Predikan av/Homily by Dom Benedict Hardy OSB.
All this happened to fulfil the words of scripture: They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
It was final act of dishonour: to make quite sure that all those torments, inflicted with such cruelty, had at last achieved their final end; that he was really dead. The lance that pierced the Heart of Jesus represented, summed up, symbolised all the sins of the whole world. That thrust completed and consummated sinful humanity’s rejection of God. And its result, both immediate and lasting, was the definitive triumph of love: the outpouring of grace, mercy and salvation for the whole human race. So now we look to the crucified, not in horror and dismay, as at our final condemnation, but in consolation and hope, as at the ultimate proof of invincible, divine, omnipotent love.
Today’s Feast turns our attention in a particularly focussed way to the central truth of our faith. As a result of the revelation made known through Jesus Christ, we believe, in the words of St. John, that God is love. We believe that in love the Father sent the Son to redeem us, and in love, through the Son, he calls us to himself. We believe that we were created out of love, and for love; that our predestiny is ever to dwell in God; in the supreme and perfect fullness of love. All this doctrine is represented, summed up, symbolised in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus’ heart of flesh symbolises, expresses, contains, his three-fold love: his natural human love; the supernatural love, poured in by the Holy Spirit, with which he was entirely filled; and finally the infinite, divine love he possessed as eternal Son of God.
Devotion to the physical Heart of Jesus as symbol of his human and divine love is rooted in Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers. It became a popular mediaeval devotion, promoted particularly by monastic spiritual writers. But it acquired the form in which it has been popularly known for the past three centuries or so, above all as a result of the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. As with St. Bernadette of Lourdes, or the Fatima seers, her visions were initially derided and condemned as delusions or deceit, but eventually they came to be officially endorsed by the highest Church authority. They took place in France, at the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial, towards the end of the 17th c. The visions famously include a series of Promises that apply to all who honour of the Sacred Heart. Perhaps the best known of these relates to the Nine First Fridays. According to this, those who assist at Mass and receive holy communion in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on nine successive first Fridays may be entirely confident about their death. They will not die without the sacraments of the Church, or the grace of final repentance; and they can be certain that in their last moments they will find a sure refuge in the Heart of Jesus.
A great part of the emphasis of St. Margaret Mary is the need to offer reparation for sin. The sins most emphasised by the Saint, though, are not those of the heathen, or the great criminals, but those proper to lukewarm Catholics, and especially to consecrated Religious. They are the sins of indifference to the goodness and mercy of Jesus: ingratitude, coldness, irreverence.
Another aspect of the St. Margaret Mary’s devotion, perhaps even more important, is what I want to emphasise now. That is the invitation to respond to the love of Jesus with love in return. Bound up with this invitation is the offer of transforming grace. We are to offer to Jesus, to God, not just the love of which any of us may ordinarily be capable. That must always necessarily be limited, flawed, tainted: with impurity, with self-interest, with inconsistency. No: the love we give him is to be truly worthy of him: pure, burning, vast. As a symbol of that, once St. Margaret Mary in vision saw the Lord Jesus take out her heart. He put it within his own heart, then returned it to her, only now on fire with divine love. The experience is one many of the mystics have known. Is it somehow exaggerated, too extreme; does it express something that is only for very rare and special people? No: it’s simply the Gospel: what we are all called to.
Look again at today’s second reading (Eph 3:8-19), and see how St. Paul struggles to find language to express what he knows, what he feels impelled to communicate, and yet what no words can ever adequately express! Rooted in love and built on love, he cries, may you have the strength, given by God, to grasp, in all its breadth and length and height and depth, the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge. If you enter there, he says, the result will follow: you will be filled with the utter fullness of God!
The person to whom these words apply most perfectly is the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady. Tomorrow, thank God, we keep the beautiful feast of her Immaculate Heart. In the Chapter we heard at First Vespers last night (Eph 5), we heard St. Paul speak of how Christ loved the Church, and through his blood sanctified and cleansed her, in order that she might be holy and immaculate. Mary, truly clean, truly holy, had that purity of heart which Jesus declared blessed (Matthew 5) and which John Cassian defined as the goal of the monastic life. Mary’s Heart was Immaculate for a reason: not simply to be shining white like marble, which is hard, or like snow, which is cold. On the contrary, her heart was immaculate in order to be perfectly united with the Heart of her Son; in order that the union of those two hearts might be perfect; unimpeded by any trace of resistance due to sin. Mary’s heart then was conformed by grace to that of her Son; burning, ablaze with love; and as proof of that, ready to endure any humiliation, any suffering; ready to give to the end.
Let us then pray, especially today and tomorrow: Heart of Jesus, burning with love for us: inflame our hearts with love for you. Jesus, meek and humble of heart: make our hearts like your Heart. Immaculate Heart of Mary, intercede for us, that we may be made worthy of the Promises of Christ.