The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Not so long ago I was in line in the library. When the man in front of me opened his wallet, I glimpsed a Sacred Heart badge. Today some people consider this devotion passé or sentimental, and children may think the art is morbid. Still, the heart of Jesus is a powerful symbol. What does the heart mean in our culture? Life, love, our whole being. (Hebrews thought kidneys had this role!) The heart of Jesus stands for his total, tremendous love for us. And that is the heart of the matter!
When we say, “I love you with my whole heart,” we mean “with all that I am.” God’s love for us compelled him to hide his divinity and become human. Almighty God became one of his creatures. He showed with all his being that he cared for us. His life on earth culminated in the greatest act of love: dying for the sake of the beloved. What’s more, after Jesus died on the cross to save us, a soldier thrust a lance into his heart to make sure he was dead. Yes, a heart is a very fitting symbol for the love of Jesus.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart began in the eleventh century, way before anyone celebrated Valentine’s Day with its avalanche of hearts. Saints, monks and others included it in their private prayers. The symbol received a divine boost when Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary in the seventeenth century and asked her to promote it. He said he wanted everyone to know the depths of his love for them. At one point, he said, “Behold this heart, which has so loved men [and women], but which is so little loved in return.” Unrequited love is sad. Unrequited divine love is terrible.
Jesus requested frequent Communion, especially on the first Friday of each month; holy hours; and a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart took off. The Pope established what we know today as the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, celebrated on the Friday nineteen days after Pentecost. The Jesuits were charged with promoting this devotion, and characteristically, they did a great job. People had scapulars or badges of the Sacred Heart, families were consecrated to the Sacred Heart and his image was enthroned in their homes, Catholics began going to Communion on nine consecutive Fridays, and prayed the Litany to the Sacred Heart.
In art the Sacred Heart is surmounted by a cross and encircled with thorns, both symbols of his love. Flames shoot forth from the heart to represent the burning love Jesus has for us. In some pictures Jesus is shown offering his heart to us.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to Jesus. It makes sense. It was specifically requested by him. Aren’t these enough reasons to love Jesus in return by honoring him under this title?
What do you think?
Image: “Sacred Heart” by Joseph Fanelli, ©1994. All rights reserved. Used by permission.