True Grit and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

"Sacred Heart of Jesus" by Chambers

“Sacred Heart of Jesus” by Chambers

As a convert to the Catholic faith it took me a while to appreciate the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion. To tell the truth, it seemed kind of sappy, sentimental and well… French. All hearts and flowers and perfume – almost like a Valentine from Jesus. Yucch.

Then I learned about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and realized that she, like all the saints, was tough. The saints inevitably endure some sort of suffering in their identification with Christ, so it has to be that Christ’s love — shown in the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everlasting love — but it is also tough love.

C.S. Lewis once wrote to a friend who had lost his wife and was questioning the love of God. He said that his friend was experiencing “a severe mercy.” When thinking about the love of God it is absolutely vital that we keep this in mind. God’s love is unconditional and everlasting, but it is also a tough love.

Do you remember Rooster Cogburn, the hero of the book and movie True Grit? I’ve written here about “Rooster Cogburn Catholicism” — a Catholicism that is tender but tough. One of the most terrible things about modern Christianity is that we have forgotten this.

In an attempt to please everyone, we’ve turned Christianity into a soft and sentimental self-help philosophy. In America we live and breathe an entertainment culture, and this appetite to be entertained has ripped the true heart out of Catholicism and replaced it with an artificial, sugary heart. In an attempt to keep people from leaving their parishes (and taking their money with them) too many priests have appeased them, given them a happy clappy, warm-hearted, feel good version of the faith. It’s cotton candy Catholicism, and like cotton candy, it’s all sweetness and hot air — and too much of it rots your soul as cotton candy rots your teeth.

Combined with the cotton candy Catholicism which is demanded of those addicted to entertainment is the influence of the consumer mentality. Church goers want what they want when they want it. They shop and hop from church to church, and this desire to have it their way is one of the great enemies to the development of a deep spirituality and a barrier from truly learning about the unconditional love of Christ.

The love of Christ is unconditional. Jesus loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. We need discipline and perseverance and training in holiness if we are to climb the mountain to heaven. Going where we want for church because it suits us and makes us feel good is counterproductive. This doesn’t mean we must endure the worst church in the world simply because it will teach us patience and fortitude. However, we are called to be patient and strong when things do not always go our way.

The love of God is sweet and tender, but it is also astringent and tough. We have to be sweet and salty at the same time. We have to be flexible but not brittle.

The qualities we need are pictured in the sacred heart of Jesus. Meditate on the image for a moment. The heart is exposed so we must be vulnerable. The heart is red and warm so we must be passionate, but the heart is also entwined with thorns – which means we must endure the crown of thorns and gather up our suffering and the suffering of the whole world into this sacred heart. It is also a heart that is on fire — a fire that warms and inspires, but also a fire that purifies and burns away all that is wood, hay and stubble — all the worthless trash in our lives.

This is the heart of love for the Catholic, and any form of Christianity which offers only the sweet red glow and forgets the fire and the thorns is a false religion.


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About the Author

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He conducts parish missions, retreats and speaks at conferences across the USA.

His latest book is The Romance of Religion - Fighting for Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Visit his blog, listen to his radio show, and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.

Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! -- Fr Longenecker's free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.

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Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. Fr Dwight was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson.

Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He spent the next ten years working as a freelance Catholic writer, contributing to over twenty-five magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

Fr. Dwight is the editor of a best-selling book of English conversion stories called The Path to Rome - Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. He has written Listen My Son - a daily Benedictine devotional book which applies the Rule of St Benedict to the task of modern parenting. St Benedict and St Thérèse is a study of the lives and thought of two of the most popular saints.

In the field of Catholic apologetics, Fr. Dwight wrote Challenging Catholics with John Martin, the former editor of the Church of England Newspaper. More Christianity is a straightforward and popular explanation of the Catholic faith for Evangelical Christians. Friendly and non-confrontational, it invites the reader to move from 'Mere Christianity' to 'More Christianity'. Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate is a debate with an old Bob Jones friend David Gustafson who is now an Evangelical Episcopalian.

Fr. Dwight’s Adventures in Orthodoxy is described as ‘a Chestertonian romp through the Apostles’ Creed.’ He wrote Christianity Pure&Simple which was published by the Catholic Truth Society in England and Sophia Institute Press in the USA. He has also published How to Be an Ordinary Hero and his book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing was published by Our Sunday Visitor in May 2008. His latest books are The Gargoyle Code - a book in the tradition of Screwtape Letters and a book of poems called A Sudden Certainty, Adventures in Orthodoxy and The Romance of Religion.

Fr. Dwight has contributed a chapter to the third volume of the best selling Surprised by Truth series and is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine, St Austin Review, This Rock, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register. Fr. Dwight has also written a couple of children’s books, had three of his screenplays produced, and is finishing his first novel. He’s working on a book on angels and his autobiography: There and Back Again.

In 2006 Fr. Dwight accepted a post as Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. This brought him and his family back, not only to his hometown, but also to the American Bible belt, and hometown of Bob Jones University. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He is the Administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and an oblate of Belmont Abbey.

Fr. Dwight enjoys movies, blogging, books, and visiting Benedictine monasteries. He’s married to Alison. They have four children, named Benedict, Madeleine, Theodore and Elias. They live in Greenville, South Carolina with a black Labrador named Anna, a chocolate lab called Felicity, cat named James and various other pets.

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