The readings: Deut 7, 6-11, 1 John 4, 7-16, Matthew 11, 25-30
Today we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotionwhich is essentially worship and a response to the Person of Christ. The Christian faith is a response to Christ as a living, loving person, not just embracing a set of principles. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a peripheral devotion, but it is to honour and love God which is the heart of our faith and is centered on the heart of Jesus as the emblem of Divine love. This Feast has been a Solemnity in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar since 1856, and is celebrated 19 days after Pentecost. Even though there has been the devotion to the sacred Heart from the early days of the church we have from the eleventh and twelfth centuries the first unmistakable indications of devotions to the Sacred Heart in the Benedictine or Cistercian monasteries. The most significant source for the devotion to the Sacred Heart is from the revelation to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who claimed to have received visions of Jesus Christ. The revelations were numerous, and the church has accepted these to be real and deeply spiritual. In one of the apparitions, Jesus allowed Margaret Mary to rest her head upon His Heart during which time He revealed to her the wonders of His love, telling her that He desired to make them known to all mankind and to diffuse the treasures of His goodness, and that He had chosen her for this work. It was on June 11, 1899 Pope Leo XIII solemnly consecrated the whole mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1928 Pope Pius XI approved the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
For us Christians the word “Sacred Heart of Jesus” symbolizes the divine love of Jesus.
Today’s readings explain the meaning of Divine love. They explain to us of a love that flows from God towards us, through our spiritual growth by the sanctifying power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The love of God may well be a choice by God who is utterly free and not bound in any way, but it remains a love for those who are unworthy. It is a foolish love. There is an absurdity about it. There is no way of possibly explaining the absurdity of the figure of Christ upon the cross because the explanation is found in an equally absurd love. From this foolishness of God came our salvation. Jesus breathed forth the Spirit as he died upon the cross and from his wounded side flowed the life giving waters of baptism and the precious blood of the Eucharist. In giving up his life he gave it up not just for us, but to us. We are so used to baptism and Eucharist that we forget that they issued forth from his broken body and his pierced heart.
In today’s First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people of Israel that they are a people holy to the Lord their God; the Lord God has chosen them out of all the peoples on earth to be His own, to make them his treasured possession. In fact we read similar words in the Book of Exodus, where God tells the people that if they obey God’s voice and keep his Covenant, they shall be his treasured possession out of all the people and they shall be for him a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. The history of Israel tells us that God reached out to his people and made a Covenant with them. Over time, the Covenant was broken and people turned away from God, refusing to obey His commandments. The reading ends with powerful Words of God where he tells them that they must know that the Lord their God is a faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject Him. He does not delay but repays to those who reject Him. Therefore, they must observe diligently the commandment – the statutes, and the ordinances which he is giving them. These Words command us to obey the ways of God. Those who do so, they shall be blessed. Those who reject God, they shall be judged accordingly.
In today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of John tells us about the love of God and the love to our brothers and sisters. Faith in Christ and the manifestation of love towards others are the twin signs of fellowship with God. If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we love God and we have fellowship with God. If we mistreat them and are disrespectful towards them we are not born of God and we do not know God. John tells us that God is love. As children of God, we must love one another because love is from God. The manifestation of our love towards others has its origin from God. This origin does not come to us as from a source; it is itself the very essence of God. God’s love has been manifested for us, even before we were born. This love is his free gift to us. It is a love that could not possibly be motivated by any worthiness of human action. In this reading John tells us that since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. Again he says that if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us. Through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, we come to the realization that we do possess the greatly valued Divine life of God. The proof that we possess the Divine life of God is not in our own testimony. It is manifested through the active Presence of the Holy Spirit in our love, our works, the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit that shine through us as lights in the world.
The Gospel Reading of today concludes with the invitation of Jesus to each one of us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” He tells us that those who come to him will find relief from the many hardships and burdens of life. In Jesus all will find their rest. He is the true Sabbath. The old ways, be they law or traditions are a burden for the people. The wisdom of Jesus’ teaching is like having a yoke without stress or burden. To have an easy yoke and a light burden is an apparent contradiction. But only those who believe in Jesus can be recipients of such a grace. His wisdom surpasses that of the so-called wise and the learned. Indeed we expect the consoling words of Jesus of light burden and easy yoke, but nowhere does he tell us that he will take away the burden from us. He promises refreshment and rest from the storms and stress of life.
In this gospel passage Jesus thanks the Father for the gift of revelation of faith to ordinary and simple persons like the fishermen and men he chose from ordinary situations of life to be his disciples and hiding it all from the so called wise and intelligent persons of the time. He praises the child-like simplicity of his disciples who were the right persons to accept the message of Jesus. The acceptance of this message of Jesus in the simplicity of a child is based on the fact that it is rooted in the revelation of the Father to the Son. The unique relationship allows the Son to communicate the full reality of the Father to whomsoever the son wishes. The disciples or the childlike persons are the beneficiaries of this grace. The wise and the learned do not access to this level of divine revelation and thus they are left in ignorance, manifested in rejection. In many ways this relationship between the Father and the Son reminds one of the divine mutuality expressed in the Gospel of John. Ultimately it is the divine plan that he chooses those to whom he can reveal the word of God and the Divine Mystery.
The invitation to the weary and the burdened is an invitation to the poor who have had the good news proclaimed to them. They are “the blind who receive their sight, the lame who walk, the lepers who are cleansed, the deaf who hear, the dead who are raised, and the poor who have good news brought to them.” Spiritually speaking, these are the spiritually blind whose eyes have been opened to the truth. They are those who have been hurt and who have found the strength to persist in their faith. They are those who living in mortal sin has reconciled with God and the Church. They are the hardened hearts who have opened their hearts to God, those walking in darkness who have found the Light, and those who hungering for the truth, have found the way and the life that can only come from our Lord Jesus Christ. When one submits himself in humility and obedience to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the peace and joy that he receives in the love of God is so overwhelming that the yoke becomes easy, the burden being light. The recompense that one receives from living in the love of Jesus is so great that life obstacles, no matter how great they are, become meaningless. It is no longer the individual who is carrying the crosses of life; it is Jesus Himself.
We have the own words of Jesus for the fact that our Lord’s love for us is a sweet yoke and a light burden for us to carry. In our better moments, especially when we succeed in putting into practice some particular act requiring self-denial in the interest of service to another or in resisting temptation against God’s law, we experience the joy that does indeed make the yoke sweet. But we do not have to live too long before we find that fidelity to God can weigh heavily upon us. At times it seems impossible to practice forgiveness from the heart, especially when we feel betrayed by one we have trusted. The burden can feel very heavy when we are subjected day after day to petty annoyances, insensitivity, lack of appreciation. It requires no great exercise of imagination to draw up a lengthy list of situations in which we feel anything but the lightness and sweetness of love as we strive to implement the Lord’s commandments.
We are reminded today that, in the “Sacred Heart” is revealed the mystery of the Divine Mind of Jesus as God. The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus affirms Jesus was God-man, is one of the Three Divine Presences of the Holy Trinity. While the symbolic picture of the human heart echoes a Heart of Flesh of the human nature, the “Divine Mind” that is synonym to “Sacred Heart,” echoes the Divine nature. As the Holy Catholic Church teaches, in Christ, God manifested as man, the Divine nature cannot be separated from the human nature. Today, let us express our love to this sacred Heart to whom are families are consecrated and place our total trust in him and run to him in our problems and need. This sacred heart which is burning with love for us will protect us and care for us and give us the peace and tranquility.
Christ, in his appearances to Margaret Mary, has promised many blessings to those who practice devotion to his Sacred Heart. Accordingly Jesus promises all the graces necessary for their state of life; peace in their families; consolation in all their troubles; their refuge in life and especially in death; abundantly bless all their undertakings; he will be infinite ocean of mercy. He promised to bless those places wherein the image of the Sacred Heart will be exposed and venerated and will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts. Finally the promise that his all-powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die without receiving the sacraments; and the Sacred Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.
But all of this we can say in summary that we are of the religion of love, the religion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Because all of these characteristics we find in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There, we can see His sufferings, His Cross, His humility, His forgiveness, His victory in the Resurrection, His infinite Love for us. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the summary, the condensation of the Gospel. Because of that, Jesus said: “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” All Christian teaching we can find in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let’s hear the Sermon of the Mount from the Sacred Heart of Jesus: blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, the clean of heart, they who suffer persecution. Behold the Sacred Heart of Jesus, meek, merciful, innocent, and suffering patiently all the persecutions, the example of all these beatitudes. But the most important demonstration of the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Holy Eucharist. “Jesus . . . having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is the companion of our exile, by His real presence: “Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened and I will refresh you.”
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80’s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound. While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now. I was surprised, and asked him, ‘And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?’ He smiled as he patted my hand and said, ‘She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.’ I had to hold back tears as he left, I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought, ‘That is the kind of love I want in my life.’ True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Mangalore, India