June 19, 2020

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus


First Reading: Deuteronomy 7:6-11

Responsorial: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-16

Alleluia: Matthew 11:29AB

Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30


            Today the Church celebrates the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This might seem like an odd designation; after all, every Mass (and indeed every liturgical action) is a celebration of Jesus Christ himself. Why is it that we commemorate this specific body part? Why is there not a corresponding celebration of the broad shoulders and chiseled jawline of our Savior? The reason is because we recognize the heart as the metaphorical seat of the human passions. Thus, reverence for Christ’s sacred heart embodies the recognition of God’s great love for us in becoming incarnate in our world and willingly suffering death on the Cross for our salvation.


             Dedication to the Sacred Heart also recognizes the deeper mystery of Christ. Our faith confesses that Jesus was both true God and true man. Although he was one person, he had two distinct natures, human and divine. Everything Christ did and experienced was done and experienced by his human and his divine natures acting in tandem (this is referred to as the hypostatic union). Yet this reality presents something of a paradox because we cannot entirely fathom how Christ’s human mind could rise to the level of understanding commensurate with his divine intellect; or conversely, how his divine intellect could compress itself into the limited confines of the human condition.


             The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this paradox: “This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, ‘increase[d] in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man,’ and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience.’ This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking ‘the form of a slave.’ But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God's Son expressed the divine life of his person. ‘The human nature of God's Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.’ Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father. The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.”


             We see aspects of this paradox in the Gospels. At times, Jesus speaks of future events or otherwise has knowledge of persons or things that he did not have by normal human means. On the other hand, there are times when he appears more merely human in his reaction to events, genuinely asking questions in order to ascertain facts as any of us would in similar circumstances. Ultimately, the correlation of Christ’s perfect divine intellect and his limited human intellect is a mystery that will only be resolved for us when our own intellects are unveiled of their mortal limitations by the Beatific Vision of heaven.  


             The puzzling relation of Christ’s human and divine nature is less pronounced, however, if we focus on the Sacred Heart; this is to say on the confluence of human and divine love in the person of Christ. Yes, on the one hand, we must confess that there has to be some difference between the perfect love offered by God and the more limited love that can be offered by his creation, even the created human nature of Christ. But, on the other hand, the ceiling of the human capacity to love is not so readily apparent in the way we necessarily recognize a ceiling to even the most perfect human intellect. The human-divine differential is real, but the difference is not so wide or so demarcated when it comes to caritas as it might be when it comes to intellect.


             We can never approach the divine level of intellectual understanding; indeed, it would be hubris for us to even try. Yet there is no inherent barrier to us trying to love as God loves. Saint John tells us in the second reading: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” This is why we celebrate the lives of the Saints down throughout history; each in their way had a soul that “magnifies the Lord” (in the words of our Blessed Mother, the exemplar of this principle). They did this first and foremost by demonstrating Christ-like love, even as some among them also demonstrated penetrating, seemingly supernatural intellectual insights, as in the case of the Doctors of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas.   


             Many people wish they were smarter, taller, better looking, more athletic. Yet how many people pray for the simple grace of being able to love more? This is the divine trait that is more accessible to us to begin with – no inherent miracle required. No matter what other human traits or skills we have been blessed with or not blessed with, we can all strive to love more and to love God and others as God loves us. For “if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Hence, dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is meant to ultimately remind us of our own wondrous, but often underused, capacity to love.