Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Why do we have a day devoted to celebration of the Heart of Jesus? In the words of Pope Benedict,
The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the Gospel was revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and already makes us live in God’s eternity. Even our shortcomings, our limitations, and our weaknesses must lead us back to the Heart of Jesus. His divine Heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him.”
I have never been moved by traditional depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus standing there pointing to his heart or holding a heart in His hand is not something that touches me. I actually find some of the depictions I’ve seen over the years a little creepy.
But there are two images that come to my mind when I think of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that do have meaning to me.
The first is the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that stood at the top of the long driveway that led to St. Ignatius Retreat House in New York, my spiritual home for so many years. The statue was a large, almost life-sized, white statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched in welcome, looking almost as though he is about to embrace whoever is approaching him.
The first time I went to St. Ignatius my heart was filled with grief – it was the Monday after 9/11. I can still remember seeing that statute for the first time. As it came into view, I felt the tension in my body begin to dissipate. The anxiety drained and I felt invited, welcomed. I knew it was right to have come there.
Each time I drove to the retreat house I had the same experience. (Alas, the house is not closed and sold; I have no idea where the statue is now.) Whatever I happened to be feeling at the time – fatigue, irritation, anxiety, I would pull into the driveway, see that statute, and smile broadly as I felt something release in my body. I could feel each time, the love and the invitation Jesus extended to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “Come away to a quiet place and rest a while.”
That is the invitation extended to all of us by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The second image is in the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on the grounds of the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, which presents a very different image from the traditional depictions.
The statue in the Shrine depicts Jesus sitting with a small boy standing at his side. Jesus’ right arm is around the boy, whose eyes are closed and whose head leans in, resting on Jesus. The boy’s right hand is holding Jesus’ left hand resting on Jesus’ knee and the boy’s other hand rests gently on Jesus’ forearm. Jesus’ gazes intently at the boy, as though there is no one else in the world. Total love and compassion pouring out of Jesus. And the child there in total trust and comfort. When I saw that statue, my first thought was: this is truly the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
The Sacred Heart of Jesus invites us to an intimate relationship of love and trust in Jesus. A relationship that changes everything about who we are in the world.