The Venerable Fulton Sheen once spoke of the Sacred Heart in these words: “At the Deluge, Noah made a door in the side of the ark, by which the animals entered, that they might escape the flood. Now a new door is opened into the heart of God into which we might escape the flood of sin. When Adam slept, Eve was taken from his side and was called the mother of all the living. Now as the second Adam inclined His head and slept on the Cross, under the figure of Blood and water there came from His side His bride, the Church. The open heart fulfilled His words: ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture’” (Jn 10:9).
The Gospel passage for today includes a detail that is found in none of the other Gospels; i.e. the piercing of the side of Jesus with a lance. Tradition tells us that the Roman soldier who did this was Longinus. In medieval and some modern Christian traditions, he is described as a convert to Christianity. The Gospel goes on to tell us that both blood and water flowed from his opened side. There are several commentaries which I identify them as symbols of both Baptism and the Eucharist. Other commentators mention that when a woman gives birth, the womb releases both blood and water as the child is born. Bishop Sheen’s comments liken the event to the birth of the Church.
Whichever way we look at this particular event, it is a deliberate aim of the evangelist John to put teeth into a comment made by Jesus earlier in the Gospel. “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18). While the thieves who died along side of Jesus were executed when the soldiers cruelly broke their legs, causing them to suffocate, Jesus gave up his life on his own terms and in his own time.
The passion narratives are all exceptionally graphic and chronicle the cruelty of Roman public execution. However gruesome the details, we cannot escape the conclusion that Jesus freely gave his life as an offering of love for sinners. His death is a gift which is freely offered. For believers the gift is proof that God loved us first, even though humankind had turned their backs to God. The book of the prophet Hosea chronicles Israel’s guilt, punishment and restoration. The verses we hear today are taken from the oracles of Israel’s restoration, a restoration that was completed in the sacrificial death of Jesus.
So as we worship Jesus today under the title of the Sacred Heart, we marvel with St. Paul over the inscrutable riches which are revealed to us in the burning furnace of Christ’s love for us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator