Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, New York, NY
External Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the 1962 Roman Missal
June 5, 2016
Eph 3:8-12.14-19, Jn 19:31-37
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
A Continued Celebration of Mercy Itself
In the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, it gives the priest the option, for the good of the faithful, to celebrate on Sunday what is called the “external solemnity” of feasts that occur during the week (Rubricae Generales Missalis Romani, 356-361), and so today we are celebrating the External Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the Church universal celebrated, we know, on Friday.
I had the great joy to concelebrate Mass for the Solemnity Sacred Heart two days ago with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican as part of the Church’s celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy for priests. There the Holy Father reminded the priests of the world that Jesus’ heart “not only shows us mercy, but is itself mercy,” and for that reason the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus really must be one of the most important feasts of this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis preached to us words that deserve an echo on this external solemnity. In Jesus’ heart, he said, “The Father’s love shines forth; there I know I am welcomed and understood as I am; there, with all my sins and limitations, I know the certainty that I am chosen and loved. Contemplating that heart … tells us that his love is limitless; it is never exhausted and it never gives up. There we see his infinite and boundless self-giving; there we find the source of that faithful and meek love which sets free and makes others free; there we constantly discover anew that Jesus loves us ‘even to the end’ — without ever being imposing. … Contemplating the Heart of Christ,” he continued, “we are faced with the fundamental question of our … life: Where is my heart directed? … What is my heart set on? … What is the treasure that it seeks? For as Jesus says: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Mt 6:21).”
And so today on this external solemnity, we ought to consider those crucial questions.
What It Means to Celebrate Jesus’ Sacred Heart
It’s always struck me as noteworthy that we don’t have a feast of Jesus’ sacred brain, even though Jesus is the eternal logos. We don’t honor his hallowed hands, which, in spite of calluses from hard work in a hidden Nazarene carpentry shop, brought a tender healing touch to so many. There’s no commemoration of the Lord’s consecrated feet, which traversed the ancient holy land as he announced the Good News from town to town. There’s no liturgical observation of Jesus’ blessed eyes, which looked on the rich young man with love and were so powerful that, with one glance, they could make Peter weep in the high priest’s courtyard. There’s no festival of his venerable voice, which amplified the word of God made man. While there would be a certain fittingness to honoring all of these parts of Jesus’ sacred anatomy — especially since his head was crowned with thorns, his hands and feet pierced by nails, his eyes bruised and beaten and his voice thoroughly parched on Good Friday out of love for us — Jesus has never asked that we do so. Rather, when he began to appear to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673, he did so to request that a feast be instituted to honor him under the image and reality of his Sacred Heart.
The Lord’s reason for choosing his heart will always remain, in some way, a great and beautiful mystery, but even with our limited human intellects we can come up with at least two partial explanations why. First, according to the language and imagery of the Bible, the heart has always been considered the center of the person, the point where reason, will and emotions converge, the place where one finds his inner unity and direction. To honor Jesus’ heart means that we give homage to his entire sacred humanity, conscious that Jesus took our own nature in order to offer it for us, redeem it, and make it the sacred dwelling place of God once again. To honor his heart means that we want our humanity to be transformed by his, so that we may come fully alive and thereby give God glory. Second, one doesn’t have to be a poet to grasp that the heart is the bodily organ that most effectively symbolizes love. To adore Jesus’ heart is to venerate his great love for us. When Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary, he exposed his heart and she saw it engulfed in flames, a visible sign of the passion with which he burns with love of us. Twice during the Last Supper, Jesus said that he loves us as much as the Father loves him (Jn 13:34; Jn 15:13) and, just like the Father’s love for him, Jesus’ love for us has no limits. Jesus himself revealed this to St. Margaret Mary when she saw his exposed, ardent heart also surrounded by a crown of thorns. No one has greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down his life for his friends, and the crown of thorns in the midst of the flames enveloping his heart is a sign of just how much suffering Jesus’ love for us was willing to bear. That’s the direction of Jesus’ heart, where his treasure is: in loving us with his mercy, in seeking to make our hearts like unto his.
What Breaks Jesus’ Heart — and What Pleases it
Because Jesus has a human heart, however, that heart can be broken, and it has been — and not just when it was pierced with a lance upon the Cross. Whenever we fail to align our heart and treasure with the love that beats in his heart for us, his heart is wounded. Jesus is not stoically indifferent to our rejection, but feels our unrequited love in the depth of his human heart and divine and human love. Jesus told St. Margaret Mary as much in 1675. Pointing to his heart, he said to her, “Behold the heart that has so much loved men that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love. Instead of gratitude, I receive from most only indifference, irreverence, sacrilege, coldness and scorn that men have for me in the sacrament of love,” Jesus’ expression for the gift of himself in the Eucharist. If that wasn’t enough, he went on, “What I feel the most keenly is that it is hearts that are consecrated to me that treat me in this way.” And by this he was not simply referring to priests and religious who take the loves he shows us in the Eucharist for granted but to all those who have been consecrated to him in Baptism. He gives us himself not just every Sunday but every day of the year, but is our heart set on this gift, on the love with which Jesus constantly exhausts and consumes himself in love for us?”
In response to “most” treating him in the “sacrament of love” with indifference by missing Mass as if it makes no difference, Jesus wants us to make him wants us to treat him in the Mass as the greatest difference-maker in our life, as our true priority, as the “source and summit” of our existence, the fulcrum of our week and day. In response to “most” who treat him with irreverence, who just go through the motions or who even pray Mass poorly as if it doesn’t matter, he wants us to treat him with deep piety. In contrast to “most” who relate to him with coldness and lack of enthusiasm, who come to Mass as bored and distracted spectators rather than ardent participants, he wants us more passionate about him at the Mass than the most fanatical sports fans are during a successful playoff run. Instead of treating him with scorn, he wants us to relate to him with grateful appreciation. And rather than receiving him sacrilegiously, without being in the state of grace, he wants us to receive him with souls fully intent on holiness and cleansed of sin. Those of us, moreover, who are consecrated to him have, in a sense, a duty to make reparation for all of those who treat Jesus poorly. If he feels most keenly the lack of love from those who are consecrated, then how much more consoling will be the love of those who are conscious of their special dedication. The best way we train to do so is by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist with precedence, piety, passion, praise and purity — in short, by treating him as he deserves.
What Gushes Forth From Jesus’ Heart
What he focused on with St. Margaret Mary was the way we treat him in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, but when he appeared to St. Faustina in the 1930s, he asked her to be his secretary to reawaken the whole world with regard to the way we relate to him in the Sacrament of his Forgiveness. He said to her, and through her to us, words that clearly link the devotion to the Sacred Heart with devotion to the Divine Mercy. “I desire,” Jesus said, “that you know more profoundly the love that burns in my heart for souls. … Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation.” He asked her to say a prayer, based on the blood and water that flowed from his side on Calvary that we just pondered in the Gospel: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in you.” Heaven rejoices more, he would tell us in the Gospel, for one repentant sinner than for 99 righteous persons who never needed to repent, and how much he desires heaven to rejoice in that way. Even more people, however, treat the Sacrament of Mercy with indifference, irreverence, coldness, scorn and sacrilege than treat him this way in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, including, sadly, priests, religious and those consecrated to him, who seldom take advantage of this incredible gift or who receive it just going through the motions, as if this encounter with Jesus is meant to be just a forensic accounting of the soul. To quote the words of St. John’s Prologue with which the extraordinary form concludes every Mass, Jesus comes to his own but his own do not accept him; but to those who do accept him, he gives power to become children of God. During this Jubilee of Mercy, it is an opportunity for us to examine our situation and if we’re not relating to him in his forgiving love as he deserves, to turn things around, to trust anew and wholeheartedly, to show our gratitude, to allow Jesus’ mercy to forgive us of our failings and give us his help to love him as he deserves. It is also a chance for the whole Church to ponder, partake in, and proclaim his mercy, and bring many others to receive within the mercy beating with healing fire in the Sacred Heart of Christ.
Having Our Hearts Filled to Overflowing with Christ’s Mercy
The feast of the Sacred Heart is meant to help us to recognize once again the direction of Jesus’ heart and to recalibrate our own. It’s a gift to transform us, to educate our hearts to love Jesus and to love like Jesus, to make him, and his mercy, and his real presence in the Eucharist, the true and lasting treasure of our heart. This is the way that St. Paul’s prayer at the end of today’s epistle will be fulfilled, “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” and that we, “rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, [and] be filled with all the fullness of God.”
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto thine. Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
A Reading for the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians
Brethren, to me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens. This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in him. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. John
At that time, since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may [come to] believe. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: “Not a bone of it will be broken.” And again another passage says: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”