The month of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the highest human expression of divine love. The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.
With these words, Pope Francis reminds us that June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a rich and powerful symbol, the roots of which are found in the Bible. The devotion has been nurtured by many saints throughout the ages, but particularly by the 17th century French nun, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who experienced apparitions of Jesus that encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart, Eucharistic adoration, and the popular practice of receiving Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month.
It seems to me that the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and its emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, has special relevance in our age that is tarnished by so much anger, division, violence and vulgarity. In his book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” Pope Francis put it this way: “I believe this is a time for mercy . . . because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded.”
The experience of the mercy and forgiveness of God is something we all need, because we are all wounded; we are all crippled by sin. None of us can walk the path of holiness by ourselves; none of us can be saved without the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.
But devotion to the Sacred Heart is more than a pious little thought. Properly understood, it has some real-world consequences. It changes our behavior. The mercy and forgiveness of Jesus we receive has to be shared with others.
We do so, first of all, by an attitude of welcoming. Here I think of the need to open our arms and welcome newborn babies into the world, rather than terminating their life in the womb. We need to welcome and care for the sick and elderly rather than dispatching them through assisted suicide. And we need to graciously welcome the refugees fleeing the relentless persecution and violence of their homelands, and who come to our country seeking mercy and hope.
Extending the mercy of God also means forgiving others, as we have been forgiven. We need forgiveness because we have committed sins; we have offended God and hurt our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we agonize over wrongs from the distant past. Fortunately, the mercy and forgiveness of God is always available to us. It flows freely from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The forgiveness we have so generously received we are also obliged to share. Remember what we say so often in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And so, as children of God we strive to forgive those who have hurt or offended us. We let go of the anger, bitterness, and grudges that separate us from others – family members, co-workers, neighbors. Forgiveness, received and given, is one of the most beautiful manifestations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And, finally, extending the mercy of God is reflected in a very practical way in the language we use. The discourse in society these days is so coarse. We encounter the harsh, vulgar language of social media. Almost every day a public figure – political leader, athlete, TV personality – has to apologize for something outrageous they’ve said or written. And lots of newspapers have eliminated the comment section of their publication because the language there has grown so mean.
On the contrary, our speech as Disciples of Christ has to be different; it has to be charitable, peaceful and kind. As St. Paul instructs us: No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only those things that men need to hear . . . no obscenity, or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place.” (Eph 4:29, 5:4) Our speech, then, should be a positive, powerful source of good. We should get in the habit of tamping down gossip, of thanking people, praising their accomplishments, and encouraging them when they are down.
In cultivating mercy, though, there’s one pitfall we need to avoid and that is false mercy, a non-critical, politically correct attitude that prevents us from challenging inappropriate or immoral behavior. In a recent tweet I said: “Should we love, embrace and accompany all people? Absolutely. Jesus demands it. But should we accept and condone every lifestyle and behavior? Nope. Jesus demands that too.”
In practical terms, it means, for example, that we love and support the young woman who had an abortion, but not condone the sin of abortion. We respect the man with same-sex attraction, but not approve the homosexual lifestyle. We support the person who has “transitioned” to the other gender without applauding the procedure. Sometimes the love of Christ compels us to say to a brother or sister: “I love you, but what you are doing is wrong.”
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a beautiful and rich part of our Catholic Faith. It has many practical applications in our world today.
The Prophet Ezekiel reveals that God promised to give us a heart transplant: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,” (36: 26) says the Lord. In our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may the prophecy be fulfilled, and may our world find a new outpouring of God’s mercy and love.