The word ‘heart’ often refers to the innermost centre. We talk of ‘the heart of the matter,’ or describe a person’s nature as ‘warm hearted’ or even ‘cold hearted.’ So when we talk of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Heart of Christ our God, we are attempting to talk of the innermost core of God’s being, infinite love – the centre of all that is.
My grandmother, writes Fr Ian, like many in her community and of her generation, had a blessed reproduction of a traditional painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in her living room. For her it was a powerful sign of divine love protecting her home and family, and one day, discovering it fallen from the wall, she was devastated.
The Sacred Heart is perceived in many ways. The seventeenth century poet, mystic and Church of England priest, Thomas Traherne, writes how Jesus’ sacred heart ‘is always abroad in the midst of the earth; seeing and rejoicing in his wonders there…’ and from the same period of history the Lutheran mystic Jacob Boehme writes that ‘the world in its inner core unfolds its properties and powers in union with the heaven aloft and so there is one heart, one Being, one will, one God in all…’
St Margaret Mary Alacoque, a seventeenth century Roman Catholic nun, saw, in visions, the power of the love of Christ’s heart as fire reaching out; ‘I adore you most sacred heart of Jesus. Inflame my heart with the divine love with which your own is on fire.’
In the twentieth century the priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin developed this image of heart and fire. He saw the sacred heart, the love of Christ for all creation, as ‘the motor of evolution.’ He wrote ‘the Sacred Heart is the heart of the heart of the world, the centre of the centre of the Universe…’ ‘Christ. His Heart. A Fire: a fire with the power to penetrate all things …’
It is impossible to fully grasp this. This is the mystery of divine, cosmic, infinite love. We approach in prayer and wonder. As a great modern theologian has written ‘We must try to approach this mystery. We must eventually, in the luminous and in the dark hours of life, try to pray “Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me.”‘
Jesus, Who gave Himself for you,
Upon the Cross to die,
Opens to you His sacred heart:
O to that heart draw nigh.
Ye hear how kindly He invites;
Ye hear His words so blest:
“All ye that labour come to me,
And I will give you rest.’