Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Sacred Heart

John 19:31-37

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Barbara Thiella

Published: June 08, 2018

To prepare for writing this reflection, I spent time with four sources: 1) early roots of the devotion within the New Testament communities, 2) hunger looking for reassurance of God’s loving mercy in seemingly empty and dry moments of human history, 3) Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate, and 4) the expression of the God’s love in the eucharistic feast. Lastly, I turned to my own spiritual experience within my immediate family and the Sisters of Notre Dame. More than the words that follow, I recommend this approach to go beyond images from the 19th century and find rest and fire in the heart of Jesus.

Devotion to the heart of Jesus emerges in the middle ages from earlier meditations on the crucifixion. It flourishes within the 17th century and extends to the 21st century by way of the 18th century’s search for a loving and merciful God at a time of revolutions and economic upheaval. Women like Julie and Francoise welcome the popular portrait of Jesus smiling with his arms outstretched to show his open heart. It stands as an icon of God’s whole-hearted and unconditional love for the viewer.

Different moments in history view this image as a reminder that God is incarnate in Jesus, the Christ. Whenever God seems distant, everyday spirituality seeks out signs of God’s available love touching human life as a lover. The image of the heart of Jesus uniquely weaves together human experiences of sorrow and joy, delight and desolation. Embracing this insight - the cross informed by the empty tomb that promises life beyond death - Jesuits and the Daughters of Charity among others spread the devotion. St. Margaret Mary accepts and promulgates her vision as an icon of God’s boundless love.

If there is such constant love without harsh judgment, then God’s promises are real: never-ending support in good times and bad. Like King David looking at the eaglet learning to fly, I can hope to be caught on the wing and returned to the nest to try one more time to fly. Like the young child asking parents, “How much do you love me?” I can see their arms stretched wide and hear the words,” More than the whole world!” Like Julie, I can say with my whole heart, “God alone!” Like Jesus and his early companions, I can trust in the infinite love of God and walk forward in faith and with hope.  

In our time, the transcendent God offers the icon of Jesus’s heart beating with merciful love for all the world. God’s free offer of love as Father, Son and holy Spirit invites my free heart to respond.  In the first letter of John we hear,” In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) As Pope Francis urges, “So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. (58)…Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire.” (151)

Sacred heart of Jesus, we place our trust in You. Enflame our hearts with love for You.


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