At the heart of the Christian devotional life, even the worship of the Triune God, is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This may seem a bold claim. After all, how could one devotion among so many others claim such prominence? When we understand what the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to us in our humanity, and how we are defined by God’s love for us, we’ll see that it is more than a private devotion to be lauded by the Church. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is our heart.
Pope Pius XII, commemorating the centenary of the establishing of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a universal feast in the Church by Pope Pius IX, points out the essential nature of the Feast in the life of the Church. Acknowledging that some may be turned off by the image of the heart of Jesus because of either its strange physicality and naturalism, or because of its disembodied emotionalism or sentimentality, reminds us that the Sacred Heart is a celebration of the Incarnation—of God become Man, so that Man might become God. Of course we celebrate more than Jesus’ human love, that He fed and healed and cared for people in physical ways. Jesus’ love is more than a worldly love, but an expression of the interior life and love of the Holy Trinity. On the other hand (in the kind of line we would not find in an encyclical written within the last few decades), Pius XII suggests that some “see it rather a type of piety nourished not by the soul and mind but by the senses and consequently more suited to the use of women, since it seems to them something not quite suitable for educated men.” Not only does he spend the rest of the encyclical refuting the idea that the devotion is merely sentimental, but also that such emotion and sentimentality is part of what it meant for Jesus to perfectly take on our full humanity: “The Sacred Heart of Jesus shares in a most intimate way in the life of the Incarnate Word, and has been thus assumed as a kind of instrument of the Divinity. It is therefore beyond all doubt that, in the carrying out of works of grace and divine omnipotence, His Heart, no less than the other members of His human nature is also a legitimate symbol of that unbounded love.”
The Sacred Heart may not have been an image used until relatively recently in the Church’s liturgical and devotional history, but it speaks volumes to the love that burns in the heart of God, that He would become one of us so that we might share in His divine life. In fact, all of Scripture is a preparation for God to take on human flesh so as to redeem every part of our human experience. Cardinal Ratzinger has reflected:
The taking up of the human world, of the human person expressed in the body, into the biblical word, its transformation into parable and imagery of the divine by means of the biblical proclamation, is a kind of anticipation of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation of the Logos we have the fulfillment of something that has been underway ever since the very beginning in biblical history. It is as if the Word has continually been drawing flesh toward itself, making it its own flesh, the sphere of its own self. On the one hand the Incarnation can only take place because the flesh has always been the Spirit’s outward expression and hence a possible dwelling for the Word; on the other hand it is only the Son’s Incarnation that imparts to man and the visible world their ultimate and innermost meaning. // Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Behold The Pierced One”
So we consider how the Incarnation, in a sense, did not begin or end with the moment that the Son of God first took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It continued on as Jesus felt our emotions, healed our sicknesses, raised our dead. It certainly did not end with the Cross. Jesus did not leave His body behind in the Tomb when He rose from the dead. And when He ascended into heaven, He sat a human body, the fullness of our humanity, on His throne with the Father. Therefore, when the eternal Father gazes with infinite love on the face of the eternal Son, with a love so real and personal that we call It the Holy Spirit, He stares with love into a human face.
Which means that the heart of God beats with a human heart.
Which means that this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not just one devotion among others. It is a reminder, a celebration, a transformation even, of our humanity in the hypostatic union of the Son. The Incarnation was neither momentary nor utilitarian. It is eternal, and it allows heaven to come crashing into earth in our daily, human lives. The Sacred Heart is our heart.