“To keep me from sin and straying from him, God has used devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. … It is to the Heart of Jesus that I dare go for the solution of all my problems.” — St. John XXIII
Going into my Grandmother Hannah’s house and visiting other families in the town where I grew up, there seemed to be two constants in Irish homes — images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus displayed prominently, often in the hallway or the kitchen.
While this has changed today, seeing the images takes me back to my childhood. Like many children, my eye was drawn to the images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, particularly their anatomical depiction. But for many years, I did not understand their significance.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has been part of the devotional tapestry of the Catholic Church for centuries, gathering in popularity with saints such as St. Boniface, St. Gertrude the Great and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Throughout time, Catholics have found comfort, solace and hope in the promises of the Sacred Heart. However, far from being an antiquated and outdated devotion, this has incredible relevance for us personally and for our world today.
On my daily walks by the shore of Lake Michigan, I have picked up heart-shaped stones for many years. Stones worn by the passage of time and the tumult of life in the water. Stones misshapen with jagged edges, blunted shape and muted color. Stones like our own heart, become hardened in places, smooth in others, but certainly not perfectly shaped.
When we look at the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, what do we see?
In stark contrast to our own misshapen heart, Jesus’ Sacred Heart seems smooth, vibrantly colored and perfect. But notice again, in the images of the Sacred Heart, that Jesus holds out to us his very own heart — a heart that is given to us and given for us.
It is no coincidence that images of the Sacred Heart are anatomically human, not an overly stylized or obscure symbol of a heart, but a beating, fleshy heart offered for all. In the Scriptures, we are told that “a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26). In the Sacred Heart, Jesus offers us a heart transplant — a heart of stone for a heart of flesh.
On June 11, we celebrated the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. How can you reclaim this beautiful devotion in your life? Here are a few ideas:
- If you do not have an image of the Sacred Heart, purchase one for your home or workspace.
- Reach out to a family member who has an image of the Sacred Heart in their home and ask them about its significance in their life.
- Take some time to be still and to feel the rhythm of your heartbeat. Give thanks to God for the gift of his life moving within you and ask for your heart to beat in unison with his own.
- Spend time prayerfully reflecting on an image of the Sacred Heart and ask Jesus to give you a heart transplant, transforming the stony, broken pieces of your heart into a heart of flesh and love.
- At Mass the priest invites us to “lift up your hearts.” Our response is, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Instead of praying this response perfunctorily, take some time to imagine your heart joyfully lifted up to God in prayer.
With all that is happening in the world today, we are deeply in need of a “sacred heart transplant.” We need a heart that overflows with mercy and compassion. A heart that beats with hope and abundant life. A sacred heart, not a secular heart, a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone.
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” (Loyola Press).