Each of the readings for this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus presents us with a bit of tension and uneasiness.
First we hear from the Prophet Hosea. Hosea’s writings speak of three moments in Israel’s relationship with God. To illustrate those moments, he uses his own marriage. First, there was love and intimacy as is the case with most marriages. This was followed by a period of separation which eventually led to a reunion. Hosea speaks of Israel’s covenant relationship with this same language. First there was a period of fierce but short-lived loyalty in the Sinai desert. This was followed by a long history of unfaithfulness lasting until Hosea’s day. In today’s reading, he goes on to prophesy that eventually Israel will be drawn back to the Lord and bound to God with cords of love, much the same way that a mother binds her child and carries it on her back.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul highlights the fact that God’s plan always included the Gentile nations, but this plan was hidden and finally revealed in Jesus. This idea would have been very difficult for the Jewish converts to fathom as they had always considered only themselves the objects of God’s love.
Finally, St. John includes an episode in the passion and death of Jesus that is not found in the other Gospels; namely, the piercing of Jesus’ side with the soldier’s lance. Blood and water gush forth from this wound. This graphic image focuses our attention on the fact that Jesus’ death gave us life. As every woman who has ever given birth can tell us, water and blood are part of every delivery, of every new life. First the water of the amniotic sac bursts and water gushes forth from the womb. This is followed by the child who is bloodied as it passes through the birth canal. Finally, the placenta is discharged, the organ which filters the blood as it flows from mother to child and from child to mother. The Church uses these images as it reflects on both the water of baptism and the chalice of Jesus’ blood in the Eucharist. Through his death and resurrection, Christ passes new life on to all believers.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart is beloved by many because it is a very human image of love but it is a rather recent devotion in the Church’s history. The very first church that was ever named for the Sacred Heart is the Estrela Basilica (Portuguese: Basílica da Estrela), or Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Carmelite convent in Lisbon, Portugal, built by order of Queen Maria I of Portugal, in fulfillment of a promise she made if God would give her a son. That son was José, Prince of Brazil. The official name of the church is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Construction started in 1779 and the basilica was finished in 1790.
As we celebrate today, we immerse ourselves in the mystery of God’s love, a love not unlike a mother who binds her child to herself with cords of love, a love that extends itself to all people, and a love that found its deepest expression in the death of our Savior. The Eucharist is our memorial of that love, a love that we are to express to all whom we encounter.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator