Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: meditation from Divine Intimacy
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD | 14 June 2023
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, teach me how to know You and to love You.
The object of devotion to the Sacred Heart is, properly speaking, the physical Heart of Jesus, which is worthy of adoration because it is a part of His sacred humanity, hypostatically united to the Word. However, the ultimate object of this devotion is the love of Jesus, the symbol of which is His Heart. In other words, “beneath the symbolic image of the Heart, we contemplate and venerate our divine Redeemer’s immense charity and generous love” (Pius VI). This is the real meaning of the devotion to the Sacred Heart by which the Church asks us to honour the Heart of Jesus as the visible representation of His invisible love. “Your charity has allowed You to be wounded by the visible blow of the lance,” the liturgy of the feast sings, “ so that we may venerate the wounds of Your invisible love”(Roman Breviary). Therefore, the principle object of this devotion is the love of Jesus, an uncreated love with which He, as the Word, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, loved us from all eternity, and from all eternity willed to become incarnate for our salvation. It is also the created love of charity with which, as Man, He loved us even to the death of the Cross, meriting for us by His love that same charity by which we are enabled to love Him in return. Here we find the most profound significance of devotion to the Sacred Heart. St Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus had such a thorough understanding of this meaning that she made this devotion the centre of her life. The process for her canonisation says that the Saint “saw the Heart of Jesus as the center, the source of the love with which the divine Word, in the bosom of the Father, loved us from all eternity, and merited for us in time the power to love Him in return, on earth and in heaven, by our sharing in this love.”
Other devotions to Our Lord have for their object the mysteries or special aspects of His life, as for example, the Incarnation, the hidden life, the Passion. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, on the contrary, has a more general object, the love of Jesus, which constitutes the profound, essential reason for all His mysteries, the love that is the first and only cause of all He has done for us. In this sense, devotion to the Sacred Heart touches, as it were, the mainspring of all the mysteries of the Redeemer, the essential raison d’étre of His life, His Person. It is the love which explains the Incarnation of the Word, the life of the Man-God, His Passion, His Eucharist. We cannot possibly understand the mystery by which the Son of God became Man, died on the Cross to save mankind, and then became their Food, if we do not admit this infinite love which compelled God the Creator, the Most High, to find a way to give Himself entirely for the salvation of His creatures. The Church gives expression to this interpretation in the hymn at Matins: Amor coegit te tuus mortale corpus sumere — “Thy love has impelled Thee (or rather, ‘has constrained Thee’, if we accept the Latin word in its full sense) to assume a mortal body, so that as the new Adam, Thou wouldst restore what the old Adam had lost.” The hymn continues, now praising the eternal love of the Word, now the human love of Jesus; two loves which, in fact, cannot be separated, just as the sacred humanity of Jesus cannot be disassociated from the Word which assumed it. Jesus is both God and Man, hence His love is both divine and human. He loved us and continues to love us as God and as Man. His human, created love is made sublime by the eternal love of the Word, or rather, it becomes the very love of the Word who makes it His own, just as all the sentiments and acts of Christ as Man are raised to a supreme dignity. Thus, His divine love becomes sensible, comprehensible, and tangible to us by means of the manifestations of His human love. It is always the humanity of Jesus which reveals His divinity to us, and just as we know the Son of God through His sacred humanity, so do we know His divine love through the human love of Jesus.
“For this, O Jesus, was Your sacred side pierced, that it might give us an easy entrance. Your Heart was opened that we might dwell there, safe from exterior disturbances. In addition to this, You were pierced by a spear, so that through the visible wound, we could see the invisible one which love inflicted on You, for he who burns with love, is wounded by love. What better evidence of Your ardent love could You have given us than by permitting the lance to pierce, not only Your Body, but even Your Heart? The wound in Your flesh then shows forth the wound in Your spirit.
“Who will not love that Heart so deeply wounded? Who will not return love to One who so loved us? Who will not embrace a Spouse so chaste? Certainly the soul loves You in return, O Lord, who, knowing itself to be wounded by Your love, cries to You: Your charity has wounded me! We too, pilgrims in the flesh, love as much as we can, and embrace the One who was wounded for us, whose hands, feet, side, and Heart were pierced. Let us love and pray: ‘O Jesus, deign to bind our hearts, still so hard and unrepentant, with the chain of Your love and wound them with its dart.’”St Bonaventure
“O Jesus, a soldier opened Your side with his lance, so that, through the gaping wound, we might know the charity of Your Heart, which loved us unto death, and that we might enter into Your unutterable love through the same channel by which it came to us. Approach, then, O my soul, the Heart of Christ, that magnanimous Heart, that hidden Heart, that Heart which thinks of all things and knows all things; that loving Heart, all on fire with love. Make me understand, O Lord, that the door of Your Heart was forced open by the vehemence of Your love. Allow me to enter into the secret of that love which was hidden from all eternity, but is now revealed by the wound in Your Heart.”St Bernardine of Siena