I. The Sacred Heart of Jesus
Today’s the Feast of the Sacred Heart, a special reminder that Jesus loves us. Talking about sin, hell, and damnation is important, and has a vital place in our Faith — particularly given how much secular culture has forgotten about the reality of Hell — but it shouldn’t occupy the only (or even the primary) place. The central message of the Cross is that God loves us so much that it hurts. Quite literally. The symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a heart crowned with a crown of thorns:
It’s a beautiful image, showing that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesisans 5:2). It also reflects the Love of the Father, sinceL “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
II. The Immaculate Heart of Mary
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary started as one devotion, but are now celebrated distinctly. The Immaculate Heart of Mary, meanwhile, is a heart with a sword piercing through it. Both images can be explained through Simeon’s blessing of Jesus in Luke 2:34-35,
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Love always entails the possibility of pain, and love always hurts at least a little. For one thing, love is a form of self-giving, of prioritizing someone else above ourselves. For another, love creates a relationship which may call us to make sacrifices we wouldn’t otherwise make. Jesus becoming a scandal, a “sign that will be spoken against,” sufferring the pain and the humiliation of dying on a Cross wasn’t to build His own character. He is the perfect God-Man, and wants for nothing. He did it out of His love for us. And Mary, in Her emphatic love and willingness towards God, united Herself so closely with Her Divine Son that She felt His pain as if it were Her own. She watched Her Son get tortured, humiliated, mocked, and killed. Like the Apostles, She could have fled, taken the easy way out. But She stayed. And precisely because She is His Mother, and precisely because She loved Him completely, His pain was felt by Her in a way we’ll never fully comprehend. A sword through Her very soul. And She bore that, too, willingly, out of love.
III. Sacrificing Love in the Lives of the Saints: St. Ignatius of Antioch
Religion is sometimes derided as feminine, and to be quite frank, the religious practices in many churches, including many American Catholic churches, have been slow to dispel this characterization. But true Christianity is a bold and beautiful thing: at once brave and loving, it draws out the best in both the masculine and feminine traits. We see this sort of radical faith, this intense love, in the lives of the Saints. The examples are too numerous to count, but let me mention just Ignatius of Antioch’s beautiful words from his letter to the Smyrnaeans:
And why have I given myself up unto death, to fire, to sword, to wild beasts? But nearness to the sword is nearness to God; to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God; only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. I endure all things that I may suffer together with him, since he who became perfect man strengtheneth me.
These aren’t some idle boast. He wrote this letter while on his way to die, and they’re truly love letters to God, as he turns over everything he has for the glory of Jesus Christ. He found the Savior of the World, God Himself, and fell so deeply in love with God that to be mauled by an animal entailed nothing more than the promise of paradise on the other side. Nothing which the forces of evil had to throw at him could scare him any longer, since as 1 John 4:18 tells us, “perfect love drives out fear.“
Love hurts, but it hurts for the right reasons, and it draws us towards a God who loves us so much that He allowed Himself to be hurt far worse than we could ever dream. This sort of love is at once bold and dangerous and perfectly safe. Bold and dangerous, because we’re called to take real risks, to sacrifice, and to suffer. Perfectly safe, because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The Love of God is a wonderful and terrifying thing.