Heart of Christ, give us Your heartBy: Sr. Constance Carolyn Veit LSP
In the Church’s tradition, the month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This might seem a bit old fashioned to our modern “sound-byte” culture, but there is nothing outdated about the Heart of Christ.
It is difficult to think of a symbol richer in meaning than the human heart. Referred to over 1,000 times in the Bible, the heart signifies the center and wellspring of physical life, and—perhaps more importantly for the human experience—the source of spiritual life. The heart is our hidden center, the seat of decision and truth, the place of encounter and covenant.
Pope Francis obviously favors the image of the heart, for he used it over 100 times in his recent exhortation on the new evangelization, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). In this document, he speaks of the heart of the risen Christ, the heart of man, the heart of the Church, and the heart of the Gospel message. The Heart of Jesus, he said last year on the feast of the Sacred Heart, is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy, the source from which our salvation gushed forth. The mercy of Jesus is not just a warm sentiment, but rather, a force that gives life and raises us from the dead.
When we say that someone knows something “by heart,” we mean that they have an intimate knowledge of a subject, that they know it completely and can recite or perform it effortlessly. What would our world be like if we all knew Jesus Christ by heart? Not in order to recite Scripture verses, but to know the virtues and sentiments of Christ in the very depths of our hearts and to live them as a well-practiced habit in our everyday lives. This is exactly what Pope Francis is challenging us to do in “Evangelii Gaudium,” as he calls us to light a fire in the heart of the world, to be a spring that spills over to refresh others.
What a difference it would make in our world if we all took to heart the following words of our Holy Father: “My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, rising up, healing, and freeing.”
The vision of Pope Francis resonates deeply with the teachings of St. John Eudes, a giant of 17th century French Catholicism and a great apostle of the Heart of Jesus. Jesus gives us his Heart, Eudes wrote, in order to be our heart, so that we may love with his great Heart. “Do not be satisfied with loving God with your human heart, for that is too little, it is really nothing at all. Love him rather with all your heart and willingly … with all the love of your great Heart, Jesus.” How can we thank God for the precious gift of his Heart? We must render love for love, St. John Eudes said. Our actions must be a continuation of Jesus’ actions. “We must be so many other Jesuses on earth, in order to continue here his life and work. …” This, no doubt, is what Pope Francis means when he calls us to be a mission on earth!
Heart of Christ, give us the true heart of an apostle! Give us your Heart that we may love with your love and set the world on fire!
Sr. Constance Carolyn Veit, LSP, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the US.