The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the relevance of this venerable symbol in our daily lives. The image of the Sacred Heart is never mentioned as such in Sacred Scripture, but its meaning can be found spanning each page from Genesis to Revelation.
Today’s readings point to this fact and frame the Sacred Heart in terms of two central themes: love and closeness. They speak of the love of God is a shepherdly love, an involved love, a powerful love; a love that is up-close and personal, that seeks out the lost, heals the afflicted, strengthens the contrite, upholds the humble, and calls men and women of every time and place to be all they can be, to love in return, to have life in abundance: to be holy. We see here that the image of the Sacred Heart is intimately linked with the image of the Good Shepherd. The first reading, where the God of Israel Testament speaks to Ezekiel of how He Himself will tend the sheep of His flock; how He will “gather them from foreign lands” and “lead them out from among the peoples,” pasturing them on verdant mountains, that they may lie down and be at rest. These words are echoed in today’s psalm, the renowned and beloved Psalm 23, which conveys the profound peace of a sheep of God’s flock. The Gospel for today’s solemnity extends this theme and gives it its full depth. It is the story of the lost sheep; but above all, it is the story of the Shepherd, who leaves the ninety nine in search of the one.
This is precisely what the Church celebrates today, a love so profound, so immediate but immense that it defies human reason. It goes beyond any logical constructs and extends beyond our faculty to comprehend. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of God’s incarnate love, a shepherdly love, a dynamic love: a love brought to life by the Incarnation of Jesus. In Christ we realize that our God cares for His sheep not in a general or indifferent way, like a rich uncle who sends cheques but never calls or comes to visit. His love isn’t just an overall affection for humanity. Rather it is an intense solicitude for each and every sheep, each and every one of us that desires relationship and intimacy. God so desires this intimate relationship that He willed to humble Himself and enter the human drama. He chose not just to admire the sheep from afar, but dwell in there midst, to smell as they smell and devote His entire life and livelihood to their care. In this way the Incarnation is the ultimate seal of God’s desire to be close; the ultimate sign that God’s love reaches out to us, invites us, draws us—personally. There is no red tape between us and the love of God. For by the coming Christ and the wounds of His death all boundaries and all barriers have been torn asunder. Thus it is appropriate that Incarnation and Passion both feature in the depiction of the Sacred Heart. The heart depicted is a human heart, a fleshly heart, a living heart; but it is also a pierced heart, a bleeding heart, encircled with a crown of thorns and punctured by the blade of a spear.
Jesus’ heart reaches out for us, it goes out in search of us; it pines after us as a shepherd for a lost sheep. Let us take a moment today to imagine ourselves as that lost sheep of Luke’s Gospel. As a sheep loved by the Shepherd, whose loving heart follows after it wherever it may go always seeking the good of His fold, gathering them together in love, and leading them in peace by His gentle voice. Each of us is the lost sheep: as individuals, as communities, as a human family. God seeks to reconcile us to Himself and loves us so much that He sends Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in search of us, to bear us on His shoulders and bring us back rejoicing to the eternal pastures of the New Jerusalem.
And so today let us take to heart the rich meaning of this ancient devotion; let us allow ourselves to be struck by the love of Christ. In the ordinary moments of our lives, the simple as much as the spectacular, the majestic as well as the mundane, may we be transformed by the knowledge that we are loved and respond with gratitude to love in return. May our hearts beat along with the heart of Jesus, be conformed unto His, and in doing so become channels of His intense, intimate love for each person; that our hearts too may be afire with the incarnate love of God.
[The readings for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart are Ez. 34:11-16; Ps. 23; Rom. 5:5b-11; Lk. 15:3-7.]
“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Lk. 1:39-45)The story of the Visitation presents us with profound insight into the life and mission of the Christian. Mary, having received in her womb the mystery of the Word made flesh, does not contain this awesome mystery, she does not withdraw for nine months of solitude and private contemplation. Rather she sets off “with haste,” propelled by the Holy Spirit to radiate the reality of Emmanuel, God with us. Encountering God leads her to encounter others so that they too may experience the joy of knowing God in Jesus Christ. In this way the Visitation is Mary’s response to the Incarnation, the indwelling of God: a response that calls her outwards, to the outskirts, to the hill country. This is the power of the Word of God; a word that is potent, vibrant, and alive. It is a Word that pushes us outside ourselves, propelling us to set out towards others in a spirit of service, humility, and charity. This is the essence of evangelization, being transformed and being an agent of transformation in the lives of others. Like Mary, our radical experience of Jesus cannot be stifled; our relationship with Christ must be lived in the context of the world and in relationship with others. Not so that it may be diluted but so that it might bear fruit. This is the mission of the Church, the Body of Christ, to go out from Jesus, immersed in his presence that we might bear this presence to others. As Catholics, we receive the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and are sent forth at the end of each liturgy to go, to love, to serve; to carry Christ with us into the concrete circumstances of our lives. In the General Congregations that preceded the recent conclave, then Cardinal Bergoglio spoke the following words on the nature of the New Evangelization:
“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”This mission to the peripheries, the “periferia” in Italian is precisely what Mary shows us by her Visitation to Elizabeth. Let us ask ourselves, what are the peripheries and hill countries of our lives? Who are our Elizabeths and what are we doing to bring them Jesus? Certainly our own family and relatives, our friends and coworkers; but also the stranger we pass on the street, the neighbour we wish we didn’t have, the people we have to go out of our way in order to appreciate, and the people who cause us to “travel” some distance in order to visit. To all of these we must bring the gift of Jesus; that their hearts like Elizabeth may exclaim with wonder, and their souls like John the Baptist leap for joy. The Church like the Blessed Mother, and we as its members, must be the mysterium lunae, the moon that radiates not its own light but the light of Christ. His presence, his light, and his love we must bear to our brothers and sisters and evangelize in such a way that we are driven to the peripheries, where we encounter God in the Elizabeths and bring the Elizabeths to encounter God. Let us never fear or be reticent, for it is the Lord who draws us to this mission, accompanies us on it, and shows us where we are to go. On this feast of the Visitation, may we too “set out and go with haste” to the hill countries to reach out, to bring Christ, to bring joy, and be propelled by the presence of God’s Word alive in our midst; in short, to evangelize. (Text courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser and Vatican Radio; Photo courtesy of life.remixed)
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body. Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, I will never forsake you or abandon you. Thus we may say with confidence: The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me? Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb 13:1-8)Isn't that good advice? Aren't those good words to live by? Trust God so we can say that "God is my helper!" And then I read in today's Office of Readings, for the Feast of St. Jerome Emiliani:
Sons of the Society of the Servants of the Poor, and dearly beloved brothers in Christ: Greetings from your poor father. I urge you to persevere in your love for Christ and your faithful observance of the law of Christ. In word and work I set an example for you when I was with you. And so the Lord is glorified in you through me. Our goal is God, the source of all good. As we say in our prayer, we are to place our trust in God and in no one else. In His kindness, our Lord wished to strengthen your faith, for without it, as the evangelist points out, Christ could not have performed many of His miracles. He also wished to listen to your prayer, and so He ordained that you experience poverty, distress, abandonment, weariness and universal scorn. It was also His desire to deprive you of my physical presence, even though I am with you in spirit as your poor, dear, beloved father. God alone knows the reasons for all this, yet we can recognize three causes. In the first place, our blessed Lord is telling you that He desires to include you among His beloved sons, provided that you remain steadfast in His ways, for this is the way He treats His friends and makes them holy. The second reason is that He is asking you to grow continually in your confidence in Him alone and not in others. For God, as I said before, does not work in those who refuse to place all their confidence and hope in Him alone. But he does impart the fullness of His love upon those who possess a deep faith and hope; for them he does great things. So if you have been endowed with faith and hope, He will do great things for you; He will raise up the lowly. In depriving you of myself and everyone else you have loved, He will offer you an opportunity to choose one of these alternatives; either you will forsake your faith and return to the ways of the world, or you will remain steadfast in your faith and pass the test. Now there is a third reason. God wishes to test you like gold in the furnace. The dross is consumed by the fire, but the pure gold remains and its value increases. It is in this manner that God acts with His good servant, who puts his hope in Him and remains unshaken in times of distress. God raises him up and, in return for the things he has left out of love for God, He repays him a hundredfold in this life with eternal life hereafter. This is the way God has dealt with all His saints. So it was with His people Israel after their period of trial in Egypt. He not only led them out of Egypt with many miracles and fed them with manna in the desert, He also gave them the promised land. If then you remain constant in faith in the face of trial, the Lord will give you peace and rest for a time in this world, and forever in the next. From a letter to his brothers by Saint Jerome Emiliani"Our goal is God." How often do we forget that! And God wants us to be holy, he wants us to trust him and he also wishes to test us like gold in the furnace - we are like gold! So we shouldn't be shaken in times of distress, we must always trust God and trust that He is bringing us towards him; towards holiness. Those are great words to live by. May they inspire you through the day. Deacon Pedro
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St. Philip Neri BUY IMITREX NO PRESCRIPTION, (feast day: May 26), as a devout layman, established an apostolate that focused on personal sanctification and ensuring the good of one’s neighbour. As the apostolate began to grow and as his vision of Christians living out their faith through virtue began to be realized, St. Philip Neri himself felt the call to deeper service as a priest. With the encouragement of his own confessor, Philip Neri was ordained a priest and was soon serving the people of God as an ardent confessor with a great devotion for Eucharistic adoration. Through the work of his apostolate, St. Philip Neri was prophetic in his vision of the role of a sanctified laity within the Church and how the priest is called to lead that laity to continual conversion and deeper love for Christ. For these reasons, St. Philip Neri models for us Christ as Prophet.
As we contemplate the lives of these saints and where God may be calling us in our own life, may our prayer always be one of thanks to God for the gift of the saints and for the many gifts in our lives, as well as a prayer for our priests that God continue to give them the courage and grace necessary to live up to the office entrusted to them by Christ and the Church.
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