The heart is an important organ as it is the center from which the life of the body is sustained. When the heart ceases, life ceases. While the heart beats, life continues. So important is the heart to the life of the body, that it is associated with the very core of our being. That is why the heart is considered the center of our emotional life. Thus, we speak of "giving from our hearts" and "speaking from our hearts." The heart is the symbol of love because to give our heart is to give our life.
June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One of the reasons for this is that the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus usually falls during its course. This year it will be celebrated on Friday, June 11. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a significant part of the Church's spiritual life. This is so precisely because the heart manifests love, and no greater love can be expressed than that from the heart of Jesus which was pierced on the Cross. The usual depiction of the Sacred Heart of Christ is that of a heart surrounded by a crown of thorns from which flames are coming forth. This heart is always pictured in the center of Christ’s chest and upon His robes to signify that it is truly the core of His being which expresses His burning love for us.
Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, expressed well the important role that the heart of Jesus continues to have in the manifestation of God's love for us today. He said, "The Sacred Heart of Jesus shares in a most intimate way in the life of the Incarnate Word, and has thus been assumed as a kind of instrument of the Divinity. It is therefore beyond all doubt that, in the carrying out of the works of grace and divine omnipotence, His heart, no less than members of His human nature is a legitimate symbol of that unbounded love."
The Gospel of St. John presents us with the most moving picture of Christ’s Sacred Heart. Here we are told that, after His death on the Cross, Jesus’ Heart was pierced with a lance and immediately there flowed out blood and water (cf Jn 19:34). The blood and the water flowing from Christ's side upon the earth signifies His total giving of Himself and the pouring forth of His Spirit upon the world. From this action, the sacramental life of the Church comes about, and Christ's heart gives the world its salvation. Christ's heart no longer beats to give life to His human body but to give life to the world. In this event is summed up the very essence of divine life which gives life by giving itself away. The significance of this piercing action was well expressed in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "The pierced Heart of Jesus .... is not concerned with self preservation but with self surrender. It saves the world by opening itself ... The heart saves, indeed, but it saves by giving itself away. Thus, in the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us."
The Gospel of St. John might rightly be referred to as the "Gospel of the Sacred Heart." This is so, not only because of the emphasis on the love of God in the Gospel, but also because it presents the foundation for the theology of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the Lord's Heart is pierced upon the Cross. However, we might also refer to the Gospel of St. Matthew as the "Gospel of the Sacred Heart." In this Gospel, many times we read of the Lord's heart being moved with pity (cf Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32) and also of it being broken with sorrow (cf Mt 26:38). The manifestation of Christ's heart in the Gospel of St. Matthew reveals the divine mercy which beat in human fashion in the Heart of Christ. One of the most comforting passages of all of the Gospels is found here as Christ refers to His heart. He beckons, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30). The Lord is indeed meek and humble of heart and that gives us all reason to approach him with complete confidence to lay all our cares upon Him. This passage is a wonderful one to reflect upon during this month of the Sacred Heart.
The day after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is no coincidence that these two feasts always go together. It was from Mary's living heart that the heart of Jesus was conceived in her womb. In her began to beat the heart which gave the Lord human life and also reflected the loving heart of His divinity. From Mary's loving heart, the Lord learned how to be meek and humble of heart. As the blood and water flowed from His pierced heart upon the Cross, it was Mary standing under that Cross who was the first to experience the life it gave.
The Gospel of St. John tells us that Jesus knew what was in man's heart (cf Jn 2:25). He knew the good and the bad and needed no one to explain it to Him. However, He knew that His mother's heart beat most closely with His as, in the words of the Gospel of St. Luke, she treasured everything about Jesus in her heart (cf Lk 2:19). Truly, Mary's heart was most intimately involved with the love and life of the Lord. She was the first to hand on to the Church all that she treasured in her Immaculate Heart. Next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary contains the love of God in its purest expression. As the Lord gave her to us as our mother before His heart was pierced on the Cross, He also gave us her loving heart. Mary also had a pierced heart as foretold to her by the prophet Simeon at the Lord’s presentation in the Temple (cf Lk 2:34-35).
The month of June offers us a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the depth of God's love as it is revealed to us in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Last year, immediately before the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis urged us to “discover the riches hidden in the heart of Jesus.” May we do so in a manner that gives us comfort in the sure knowledge of God’s merciful love which was so perfectly understood by Mary and lived in her heart.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 4, 2021