Feast of the Sacred Heart, 7 June 2024

Hosea 11:1...9; Ephesians 3:8...19; John 19:31-37


          In every culture, the heart is seen as the place where feelings, emotions and love reside. This is why, from as early as the Middle Ages, mystics such as Gertrude of Hefta, Catherine of Siena, Matilda, Marguerite Alacoque and John Eudes developed a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is not a devotion to a physical organ, but to the divine love experienced by God made man. While this devotion may at times have had more romantic and sentimental expressions, as evidenced by a vast collection of pious images of rather dubious taste, it is essentially, in its original intuition, nothing other than the contemplation of God's love for us, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. And the Gospel story we have just read shows us just how far that love went.

Death on the cross was a very cruel punishment. The condemned man died of asphyxiation when he could no longer stand on his feet to slightly release the pressure exerted on his arms and chest by the weight of his body. Breathing became increasingly difficult and painful, and the condemned man slowly stopped breathing. This agony could last several days. This is why, if for any reason - for example, the proximity of the Sabbath - they wanted to hasten the death of the condemned man, they would break his legs.

But Jesus did not die in this way. He did not stop breathing slowly. On the contrary, he gave up his breath -- his spirit -- to his Father, freely, with a loud cry. And that is why it was not necessary to break his legs. But a spear was thrust through his side, and water and blood flowed from his heart.

It was all of us humans who opened Jesus' heart after his death with the Roman centurion's spear. We were then sprinkled with water and baptised in the blood that flowed from the heart opened by the lance.

A few days after the Resurrection, Jesus also invited us all, in the person of Thomas, to enter his heart by putting our hand into his open side. What we discovered then in that open heart was love - a love strong enough to lay down His life for those He loved; a love, Paul tells us, ‘that surpasses all understanding’. So, to use another of Paul's expressions, we can (through this gaping wound in Jesus' side) “enter into the fullness of God”.

At the same time as we enter His heart, if we take root there and make our home there, as He asks us to do, Christ Himself, in turn, ‘takes up residence’ in our hearts.

Perhaps we feel unworthy of this loving relationship. Let us then read the beautiful text from Hosea that we had as our first reading. It is one of the most beautiful expressions of God's tenderness in the whole Bible. And this tenderness is expressed precisely with regard to the unfaithful people, compared to a bride chosen and adopted by her husband from birth.

The tear in Jesus' side and the wound in His heart made an opening in our own hearts through which the Breath He gave to His Father on the cross could penetrate, so that, as Paul says, God's love was poured into our own hearts by the Spirit, the Breath of Jesus that was given to us, and that enables us to say, like Him and with Him: Abba, pater.

May this morning's Eucharist be our thanksgiving for such a gift.

Armand Veilleux