The Sacred Heart of Christ, sign of his limitless love


Stephen B Whatley's the Sacred Heart of Jesus - part image

I have been telling many of our students here at Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy,  that when we die God is not going to be interested in how you did in this module, or what mark you got in this exam.  However He will be interested in how much love you shared in your life. 

Today the church focuses on the mysterious way that God manifests his love for us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a beautiful devotion that has been part of the Church’s armoury of prayer since its earliest days.  There are countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes and even universities around the world that proudly carry the name of the Sacred Heart.

The limitless ability of God to love us is made most visible with the historical figure of Christ on the Cross, on Golgotha, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem.  There is a famous story of a German Jesuit who appeared on a late night TV discussion programme with a famous imam.  When the presenter pressed them to explain the difference between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God, the Jesuit said  ‘Through human eyes, the Christ was a failure‘.  This was followed by  a profound silence (which you don’t often see on television!).   When the camera panned to the imam, he had silent tears rolling down his face.  A deeply holy and spiritual man who was obviously close to God, the imam recognised the power of his German friend’s words.

In the early church a very popular devotion developed contemplating the sacred wounds of Christ.  We know these wounds, on his forehead the marks of the crown of thorns, on his hands and his feet the holes from the nails, and in his side the large wound made by the lance that pierced his side, were still present in the glorious body of the risen Christ.  The wound in his side opened up Christ’s heart to us, and so the devotion to Christ’s wounds developed to a devotion to his heart, promoted by St Bernard in the eleventh century, and promulgated most notably by the Franciscans and the Carthusians.

In its modern form, the devotion is associated with Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a French Visitation sister who had a series of visions in the 17th Century over a period of 18 months.  In these visions she claimed Jesus appeared to her radiant with love and asked to be honoured under the figure if his heart.   Her spiritual director was a Jesuit priest St Claude de Colombiere SJ.  His wise accompaniment and discrete encouragement were crucial, in spite of widespread disbelief and even jealousy from many of her sisters and friends. The series of promises that were made to those who followed the devotion, which include regular communion, attendance of mass on ‘First Fridays’ and weekly holy hours, were sent around the world under the patronage of an American businessman, with the approval of the Church.  Promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart was entrusted to the Jesuits who have delivered it through the Apostleship of Prayer, recently renamed the pope’s global prayer network. 

I wonder whether this devotion could be the perfect antidote to the epidemic of pornography in our times.