June 6, 2024 at 10:52 a.m.

SACRED HEART OF JESUS

A refresher on this wonderful devotion celebrated in June
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz) (Courtesy photo of Gregory A. Shemitz)

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

We are racing through the month of June at high speed and we are already approaching the longest day! It has been a busy time over the last four or five weeks in many parish communities, with lots of celebrations. We have had weddings, Confirmations and First Holy Communions (congratulations to our young people and children). For many of us, June is usually one of those very mixed months and also often a very busy one. There is the transition from late spring to summer and all that this promises. It is a time perhaps of graduations (and prayers for all our graduates too!), or of retirement from a job, or maybe there will be a significant family event such as a wedding or a special anniversary.

June can be a busy month in our church calendar too, as it is crowded with many feast days and saints’ days. It is also, by tradition, the month of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” as we are reminded by statues of the Sacred Heart in parish churches. What is more, on Friday, June 7, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Many Catholics have a great devotion to the Sacred Heart and many houses have either a statue or a picture of the Sacred Heart in them. Perhaps we might be puzzled or unsure about this devotion, or think that it might be a bit outdated, or perhaps we might just like to know more. So the reflection this week is a sort of refresher about what the devotion to the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” is all about.

Devotions to the Sacred Heart became more prominent after the visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque: a saint who lived in France in the late 17th century. Devotions to the Sacred Heart above all invite us to focus on Jesus’ immense love for us. There is an important symbolism at play in this devotion to the Sacred Heart. When we speak of the heart, we often do not just mean the vital organ that pumps blood around our bodies. Rather, the “heart” is considered to be the center of what motivates us and it is the seat of our love for God and for others. This also makes sense when we think about many phrases that we use about people: warm-hearted, cold-hearted, broken-hearted, big-hearted, open-hearted etc. These phrases are not really talking about that amazing muscle, the physical human heart! Instead, they describe or capture the essence of a person.

We can also see this understanding of what we mean by “heart” in the Bible, where the word heart is used hundreds of times, almost always as a symbol of the very soul of a person. The “heart” is literally what makes them tick, or as we might say, going to the very heart of things. So, the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of His great love for us and His desire to fill our hearts with His love. Perhaps we can also reflect that this devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus questions us and challenges us too: about my heart and where my heart really is. In other words, what really motivates me or makes me tick, and where do I put all my energies in life? In this way, the challenge is about our spiritual heart: How would we describe it from that list above?

The Sacred Heart is very much connected with the gift of love from the heart of Jesus: the Eucharist. The Eucharist is often called “the sacrament of love” since it is a real presence of Jesus’ love for us and a challenge for us to love another. Do I receive the Eucharist with an open and clean heart? Do I then live the love of Jesus that I have received as I leave Mass? A number of parishes also have “Eucharistic Adoration,” where we can spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It is a wonderful way of extending the loving encounter with our Lord that we experience and receive during the celebration of the Mass.

So, as we enter these summer months, perhaps our Lord asks two things of us. First of all, he asks us to open our hearts to His; that is to His immense love. Let us not be hard hearted and indifferent to Jesus’ great love for each of us. Secondly, he might ask us to look into our hearts and to see what is there and then, with His help, to renew and to strengthen our heart: that is to create a pure heart within us. In all this, we will receive many gifts that we need in our often busy lives that can tug at our heart this way and that. Finally, and by no means least, we can receive that special gift of the risen Christ, the gift of a tranquility of heart. This is a gift that many of us need in our busy and sometimes fragmented lives. It is a wonderful gift indeed!

Let us finish our reflection with the words from the Preface for the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:

…For raised up high on the Cross

He gave himself up for us with a wonderful love

and poured out blood and water from his pierced side,

the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments,

so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior,

all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.

 Father Barratt, STL, PhD, EV, ChM, is the director of the Office of Prayer and Worship, episcopal vicar for the Hudson Valley Vicariate, a member of the Presbyteral Council & College of Consultors and pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in Hudson-Germantown — all in the Diocese of Albany — and adjunct professor at Siena College and St. Bernard’s Postgraduate School of Theology and Ministry in Albany.






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