Following the Feast of Corpus Christi we joyfully celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus! It is the Feast of that heart which, as we pray in the Office of Readings Hymn, is the hope of sinners here.
Who of us is not a sinner? For all of us perfectly applies that famous verse of Psalm 51: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Ps 51:3). Nevertheless, and even if before me lies my sin, the Psalm presents other realites too. For instance, in Psalm 5 we find: make thy way straight before me (Ps 5:8). In Psalm 16 verse 8 we find: I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. In Psalm 18 verse 22 we read: For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. Psalm 23 verse 5 talks of a table set before the persecuted in the presence of their enemies: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies. In Psalm 44 verse 15 we leap into the negative once again: All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face. Psalm 50 verse 8 the phrase before me speaks about God himself. I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; your burnt offerings are continually before me. Psalm 89 verse 36 talks about the Messiah who comes from the Davidic line: His line shall endure for ever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Finally, in Psalm 119 the phrase before me is alluding to the faithful adherence to God’s ordinances which he set to his people (Ps 119:30).
As it turns out, the phrase before me is a key in understanding better the powerful significance of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The Psalms clearly show that before me, as a human being, there is sin, disgrace, shame and hypocrisy. That is the way we treat ourselves when we do not love God. Meditating on this point I see the great wisdom God gave to St Augustine when, in Discourse 90, he says: “In fact, when you begin to love God, then you will begin to love yourself. Fear not: however great your love for God is, you will never love him too much. The measure of loving God is to love him without measure” (Discourse 90/A, n.9).
Augustine’s comment brings to the fore two realites: first, only in God can we find our real selves. Second, we cannot love God enough because the distance between God’s love for us and our love for God is decidedly incomparable! The difference can be biblically explained, by adopting the prophet Isaiah’s image of heavens and earth: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9).
If we simply change the phrase my thoughts for my love, then we get the whole point clear: For my [love is] not your [love],neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my [love] than your [love] (see Isa. 55:8-9). Interestingly enough, St Bonaventure powerfully depicts the way God’s love is completely different from ours. In the second reading in the Office of Readings for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Seraphic Doctor gives us an extraordinary taste of the speciality of God’s love for us, sinners and disgraceful as we are, as shown in Christ Crucified. He writes in his Lignum Vitae (Tree of Life):
“Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.
It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.
Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove ‘that nests in a hole in the cliff’, keeping watch at the entrance ‘like the sparrow that finds a home’. There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, ‘draw water from the wells of your Savior; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers’, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.
Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart. “O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendor the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time! Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows ‘the river which gladdens the city of God’ and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that ‘with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light’”.
This Bonaventurian work, Lignum vitae (The Tree of Life), leads us to conclude that it is in Jesus’ heart wherein our source of life actually resides! This work, fully containing a powerful expression of Franciscan devotion to the humanity of Christ, particularly in promoting human sentiments developed in cultivating compassion for the suffering Jesus, is so telling! In his own way, Bonaventure is encouraging you and me to go to Jesus’ heart for our daily sustenance, courage and support. Let us not forget what Jesus told us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).
Having said that, Jesus’ heart is the strength of our heart inasmuch as we approach it with that attitudes of babes (Matt 11:25). It is only with such a humble disposition that we can be open to the Father’s action, the Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes (Matt 11:25) as well as the Son’s initiative in choosing to who He might reveal himself, that is the hidden secrets of His heart (see Matt.11:27).
To St. Faustina, a very humble nun, Jesus revealed: My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled (Diary, 1777). Let us approach with great confidence, humility and perseverance Jesus’ heart, day after day! In so doing can we all experience that Jesus’ Heart is, in fact, the number one strength of our hearts!