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June Article for The Rhode Island Catholic Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND

Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND

Often in any faith, cultural practices and religious devotions take on lives of their own. Christmas and Easter are the most obvious ones in the Christian faith. The birth and resurrection of Christ are commonly replaced by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Some lesser known feasts can fall into more subtle traps. An example of this is the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which is usually celebrated on a Friday in June. This year it is the second Friday.

The actual Feast of the Sacred Heart in the universal Church began being celebrated in the nineteenth century following certain efforts of the Jesuits based on a seventeenth century saint, Margaret Mary Alacoque’s revelations. However the devotion to the heart of Christ goes back to the early Church and to the life and teachings of Jesus in Scripture.

For most younger Catholics the Feast is a non-issue and has never crossed their consciousness. For many older ones, on the other hand, it was a distinguishing mark of their early Catholic experience. There were pictures of Jesus with his physical heart outside his body hung in their homes. There was talk of the “promises” of the Sacred Heart. They seemed to be something of a contract – If you honored the image of the Sacred Heart (interpreted as having one on a wall of your home) and if you went to Mass for nine consecutive First Fridays, then you received the following promises: all the graces necessary for life, peace in your families, comfort in your trials, presence of God during life, and, a priest at your side at the time of death. There were others, but these are the essential ones.

God doesn’t work by contract. No matter what we do, we cannot earn God’s love or grace. It is always free gift, unearned and unattainable except for God’s own gracious, overwhelming desire to give love. This does not mean that we negate all acts of devotion. We must always keep them in perspective.

At the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary, a soldier lanced Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out. This was seen then and now as Jesus giving his heart and life for all people. This is our God who told us “come to me, all who are thirsty,” who promised to be the Good Shepherd caring for his sheep, who revealed that the Father and he were one and all their love was given to us.

Over and over in the gospel we see a God incarnate in Jesus Christ whose message is love: total, incomprehensible, self-giving, unconditional, overflowing. Such is our God. Yet through the ages through poor education, misdirected theology or malice, a God of love has been portrayed as a God who measures our sins, who condemns us for our mistakes, who supports wars, crusades, condemnations, excommunication, interdicts, capital punishment, prejudices, ethnic reprisals and all sorts of human undertakings that we try to justify by saying they are God’s will or desire.

Only love is God’s will, only forgiveness is God’s touch, only mercy is God’s way. The promises expressed in the devotion to the Sacred Heart are the way of mercy that is our God as revealed in Jesus Christ. When Jesus spoke to St. Margaret Mary, he said, “Behold this heart which loves humanity so much.” Whether we believe this private revelation or not, we do believe that we have a God who longs for our love and desires to pour his gracious mercy over every aspect of our lives, who is present in our sorrows and agonies, comforting and consoling. It is impossible to absorb such a God as it is always impossible to fully take in matters of the heart. The glimpse we do get makes all of life transformed in love, for love, by love.

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic


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