The Heart of God

"Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matt 11:29).

Today's feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus gained liturgical status in the late 17th century, but  it had always existed as a popular devotion for people who wanted more than doctrinal ideas about the divinity and humanity of Christ. 

In Jesus, God has a human heart. Jesus brings God into human life, especially the feelings and needs that characterize human relationships. We can never say that God has not experienced our human condition, the joys and fears, triumphs and losses of ordinary life. Jesus knew the whole range of human need and suffering, and because he is God, he brought this dimension of our lives into the divine life. Every human experience is now an encounter with God. 

The Gospels tell us that Jesus felt life deeply and exposed his heart to the sufferings of others. He wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. He was moved to the depths of his being when he encountered lepers, or the poor widow whose son had died. He wept again as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem, knowing the suffering to come because its leaders would not listen. He felt the tenderness of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them. He knew the love of the shepherd who would not leave a single lost sheep in the wildnerness. 

A sacred heart is no easy way of being. To feel the needs and sufferings of others is to be vulnerable to their plight, moved by their desperation. How we try to distance ourselves from those in trouble, to protect ourselves from their losses. We wish them well but cannot stop to get involved. As the chaos of life swirls around us and pulls others into its storms, we seek the shelter of our own inner circle, afraid to even imagine the unbearable burdens others must face.  

Jesus revealed a God whose heart is mercy itself, moved to compassion that expands until the divine heart breaks with the broken hearted, plunges into sorrow with the grief-stricken and those in anguish. Jesus not only immersed himself in our human condition, he carried our damaged lives and inner contradictions, our self-inflicted wounds and sinfulness to the cross, so that we might be set free to live life as God intended.  

This feast is for those who have lived enough to know that life will break your heart. How else will we be privileged to carry one another in times of sorrow? We need look no further than our personal relationships to find the many ways in which love can pull us apart and make us tender enough to hold the human stories all around us. Then, when we meet God, we will recognize that divine love has always been with us, consoling and challenging us. How can it be otherwise? Our way to God is through the human heart.