"Hear the word of the Lord, O people. 'When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk. I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to the cheek. I went down to them and fed them.
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no human being, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.'"
Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
This feast of the Sacred Heart has made its appearance relatively late in the Church's liturgical calendar. Its focus is on the love of Jesus for each of us as symbolized in his heart, the beating heart of the Word-made-flesh. The essential mystery it celebrates is the all-embracing, merciful love of Christ, a love extended to all who come to him with faith, and willing to follow his way. The tireless love of Jesus for people in need was shown already in his lifetime and revealed in a special way through his Passion. But it required centuries of development before this revelation of divine love for sinners was explicitly associated with the HEART of Jesus and made the object of a special veneration in the liturgy. It now has special appeal to the devout faithful.
Our Lord assures us that his yoke is sweet and his burden light. In our better moments, we may experience the joy that does indeed make the yoke sweet. But at times the burden can feel very heavy and we could draw up a list of situations and times when we feel anything but the lightness and sweetness of his love, as we strive to implement the Lord's commandments. It is quite a challenge to believe personally that the burdens of life are somehow a grace from the heart of Christ.. but a challenge that brings an inner reward, once we respond to it.
Christ himself asks us to never give up on our relationship to him, no matter what weakness or sin we may recognise in ourselves. On the contrary, when he called his burden light it is within the invitation, "Come to me all you who labour and are burdened" and he adds the encouraging promise, "I will give you rest." He does not promise to remove the burden or free us from effort; but he promises an inner peace that can carry us through whatever we meet with day by day. We must come to terms with them, and find peace within the limited horizons of our daily life. The love of Christ beckons us to take this step into an outlook and spirituality where his love gives meaning to our struggles and sufferings.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, in the fervent atmosphere of the Cistercian monastic reform, we find the first clear signs of devotion to the Sacred Heart. But it was not until 1670 that the idea of a formal Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was promoted publicly by St Jean Eudes (1602-1680). Later in that 17th century, this gained great impetus through the visions granted to Margaret Mary Alacoque in the convent of Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy, France, whose intense devotion to the Heart of Jesus urged her to "diffuse the treasures of His goodness," convinced that He had chosen her especially for this work.
In the following century, many requests to Rome to officially recognize the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were turned down. But in 1765, at the request of the Queen of France, the papacy allowed the Feast to the Sacred Heart to be celebrated in France. A century later,, at the petition of the French bishops, Pope Pius IX extended the Feast to the universal Church, with an emphasis on the need for reparation for sins and abuses whether personal or social. Today, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is centered around the centrality of Divine love, encouraging all to trust in God's overflowing benevolence towards the world He has made.
The Sacred Heart is one of the most popular images of Christ for older Catholics. It speaks of the love of Christ, a love which showed itself on the cross, above all. The pierced heart of Christ proclaims the "greater love" that Jesus speaks about in the gospel of John. "No one can have greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." People who have the Sacred Heart image in their homes often feel that love of Christ in a very personal way, just as Paul did when he said, "I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."
Today's second reading gives us one of the most profound statements about God in all of the Bible, "God is love." It goes on to offer some tangible proof of that love: "God's love was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son." Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God who is love. All authentic love is life-giving and that is supremely true of God who is love; and of Jesus as the human revelation of that love. God sent his Son so that we could have life through him. In the gospel, Jesus uses the image of "rest" as an expression of that love. He invites all who are burdened to come to him and to find rest, to find life. Even a slight inkling of the life-giving love of God for us can have a transform our outlook on life. As the second reading says, it can empower us to love one another as God has loved us. [MH]