’s firstborn (Ex. 4:22), received the Father’s love, the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of that love was largely hidden from view. For all their glory and majesty, none of the prodigies of the Old Law — the pestilences upon Egypt, the Red-Sea crossing, the fire and storm on Sinai — none of them were as powerful an expression of God’s love as is the narrowly circumscribed, vulnerable, and human Heart of Jesus.

Christ being God, we must never forget that He is ineffable, immense, and eternal, ever worthy of empire, praise, and dominion over angels and men. So, too, is His charity unfathomable, majestic, and utterly beyond human comprehension. But if we do not try to fathom it, we will end up being deists who worship a distant god, or Buddhists, for whom annihilation is the spiritual quest. To help us fathom His love, the Son of God became the Son of Mary, took upon Himself our small dimensions, and made His divine love beat in human rhythms.

All Saints Catholic Church (St. Peters, Missouri) - stained glass, sacristy, Sacred Heart detail, photo by Nheyob (source)

All Saints Catholic Church (St. Peters, Missouri) – stained glass, sacristy, Sacred Heart detail, photo by Nheyob (source)

The Feast of the Sacred Heart gives us both sides of this: the grand majesty of the eternal God and the tender littleness of Mary’s Child. We need the first to keep us from descending into drippy sentimentality; we need the second to keep us human as we strive to become divine.

Saint Paul, whose epistles often “contain certain things hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3), majors in the big and cosmic. The epistle for today’s Mass is from Ephesians 3:

“To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God, who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose, which he made, in Christ Jesus our Lord. … For this cause I bow my knees to the Father … That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth: to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”

The feast’s gospel is from Saint John, who rested on the Sacred Heart at the Last Supper, and who reveals the intimate details of Christ’s love: “But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).

A mystery hidden from all eternity, made known to principalities and powers, concerning the wisdom of God, who reveals to us His immense dimensions and who wishes to fill us with His very fullness: That’s big. A Man on a cross, bleeding for love of us: That’s easier to put in our minds. Both are revealed for our salvation.

The theologians tell us that the material object of the Sacred Heart devotion is Our Lord’s human heart, and that the formal object is God’s immense love for man. Hopefully, the foregoing considerations have put some flesh on the bones of that neat philosophical distinction. Hopefully, too, we will all come “to know also the charity of Christ” and be as excited and assured by it as was Saint John:

“And he that saw it, hath given testimony, and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true; that you also may believe” (John 19:35).