As children, many of us were exposed and encouraged to live out a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Countless well-known prayers and petitions were recited in common or murmured in private, and consecrations pronounced with fervor. Many families consecrated their homes to the Sacred Heart. A feast day was instituted in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1856 by Pope Pius IX. He established it as obligatory for the whole Church. The Pope asked that we celebrate it on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, which means late spring or early summer. Since 2002, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is also a special Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.
This devotion wants to highlight the superabundant and selfless love of God through the heart of his son Jesus. This defining symbol of Roman Catholicism at Vatican II was the result of a slow historical and mystical movement from an external religious fascination with the wounds, especially the pierced side of the body of Jesus which gave birth to the Church, through a progressively more internal and interior reality. As Wendy Wright points out, it is the medieval period that begins the desire to enter into the wounded body of Jesus through its opened side:
“True devotion to the human Jesus and his heart had begun. Elite friends cloistered in monastic cells received spousal visions of him revealing his heart. To them, he opened himself, poured out his heart’s secrets, invited them inside, and exchanged his heart for theirs.” (See Sacred Heart: Gateway to God.)
As I have highlighted in the previous three parts of this article, these types of mystical experiences are not only for the elite; all of us can experience this type of exchange of intense relationship and bond with God and Jesus. There is a subtle scriptural basis to this form of intimate exchange accessible to all in the Gospel of John. In the beginning, a portion called the prologue, John speaks of Jesus Christ as the pre-existing logos, nestled in the bosom (kolpos) of God (John 1:18). The only time this Greek term connoting intimacy, affection, and union is employed in John again, is when the beloved disciple lay his head on the chest or bosom of Jesus as they recline at a meal (see John 13:23). This significant juxtaposition is not known to many since this verse of chapter 13. The Greek term in most translations speaks of the unnamed disciple reclining at the side or beside Jesus. Scripture scholars tell us that when a person is not named, it is to encourage the reader/listener to identify with that person. John is then, in fact, saying that like the beloved disciple, we can all love and nestle against Jesus’ bosom and hear the heartbeat of God’s love for us in the same way Jesus intimately and eternally rested in God’s love!
I find it very interesting that the genesis of Teilhard de Chardin’s understanding of the Cosmic Christ stems from his devotion to the Sacred Heart. Despite being critical of the showmanship of the mass processions of the Sacred Heart of his youth, he had three consecutive mystical experiences of Christ that began with the Sacred Heart. The first one was during one of those processions where he saw the heart of Jesus turn to molten gold and radiate with beneficial rays of luminosity. His devotion to the Sacred Heart was at the center of his mystical theology: “Although I never really analyzed it before, it is in the Sacred Heart that the conjunction of the Divine and the cosmic has taken place…There lies the power that, from the beginning, has attracted me and conquered me …All the later development of my interior life has been nothing other than the evolution of that seed.”
Teilhard saw the Heart of Jesus as the center of all created reality, the very center of love. In his retreat journal, he calls Jesus the “Universal Lover,” “the heart of the heart of the Universe.” The loving heart of Jesus is integral to his understanding of Jesus Christ as the Alpha and the Omega, the Cosmic Christ whom he saw at the very center of everything. This example illustrates how devotional spirituality can become the springboard for inspiring and life-giving mystical experiences. By opening ourselves to them, we will be more credible evangelizers, without even having to say a word about them. It will inspire and nurture the spiritual development of others. Our very presence, humility and dedication to gospel living will suffice to become loving and joyful disciples.
To conclude, I offer you excerpts of a lovely contemporary litany of the Sacred Heart poetically rendered by Wendy Wright: Heart of Jesus, hear our prayer…God’s Joy, God’s shalom, harp of the Trinity, wingbeat of the Spirit, breath of God, five-petaled rose…Womb of justice, birthplace of peace, our dearest hope, longing of our lives, Heart of Jesus, hear our prayer…Warmth of our hearts, transforming fire, cosmic furnace, enflamer of hearts, heart of evolution, beginning and ending, center of all… Heart of Jesus, hear our prayer…Wounded by love, pierced by our cruelty, broken by our hardness, mystic winepress, poured out as gift, Heart of Jesus, hear our prayer.