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The Forge of the Sacred Heart
In my home parish growing up, there were a number of lovely, a little bit dusty, and sentimental-looking statues stashed in the corners and niches of the church. There was St. Patrick, the parish’s namesake, holding his three-leaf clover, St. Anthony of Padua holding the Christ Child, and also a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Christ wearing a red cloak over a white robe, gesturing to His chest where the iconic Heart was on display. I walked past that statue countless times as a child, and through high school, too, but like all familiar things, sometimes we take for granted those things and people we assume will always be around. I don’t think I ever really LOOKED at that statue, or closely at that Heart, until after I had joined the Old College Undergraduate Seminary program, and learned that the primary patron of Holy Cross was the Sacred Heart. Then I started to remember, and notice anew, that the Sacred Heart seems to be everywhere, but I had been passing it by, not really noticing, taking it for granted without taking the time to think and pray about why this devotion became so widespread in much of the Church.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart can mainly be attributed to the efforts of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The image of the Heart itself is quite striking, when you take a moment to examine the elements it includes. There is, of course, the heart, which is a reminder of the Incarnation, that Jesus had a real human body, with a real human heart, with all that it means both anatomically and emotionally. The heart is probably the most popular metaphor in our culture for the center of our emotional experiences, and Jesus would have known the full range of emotion, save those caused by sin.
The Heart is encircled by the crown of thorns and surmounted by a cross, reminders of the Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion. “Passion,” that is another multivalent word. In church language we know it refers to Jesus’ suffering, but in common parlance it now most often refers to the strong emotions attached to romantic love. This Heart surely knew deep love, love so strong that it led Him to pour out his own blood like wine, as he predicted at the Last Supper. It is the Heart that was finally pierced by the solder’s lance, causing the blood and water to flow out—the Blood that we receive in the Eucharist and the water of baptism in which we were all washed clean from our sin.
The most striking feature of the Sacred Heart to me, however, has always been the flames that surround the cross at the top of the Heart. Why is Jesus’ Heart on fire? Those are flames of passion, passion more the way we usually understand it, passion of a deep longing and desire to bring the beloved into union with Himself. His heart is on fire with love for us, and He longs for our hearts to be united with His. The traditional prayer to the Sacred Heart is, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.” (see Matthew Ch. 11)
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is like a burning forge, and if your heart is taken and brought close to His, then your heart will catch fire, too. You can see that in the lives of the Apostles, who were so on fire with the Love of God that they rushed to the corners of the world to spread it. It is a forge because when your heart is plunged into His, that love will burn away everything that keeps you from loving the way that He does. The love of Christ will purify your heart and strengthen it to love with courage and constancy and trust.
So has my appreciation grown over the years for the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from barely noticing an old, dusty statue to striving to recall what that statue is meant to evoke: the infinite love of God hidden within a human heart. Jesus, please take my heart, and hold it close to Yours, that I may catch fire, too.
O Generous Savior,
You are so good that You will pardon all and so powerful that You will take
from among us hearts unworthy of Your tenderness.
Change these hearts, make them conformable to Yours, O Divine Master,
and forget so many offenses.
from a sermon on 'Entering the Heart of Jesus'
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