By: Father Reginald Martin, OP

The word “heart” occurs 990 times in Shakespeare. The Bible uses the word “heart” 865 times, but that is the unmodified noun. The concordance offers separate listings for “brokenhearted,” “faint hearted,” “hard hearted,” “merry hearted,” “stiff hearted, “stout hearted,” and “tender hearted.” The word “heart” occurs frequently in our literature because our hearts represent what is most valuable in us, and they tell us what we value most in the world. Where we find our treasure, Jesus says, there we’ll find our hearts, a frightening thought when we consider some of the things that make our hearts beat faster.

Fortunately, as this Year of Mercy continually reminds us, we make God’s heart beat faster, and our Holy Father begins his Letter to introduce this Holy Year by observing mercy is “…the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person…the bridge the connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (MV, 2) This month, our liturgy invites us to celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, powerful reminders that when we lost our hearts in the Garden, God’s heart went out to us.

At Christmas we celebrate God’s heart clothing itself in our flesh, and when our liturgical year invites us to honor the hearts of Jesus and his mother, our prayer unfolds the meaning of these immense gifts. God did not embrace our mortality so we could escape our flesh, He clothed himself with our humanity to fulfill its promise, so that our hearts – so prone to skipping beats – might beat aright. Pope Francis observes,

"After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil…When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy…always be greater than any sin…no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” (MV, 3)

The readings for this year’s feast illustrate the Pontiff’s words. Both Ezekiel and St. Luke tell us that the cost of our sin is exile. When we misplace our hearts we end up all by ourselves. That is bad enough, but when Luke relates the parable of the lost sheep he says it gets worse: sin not only cuts us off from one another, it finally paralyzes us. We cannot come home even if we want to. So Jesus comes looking for us. And because we are unable to walk, he is not content to lead us home; he carries us. And because we are so valuable, he calls everyone out to celebrate our home coming. This year our Holy Father has invited us to make a pilgrimage – to embrace and celebrate God’s mercy. St. Paul remarks we would find it hard to die for someone good, but Jesus was willing to die for us. Not in spite of our sin, but because of it.

Jesus’ Sacred Heart reveals the enormity of God’s love for his somewhat wayward creation. It is the most consoling and effective link in the history of our salvation. When we threw our hearts away, Jesus let his heart be thrust through with a spear. This gives Him a certain claim upon us, so the Sacred Heart is also a reminder of the immensity of our debt. This is a debt we can never repay; we can only strive to share its benefits. Pope Francis quotes St. John of the Cross, who warned, “As we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.” (MV, 15)

As children we learned, “Beauty is as Beauty does.” If we consider the God in whose image we have been created, and whose merciful love we are called to imitate, we eventually realize that Beauty only is as Beauty does. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a call to renew, re-embrace, and share the merciful love that created and saves us.