Praying with an icon of the Sacred Heart
David W Parsons
From 'Elias Icons: writing and reading an icon of the Sacred Heart'
(Jesus) worked with human hands,
He thought with a human mind,
acted by human choice and
loved with a human heart. (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
‘the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus ‘we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.’ The individual characteristics of Christ's body express the divine person of God's Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer ‘who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted’. Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us…He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception’ (Catechism, 477- 478).
'Religious worship is not paid to images, considered in themselves, as things; but according as they are representations leading to God Incarnate. The approach which is made to the image as such does not stop there, but continues towards that which is represented.' (St Thomas Acquinas, cited in Haurietis Aquas, 103)
We do not pretend...that we must contemplate and adore in the Heart of Jesus what is called the formal image, that is to say, the perfect and absolute symbol of His divine love, for no created image is capable of adequately expressing the essence of this love. But a Christian in paying honor along with the Church to the Heart of Jesus is adoring the symbol and, as it were, the visible sign of the divine charity which went so far as to love intensely, through the Heart of the Word made Flesh, the human race stained with so many sins. (Haurietis Aquas,104)
|Description of icon- click to enlarge.|
|Angels and saints - click to enlarge|
during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? .. Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us the ‘mind of Christ’.
Contemplation is a process of changing our mind and opening our heart as a response to our prayer. When we contemplate we try to remain silent and listen. Open your heart and listen. We wait for God. As I see it now, an icon is a powerful instrument for helping us to see reality as God sees it. It can help us, as Ignatian spirituality teaches, to ‘see all things in Christ’. An icon is about changing how we see and how we act and behave. As Benedict notes: 'the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action, which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity. (actio)
The icon of the Sacred Heart
This beautiful icon of the Sacred Heart by Ian Knowles explores what Benedict XVI described in his book on Jesus of Nazareth as the ‘cosmic’ and ‘liturgical’ aspects of the pierced heart of Jesus. (1) It invites you to reflect and meditate on what Saint John Paul said in his very first encyclical: ‘The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history’ (Redemptor Hominis: 1). Christ, he argued, ‘is the foundation and centre of history, He is its meaning and ultimate goal’, and His incarnation is ‘the gift of the Spirit, [and] the pulsating heart of time’ (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 5) ! And this is what the icon seeks to depict: the great cosmic mystery contained in the wounded heart of Jesus. The ‘heart’ of Jesus as the mystics understood is the core or totality of His human and divine being. It is the very centre of the universe, the central point in the history of mankind and the pulsating heart of time. This image of the heart of Jesus invites you to enter more fully into the profound mystery of an Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, who has created all things and is the 'centre’ or ‘heart’ of the universe but paradoxically is also utterly humble. Jesus – the Word of God - has a soft and vulnerable human heart. Our God is Almighty and full of humility: the God who created all things loves us and desires us. However, we do not, as Pope Francis reminds us, pray to a 'cosmic God': we pray to our Father ( See appendix 4, below) ! God's love is indeed truly cosmic, but in Christ He is relating to us- His children - in the most intimate and personal way. God, the creator of all loves us as individuals: He is our Our Father. His Divine Son loves us with a human heart! He wants us to love him as the Almighty creator , but as as the Almighty who loves us with a father's love. This is the mystery that the icon is asking us to reflect upon. As Pope Francis once commented:
‘If we open our hearts [we] may contemplate the miracle of the light in the midst of our darkness, the miracle of the strength of God in the midst of fragility, the miracle of the supreme greatness in the midst of humbleness’ ( Moynihan, 2013: 184)
This is the Good News: Our God, Our Father, - who created all things - has been made flesh and has a humble, patient and merciful heart! It is a heart open to all the suffering of humanity. God does not stand outside human suffering - in Jesus He shares in and is open to our suffering. In Jesus, as Saint John Paul observed, the love of God has descended 'into the very centre of evil to overcome it with good' (See his Angelus messages on the Sacred Heart, below)
As one of the great advocates of the devotion, St Francis de Sales, expressed it: in contemplating the Sacred Heart we understand that ‘Cor ad Cor Locquitur’ - God the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, is full of mercy and compassion wants to speak to us ‘heart to heart.’ Jesus desires us to live in His heart, and pleads with us to put all our trust in the love and mercy of God. This Sacred Heart image urges you to allow the Second Person of the Holy trinity to become your centre and calls you to become Christo- centric and welcome Him into your heart and set you on fire with the love that Dante described in his Paradiso as ‘L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.’: ‘the love that moves the sun and the other stars’.
Although we tend to associate the Sacred Heart with the devotion which developed as a result of the visions of St Margaret Mary in 17th France, it is very important to remember that, as Pius XII made clear, the ‘revelations made to Margaret Mary did not present any new tenet of Catholic doctrine’ (Haurietis Aquas: 17).
|Dominus meus et Deus meus|
14th century wall painting, St Alban's Cathedral
|St. Longinus pierces Christ's side. Fresco by Fra Angelico|
St. John Paul underlined this deep historical basis of the devotion when he observed that the:
essential elements of this devotion belong permanently to the spirituality of the Church throughout its history. From the very beginning the Church has contemplated the pierced heart of the crucified Christ from which came blood and water, the symbols of the sacraments which constitute the Church; and, in the heart of the Word incarnate, the Fathers of the Christian East and West saw the beginning of the whole work of our salvation, the fruit of the love of the divine Redeemer, whose pierced heart is a particularly expressive symbol. (see foot note2, below)
|From Prince Henry's ( Later Henry VIII) prayer roll.- click to enlarge.|
The great English mystic, Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416) , for example, describes how she experienced a vision of the heart of Jesus in her book Revelations of Divine Love:
rejoicing. With His sweet looking He led forth the understanding of His
creature by the same wound into His Side within. And then he shewed a
fair, delectable place, and large enough for all mankind that shall be
saved to rest in peace and in love. And therewith He brought to
mind His dearworthy blood and precious water which he let pour all out
for love. And with the sweet beholding He shewed His blessed heart even
cloven in two. ( Chapter xxiv)
We find the devotion to the heart of Jesus at the very core of so many of the great spiritual traditions of the Church: from Franciscan and Benedictine and from the Augustinian, Carmelite, Carthuisian, Cistercian and Ignatian; Salesian, Eudist and Vincentian traditions. The list is a very long one indeed! However, it was because of the St Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal that the devotion was to flourish in the late 17th century: their spirituality was intensely focused on the transforming power of love and the hearts of Jesus and Mary. In due course, St Margaret Mary, a member of the Visitation order established by the two saints experienced a number of visions of the Sacred Heart. Subsequently the Jesuits were to promote her cause and spread the devotion to the heart of Jesus.
Since then - despite its decline since the 1960s - the devotion to the Sacred Heart has been central to the spiritual life of countless Catholics in the modern age and its position and importance has been restated by all the popes of the modern era. It has truly been the 'delight of all the Saints'! It should be the 'delight' of all of us sinners today.
But to do this we have to go beyond the rather kitsch and overly sentimental images of the past and rediscover the profound meaning of the wounded 'heart' and the 'heart of Jesus'. For too long the devotion to the Sacred Heart has been constrained by the imagery ( together with some 'outmoded devotional practices' See Arrupe, p19, below) which has become associated with the heart of Jesus. (See appendix from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 3, below) If we want to rediscover the Sacred Heart, we must also explore the image more carefully. And that is what the icon invites us to do.
'By his wounds you have been healed': The wounds of Christ and wounded Christianity.
|Medieval roof boss, St Tudno's (Church in Wales) Church Llandudno, Wales|
O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free; A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true and clean.
A heart in every thought renewed,
And full of love divine;
Perfect, and right. and pure and good,
A copy, Lord of thine.
To be a Christian is to live a life in which the wounds of Christ are central to our whole existence: for as Pope Francis observed:
the wounds of Jesus are wounds of mercy. Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief. Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds, which is the mystery of his merciful love. Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God: his Passion, his earthly life – filled with compassion for the weak and the sick – his incarnation in the womb of Mary. And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies – especially about the Servant of the Lord, the Psalms, the Law and the Covenant; to the liberation from Egypt, to the first Passover and to the blood of the slaughtered lambs; and again from the Patriarchs to Abraham, and then all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth. All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen; with Mary, in her Magnificat, we can perceive that, “His mercy extends from generation to generation” (cf. Lk 1:50).
To be a Christian is to desire, above all things, a heart like Jesus's heart. A' heart set free' from sin. Thus whatever our particular denomination, we can all pray:
Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours.
Popes and the Sacred Heart
The icon of 'Cor Jesu' is therefore designed to assist in the re-discovery of this ancient devotion and to enable the viewer to enter more prayerfully into the mystery of the Heart of Jesus as revealed in scripture and in the teachings of the Church. This mystery was described (in 1928) by Pope Pius XI as 'Totius religionis summa' the 'summary of all our religion’ and a ‘guide to a more perfect life’ which can lead us to a more ‘intimate knowledge of Christ Our Lord’ (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 3). To clarify the scriptural basis of this great summary of the Catholic faith Pius XII published an encyclical on the Sacred Heart in 1956 (Haurietis Aquas). Saint John XXIII had a great love for the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist. In his Journal of A Soul he exclaims:
Paul VI (in 1965) later expressed his desire that the devotion should be renewed through a better understanding of the ‘deep and intrinsic doctrinal foundations’ of the ‘infinite treasures’ contained in the devotion’ (Investigabiles Divitias Christi). The Sacred Heart was, he argued, a powerful means by which the faithful could better understand ‘the unfathomable riches of Christ.’ His successors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, also emphasized the importance of renewing our devotion so that it is more grounded in scripture and in the teachings of the Catholic Church. Benedict, for example, notes that:
In biblical language, "heart" indicates the centre of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God's love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy. Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life” (Benedict XVI, Angelus 5 June 2005).
Saint John Paul - the 'Pope of the Sacred Heart ' - writing to Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. (Superior General of the Society of Jesus) in 1986 noted that:
In the Heart of Christ, man's heart learns to know the genuine and unique meaning of his life and of his destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to keep himself from certain perversions of the human heart, and to unite the filial love for God and the love of neighbour... The true reparation asked by the Heart of the Saviour will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence.
John Paul on many occasions expressed his firm conviction that :
devotion to the Sacred Heart corresponds more than ever to the expectations of our times...the essential elements of this devotion ' belong in a permanent fashion to the spirituality of the Church throughout her history. ( speaking to Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, October 5th 1987)
Benedict (again writing to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, in 2006) stressed:
‘it is still a fitting task for Christians to continue to deepen their relationship with the Heart of Jesus, in such a way as to revive their faith in the saving love of God and to welcome him ever better into their lives…. we must draw from this source to attain true knowledge of Jesus Christ and a deeper experience of his love. Thus, we will be able to understand what it means to know God's love in Jesus Christ, to experience him, keeping our gaze fixed on him to the point that we live entirely on the experience of his love, so that we can subsequently witness to it to others.
More recently, Pope Francis, while celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart in 2013 said that the:
The Sacred Heart, he stresses, shows that:
The mercy of God gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. The Lord is always watching us with mercy, [always] awaits us with mercy. Let us be not afraid to approach him! He has a merciful heart! If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus! (2)
This is very clear teaching from the present Pope. For Francis the Sacred Heart is therefore the ultimate and definitive symbol of God's mercy because it is a real symbol that represents the 'centre' from which salvation ‘gushed forth’! It is not just any old symbol. It is not an ‘imaginary symbol’: Jesus had a real heart formed in the womb of his Blessed Mother. It is truly the ultimate Christian symbol of God's infinite love and mercy. Given this, it is vital for us to learn to read, mediate, pray and contemplate the image of the Heart of Jesus - one of the oldest Christian ( and not just Catholic) symbols. The Sacred Heart must, according to the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, be understood, first and foremost, ‘in the light of Scriptures’ as it ‘denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom; infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind..’ The Sacred Heart symbolizes, therefore, that Christ is the Word Incarnate, and the Saviour of mankind, who has an infinite divine-human love for the Father and for humanity (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy:166). When we meditate, pray with and contemplate (that is venerate) an image of the Sacred Heart - as the chief sign and symbol of Jesus’s love for the Father and for us - we seek to enter into the ‘entire mystery of Christ’, that is to say, we enter into the very ‘centre of the universe and history’!
Prayer and the heart.
The ‘heart’ is one of the most frequently used words in the Bible. In the King James translation, for example, the word is used over 900 times. It is a concept we find in many spiritual traditions and it is, of course, a key word in both the Old and New Testaments. "In biblical language", Benedict observes that the word "heart" ' indicates the centre of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell'. The word ‘heart’ is, as Karl Rahner SJ argues, a universal and ‘ primordial word’ which involves the idea of being the ‘core of the human person’. Just as when we say that we have given someone our heart, we mean that we have given all of ourselves. When we say we have ‘put our heart into something’ we mean that we have given our all. When we give our heart, we give everything we have got. Human beings can be open-hearted and soft-hearted. They can be hard-hearted and cold-hearted. A heart can be full of love and full of hate. Hence, as John Paul once observed, the 'closed heart' as the 'interior' of a person would be the ‘worst prison’ imaginable! Our heart , as von Hildebrand describes it , is our ‘real self’. Our heart is who we really are. The totality of our being: all the good and all the bad. Pope Francis expresses it in this way :
'One believes with the heart' (Rom 10:10). In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity. If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. ( Lumen Fidei, 26)
When we pray, therefore, we pray from the heart, or not at all. The Catechism puts it in these terms:
Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain. The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant. Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.’ (Catechism,2562-64)
By depicting a heart the icon is asking you to focus on both your heart – your core / centre or your real self - and its relationship to the heart of Jesus: the Word of God made flesh. In prayer we seek to relate to God at the deepest level of our being. Our heart desires to speak to the heart of God. It desires to be with God. Thus as St. Augustine observed: ‘Our heart is restless until it rests in You’. So, the icon is asking you to reflect on your prayer life. Do you pray from your restless heart? Is your heart open? Or is it your prison in which you lock yourself away and keep God and your neighbour out?
As for me, having lived with the icon for a few years, what most frequently comes to mind is that the circles within circles in the image makes me meditate and contemplate on the need for me to centre my life on Christ. I pray to be less and less self-centered and full of myself and more and more Christ centred and full of Christ. That is what a new heart would mean to me.
Fire and Water: 'I will give you a new heart' (Ezek, 36:26).
The icon uses two expressive symbols of the heart of Jesus image : fire and water. Scripture in many places invites us to think about the process of purifying our hearts. God wants to transform our hearts - give us new hearts: pure hearts rather than hearts of stone. Into this new heart God will place his spirit (Ezek: 36, 26-7). This new heart will not be cold or indifferent, but on fire with the love of God which Moses saw in the burning bush. Many of the mystics associated with the Sacred Heart have described a process of an 'exchange of hearts'. Jesus places the saint's heart within his, and the saint places the heart of Jesus within their own. This is very poetical language to describe what God wants: He desires you to live your life in an intimate and loving relationship with Him: heart to heart, and heart in heart. Such intimacy requires us to purify our heart: through fire and water. It is the pure in heart that will see the face of God. The icon is therefore asking you to reflect upon the state of your own heart and pray for a heart that is open and loving: a fitting place for the Holy Spirit to dwell.
St Catherine of Siena, who was to experience an 'exchange of hearts' with Christ, proclaimed in a beautiful poem that God is 'nothing but the fire of love' and that 'La mia natura e' fuoco' - 'My nature is fire'.
|St Catherine by Giovanni di Paolo|
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love you created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
This idea of divine love as a fire is a common thread that runs through the rich tapestry of the devotion. A beautiful prayer by St. Claude de la Colombiere - the Jesuit who did much to spread the devotion in the light of St. Margaret Mary's experiences - captures this theme in the devotion as a desire for a union with Christ in an exchange of hearts and an enkindling fire to purify the heart:
O God..Place your Heart deep in the centre of our hearts and enkindle in each heart a flame of love as strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons that I have for loving you.
The Sacred Heart as ‘the entire mystery of Christ’.
The Sacred Heart (as denoting ‘..the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom; infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind..’) is a doorway or point of entry into the mystery of the Holy Trinity and Christ‘s incarnation and thus the importance of the mystical in our spiritual life. As the great Christian mystics of the past knew, the heart of Jesus is one of the most powerful forms of mystical meditation, prayer and contemplation: one which can enable us to attain a better understanding our own hearts and the heart of the Saviour. In the materialistic egotistical and shallow culture of today human beings must come to appreciate the (urgent) need for a deeper and more mystical spirituality - a spirituality of the heart. We need a spirituality centered on Christ and centered on learning from the heart of Jesus. After all, the good Lord told us so. In the beautiful words of the King James Bible:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Luke10: 28-30)
The Name of Jesus and the Heart of Jesus.
There is a close relationship between the Heart of Jesus and the Holy Name of Jesus - 'God Saves'. The Holy name is to be found in Latin at the top of the icon - Cor Jesu - and in Greek (the first two at last two letters in Greek) above the image of Jesus Christ - IC XC. Christ is also shown with his right hand forming letters.
The icon therefore invites us - at the outset- to pray this Holy Name, for as St. Paul says: "God highly exalted Him and gave Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend; in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8-11). The icon shows us under the name of Jesus all the universe, and every knee bending and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. The Catechism also instructs the faithful that, when we pray,
..To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him….The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and "brings forth fruit with patience." This prayer is possible "at all times" because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus. The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins. .. ( Catechism, 2665- 2669, my emphasis)
Jesus- God Saves- repeated 'by a humble and attentive heart' is a prayer that we can use always and everywhere.
The Prayer of the Heart.
The name of Jesus is, therefore, at the heart of all Christian prayer and so at the top of the icon are the words ‘Cor Jesu’- Heart of Jesus. This serves to remind us of the importance of praying the Holy Name as it 'contains all' . To pray the name "Jesus" is to 'invoke him and to call him within us'. We can do this by saying the 'Jesus prayer' when we contemplate an icon of Jesus. This prayer is also known as the 'The Prayer of the Heart' - because it is used ( especially in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox traditions) to 'open up the heart'- and unite our heart to His divine heart. As the Catechism observes, 'By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior's mercy. ' It is a simple prayer which can be used continuously or/and as we begin to meditate on the Heart of Jesus - wherever we are. To say the name Jesus humbly and attentively is to open up your heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
There are several variations on this prayer - we might say, for example, 'the sinner' or on 'us sinners'. Whatever form we use we can, in the words, of St. Paul, learn to 'pray without ceasing' ( 1 Thess 5:17). Sleeping or waking, it can become truly the prayer of our heart. It is a perfect prayer for venerating an icon.
The Litany of the Sacred Heart.
The icon and the 'Jesus prayer' also prompts us to reflect on the relation between the Holy Name of Jesus and our heart and the Heart of Jesus. For this we can turn to Litany of the Sacred Heart (Litaniae Sacratissimi Cordis Iesu ) – one of the greatest forms of Catholic prayer. Saint John Paul, who has rightly been called the ‘Pope of the Sacred Heart ’, considered the Litany to be the complete synthesis of all the mysteries of our faith. (3) Think about that. As you say the Litany of the Sacred Heart the icon tries to help you to read, meditate, pray and contemplate the mystery contained in the Heart of Christ. If an icon is a window into the divine, the Litany is truly our gateway into the Heart of Jesus. It is a summary of out faith. As Saint John Paul tells us:
The icon may be seen as a kind of visual aid which we can use to enable us learn the language of the pierced heart of Jesus as described in the Litany.
Read the Litany below -appendix 2
Beginning to Read the Icon: Ad Jesum Per Mariam - To Jesus through Mary.
She is the blessed mother who was told by Simeon that her baby was ‘set for the falling and rising again of many in Israel', [and that ] a sword would pierce her own soul so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2: 22-35).
She stood at the foot of the cross and shared in his pain.
She is with us as we carry our cross.
She was with Jesus as his heart was wounded.
Mary has a wounded heart.
She is with us when our hearts are wounded.
At Cana Our Lady spoke to all of us and gently leads us to the heart of her Son: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ (John 2:1-11). If you want to learn from His heart, do whatever he tells you. Listen with an open heart.
We ask for her prayers as we reveal our broken wounded hearts to her beloved Son. We ask for her help so as to enable us to do whatever he tells us. Benedict XVI pointed out that:
The heart that resembles that of Christ more than any other is without a doubt the Heart of Mary, his Immaculate Mother, and for this very reason the liturgy holds them up together for our veneration. ( Angelus, St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 5 June 2005)
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Hold our life in your arms:
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
revive and nourish faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide all of us along the path of holiness.
Teach us your own preferential love
for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the downhearted:
bring everyone under your protection
and entrust everyone to your beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus.
As we contemplate the Blessed Virgin who saw her Son’s heart pierced, we recall the words of St. Augustine: ‘The Virgin Mary first conceived in her heart, and then fruitfulness came to the Mother’s Womb'.
As the Litany states Jesus is the 'Son of the Eternal Father' who was 'formed by the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Virgin's womb and is 'substantially united to the Word of God'. Amongst her many titles Mary is often described as the 'Ark of the Covenant' and the 'Seat of Wisdom'. These titles ( as we see in the Litany of Loreto) point towards the invocations contained in the Litany of the Sacred Heart, describing the Heart of Jesus as the 'holy temple of God ' and the 'tabernacle of the Most High', in which dwell 'all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge'. As Pope Francis observes:
Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. (Evangelii Gaudium, 286)
So, we pray to the Blessed Virgin - the 'Ark of the Covenant' and the 'seat of wisdom' to help us open our hearts as we venerate an icon of the heart of her son. We pray that our poor hearts may be set on fire with the love that filled her heart. We pray that Christ will be born in our hearts. Perhaps the best prayer is the simplest prayer. Pope Francis give us this wonderful prayer
‘Blessed Virgin, Look into my heart, you know it better than me.’ (Moynihan, 31)
The icon of the Heart of Jesus – Cor Jesu – is about a journey into your own heart. It is a heart that Mary, our mother, knows better than we do ourselves. We should always begin by asking for her prayers. She can help us to know our own heart better, and know and love her Son’s heart more and more.
As Saint John Paul prayed:
Mother, present beneath the Cross, you looked into his heart!
Mother, by the will of his heart, you have become Mother to us all.
Who knows the mystery of the heart of Jesus like you - at Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Calvary?
Who else but you knows that it is patient and most merciful.
Who like you bears such unending witness to it?
The Rosary and the Sacred Heart
the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.
The Sacred Heart.
The circumference billows with cloud forms representing the heavens that manifest the glory of God in all its beauty and order. Christ here is depicted in the icon as ‘Pantocrator’ (Παντοκράτωρ - the Greek translation of ‘ the Hebrew title ‘El Shaddai’ - 'Almighty or All Powerful, Ruler of All’, or ‘Sustainer of All’ ). In Orthodox icons he is usually shown holding the New Testament in his left hand, and making a gesture of blessing or teaching with His right hand. If the book is open an icon of ‘Pantocrator’ is called ‘Christ the Teacher’.
In this icon we see Christ as ‘Pantocrator’ with an open heart rather than an open book. In this sense we can say that the icon is a version of ‘Christ the Teacher’, because it is urging us to learn from his heart (Matthew 11:29). In this icon Christ is the Divine Wisdom, which is imploring us to listen and learn from His heart. Learn from a heart that suffered for us and shares our suffering. Learn from a heart that loves without limit, and is full of compassion and mercy.
Christ sits enthroned in the midst of the cosmos. Jesus is shown as the unknowable and mysterious made flesh. The icon reminds us that, as he told Philip, ‘anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). Here we see God incarnate: the fullness of the Trinity in the furnace of God’s Love at the centre of all creation. The glowing furnace of Jesus’ Heart shows us that God is Love (John 14:8). The Heart of Jesus is full of infinite mercy and unconditional love. We see Jesus in the Father and the Father in Jesus (John 14: 1-14). The Sacred Heart is a doorway into the mystery of the Trinity. As the Litany states:
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother by the Holy
Spirit, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, united substantially with the word of God, have mercy on
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven, have mercy on us.
As the Litany makes clear, the Sacred Heart is the most complete icon (that is the most complete image) of the infinite love of God : it is a powerful symbol by which we may contemplate the love that the Holy Trinity has for each one of us. The actual heart in the icon is, obviously, the most important departure from the images which emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries. The iconographer, Ian Knowles, has focused on the ideas we find in the Litany in respect of the heart as a ‘temple’, tabernacle’ and a ‘burning furnace’ of love.
We can pray as we contemplate the fire of divine love as expressed in a prayer used by Teilhard de Chardin:
Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atque placitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.
Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me be, through the utter annihilation of myself. ( Teilhard de Chardin and cited in Arrupe,1983, p51) )
We recall also the words of St Frances Cabrini, who taught that:
In this respect by the dramatic use of fire, the icon brings us back to the words of St. Margaret Mary when, in the account of her third apparition, she describes the heart as ‘shining like so many suns’ from which ‘there issued flames’. His breast, she recounts, ‘was like a furnace’ and His Heart was ‘the living source of those flames. ’ The theme of God’s love as fire is a constant theme in prayers composed to the heart of Jesus.
The Litany describes the heart as infinite (in majesty) and a never ending ‘abyss’ of all virtues. Thus, if you look at the heart you see that it has a spiral form in the centre to capture this sense of the infinite, never ending nature of God’s love and mercy. Around the heart is a golden circle. This circle is at the centre of a number of circles. This is to express the idea that the ‘Heart of Jesus is the king and centre of all hearts’. Here we can reflect on the heart of Christ as the centre of the universe and history, but also as the ultimate centre of our own lives. The Sacred Heart is urging us not to be self-centred, but to be Christ-centred: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbours we love our self. The heart is described as an ‘abyss’ in the Litany – that is it is a symbol of the God’s infinite love without end! Pope Francis reminds us, however, not to be afraid of this abyss of love:
It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! (MoynihanP64)
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the
fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
The pierced Heart of Jesus.
The Litany asks us to pause and meditate on this great mystery which was so important to the 'Beloved Apostle' who had listened to the heart of the Saviour at the last supper: Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
As John says in his Gospel (1: 1-18 ) Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Son, who is 'nearest to the Father's heart'. To see Jesus is to see God. To hear the Word beat from the heart of the pierced one, is to hear the words of the Father.
Jesus proclaimed that ‘if any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink’ and that out of Him ‘living water’ will flow, (John 7: 37-39). This gift of the Holy Spirit is, in the words of the invocation which follows on, ‘Heart of Jesus, the source of all consolation’ . This reminds us that Jesus promised that he would ask the Father to send ‘another Consoler’ to be with us for ever’ (John 14:16; 14:25; 16:12 ). As He died so His Sacred Heart released for us the living water of the Holy Spirit that would bring the truth and peace that would console us in this ‘valley of tears’. And because of this, the Litany then asks us to meditate on:
Heart of Jesus our Life and Resurrection, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus our Peace and Reconciliation, have mercy on us
Rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13).
The heart in the icon is shown as a golden glow, a divine heart on fire with love. But, as the wound on Christ’s side reminds us, the Lamb of God has a wounded heart. The heart of the second person of the Holy Trinity still carries the wound of the lance which pieced His side on the cross. To venerate the Sacred Heart is to participate in the mystery of this wound. An icon of the heart of Jesus is echoing the words of Joel - if we love God we must seek really change our lives. We have to ‘rend’ our heart – the deep core of who we are – and not just the outward surface – our garments. We have to look at who we really are – and it may not be very pretty. Sin is not beautiful, it is an ugly disfiguring wound. As Pope Francis instructs us:
‘The wound of the soul is sin. Oh wounded soul, know your healer! Show him the wounds of your errors. Knowing that from him no secret is hidden, let him feel the lamentation of your heart….Rend your hearts, so that through our wounds we can truly see ourselves…open your hearts, for only through a heart that has been torn open can the compassionate love of the Father , who loves us and heals us, enter’, (Moynihan, 216)
And that is the most wonderful thing about the heart of Jesus: it is full of mercy and compassion. Above all, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is about mercy. Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega of all creation desires a personal relationship with you – he wants to dwell in your heart. The king of the universe, as Francis reminds us, never tires of forgiving us, because he loves us. But we tire of asking for his mercy. An icon of the Sacred Heart tells us to pray for the grace to never tire of asking for mercy. Look at the merciful heart at the centre of the icon and remember Pope Francis’ words:
‘The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness!’, (Moynihan , 65)
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful, have mercy on us.
With Joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Isaiah, 12:3).
In the early Church the relationship between the heart of Jesus and the 'Song of Songs' was especially important. St Bernard of Clairvaux, for example, drew attention to the meaning of the Song of Songs in terms of baptism, and the nuptial union between Christ and His Church. The waters that streamed from the wounded heart of Jesus was seen like a cleft in a rock (from which living water springs) in which the Church nestles like the dove in the Song of Songs (2.14). This idea is to be found in many Christian prayers and songs - most notably in Toplady's famous hymn. So we too can pray:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
The Sacred Heart and the Seven Sacraments.
The 7 streams of water represent the seven sacraments of the Church. As the Mystical Body of Christ born from the pierced heart of Jesus the streams prompt us to focus our meditation, prayer and contemplation on the sacraments. The Catechism states that :
Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian's life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life. (Catechism, 1210)
This theme of the Sacred Heart as source of the sacramental life of the Church was explained by St Albert the Great in the 13th century.
In the lower register of the icon we can see the waters flowing and watering the garden of his Church.
As we reflect on those seven streams we should think about our personal experience of the sacraments and the stages of our own spiritual life. As the sacraments flowed from the heart of the Saviour, they are the surest way of becoming closer to the Sacred Heart. Each one is a source of Divine Grace. They are the great gifts of the Sacred Heart through which we can experience God's saving presence. Sacraments are signs and instruments of God's grace - each sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. Devotion to the Sacred Heart reminds us to be always mindful of our sacramental life.
We should think of the sacraments as pouring out of the heart of Christ into our lives. They are the living water that flows from the Divine sphere symbolized by the circles surrounding Christ and His heart - into the created order – represented by the brown (as in earth) square. The sacraments water and nourish our life in Christ.
‘Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness’.
When we contemplate the spring of living waters in the icon we should reflect on these words contained in the Litany: ‘Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness’.
This invocation was Saint John Paul's favourite invocation from the Litany - he quoted it frequently. In his Angelus message on this line he said :
As we look at the streams of water we might recall the words of the Preface of the Mass in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: "Lifted high on the Cross, Christ gave His life for us, so much did He love us. From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of the sacramental life in the Church. To His open Heart the Savior invites all men, to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation."
Water, of course, is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit (along with fire which we also see in the icon). John the Baptist preached that he baptised with water, but Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). St John, who records the flow of blood and water from the heart of Jesus stresses that Jesus came by water, blood and the spirit (1 John :6-8). It is the Holy Spirit that, as Pope Francis reminds us, opens our heart so that we may know Jesus. Thus as we contemplate the Sacred Heart we should say the prayer which Pope Francis suggests we say every day:
Holy Spirit, make my heart open to God's Word so that my heart might be open to good, so that my heart might be open to God's beauty every day.'(4)
So, as we reflect on the water in the icon we should open our hearts to the great mysteries contained in the Sacraments, since 'as the present Pope has stated: 'The Church's sacraments allow us to share fully in the life the Lord came to bring us' (Moynihan, 195) It is from the Heart of Jesus that all the sacraments flow and give us life.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah, when speaking of the Son of David, says that the ‘spirit of the Lord will rest upon him’ and he will have the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord, goodness and justice (Isaiah 11:2-4). The Catechism of the Church lists the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as: wisdom; understanding; counsel (prudence); fortitude (courage); knowledge; piety; and the fear of the Lord. It notes that: ‘They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them’ (Catechism, 1831). The Litany references these gifts of the Heart of Jesus in many ways (and especially in two invocations: ‘Heart of Jesus , in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ and ‘Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues’, because Jesus loves us with an infinite love – the greatest virtue. Paul gives us a sense of this ‘abyss’ of God’s love when he prayed that God, through His Spirit may strengthen our ‘inner being’ so that ‘Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith’, and in being rooted in God’s love we may’ begin to ‘grasp’ how ‘wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’( Ephesians, 3:17-19). In the Sacred Heart we see how ‘wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’ and therefore how infinitely deep are His virtues! It follows that if Christ lives in our hearts, we should become more like Him. That is, we should produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit: for as Paul writes: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control' (Galatians 5:22-23). In terms of the devotion to the Sacred Heart one particular virtue (5) – which is part of temperance- is humility. It is the virtue we associate with the Blessed Virgin.
As Christians we are called to become icons of Christ. We can only do this by the grace of God and the great gifts of the Holy Spirit. We pray to share in the fullness of Christ, that our virtues may be completed and perfected. We pray that we can produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self - control.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fulness we have all received, have mercy on us.
The Sacred Heart implores us to learn from Jesus, who is ‘meek and humble in heart’. (Mathew, 11:29). As scripture tells us , God gives His grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, 1Peter 5:5, James 4:6). We can only be truly humble of heart by the Divine grace of the Holy Spirit, hence the Litany concludes with:
Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.
'Heart of Jesus in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge'.
The icon focuses on the heart of Jesus – the heart from which we, as followers of Christ , are invited to learn. Reading the icon prompts the viewer to ask questions about their own hearts. We see the heart of Jesus in the middle of the icon, but where, exactly is our heart? What can we learn from our own hearts? What external sign or symbol can we find of our own heart? Scripture gives a very straightforward answer: ‘wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too’. (Matthew, 6.21) We find the same quote in Luke 12.34.
So, where should we look and learn? In St Paul’s Cathedral in London there is a famous a memorial to Sir Christopher Wren: ‘Lector si monumentum requiris circumspice.’ ‘Reader, if you would look for a monument look around you.’ So, ‘reader of this icon’ if you would look for your heart, look around you’. If your heart is where your treasure is, then it may be that your heart is to be found in all the stuff which your have accumulated around you. This is what you have put your heart into! Look around you, reader. Is that where your treasure is? Have you put your hearts into things or into acquiring power? What have you put your heart into?
The Sacred Heart reminds us that we are called to seek God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 4:29), not material wealth or power that will either corrupt and decay or corrupt and wound us. Solomon, when asked by God what he wanted replied that he wished for wisdom – an understanding heart (1 Kings, 3: 9-12) . The icon reminds that what we should be seeking is Christ: who is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Corinthians 1: 24). The icon is really a treasure map : it shows us that we have to centre our search for God on the heart at the centre of the image. For, in the heart of Jesus is a wisdom far surpassing Solomon ( Matthew 12: 42). In the heart of Jesus we find ‘Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3) in which are hidden ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians. 2, 3.) The Dominican, St. Albert the Great , (St Thomas Aquinas's old professor) drew attention to the heart of Christ in these terms.
Our Lord appeared to his disciples and showed them his side, in which rest all the riches of God's knowledge and wisdom; he showed his heart, which had already been wounded by his love for us before it was struck by the point of the lance.
Many scholars and theologians in the early church drew attention to how St. John, the Beloved Apostle, received a special gift from the Lord. St Bede, ( the only British Doctor of the Church), for example, taught that:
Because in Jesus' breast are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, it was fitting that the one who leaned upon his breast was the one to whom he granted a larger gift of unique wisdom and knowledge than to the rest.
Saint John Paul emphasises this central aspect of the Sacred Heart in one of his Angelus talks, where he says:
|The Seat of Wisdom, St. Albans Cathedral|
The knowledge referred to here [in the Litany] is not the knowledge that ‘puffs up’ (1 Cor8:1), knowledge based on human ability. It is divine wisdom, a mystery hidden for centuries in the mind of God, creator of the universe ( Eph. 3.9).It is anew knowledge, hidden from the wise and learned, but revealed to little ones, those who are rich in humility, simplicity and purity of heart. This knowledge and wisdom consist in recognizing the mystery of the invisible God who calls men to share in his divine nature and admits them into communion with himself. We know these things because God himself has deigned to reveal them to us through his Son, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor1:24). All things in heaven and on earth were created through him and for him (Col 1:16) … Knowing Jesus, we also know God. Whoever sees him sees the Father (John 14:9). With him the love of God has been poured into our hearts. (Rm 5.5)
Human knowledge is like water from our wells: whoever drinks it will thirst again. The wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, however, open the eyes of our mind, stir the heart in the depths of its being and arouse man to transcendent love…With the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, we are rooted and grounded in charity (Eph 3:17). A new interior man is created, one who puts God at the centre of his own life and himself at the service of his brothers. This is the degree of perfection which Mary reaches, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, the only example of a new creature enriched with the fullness of grace and ready to do the will of God… For this reason we invoke her as ‘Seat of wisdom.’
Where your treasure is, there will be your heart be too.
Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus ibi est et cor tuum.
Heart of Jesus in whom are all the tresures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae, miserere nobis.
The heart of Jesus contains our greatest treasure: that is where our heart longs to be. That is where it is meant to be. The icon shows us the way to the treasure - it shows us the way home!
Holy Mary, Mother of Christ and Seat of Wisdom, show us the way and lead us gently to the treasures contained in the wounded heart of your Son.
'Heart speaks to heart': the Sacred Heart and our hearts.
As we contemplate the Heart of Jesus we naturally turn to reflecting upon our own heart. In the icon we see the heart of the Lamb of God that was pierced for us and for all mankind. As we venerate the pierced heart of the Saviour we reflect on our sins and the sins of the world, for it is these sins which Jesus has taken away. In the image of the Sacred Heart we see Christ exposing and opening His heart to us. It challenges us to show our heart to Him. As Pope Francis has taught us:
If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus! (2)
Out of love for us Jesus has humbled himself to share in the pain and suffering of humanity so that we can be free from the sin that separates us from God. When we sin we wound ourselves, we wound other people and, of course, we wound the Heart of Jesus that loves us wholly and completely. The devotion to the Sacred Heart asks us to focus on the wounds that continue to be inflicted on Christ and his followers. We also reflect on the damage we do to our relationship to God and to others when we harden our hearts. If we hurt those we love – if we ‘break’ their hearts, or wound them by what we have done or failed to do - we should make amends or make reparation. When we have hurt in thought, word or deed, we must repair the damage. When we meditate on an icon of the Sacred Heart, we should reflect on what we must do to repair our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow human beings. The loving face of Christ in the icon is looking at you and inviting you to recognise the consequences of sin – both the sin embedded in your own hearts, and the sin embedded in 'the structures of society' (Evangelii Gaudium, 59) .
The Sacred Heart reminds us of the importance of making amends for our cold, hard hearts: for all the times that we have closed off and hardened our hearts to love. The Sacred Heart is a call for reparation. As Saint John Paul said:
The true reparation asked by the Heart of the Saviour will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence.
As we view the beauty of the icon we reflect on the ugliness of human pride, avarice, gluttony, rage and anger, lust, envy, and laziness. So much human misery, injustice, death and destruction flows from the capacity that we have to chose sin and the vices over the virtues. Sin is, above all, about the love of self - sin is selfishness. When the love of self is at the heart of society as we see in the love of money (avarice) it damages the society as a whole, just as it damages the individual whose heart is full of the love of money. This is what Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:
When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. (Evangelii Gaudium, 272)
In the icon Christ points to his heart and says ‘learn from me’: learn from me how to repair your life and the life of the world. Learn from me and set about repairing a broken and disfigured world. Jesus came to repair the relationship between God and humanity. As Christians we are called to take up the same task, the very same cross: to repair a broken and damaged world. Our mission as followers of Christ is to carry on the repair job: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21). The Sacred Heart is therefore about reparation, because that is what the ‘Word made flesh’ came to do: repair the damage of human sin and bring new life to humanity, and a new direction to the evolution of the human species. How are we to do this? Jesus tells us how - we are tasked with learning from his heart. Learn humility and gentleness. Learn how to harness the power and energy of love that glows at the centre of the icon and at the centre of all creation. Learn how to love, because God is love. Learn how to use the ‘force that gives life’. Learn to choose faith rather than disbelief, hope, and not despair, and above all to choose love and not hate. Learn from the ‘abyss of all virtues’ and the treasury of ‘all knowledge and wisdom’.
The Almighty God through the passion and death of Jesus shares in human suffering. The wounded heart of Christ implores us to learn from suffering - especially our personal wounds. Open your heart and open it to the pain of others. To be a Christian is to live with a wounded and listening heart that is open to the suffering of others.
Take a look at yourself ! Light on or off?
Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, reminds us that:
'Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Icon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate him in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that men can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us.'
‘If we are poor in spirit, meek, pure of heart, merciful... then we will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. . If Christians lose their savour, if their light goes out, their presence in the world loses its efficacy. “Do you want to be burning lamps,” he asked the crowd, “or extinguished lamps?”
As we contemplate the golden light which glows from the icon, we have to ask ourselves that very question. Do we want to be burning or extinguished lamps? Are we switched on or off? Are we reflecting light, or are we just part of the darkness around us? Can people see the icon of Christ in us?
We should ask forgiveness for all the times when we have failed to be a burning lamp. Ask mercy for all the times we have just reflected the world around us, rather than the reflecting light of Christ.
We ask for forgiveness for all the times we have failed to see the image of Christ in the face of our fellow human beings.
We ask for forgiveness for all those human beings whose hearts are filled with darkness. We pray that their hearts of stone will be transformed and be made open to the glowing love of God that fills the universe. We pray that we can open our hearts, like the Holy Virgin – whose own heart was pierced and wounded (Luke 2:34-35).
Heart of Jesus propitiation for our sin, have mercy on us .
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
The Face of Christ.
In Jesus Christ, who allowed his heart to be pierced for us, the true face of God is seen. Benedict XVI. (Address, Cologne World Youth Day, 2005)
In contemplating the pierced heart which is the ‘centre of all hearts’ we are naturally drawn into meditating on the face of the Saviour: the human face of God. In the icon we see the human face of the Trinity. As Blessed John Paul observed, in Christ we see the face of the kingdom of God (Redemptoris missio, 18). The face of the Christ is a call to holiness ( Novo Millennio Ineunt, 7) : like the Sacred Heart it needs no words, but calls the viewer to enter into the mystery of the incarnation, as the heart calls for us to enter into the mystery of God’s infinite love and mercy. The face of Jesus in the icon is not the usual kind of image we associate with the Sacred Heart. Nor is it one which depicts the bruised and brutalized face of the Saviour on the cross (‘The man of Sorrows’ type), but it is that of the risen Christ in glory and majesty, enthroned and uniting all things to himself. It is the transfigured face of Christ the man-God – Lord of the Universe . It is the face we may find in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, (1-15) for it is: '..the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him'. But it is not a face looking at us sternly in judgment - it is the face of a loving and compassionate teacher. In the icon we contemplate the face of the God of Hosts whose loving eyes shine upon us and saves us (Psalm 80: 19). It is the face of God made visible and uncovered. No longer is God concealed as a fire burning in a bush, but is now revealed as the living heart of the universe aflame with love. No longer does God hide his face from us. In Jesus we see Him face to face. In Jesus we see the human face of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - shining upon us. The words of scripture come to mind.
May the Lord Bless us and keep us.
May the Lord let his face shine on us and be gracious to us.
May the Lord uncover his face to us and bring us peace. (Numbers 6:22-7),
As we contemplate the face of Christ that looks directly at us, we pray to see his face in all human faces so that we may come to love our neighbour as ourselves. We pray for our heart to be set on fire like Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-15). We pray for our eyes to be opened and see the face of the risen Lord. We pray for the grace to become icons of Christ. We therefore pray with St Therese of Lisieux,
O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore you to fix deep within me your divine image and to set me on fire with your Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of your glorious Face in Heaven.
The Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist.
'Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.' Catechism, 1419
Pope Francis returns us to the Virgin as we reflect on the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist.
Let us open our hearts wide! Let each of us open our heart, and gazing on the Virgin, feel the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that has silently accompanied mankind for two thousand years. ( Moynihan, 217)
The Sacred Heart has long been closely associated with the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. When the priest adds water to the wine at Mass, it is to signify in very explicit terms that we recall how the 'Beloved Apostle', John describes the blood and water which flowed from the heart of the Saviour (John 19:34). From earliest times the pierced heart of the Saviour was depicted as the source from which the Eucharist flowed.
It is significant that the revelations to St Margaret Mary occurred before the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. John Hardon S.J. nicely sums up the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist in these words:
|Bellini's 'The Blood of the Redeemer'|
In his encyclical Investigabiles Divitias Christi (1965), Pope Paul VI wrote:
“This, therefore, seems to us to be the most suitable ideal: that devotion to the Sacred Heart … now reflourish daily more and more, and be esteemed by all as an excellent and acceptable form of true piety … a greater devotion be given to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose outstanding gift is the Eucharist.”
As we contemplate the Heart of Christ pierced by a lance we recall the blood and water which flowed as He hung on the cross. At Mass the priest fills the chalice with wine and water. When we take the chalice and drink the blood of Christ we participate in this great mystery observed by the Blessed Mother, the Beloved Apostle and St. Mary Magdalene. As we share in the body and blood of Jesus we participate in the mystery of His divine heart.
Blessed John Henry Newman's prayers to the Sacred Heart are very beautiful and capture the close relationship between the devotion and the Holy Eucharist. Here is one of my favourites:
O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still. Now as then Thou savest, Desiderio desideravi *—"With desire I have desired." I worship Thee then with all my best love and awe, with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, O make my heart beat with Thy Heart. Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness. So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace.
* et ait illis desiderio desideravi hoc pascha manducare vobiscum antequam patiar. Luke22: 15. 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.'
And so the icon uses a number of symbols to enable us to reflect on the Sacred Heart in the Eucharist, and in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The first is the red circle at the centre of the icon. This brings to mind the precious blood and the host. The icon also shows a vine and grapes to provide another window into the Sacred Heart as the Holy Eucharist. The Vine, of course, recalls the Eucharistic life both as a foretaste of the new life to come but also as actual participation in the transfiguring new life which is offered to all humanity 'in Christ' through His Body – which is the Church - whereby he draws all people to Himself. The presence of St. John the Baptist – who proclaimed Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’ - is, of course, another aspect of the icon which points to the relationship of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist.
The Eucharist as a Cosmic Event.
The icon depicts Christ as the centre of the universe, and therefore seeks to direct our thoughts to the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist itself. The Eucharist is not a local ‘event’ in a Church in a small village in Mexico or in the middle of London or Paris – or wherever - but it is truly a ‘cosmic’ event of God transforming matter itself. Benedict XVI captured this when he observed in a homily in 2009 that:
‘The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.’ (7)
We also find this ‘cosmic’ idea of the Eucharist expressed by Saint John Paul when he made the observation that the Eucharist is ‘celebrated in order to offer on the altar of the whole earth the world’s work and suffering’ in the beautiful words of Teilhard de Chardin’(8). In his encyclical on the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia) John Paul stated that every Mass, wherever it is said has a truly ‘cosmic character’.
When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it…This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.’ (Ecclesia de Eucharstia: 9)
This wonderful ‘cosmic dimension’ - or Teilhardian dimension - of the Sacred Heart as contained in the Eucharist, is therefore, a central idea of the icon.
St John the Baptist.
It is the ‘Beloved Apostle’, St John the Evangelist, who is most closely associated with the Sacred Heart. It is recorded, for example, that he rested his head on the chest of Christ at the last supper (John 13:23, 25) and he was also the only male Apostle at the foot of the cross when the Saviour’s Heart was pierced.
But in this icon it is John the Baptist who is to be found opposite Mary in the ‘deesis’. Why? Once again, it is to enable us to ground our devotion in scripture and liturgy: Jesus, as proclaimed by John the Baptist, is the sacrificial ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ ( John 1:29; John 1:36). He is the lamb whose bones are not broken as is required by the law (Exodus, 12.46) but whose heart is pierced. Hence it is that in Christian symbolism Jesus is often depicted as a lamb with a pierced heart.
At mass we repeat the words of John the Baptist after the consecration, that is, when the bread and wine contain the Sacred Heart. We say ‘ Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.’ We also recall that in the book of Revelation, Jesus is proclaimed as the ‘Lamb of God’. In the book of Revelations the Lamb of God is proclaimed as the ‘Alpha and the Omega’. And so it is that at the centre of the icon we find the Greek letter omega – Ω. Contemplating St. John the Baptist’s words we are, therefore, naturally invited to reflect on the meaning and the profound significance of the closing invocations of the Litany, which lead us to meditate on the heart that was pierced for our sins. John calls us to repent and ask forgiveness for our sins, and the sins of the world.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, saturated with revilings, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, crushed for our iniquities, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, made obedient unto death, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in thee, have mercy on us.
Heart Jesus, hope of those who die in thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us,
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
As John Paul argued, Jesus is the ‘centre of human history’, consequently the presence of John the Baptist reminds us that he was the herald of Jesus and therefore represents the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in Christ. John is a witness to the history of salvation. John the Baptist is there to remind us that Jesus is the culmination of history: as the new Adam he marks a new stage in the evolution of humanity. This is what an invocation drawn from Genesis (49: 26) and Deuteronomy (33: 15) in the Litany ('Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills' ) asks us to reflect upon: Jesus as the Chosen One of God. John proclaims that the waiting and longing is over: here He is! What was most desired has come into the world: God is with us. He is the fullness of creation. In the icon we see the Heart of Jesus drawing all things to himself and completing creation.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of the divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Jesus said that there was no one born of a woman who is greater than John (Luke 7:28). And yet John is, with Mary, a great example of complete humility. He becomes less and less, so that Jesus can become more and more. John shows us the way to the Heart of Jesus: we must learn to be humble of heart.
We must decrease so as Jesus can increase in us (John 3:30). The devotion to the Heart of Jesus is all about heeding the wisdom of John: we have to strive to be less self-centred and less egotistical and more centred on Christ and more centred on learning from his heart.
Women and the Sacred Heart: St Mary Magdalene.
Women have played a very important role in the history of the devotion to the Sacred Heart - indeed perhaps the most important role in the history of the devotion. So when we pray we should keep in mind the many women saints for whom the heart of the Saviour was so special. Thank God there are so many! We pray with them and ask for their prayers.
The icon provides us with two ‘windows’ through which we may reflect on the contribution of women to the life of the Church: the first of course is that of the Blessed Virgin herself, and the second is the image of St Mary Magdalene in the bottom right-hand corner. St Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of God and St John. With them she witnessed the Heart of the Saviour being pierced and saw the blood and water. Therefore, with the Blessed Virgin and the ‘beloved apostle’ she was present at the birth of the Church. St. Mary Magdalene is, we note, directly opposite Adam. Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden because he and Eve would not listen to the voice of God. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, is the first to encounter the risen Christ in the garden: indeed she mistakes him for a gardener (John 20: 15). Mary Magdalene is traditionally shown with a jar of myrrh – because she came to anoint the body of Jesus. (In the Orthodox tradition she is known as the ‘Myrrhbearer’.)
With the Blessed Virgin and St Mary Magdalene we ask all holy women who have had a great love of the Heart of Jesus to pray for us - and especially for all women in the Church. Here is my (short) list that I use when I reflect upon the women who loved the Sacred Heart with all of their hearts.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us.
St Mary Magdalene, first to see the risen Christ, Pray for us.
St. Clare of Assisi, Pray for us
St. Mechthild of Magdeburg, Pray for us.
St. Mechthild of Hackeborn, Pray for us.
St. Gertrude the Great, Pray for us.
St. Catherine of Siena, Pray for us.
St. Teresa of Avila, Pray for us.
St. Jane Chantal, Pray for us.
St. Margaret Mary, Pray for us.
St. Catherine Laboure, Pray for us
St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, Pray for us.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Pray for us.
St. Louise de Marillac, Pray for us.
St. Faustina Kowalska, Pray for us.
St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, Pray for us.
St. Frances Cabrini, Pray for us.
Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, pray for us.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Pray for us.
Blessed Marie Guyart of the Incarnation, Pray for us
All holy women, Pray for us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints, have mercy on us.
Seraphim and Cherubim - not forgetting the Ophanim.
The angels have a very important role to play in this icon. The Catechism has this to say about angels:
‘Christ is the centre of the angelic world. They are his angels: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him. They belong to him because they were created through and for him: "for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him." They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: ..Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan.. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgment. (Catechism, 331-333)
So in this icon we see Christ at the centre of the cosmos, but also at the centre of the ‘angelic world’: Christ - the heart of creation- implores us to join our heart to His divine heart, so that He becomes the centre of our world as well. On the far top left hand corner we have the Seraphim: which means the ‘burning ones’: they are literally on fire with Divine Love. They are mentioned in Isaiah (6: 1–3) as each having six wings—two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying. In Isaiah we read that a Seraph took a coal from the throne of God and placed it on Isaiah’s lips to cleanse him from his impurity and take away his sins (Isaiah 6.6). It is the Seraphim who sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ ( the‘ Trisagion’ - Τρισάγιον - or Tersanctus) and proclaim that the whole of creation is full of His Glory.
So the Seraphim and Cherubim are rich and powerful symbols of God’s divine energy of love that fills all creation and desires to fill our hearts. Their presence in the icon therefore serves many purposes. Above all, I believe that the Seraphim and Cherubim (not forgetting the many eyed and restless Ophanim) can remind us of the relationship of the Sacred Heart to the Holy Eucharist. We should always remember that at mass we are actually joining with the ‘burning ones’ and the ‘near ones’ when we sing their hymn of praise, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, to the Heart which burns with love for us on the altar, as it burns in heaven for all the angels and saints.
We have to ask ourselves if our heart burns for Him, and if we desire Him as much as He desires us. Like Isaiah who was touched on the lips with fire from the throne of God, at Holy Communion, we are touched on the lips by the love of God made materially present in bread and wine. We eat the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World. We ask the Sacred Heart to enflame our hearts with His love and ask for mercy and forgiveness for our sins and the sins of humanity.
Genesis ( 3. 23-24) informs us that the Lord God drove Adam out of the Garden and banished him, and ‘posted his Cherubim before the garden of delight, with a sword of fire that turned this way and that, so that he coul dreach the tree of life no longer.’ So it is appropriate that Adam is alongside the Cherubim in the icon! Adam (in far left hand corner) was barred from the ‘Tree of Life’ by a flaming Cherubim, but the Second Adam, Jesus, is ablaze with Divine Love and calls us to a New Life in Him.
The presence of the angels also reminds us that Jesus - as the word of God made flesh - is the new covenant. The old covenant - the tablets upon which were written the ten commandments- were kept in the Ark of the Covenant inside the Tabernacle. The Ark was decorated with Cherubim to signify the Holiness of the Word of God.
As the Litany states, the Heart of Jesus is 'substantially united to the Word of God' - it is the new 'Tabernacle of the Most High': that is, the Word made flesh. (Hence the Blessed Virgin Mary has long been described by the fathers of the Church as the 'Ark of the Covenant'. ) The Cherubim in the icon therefore have an important function to prompt us to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation: the old ark contained tablets of stone and a jar of manna from heaven. The Word of God is now made flesh - Jesus is himself the bread from heaven. The old ark contained the rod of Jesse that budded into new life: the new tabernacle was covered not in Gold, but in Mary's flesh. The new tabernacle of the Most High contains the living branch of the tree of Jesse - the body of Christ that promises new life to all! High above is the New Tree of life – the Cross on which hung the Saviour of the World. The Cherubim are there because the Heart of Jesus is (as the Litany says) ‘the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.’
So as we contemplate the images of the Seraphim, Cherubim and the Ophanim, we pray:
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven, have mercy on us.
Sacred Heart, 'Delight of all the Saints'.
The icon was entrusted to the patronage of St John Eudes, St Margaret Mary and St. Claude de la Colombiere. But there are many saints who are closely associated with the heart of Jesus.
This sense of praying with all the Angels and Saints is especially important in the case of our prayers to the Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary records that she experienced visions of the Seraphim. She mentions this in one of her prayers to the Sacred Heart. We pray with her, therefore, and 'invite Heaven and earth to join with us as we join 'with the burning Seraphim ' to love The Heart that loves humanity so much that it spared nothing.’ The Seraphim and Cherubim in the icon remind us that we pray in the company of the angels who burn and glow with the love of God. We pray that our hearts will burn like Cleopas’ heart on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 32). The visions and reflections on the Sacred Heart throughout history speak powerfully of this fire of Divine love, and in reflecting on the role of the angels we have an important connection between the Patristic and Biblical theology of the Church from its earliest times and the devotion to the Heart of Christ. Hence the significance of the fact that St. Margaret Mary prayed to the Sacred Heart in the company of the Seraphim. In his reflections of this invocation - ‘Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints’- Saint John Paul asks us to meditate upon the heart of Christ as the source of the life and love of the saints; in Christ and through him the blessed in heaven are loved by the Father, who unites them to himself in the bond of the spirit, divine Love; in Christ and through him they love the Father and all people, their brothers and sisters, and the love of the Spirit.
Saint John Paul describes the beatific vision which is the delight of all Saints as:
‘the life giving space of the blessed, the place where they remain in love, deriving eternal and unlimited joy. The infinite thirst for love, the mysterious thirst which God has placed in the human heart, is satisfied in the divine heart of Christ’
In praying to the Sacred Heart we should become aware that we offer our prayers with the Angels and Saints. The last invocation reminds of this important consideration: ‘Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints’. There are so many saints who are closely associated with the Sacred Heart, so we should ask for their help so that we, like them, can learn to trust and hope in His loving and merciful Heart. To the list of women of the Sacred Heart (above) I would add:
St. John, the beloved apostle, who rested on the chest of Christ and was witness to the piercing of the heart of the Lamb of God, pray for us.
St Thomas, who touched the sacred wound from which the New Life flowed, pray for us.
St Paul, in whom the love of God burnt so brightly, pray for us.
St. Augustine, who said that ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ pray for us, that our heart may rest in the Lord.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.
St Francis, of Assisi, pray for us.
St Bonaventure, pray for us.
St. John of the Cross, pray for us.
St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.
St John Eudes, pray for us.
St. Claude de la Colombière , pray for us.
St John Vianney, pray for us and especially for all priests.
St. John Paul II, pray for us
St. John XXIII, pray for us.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld, pray for us.Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in You.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in You
The Sacred Heart and the ‘Parousia’ and ‘Pleroma’.
In the lower register we have a vine for Christ as the True Vine of which we are the branches, with leaves and fruit, entwined with creatures, to the left animals, to the right, fish. The animals represent the earth, the fish the sea. Entwined on the left is Adam prostrating himself, representing the whole of humanity in need of redemption, the weary and heavy of heart whom Christ bids come to Him. The icon shows Christ completing the work of redemption and creation: He is shown as bringing creation to its fullness. (8) The Greek word for completion or fullness is ‘πλήρωμα’ – pleroma. The book of Revelations describes this process through which Christ’s second coming completes or brings to fullness the old creation in terms of the building of a ‘New Jerusalem’. So in the icon we see the angel measuring the walls of a new creation in which all things are united in Christ. Notice that there are 8 walls , to signify the eighth day of a new creation. Here we see Christ subjecting all things under His feet (the square representing the created order) (Ephesians, 1: 22).
Jesus is shown as the Omega - the end - point in time and space holding or pulling all things together. He is depicted as the ultimate centre or meeting point (or ‘foyer’ as Teilhard says) of this new creation in Christ is His Heart: the core of his Divine Being. The measuring angel is there to remind us of this new life that will be built on the ‘stone’ that was rejected (Acts 4:11), but which will become the foundational keystone of a new creation.
The icon is asking you to trust and hope in the love of God. Human history has a meaning and a point. As Pope Francis says:
The faith in God the Creator tells us that the history of humanity is not an unbounded void: it has a beginning , it has a direction. The God who created 'heaven and earth' is the same one who has made a promise to His people, and His omnipotence is an assurance to us of the fruits of His Love. (Moynihan, 184)
The heart of Jesus as the ultimate symbol of God's love for us is the direction: it is the beginning and it is the end.
The 'Exalted Cross’ being elevated by St. Gabriel and St. Michael.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,have mercy on us.
In conventional images of the Sacred Heart, the heart is surmounted by the Holy Cross. In this icon the cross also has a central position. Right at the top of the icon we find St. Gabriel (left ) and St. Michael (right) holding the ‘exalted’ or ‘glorious’ cross. This symbolizes the new ‘Tree of Life’ as the old cross of Calvary was a tree of death.
Gabriel and Michael
As we contemplate the two great angelic saints, who are the messengers and manifestations of God, we can bring to mind their role in the story of our our relationship with God.
Gabriel appears throughout the Old testament. In the icon we can see him looking down upon Mary as she prays for us. In the New Testament he tells Zachary that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John. And, of course, it is Gabriel who greets Mary : 'Hail Mary, Full of Grace. The Lord is with you.' Gabriel tells the Blessed Virgin that her child will be called 'Jesus' - 'for he shall save his people from their sins' ( Matthew 1:21). With this in mind we might pray with his words when see say the ' Hail Mary'. We use his words when ever we say the holy name of Jesus - God Saves'.
We might pray, as we think about Gabriel:
Lord, fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by the angel Gabriel
the coming of your Son as man,
So lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,
for he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
We may also reflect - given the troubled times we live in - on the role of St. Michael, the great defender of the Church. His presence in the icon reminds us - as if we really need reminding - that there is a predatory evil in the world. We experience its power whenever we choose the world rather than Christ. It is an evil which actively seeks to drag us into the cold darkness of a life without God. As Christians we choose Jesus and not the false promises of evil - however it is dressed up. As Pope Francis once said:
‘When we do not confess Jesus Christ, the saying of Leon Bloy comes to mind: ‘Anyone who does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil’. When we do not confess Jesus Christ , we confess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness’. (Moynihan, 42)
We live in a deeply materialistic and worldly age. We live in a world in which evil is at work. We have need of St. Michael as we battle against evil in all its forms and its many faces and disguises.
|St Michael, by Ian Knowles|
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Adam – old and new.
He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. ( Gaudium et Spes, 22) (10)
If Adam in the icon represents the beginning of human history, the Heart of Jesus represents the future of humanity: our very end – or ‘Omega’ point. This is also our point of completion and fullness – our omega. We are called to centre our lives on the golden glow at the centre of the cosmos: for ‘He is the way, the truth and the life ‘ (John 14:6). The New Adam is the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12). In the Old Covenant, Jacob and his descendants were invited to ‘walk in the light of the Lord’ (Isaiah 2:5 ). In the New Covenant we are called to walk in the light of a God whose very heart flames for love of us. If we are to come to the Father, we must learn from the Heart of the pierced one. However, if you look carefully, you will see that Adam, the first human being is, significantly, the only one with his eyes closed in the icon: he reminds us, therefore, to ‘open the eyes of our hearts’ (Ephesians 1:18) and see the light of Christ in all things (Colossians 1:17). For, as Saint John Paul reminded us at the beginning of this new millennium, when we do open our hearts, wonderful things can happen:
When we open our heart to the love of God and to others, it makes us capable of shaping history according to God’s plan ( Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33).
At this stage in the story of human development a renewal of our devotion to the Heart of Jesus is a matter of great urgency: we desperately need a change of heart. As Saint John Paul said :
In the Heart of Christ the human heart comes to know the true and only meaning of life and destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to protect itself from certain perversions, to unite filial love for God with love for the neighbour. In this way - and this is the true meaning of the reparation demanded by the Heart of the Saviour - on the ruins accumulated through hatred and violence, can be built the civilization of love so greatly desired, the kingdom of the Heart of Christ. (see 2)
Everywhere, in society, in our villages, in our neighborhoods, in our factories and our offices, in our meetings between peoples and races, the heart of stone, the dried up heart, must change into the heart of flesh, open to one’s brothers, open to God. The survival of humanity depends upon it. (11)
Sacred Heart of Jesus we place all our trust in You.
P. Arrupe, S.J, In Him Alone...Our Hope. (Irish Messanger Publications, Dublin 1983)
Pope John Paul II, Angelus Meditations on the Litany of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus ed. by Carl Moell, S.J. (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1992).
Fr. C. Moell, (ed) Pope John Paul II: Holy Father, Sacred Heart (Herder & Herder, 2004).
Several quotes from Pope Francis come from R. Moynihan, Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, Rider, London 2013.
History of the Sacred Heart,
Edouard Glotin, La Bible du Coeur de Jesus, Presses de la Renaissance, Paris, 2007
Timothy T.O'Donell, Heart of the Redeemer, Ignatius Press San Francisco, 1989
1. Jesus of Nazareth Holy week: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the
Resurrection, CTS , Ignatius Press , 2011: 224
Blessed John Paul's letter: http://www.apostleshipofprayer.net/docs/Letter-of-the-Pope-to-Fr-Kolvenbach-EN.pdf
Pope Francis's Angelus talk: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/09/pope_francis:_sunday_angelus_(full_text)/en1-699870
3. See Pope John Paul II, Angelus Meditations on the Litany of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus ed. by Carl Moell, S.J. (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1992). Fr. Moell
has also edited some of John Paul’s numerous writings on the Sacred Heart: Pope
John Paul II: Holy Father, Sacred Heart (Herder & Herder, 2004).
6. By virtues the Church means the three ‘theological virtues’ (faith, hope and love)
which are the gifts of God through grace and the four ‘cardinal’ or ‘human’ or
moral virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance which we can acquire by
learning and practice.
8. John Paul II, Gift and Mystery: On the fiftieth anniversary of my priestly
ordination. Doubleday, New York, 1999: 73-4
9. ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in
him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created
through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn
from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God
was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to
himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace
through his blood, shed on the cross.’ (Col: 1.15-20)
10. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html us in all things except sin
11. John Paul II, October 5, 1986, at Paray-le-Monial, in Carl. J. Moell (ed) , John Paul II, Holy Father, Sacred Heart.Herder and Herder, New York,p80
Appendix 1: POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION VERBUM DOMINI OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI, 2010, 86-87
(Lectio divina) ...' opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.'
Appendix 2: LITANY OF THE SACRED HEART
For a copy of this card go HERE
The first part reminds us how the heart of the Saviour is one with the Holy Trinity. It reminds us that by the 'heart of Jesus' is meant the very person of Jesus as God and man - the full unity of his being and not simply the physical heart that was pierced on the cross. It reminds us that the wounded heart of Jesus is (what Pope Francis termed) the 'ultimate' and 'real symbol ' of the love of the Trinity revealed to humanity. *
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, ..................................................................................have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God, the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, One God,
1. Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
2. Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
The Second part reminds us of the complete union of Jesus with the Word of God. It reminds us that in Jesus we see the Trinity made visible. *
3. Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
4. Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty,5. Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God,
6. Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High,
7. Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven,
The third part reminds of the treasures contained in the Heart of Jesus. *
8. Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
9. Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
10. Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
11. Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
12. Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
13. Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
14. Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
15. Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,
16. Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
The fourth part reminds us that Jesus is source of new life, and the fountain of all goodness. It reminds us of how sin wounds us as the spear wounded his heart. It reminds us of how sin separates us from God. To receive the fullness of Christ we must cease to be centred on ourselves and become more and more centred on the love of God. As Christ emptied himself completely on the cross, so we are reminded that we must empty our wounded hearts so as to allow us to share in the fullness of God's love. *
17. Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
18. Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
19. Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
20. Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke Thee,
21..Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
22. Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
23. Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
24. Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
25. Heart of Jesus, obedient to death,
26. Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
27. Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
28. Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
29. Heart of Jesus, our peace and our reconciliation,
30. Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins,
The sixth part reminds us of Christ Omega - when all things in the universe will be subject to him so that God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28. It reminds us that our ultimate destination is unity with the heart of Jesus - our saviour, our hope and our delight.
31. Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in Thee
32. Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee,
33. Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints,
The seventh part reminds us that,as John taught, Jesus whose heart was wounded for us, is the Lamb of God who sets us free from sin and death. It reminds us that we never cease to remember the infinite mercy of God's love. It reminds us to place all our trust in the love of God and we pray for the grace to learn from the heart of Jesus. *
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, Spare us O Lord.
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us , O Lord.
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Make our hearts like unto Thine.
The final part we pray for forgiveness for our sins and the sins of the world. *
Let us pray. Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of thy most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Thy mercy, in Thy great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee forever and ever. Amen.
* These comments are not part of the litany - but how I tend to group them.
Appendix 3: EXTRACT FROM THE DIRECTORY ON POPULAR PIETY AND THE LITURGY.
"173. Popular piety tends to associate a devotion with its iconographic expression. This is a normal and positive phenomenon. Inconveniences can sometimes arise: iconographic expressions that no longer respond to the artistic taste of the people can sometimes lead to a diminished appreciation of the devotion's object, independently of its theological basis and its historico-salvific content. This can sometimes arise with devotion to the Sacred Heart: perhaps certain over sentimental images which are incapable of giving expression to the devotion's robust theological content or which do not encourage the faithful to approach the mystery of the Sacred Heart of our Saviour. "( my emphasis )
Appendix 4:MORNING MEDITATION IN THE CHAPEL OF THE DOMUS SANCTAE MARTHAE, 'Pray Our Father'
Thursday, 20 June 2013
“Praying is not something magic; one doesn't practice magic with prayer”. As he often does, he recounted his personal experience. He said that he never turned to sorcerers who promise magic; rather he knew what happened in meetings of this sort: many words are used to obtain “healing one time and at another time something else” with the help of magic. However, he warned, “this is pagan”.
So how should we pray? Jesus has taught us: “he says that the Father who is in heaven 'knows what you need before you ask him”. Therefore, let our first word be “’Father’. This is the key to prayer. Without speaking, without feeling this word, praying is not possible”, the Bishop of Rome explained. Then he asked: “To whom do I pray? The almighty God? He is too far away. I don't feel him; neither did Jesus feel him. To whom do I pray? The God of the cosmos? This is quite frequent nowadays, isn’t it? Praying to the cosmic God. This polytheistic model comes with a superficial culture”.
Rather, we must “pray to the Father”, who begot us. But this is not all: we must pray “our” Father, that is, not the Father of a generic and too anonymous “all”, but the One “who begot you, who gave you life, who gave life to you and me”.
L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 26, 26 June 2013