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  A Christian Faith Magazine June 2004, Volume 9, Issue 11  
Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Fr. Paul N. Check
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Heart Pendant

No part of the human person attracts more attention than the human heart. The concept of "heart" evokes many meanings. We use it to refer to the physical organ itself or for anyone who has plumbed the depths of love; the heart is the timeless symbol of love's power. We hear innumerable phrases like: "I give you my heart" or "open your heart", which seem to get at the essence of who we are: men and women destined to love and be loved. Hence, Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ is essential to showing us who we are.

The Sacred Heart has two crucial aspects. The first is that Christ's Heart is a real physical organ reminding us of the reality of the Incarnation. Christ has a real human heart pumping blood to all parts of His body because He is truly a man. The other aspect is that the Sacred Heart symbolizes and recalls the pure love of Jesus. We have seen His Heart depicted in art "worn" outside His chest all aflame, exposed to remind us of His incredible vulnerability. God the Father loved us so entirely that He would not withhold His own Beloved Son to secure our redemption. But in the freedom of this decision, we are confronted with that other aspect of freedom: the possibility of rejecting love. If we look at these paintings more carefully and truly meditate upon the Gospels, we recognize that the Heart of Christ is a wounded Heart. In a world characterized by brokenness, where often is heard the agonizing cry: "My heart is broken", the Sacred Heart of Christ is a treasure of compassion and haven of strength where one may go and be comforted that whatever pain and sorrow is crushing one's heart, Jesus understands.


We are also reminded of the Passion of Christ. There exists no more perfect concept to describe the power of a heart, nor the reality of our redemption than "passion". But this is authentic passion: a total giving of oneself for another in love. It is not the heat of passion where one abandons self-control. The Passion of Christ models how we are to "process" passion: in selfless service for the benefit of those we love, even to the point of death: it is the Passion of Sacrifice. In the "last" moment of the Passion, Saint John describes how Christ, after commending His Spirit to the Father, is pierced by a soldier's lance. From out of His punctured heart, blood and water spill to the ground. The wisdom of the Church tells us that as Eve was drawn forth from the side of her husband Adam, Christ's Bride the Church was taken from His pierced side and given life. We are that Bride, His Body the Church taken in marriage: one flesh, one union. However, even before the steel touched His side, Jesus was already dead. Hell had already exhausted its fury upon Him; what then was the point of this piercing? If He could not feel the pain, we most certainly can. Wanting us to share in the redemption of the world, we are given the heart of Christ in our baptism. The heart of the union of Christ and Church beats within us; therefore, we are given a capacity to love that exceeds all human limits because having become man, God has given all human beings the ability to love as God. That is the exceptional beauty and sorrow of this great devotion. We love with the wounded heart of Christ and are reminded that what we feel are pains, joys and sorrows that are instruments of redemption for others.

In the 13th century, in a vision Saint Gertrude asked Saint John why there was not a development of this devotion, referring to the moment he laid his head upon the beating heart of Christ at the Last Supper. He explained that God was reserving this Devotion for a time when hearts would grow cold. Few today would argue that modem man finds himself threatened with a catastrophic ice age of heart and soul. Yet in her perfecting parental love, Holy Mother Church once more provides us with a remedy: Jesus Christ.

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