The Center of Our Faith

June is traditionally the month dedicated to Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

It’s always struck me as noteworthy that we don’t have a feast of Jesus’ sacred brain, even though Jesus is the eternal logos. We don’t honor his hallowed hands, which, in spite of calluses from hard work in a hidden Nazarene carpentry shop, brought a tender healing touch to so many. There’s no commemoration of the Lord’s consecrated feet, which traversed the ancient holy hand as he announced the Good News from town to town. There’s no liturgical observation of Jesus’ blessed eyes, which looked on the rich young man with love and were so powerful that, with one glance, they could make Peter weep in the high priest’s courtyard. There’s no festival of his venerable voice, which amplified the word of God made man.

While there would be a certain fittingness to honoring all of these parts of Jesus’ sacred anatomy — especially since his head was crowned with thorns, his hands and feet pierced by nails, his eyes bruised and beaten and his voice thoroughly parched on Good Friday out of love for us —  Jesus has never asked that we do so. Rather, when he began to appear to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673, he did so to request that a feast be instituted to honor him under the image and reality of his Sacred Heart.

The Lord’s reason for choosing his heart will always remain, in some ways, a great and beautiful mystery, but even with our limited human intellects we can come up with at least two partial explanations why.

First, according to the language and imagery of the Bible, the heart has always been considered the center of the person, the point where reason, will and emotions converge, the place where one finds his inner unity and direction. To honor Jesus’ heart means that we give homage to his entire sacred humanity, conscious that Jesus took our own nature in order to offer it for us, redeem it, and make it the sacred dwelling place of God once again.

Second, the heart is the organ that most effectively symbolizes love. To adore Jesus’ heart is to venerate his great love for us. When Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary, he exposed his heart and she saw it engulfed in flames, a sign that he burns with love of us. Twice during the Last Supper, Jesus said that he loves us as much as the Father loves him (Jn 13:34; Jn 15:13) and, just like the Father’s love for him, Jesus’ love for us has no limits. Jesus himself revealed this to St. Margaret Mary when she saw his exposed, ardent heart also surrounded by a crown of thorns. No one has greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down his life for his friends, and the crown of thorns united in the midst of the flames is a sign of just how much suffering Jesus’ love for us was willing to bear.

Because Jesus has a human heart, however, that heart can be broken, and it has been — and not just when it was pierced with a lance upon the Cross. Jesus told St. Margaret Mary as much in 1675, because the burning love of his heart for us so often goes totally unrequited. Pointing to his heart, he said to her, “Behold the heart which has so much loved men that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love. Instead of gratitude, I receive from most only indifference, by irreverence and sacrilege and the coldness and scorn that men have for me in the sacrament of love.”

The sacrament of love he was referring to was, of course, the Eucharist. This was the reason why Jesus wanted the Feast of the Sacred Heart established within the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi, so that a reparation of love and adoration could be done by the Church in response to the glacial indifference with which his abiding Eucharistic love is met. It’s no surprise that he told St. Margaret Mary that that reparation should take a particularly Eucharistic form in the practice of frequent communion, especially on first Fridays, as well as by a vigil of prayerful adoration on Thursdays in memory of his agony and desertion.

It’s important to stress that Jesus was asking not for devotion, not merely recognition, of his sacred humanity and burning love. For him it was not enough that people know that he loved them passionately enough to take on our humanity, redeem it and then remain with us until the end of time in the Eucharist; he desired for that knowledge to pass from their heads, to their hearts, to their knees, to all parts of their lives. Much like what the Lord did with the feast of Corpus Christi in the 13th century and of Divine Mercy in the 20th — creating the occasion for belief in his real presence in the Eucharist and in our need for his mercy to pass from knowledge to ardent love — so with the revelation of his Sacred Heart, he wanted us to adore his sacred humanity and merciful love all in one, not in plaster statues, but in the Eucharist.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus brings us to the “source and summit of the Christian life,” which is the Eucharist. That is why Pope Benedict, in his Angelus greeting on Sunday, said that devotion to the Sacred Heart is essentially the “center of the faith.” The Heart of Christ, he stated, “expresses in a simple and authentic way the ‘glad tidings’ of love, summarizing the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption in itself. … God desired to enter into the limits of history and the human condition. He took on a body and a heart; thus we can contemplate and meet the infinite in the finite.”

Benedict calls every person to find his “center” in Jesus’ Sacred Heart, which he poetically says constitutes a “source of truth and goodness to draw from in the flux of the different situations of everyday life and its toil. Everyone of us, when he pauses for a moment of silence, needs to feel not only the beating of his own heart, but more deeply, the beating of a trustworthy presence, perceptible to the senses of faith and yet more real: the presence of Christ, the heart of the world.”

For that reason he explicitly wanted to “invite everyone to renew his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ,” in which man and woman can find again their center by rediscovering in Christ both the ontological meaning of their humanity — which Christ humbled himself to take so that we might share in his divinity — as well as the moral meaning, in receiving and sharing the self-sacrificial love of Christ.

This June is a special occasion for each of us to return to this center of our faith, this summary of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto thine!

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About the Author

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. He is the former pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, Massachusetts and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

After receiving a biology degree from Harvard College, he studied for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto and for several years in Rome. After being ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Fall River by Bishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. on June 26, 1999, he returned to Rome to complete graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family.

Fr. Landry writes for many Catholic publications, including a weekly column for The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, for which he was the executive editor and editorial writer from 2005-2012. He regularly leads pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land, Christian Europe and other sacred destinations and preaches several retreats a year for priests, seminarians, religious and lay faithful. He speaks widely on the thought of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, especially John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He was an on-site commentator for EWTN’s coverage of the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis, appears often on various Catholic radio programs, and is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.

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