Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart has got to be on anyone’s short list of the most identifiably Roman Catholic customs — right up there with the Rosary and the use of holy water. It’s the likely origin of that staple of American sarcasm, “My heart bleeds for you,” and, of course, “bleeding-heart liberal.”
Historians trace the devotion to the twelfth century, but Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, followed its prehistory to the Fathers:
The holy Fathers, true witnesses of the divinely revealed doctrine, wonderfully understood what St. Paul the Apostle had quite clearly declared; namely; that the mystery of love was, as it were, both the foundation and the culmination of the Incarnation and Redemption. For frequently and clearly we can read in their writings that Jesus Christ took a perfect human nature and our weak and perishable human body with the object of providing for our eternal salvation, and of revealing to us in the clearest possible manner that His infinite love for us could express itself in human terms.
Those are, of course, recurring themes in the Fathers, especially as they worked through the christological controversies of the fourth through sixth centuries.
To mark the feast day, I asked my favorite expert on the subject, Sister Cora Lombardo, which patristic texts I should put forth for my visitors’ prayer and meditation on her favorite feast day. (Sister Cora is an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and popular speaker on the Sacred Heart.) She sent the following to me, and I, in obedience, relay them to you.
Here’s St. Gregory of Nyssa:
He had laid wood against wood, and hands against hands: His generously extended hands against those that reach out with greed; His nail-pierced hands against those that are fallen in discouragement; His hands that embrace the whole world against the hand the brought about Adam’s bandishment from Paradise.
Yesterday I hung on the Cross with Christ; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I was dying with Him, today I am brought to life with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him, today I rise with Him.
Let us become like Christ, since Christ also became like us. Let us become gods for Him, since He became man for us.
And here’s St. Augustine:
“Sing to the Lord a new song; his praise is in the assembly of the saints.” We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new men who have learned a new song. A song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song, and the new song reminds us of our new life. The new man, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the one kingdom of God, and so the new man will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant.
There is not one who does not love something, but the question is, what to love. The psalms do not tell us not to love, but to choose the object of our love. But how can we choose unless we are first chosen? We cannot love unless someone has loved us first. Listen to the apostle John: We love Him, because He first loved us. The source of man’s love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved him first. He has given us Himself as the object of our love, and He has also given us its source. What this source is you may learn more clearly from the apostle Paul who tell us: The love of God has been poured into our hearts. This love is not something we generate ourselves; it come to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Since we have such an assurance, then, let us love God with the love He has given us. As John tells us more fully: God is love, and whoever dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. It is not enough to say: Love is from God. Which of us would dare to pronounce the words of Scripture: God is love? He alone could say it who knew what it was to have God dwelling within Him.
God offers us a short route to the possession of Himself. He cries out: Love Me and you will have Me for you would be unable to love Me if you did not possess Me already.
Thanks, Sister Cora!
And please make sure to ponder the Scripture readings for the day.