Today we celebrate the very great love that Jesus has for us, the love whose symbol, whose burning centre is his Sacred Heart. According to our holy Faith, the human Heart of Jesus is a true revelation, an authentic manifestation of the heart of God; of the divine love which God is. Jesus loves us humanly, yet his love is infinite, boundless, without limit, for it is also the divine love of God the Son, one with the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Today with the whole Church then, we give thanks for this deeply consoling Truth. Finding ourselves the object of this love, we try to return it, ever asking that our own hearts may become more and more conformed to the Heart of Jesus. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, we say, make my heart like your Heart.
No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Nowadays the news is full of the terrorist activities of groups such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS. These people believe themselves to be devoutly religious. But certainly they have no knowledge of the Son, and clearly their understanding of God is seriously distorted. They think they serve the Lord of Heaven and earth by spreading terror in his name. As an expression of their religious zeal, they carry out sectarian killings; they train suicide bombers who will target innocent civilians; they intimidate, kidnap, enslave and destroy.
The contrast with Jesus, meek and humble in heart, could scarcely be more complete. Maybe though we could dwell on that contrast a bit, as one way of reflecting on today’s Feast. Such a reflection might appear ridiculous, but unfortunately there are quite strong secularist forces in our society who want to bracket all religions together. They would restrict the liberty of Christians to practise or teach their faith, because they think that religion as such tends towards irrational and intolerant fanaticism. For them, religion, of itself, is a threat to society, and to the common good.
We may start our comparison by accepting a degree of common ground held by in principle by Christianity and Islam, of whatever colour. Christians and Muslims agree that it’s the duty of every human being to give due honour and worship to Almighty God. We agree, too, that public morality is important, and we think the State should support the institution of marriage. We all think that religion, of whatever sort, is an important support for marriage, and the family, and the whole of society, and that without that support things very easily fall apart. Together we observe how, without religion, people and societies easily fall under the influence of toxic ideologies, and these always tend to undermine the dignity and value of each human person.
With all Muslims, including the Islamic terrorists, we hold that God is Great. We differ though in our conception of God’s greatness. As we see it, the terrorists especially fall far short. They seem to think that God needs the protection of their Kalashnikovs; that he is somehow harmed by blasphemers or non believers; that without the help of his militant warriors he would be lacking in glory and honour.
But we know that God needs nothing from us; certainly not our protection; certainly not our acts of violence in his name. We agree that blasphemy is a bad thing, but not because it could somehow harm God. Blasphemy is bad because it must harm the blasphemer, and those influenced by him. Blasphemy, and unbelief in general, would tend to separates a person from the source and goal of his life, and from all that is good and holy and pure and true.
But of course there’s more. Our understanding of the greatness of God goes far beyond these truths, which anyone should be able to work out for themselves by the application of right reason. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ, though, we know that God is so great, that he made himself small for us. God is so loving, so merciful, that he has made himself vulnerable to us. He, who could not be touched by us, expressed his love for us by allowing us to hurt him.
So the Sacred Heart of Jesus is wounded. On Mount Calvary a spear was thrust through it. That spear somehow summed up, gathered together, symbolised all the sins of the world, my sins and your sins, as well as the sins of the avowed enemies of Jesus. In that spear thrust is also summed up all the sins committed against those who belong to Jesus, especially the little ones of this world, the vulnerable, the poor, the powerless.
Today we contemplate that wound in the Heart of Jesus with deep sorrow. We understand that it calls us to repentance and conversion. It also calls us to make acts of reparation. That is, we strive deliberately to replace all and any acts of un-love with acts of love. We set ourselves to cultivate the opposite of anger, hatred, lust, pride, ingratitude, coldness and the rest. We desire in principle to offer forgiveness; we seek reconciliation; we practise self control, humility, loving service of one another, and we spend time with the Lord, today especially, in prayer and adoration.
As we do this, we come to understand ever more clearly that the meaning of Christ’s wounded Heart is above all Mercy. Jesus, who was pierced through for our sins, does not call for revenge. He does not seek to assign blame, or impose guilt. He does not ask us to wage holy war on his behalf. Instead he gently issues his invitation: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Do not imagine that I’m a harsh overlord. I do not seek conquest by force or violence. The yoke I offer is a yoke of goodness and mercy and love. Yes, this yoke must appear threatening to those whose lives are immoral, or godless, or even just self centred and comfort loving. But it’s an easy yoke, and light to bear, as the experience of all who have tried it can testify. Those who accept it will spread not indifference, and not terror or war around the world, but only peace. They will be honest and useful members of any society in which they find themselves.
But please do not ask them to give up the practice of their faith. It’s more precious to them than life itself. They will die rather than renounce it.
Fr. Benedict Hardy OSB, Prior