Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8c-9; Ephesians 3:8-12, 14-19; John 19:31-37
In high school we once did an exercise on self-perception. Sister began by asking us to take out a sheet of paper and write down 3 negative things about ourselves. After a couple of minutes she said, “Alright, now write down 3 positive things about yourself.” I can’t remember what I wrote but I know I didn’t list three; I’m not sure I even wrote two. That was Sister’s point; self-conscious teen-agers aside, people in general tend to be very good when it comes to focusing on their negative qualities but not so good when it comes to the positive.
The same goes for our relationship with God. If you’re anything like me, it’s probably much easier to come up with reasons why He shouldn’t think very highly of you than reasons why He should. Today, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, our Lord gives us at least three reasons to focus on the positive.
First, listen again to his words in the 11th chapter of Hosea: When Israel was a child I loved him… I taught Ephraim to walk… took them in my arms… fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks… stooped to feed my child… I will not let the flames consume you (Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9). This isn’t the imagery of a God who loves from a distance, impersonally, or until we leave or hurt him; no, this is a God who loves intimately, with a deeply personal, boundless, and most of all, healing and merciful love.
Second, as St. Paul makes clear, this is a love that goes beyond all words except the one, Eternal Word – Jesus. We can hear Paul struggling to express the inexpressible as he prays that we may have the strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). This is the key; divine love surpasses human knowledge and can be known only by faith (Ephesians 3:17), the gift of the Father possible only by the strength that comes from the Holy Spirit (CCC §683). To those who have faith, all the riches of grace are available.
Finally, every image of the Sacred Heart reminds us with its crown of thorns of the cost of this love. We hear in the gospel of the soldier who thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out (John 19:34). There is no love worthy of the name that is not asked to endure insult, temptation, and suffering. From the dawn of humankind it is written into our nature; it’s in our blood. But it isn’t in the blood of Christ, either from his Heavenly Father or his holy Mother, the Immaculate Conception. He willingly took it on. This is perhaps the greatest and most positive of all – that God, purely out of his infinite and merciful love for us, gave his only Son that we would be raised to life eternal. As Christ himself said, there is no greater love than this.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, understood that very well. While passing through a crowd of people all clamoring to get near him, someone shouted, “Padre, you are all things to all men!” He replied, “No, I am all things to one Man.”
May we all come to that kind of understanding! May we all see the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a day to set aside the negatives and focus on the overwhelming positive – that we too are all things to one Man. We are loved infinitely, personally, and mercifully; we are given the gift of faith which alone can make this love known to us beyond any human understanding; and finally, that as the ultimate expression of this love the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took human form and allowed his own heart to be pierced that we may not only look upon him in mourning for the sinfulness that put him there but with rejoicing that divine love can take even the passion and death of Christ, the greatest insult of all time, and transform it into the greatest victory the world will ever know – the resurrection to eternal life for all who believe and return to God with their whole heart (Joel 2:12).
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.