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Sacred Heart of Jesus
Homily by Reverend Lee Acervo
- Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
- Year A. May 30. 2008
- Deut 7:6-11; 1 Jn 4:7-16: Mt 11:25-30
When Pope Leo XIII entrusted the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus over 100 years ago. it was the fulfillment of a devotion that had grown for over two hundred years. Popes and bishops before him repeatedly stressed the importance of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Pope Leo himself termed the entrustment '-the greatest act of my pontificate." Why is this special devotion and feast day dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, according to Pope Leo, is "a recognition of our complete dependence upon the Lord for everything. Without that awareness of that complete dependence and our call to trust the Lord completely, the world will never have the justice and order that is required for peace." Last summer, I was in Milwaukee on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On that day. Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, celebrated the Mass in which he entrusted the entire Archdiocese of Milwaukee to the Sacred Heart. In his homily, he talked about what the Sacred Heart reveals about Jesus, the Savior of all humanity. He said, "I'm glad we have a Lord whose Heart can break, be wounded with thorns, and literally burn with passionate love and mercy for us." Glad to have a Lord whose Heart can break. Can Jesus' Heart truly be broken?
What the Archbishop is saying here is that our God is not a distant God only superficially involved in our daily lives. Our God is a God who loves us intimately. As our own Fr. Val likes to say, "God loves us with an infinite love.” Makes sense, after all God Himself is infinite. Why wouldn't His love for us be infinite as well? Well, that infinite love is manifested in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To have a Lord whose Heart can break, be wounded with thorns, and literally burn with passionate love and mercy for us means exactly that--that He loves us more intimately than we can know. It means that we can wound His Heart by our sins. It means that we can break His Heart because of our failure to love Him. The Archbishop stressed that the Sacred Heart specifically illustrates Christ's willingness to suffer. He loves us so much, that He was willing to suffer all things for our sake. He quoted Pope Benedict's 2007 Easter blessing, saying "only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon Himself our wounds and our pains, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith."
But because His Heart has become broken by our sins, it speaks of the need for us to make constant reparation for the sins committed against His Most Sacred Heart. Pius XI in his encyclical on Reparation to the Sacred Heart says "the spirit of expiation or reparation has always had the first and foremost place in the worship given to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.- He said that "when Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time.... He complained that so many... injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men... He then recommended several things to be done, and in particular... that men should approach the Altar with this purpose of expiating sin, making what is called a Communion of Reparation, and that they should likewise make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour, which is rightly called the 'Holy Hour."'
This is what this day is all about. It is a call for us to meditate on God's great and infinite love for us reflected in the Most Sacred Heart of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a call for us to give thanks to God for loving us as much as He does. The physical Heart of Jesus is the principal sign and symbol of the threefold love with which He loves His eternal Father and all humanity. It is the symbol of the love that He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit for each of us. It is also a reminder that Jesus, while He is definitely true God, is also true man - a man with full powers of feeling and perception. The Heart of Jesus symbolizes the real love that He has for His people—a love that exceeds what any of us can imagine.
This is a love that God has had for us from the beginning of time. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, we hear Moses' famous words to the people of God: "You are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; He has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own." Two important words in that phrase are "sacred" and "chosen." "Sacred" comes from the Latin word "sacrare" which means "to be set apart." The sacred is that which has to do with God, distinguished from that which has to do with human beings; with what is divine rather than what is human. So what Moses is telling the people of God is that they were chosen by God to be set apart from all the nations to be a people peculiarly His own. They were not chosen because they were the largest or strongest or wealthiest group, but because the Lord loved them. Despite their many instances of disobedience and rebellion, the Lord always remained faithful to His covenant with them, and He continued to call them to faithful observance of His laws.
When Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary and becomes man, He becomes the fulfillment of this covenant. While it remains necessary to obey God's commandments. He teaches especially by His own example that it is necessary to obey the commandments with complete love for God and one another. As St. John tells us in the second reading, "let us love one another, because love is of God." It was God who loved us first because God IS Love, and the way we respond to that love is to love God in return by obeying His commandments and by loving those around us with the same love that He has shown to us.
Going back to Pope Leo's statement, "Without that awareness of that complete dependence and our call to trust the Lord completely, the world will never have the justice and order that is required for peace," as we meditate on God's love for us, we have to learn to trust in that love. Human experience can sometimes cause us to doubt that anyone could really love us that much. And while it is true that human love often falls short, Jesus was both human and divine, and His Heart is filled with that Divine love for each of us. So we must trust that God does indeed love us with an infinite love. And if we do trust in that Divine love, then we can't help but respond with love for God and for neighbor. I think that one of the greatest challenges of the Church today is to introduce or reintroduce people to God and to help them see that God truly loves them and is calling them to a life of holiness; that the call to obey God's commandments and obedience to the Church is not a call to give up freedom, but to live a life of real freedom—a life free from sin and a life in God's love.
It's that trust, awareness of complete dependence and our call to trust in the Lord completely that Jesus Himself speaks of in today's Gospel. He says, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus includes learning from Jesus Himself. His heart was meek and humble, and so must we be. His Heart trusted in His Father's love for Him, and so must we. It was this Heart that was pierced as Jesus hung upon the Cross. The blood and water which flowed out at that moment were the price of our salvation. The stream of blood and water gave the sacraments the power to confer grace and gave us proof that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We need to be reminded often of the fact that God loves us. We all say that we know this, but do we really? Ultimately, it is God's love for us that should prompt us to a life of holiness. It should lead us to draw closer and to be open to God and all that He wants to offer to us. It should also inspire us to be obedient to the commandments that He has given to us. This obedience should come not solely from a sense of obligation, but from a natural desire to return love to the One who loves us. In order to serve God, we have to love God. In order to love God, we have to get to know God. Who is God? God is love.
He is a God who loves us first and chooses us first to be sacred, to be set apart from the world to be a people peculiarly His own. Not because of any greatness that we possess, but simply because He loves us. The Heart of Jesus, broken and wounded by our sins, yet remaining totally in love with us, can remind us of that love.