In the dining room of our house is an unassuming depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus embroidered by my grandmother. I can’t remember a time when it hasn’t graced the walls of our home. Beneath it is a simple glass shelf, a small votive candle, and a pamphlet about the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home.
Another image of the Sacred Heart stands out from my childhood. In St. James Church, our parish, to the right of the main altar was a marble statue of the Sacred Heart. I often would stand before the Sacred Heart of Jesus and pray, and lighting candles there was special, especially as a child. Even today when I return home for vacation, I stop to pray before this statue when I make my Hour of Adoration in the church each morning.
In my teenage years I read The Imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From what I remember, each chapter of the book developed one of the virtues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we could imitate in our own life. The text was structured in the form of a conversation between the disciple and Jesus. When I read the book I could "hear" Jesus speaking to me.
Those are beautiful memories. Today in my fifties, however, after half-a-lifetime or more of relationships, problems, dreams, the joy of giving life and love to others, disillusionments, sorrows, my devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is very different. Below are ways in which someone in their fifties lives their love for Jesus and their devotion to his most Sacred Heart.
Our hearts, like the heart of Jesus, have been pierced.
No one escapes sorrow in their life. When our dreams have been dashed or our trust betrayed, our hearts are pierced as was the Heart of Jesus. Sometimes we may react in anger and aggression, but even this anger is a sign of the depth of the pain we are in, a cry lifted to heaven for mercy and help. At other times we have born our sorrow in silence and in patient love and in so doing we have become more like Jesus.
We’ve loved and been betrayed and decided to keep loving.
The mystery of the love of the heart of Jesus is that even after betrayal Jesus continues to love us. Even after his death, when his heart is pierced by a lance, he pours out blood and water, symbols of the sacraments, his continued presence within us. There are many times in our lives, no doubt, in which we can look back on ways we reacted for which we are sorry. We haven’t continued to love, we’ve perhaps collapsed inward to protect ourselves or lashed outward in anger. But I bet there is at least one time, if not more, in which we have decided to keep loving, even if we stumbled along in trying to carry out what we have decided to do. In that decision, in those sometimes fumbling steps, we have been like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And for any of those times in which we haven’t kept loving when we’ve been hurt or outraged by the actions of another, we can find right now our refuge in Jesus’ most Sacred Heart, where he continues to love us with great tenderness. The more we choose to love, the more we become like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We’ve given our life for others.
Perhaps we haven’t literally laid down our life for another, but every time we’ve put another first, given birth to and raised a child, gotten up in the middle of the night as a doctor, police officer or fire fighter, stopped to pray for someone in need of God’s help, given up our plans in order to be of service to another, dedicated our life to God as a priest or religious, made an ethical decision in an uncomfortable situation, in these and in many other situations in our life, we’ve followed Jesus and have given our life for others. Christianity is the walk of discipleship by which we become Jesus who selflessly made himself the servant of all even unto death that we might have life abundantly.
We’ve forgiven and been forgiven again and again.
Jesus told St. Peter that he needed to forgive seventy times seven times…meaning always. In any human relationship, the only glue that can hold it together is reconciliation because none of us is perfect. Even the relationship between man and God can only be held together through forgiving love, God’s forgiving love of us. Without that love we would cease to be. In the second half of our life we can’t even begin to count the times we have forgiven others and been forgiven ourselves. Learning to live in a greater readiness to understand, show compassion, and treat others (and ourselves) with gentleness, makes us more and more like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We’ve assumed responsibility for our place in salvation history, at times at great personal cost.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said yes to love, yes to us. Though he asked that the cup of suffering might pass him by, he was ready to do whatever would fulfill God’s will that we would be reconciled to him. As parents, religious, priests, professionals, in the single state, we know by now that we are actors on a grand stage of history, that our yes, sometimes at our own cost, is what is needed that another might find grace. Remembering these yeses throughout our life, helps us realize all we have given and how much we have become like Christ.
In conclusion, by now, for those of us who are in our fifties or older, we have learned that devotion to the Sacred Heart is not simply a set of prayers. Devotion to Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart instills in us compassion, the capacity to “suffer with,” to feel what the others feel so that we can walk side by side through life’s journey with all those Jesus sends our way. And it is through the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we gain the strength to do this each and every day.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
How has your devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus grown throughout the years?