Today we celebrate St. Margret Mary Alacoque of France who lived in the latter half of the 1600’s. Throughout her life, Jesus would appear to her and converse with her, but this did not surprise Margret or seem strange to her. She assumed that other people experienced the same sort of things all the time. After she become a nun, Jesus gave her a mission: to establish devotion to His Sacred Heart.
You’ve seen images of the Sacred Heart before; a red heart, crowned with thorns, pierced along its side, with a cross and flames emerging from its top. If this devotion seems strange to us, its because we do not understand what it means.
When I was in seminary I heard a story about the Sacred Heart that I not been able to confirm with the internet, but I share it with you as a great illustration, even if it might only be a legend. The story goes that after St. Margret Mary Alacoque died, devotion to Jesus’ Sacred Heart was spread by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, in their missionary work. In one mission territory (it might have been Papua New Guinea) the priests introduced this devotion to the people, but it wasn’t resonating with them. The people just didn’t seem to get it. As they missionaries learned more about the native culture, they learned that these people did not look at the heart as the organ that symbolizes love and emotion. For them, some other abdominal organ, the liver I think, was the seat of human love and emotions. In response, these missionaries replaced the Sacred Heart devotion with another, a devotion to the Sacred Liver. The natives people got it, and responded enthusiastically.
When we consider the Sacred Heart today, we can be a lot like the natives in this (possibly fictional) story. We today tend to be a people of science, materiality, and literal interpretations, who look at a heart and see an organ for pumping blood. But the Church in the 1600’s saw the world differently, in a much more poetic way—they saw the Sacred Heart and understood its message.
Jesus’ Heart is aflame with fire, because His love for you is intense and passionate. His Heart is pierced, crowned with thorns, and holding up a cross, because Jesus suffered for you out of love. Jesus presents this devotion to us, because He wants us to remember that He is a human being like us and that He loves us with a human heart. The Sacred Heart is a symbol of His love for us, that He loves us deeply, with a human heart.
Since modern-day Catholics understand and resonate with the Sacred Heart less easily than we used to, Jesus seems to have given the Catholic Church another sacred image to convey very similar message. In the 1930’s, Jesus appeared to another nun and gave a mission to promote a new devotional image. That nun was St. Faustina Kowalska of Poland, and the devotion she was to spread was the Divine Mercy. The two devotions are very much alike. For example, both devotions emphasize Jesus’ humanity. Both are accompanied by popular prayers devotions. And both show that Jesus’ abundant loves and mercy for all. The question is not which devotion is better, the question is which devotion resonates or connects with you in communicating Jesus’ love for you.
And now I come to my final, and most important point. I’m sure all of you know the right answer to the questions, “Does God love everyone,” and “Does Jesus love you?” None of you would get these wrong on a test. But I suspect that for most of you the concept that God loves you remains just an idea. Have you experienced this truth as a reality? Do you know that Jesus Christ likes you, that He enjoys you, that He is pleased with you? If you’re uncertain about this, then you have not yet experienced His love for you as profoundly as He desires. Personally knowing Christ’s love for you, rather than just knowing about it, makes all the difference in the world.
So here is your assignment… Ask Jesus Christ to reveal to you today, or in the very near future, some palpable sign of how, and how much, He loves you. Then, keep your eyes open. Jesus is clever and powerful, and knows how to reach you. He doesn’t want His love for you to be a secret.