Reflection on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the relevance of this profound image in our daily lives. The the Sacred Heart is never mentioned as such in Sacred Scripture, but its meaning fills the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Today’s readings frame the Sacred Heart in terms of two central themes: love and closeness. They speak of God's love as a shepherdly love, a love that is involved, interested, a powerful and personal love. It is a love that is up-close and unafraid, 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 what they are meant to be, to love in return, to have life in abundance, in a word: to be holy
. We see here that the image of the Sacred Heart is intimately linked with the image of the Good Shepherd.
In the first reading, the God of Israel 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 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 provides its full depth. It is the story of the lost sheep. Perhaps better yet, it is the story of the loving 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 and immense that it defies human reason. It goes beyond any logical constructs and extends beyond our faculty to comprehend. Yet it also defines the human person: fundamentally, our deepest nature is that we are loved by God. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of this incarnate love of God, fully manifested in Jesus Christ. It is a shepherdly love, a dynamic love: a love brought to life by the Incarnation which finds its climax on the Cross.
In Jesus 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 yearns for relationship and intimacy. God so desires this intimate relationship that He willed to humble Himself and enter our human drama and frailty. He chose not just to oversee the sheep from afar, but to dwell in their midst, to smell as they smell and to give up His life so that they may have life, "and have it to the full" (John 10:10). In this way, the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate seal of God’s desire for closeness with humanity; it is 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. The Cross manifests the depths of this love that longs to be close. It is pathway of the sheepfold to enter the eternal pastures of the Shepherd. This pathway is the Shepherd Himself, who willingly sacrifices Himself for the love of His sheep.
By the coming of Christ in the flesh and the wounds of His death on the Cross, all boundaries and barriers between God and humanity have been torn asunder. It is therefore very appropriate that both the Passion and the Incarnation are featured in the depiction of the Sacred Heart. The heart depicted is a human heart, a fleshly heart, a living heart, an incarnate heart; but it is also a pierced heart, a bleeding heart, encircled with a crown of thorns and pierced by the blade of a spear.
Jesus’ heart reaches out for us, it goes out in search of us, it longs for 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. Let us imagine the love of the Shepherd who goes out in search of that sheep. We are sheep loved by the Shepherd, whose loving heart accompanies us wherever we may go, always seeking our good and gathering us together into His loving embrace, leading us in peace by the gentle call of His voice. Each of us is a sheep of the Good Shepherd, we are lost but loved. God seeks to lead us and bring us back to Himself. So deep is this desire that He gave His only Son, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose Sacred Heart goes out in search of us, to bear us on His shoulders and bring us back rejoicing to His eternal pastures.
May our hearts beat along with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and be conformed unto His, so that we can be channels of His intense, intimate love for each person; so that our hearts too may be afire with the incarnate love of the living 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