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Fire and Thorns: First Meditation
The Sacred Heart’s Invitation
- What Is a “Devotion”?
- The Uniqueness of Devotion to the Sacred Heart
- Conclusion & Further Reflection
What is a “Devotion”?
To understand devotion to the Sacred Heart, we have to start by understanding what we mean by “devotions” in general.
God is infinite; he exists outside the boundaries of time and space. But he has revealed himself to us inside those boundaries. That’s what the Incarnation was all about: God became one of us so that he could rescue us from sin and win over our friendship by speaking our own language.
By becoming man, Jesus translated the beauty and power of divine things into the material realities of human existence: the spiritual entered into the material. And this is why, in the life of the Church, we have such a rich and varied expression of God’s greatness.
We don’t just have blank walls and absolute silence. No: we have the sacred scriptures, we have liturgical rituals and ceremonies, we have religious art and music and architecture, we have religious orders and other associations and movements, and we have all the saints who have gone before us throughout the centuries.
It’s hard for any one person to drink all of that in. So what usually happens is that as we go through our Christian journey, particular aspects of this vast treasury of faith capture our attention.
The Holy Spirit will draw us closer to God by drawing our attention to particular facets of our faith, in accordance with our own needs, personalities, and sensitivities. These will speak to us about God, in a sense, enlightening us and encouraging us in our own efforts to follow Jesus and his teachings.
And so, it often happens that we develop or experience a special resonance with certain prayers or saints or liturgical feasts, and as we dedicate ourselves more ardently to God through those things, God uses them to foster our spiritual growth. That special attraction and dedication to particular aspects of the treasure of our faith is what we mean by “devotions.”
The Uniqueness of Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Among the many devotions that have developed throughout the history of the Church, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is completely unique. This has been made clear in the various encyclicals that different popes have written about the topic.
Pope Pius XI, for example, explained, Devotion to the Sacred Heart is the very epitome of our religion, and opens the way to a more perfect life.
– Miserentissimus Redemptor, 3
More recently, Pope Benedict XVI put it like this: … the devotion, which is totally oriented to the love of God who sacrificed himself for us, has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love… – Letter to Fr. Kolvenbach, 15 May 2006
Why is this devotion so central, so unique, so “irreplaceably important” for us and for the whole Church?
To answer that question, we have to understand what the word “heart” really means in the language of the Bible. It means much more than just passing sentiments or even deep feelings. The Bible mentions the heart more than a thousand times. And every time, it is referring to the very center of the person, the core of a person’s identity.
Here is how the Catechism describes it:
The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I
live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others… The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter… it is the place of covenant.
– CCC 2563
In Biblical terms, that’s the heart: the hidden center of the person. And so, if we really want to get to know someone, they have to open up their heart to us; if they don’t, we may get to know things about them, but we will never really get to know them.
And now, here is the amazing thing: God himself, the creator of the universe, infinitely wise and powerful, has opened his heart to us: this is the very basis of devotion to the Sacred Heart.
While we were still sinners, still rebelling against God’s plan for our lives, he took on human nature through the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in Jesus Christ, and he revealed his heart, the very center of his divine person, the very core of his identity. What does this mean?
It means that God wants to be known by us! He wants to enter into relation with us! He doesn’t stay aloof and distant! He comes to us, he opens himself up to us, inviting us to get to know him.
As St. John put it at the beginning of his Gospel:
And the word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
– John 1:14, NABR
The Greek word translated into English as “made his dwelling” literally means “pitched his tent.” In the Old Testament, God sent messengers, kings, prophets to his Chosen People. But now, in Christ, he has come himself.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, then, is devotion to the very essence of God, to the deepest core of the divine nature, to God’s most intimate identity. In a very real sense, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is devotion to God himself, as he has chosen to reveal himself to us.
And that is why Pope Pius XI can call this devotion the “epitome of our religion,” and why Pope Benedict XVI can describe it as “irreplaceably important.” In another discourse Pope Benedict XVI put it like this:
In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up; here we see who God is and what he is like. Heaven is no longer locked up. God has stepped out of his hiddenness.
– The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.48
We could never have conceived of this devotion if God hadn’t decided to reveal himself to us, to come down to our level and enter into a personal relationship with us by becoming one of us.
The mere fact that God has opened his heart to us, has invited us to get to know him and to enter into a personal, intimate relationship with him, gives us the first dimension of devotion to the Sacred Heart: a willingness to accept this amazing invitation.
This is the first level of symbolism that we find in this devotion: the symbolism of the heart itself, as the center of a person’s being. Jesus, by opening up to us the
heart of God, is showing us that God longs to live in a personal intimate relationship with us, with each and every one of us.
No other religion in all of human history has this conception of God: only in Christianity does God
love us so wildly that he actually becomes one of us in order to open up his heart in a relationship of intimate friendship.
Here’s how the Catechism puts it, when it comments on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well:
… Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us… God thirsts that we may thirst for him.
Conclusion & Further Reflection
– CCC 2560
￼In the next meditation, we will look beyond the mere fact that God has chosen to open his heart to us; we will look at what that heart is like, at what Jesus has revealed about his heart, about the core of his identity.
But for now, take a few minutes to consider the first dimension of this devotion, the dimension of God’s desire to be known, of his invitation to enter into a deep, intimate, personal relationship with him.
Ask yourself: Am I really willing to take the risk of looking into the heart of God, to the very depths? Jesus hopes you are, and so do I.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
￼￼1. When have I experienced, personally, God’s desire to be known by me? In other words, when have I felt his invitation to look into his heart? How did I respond?
2. God has opened his heart to me, and he keeps it open, in Jesus. To what extent do I really open my heart to God in return? What fears do I have that tend to keep me from opening myself completely to him?
3. In the past, what devotions, if any, have helped me grow in my relationship with God? Can I express in my own words the difference between other devotions and this devotion to the Sacred Heart?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”
– John 7:37-38, NABR
All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life.
– Isaiah 55:1-3, NABR
Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.
– John 6:27, NABR
Does not Wisdom call, and Understanding raise her voice? On the top of the heights along the road, at the crossroads she takes her stand. By the gates at the approaches of the city, in the entryways she cries aloud: “To you, O people, I call; my appeal is to you mortals. You naive ones, gain prudence, you fools, gain sense. Listen! For noble things I speak; my lips proclaim honest words… Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold. For Wisdom is better than corals, and no treasures can compare with her.”
– Proverbs 8:1-6, 10-11, NABR