The Church dedicates the month of June to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is almost impossible to find a Catholic Church which does not have an altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My own parish has such an altar, with beautiful stained glass windows depicting the Heart of Christ. Before the Masses, the faithful light candles there and these little flames burn within small red containers, as they do in numerous other Churches, representing the devotion and the prayers of each soul, taking their needs to the Lord. It is still commonplace for Catholic homes to have an image of the Sacred Heart, often enthroned within the home.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an ancient and venerable one which – in the form with which we are most familiar – dates back to the late 1600s and the apparitions of Christ to St Margaret Mary Alacoque at Paray le Monial, in France. It was in these apparitions that the Lord explicitly requested devotion to His human Heart, giving St Margaret Mary the Twelve Promises to those who took up this devotion. Amongst the words of Our Lord to His beloved daughter, these are perhaps the essential ones and the words which say everything about the devotion –
“Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much!”
Our devotion is focussed on this physical Heart of Jesus, which we adore because it is part of the Lord, Who is both God and man by virtue of the Hypostatic Union. But the devotion looks toward the love of Christ, represented by this Heart. Pope Pius VI commented on this when he wrote – “beneath the symbolic image of the Heart, we contemplate and venerate our Divine Redeemer’s immense charity and generous love”.
Looking at an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the prominent features is that of the Wound which cuts across the Heart itself – the Wound caused when Christ was dead upon the Cross and His Heart was opened by the lance. This Wound says so very much about the love of Christ for all mankind – although God, He took human form and was willing to undergo the Passion and His death upon the Cross, all for love of us. The Heart of Christ is no stranger to suffering.
The Gospel of St John tells us that “One of the soldiers opened His side with a spear” (cf.Jn19:31-37). And so for us, this Wound is a door. St Augustine comments on this when he writes – “The Evangelist says.. ‘opened’, to show us that the door of life was thrown open, through which the Sacraments of the Church flow forth”. These Sacraments are represented by the Blood and Water which flow from the wounded Heart. And it is in this wounded Heart that we find the “unsearchable riches” of which St Paul speaks in his Letter to the Church in Ephesus (cf.Eph.3:8-19).
These “unsearchable riches” mentioned by St Paul are also described in the Diary of St Faustina, where she records the Merciful Lord as saying –
“From all My Wounds, like from streams, mercy flows for souls. But the Wound in My Heart is the Fountain of unfathomable mercy. From this Fountain spring all graces for souls.” (Diary of St Faustina, para.1190)
If the wounded Heart of Christ knows suffering, then it is to Him that we should flee when we, too, suffer in whatever way during life. This Heart, which loves us even to the extent of giving Itself up to death for us, has suffered far more than we ever will, for He is the Spotless Lamb, the Holy One, who willingly took upon Himself the Passion out of love for us.
That Heart, opened once on the Cross, remains forever open, ever welcoming, ever succouring, and always ready and waiting to give us shelter. This Wound is our place of safety in every need throughout life and in death. His death gives us life.
“O Jesus, a soldier opened Your side with his lance so that, through the gaping Wound, we might know the charity of Your Heart, which loved us unto death; and that we might enter into Your unutterable love through the same channel by which it came to us. Approach, then, O my soul, the Heart of Christ, that magnanimous Heart, that hidden Heart, that Heart which thinks of all things and knows all things; that loving Heart, all on fire with love. Make me understand, O Lord, that the door of Your Heart was forced open by the vehemence of Your love. Allow me to enter into the secret of that love which was hidden from all eternity, but is now revealed by the Wound in Your Heart.”
(Saint Bernadine of Sienna)
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us, for we place all our trust in Thee.