What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Wednesday 11, June 2014 | Category:   Prayer and Spirituality

Sacred Heart2
The image of the open, accessible heart of Jesus on fire and often pierced by thorns is both ancient and modern. Since the Middle Ages mystics like Julian of Norwich, Frances of Rome, Bonaventure, Mechtild, and Gertrude had ecstatic experiences of the love of Jesus described as both fiery and wounded.

These aren't fanciful or subjective descriptions. In the gospels Jesus presents his heart as the focus of instruction for his disciples: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). Jesus also tells them he's come to set the earth on fire: "And how I wish it were already blazing!" (Luke 12:49) Later in the Passion stories Mark and Matthew depict Jesus bruised by a crown plaited from thorns, and John's gospel reports the heart of Jesus being pierced with a lance to ensure he's dead before his body can be removed from the cross. The image of a fiery, wounded heart is a conflation of these details that have come to embody the love of God as incarnated by Jesus.

Scripture scholar Stephen Binz notes: "In the biblical writings, the heart is the center of the person, the core of one's inner life and personality. It is the source of one's deepest motivation, decisions, memories, and desires. For this reason, the heart is the place in which a person encounters God." By means of the image of the Sacred Heart, the encounter between the divine heart and ours is mutual.

Carthusian monks of the 16th century and missionary Jesuits promoted the image. Religious orders dedicated to the Sacred Heart sprang up everywhere on the mission trails. Seventeenth-century French missionary Saint John Eudes was the first to give a substantial theology to the devotion, and so the image as we know it today is often attributed to him. In the same century cloistered sister and mystic Margaret Mary Alacoque began having visions which included private revelations of a devotional regimen dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The reception of Holy Communion on the First Fridays of every month, a holy hour of Eucharistic adoration on Thursdays, and honoring the image of the Sacred Heart in every Catholic home grew from the popularity of her revelations.

The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was first officially celebrated in 1765. This solemnity is observed on the Friday after the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus in June. The entire month of June is also dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Scripture
Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 11:29; 27:29; Mark 15:17; Luke 12:49; John 19:33-37; Revelation 1:7

Online
"The Sacred Heart of Jesus" and "An Introduction to the Spirituality of the Heart" from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
"History of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus"

Books
The Sacred Heart of Jesus (Threshold Bible Study) by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications)
A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
by James Kubicki, S.J. (Ave Maria Press)

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