Cardinal Raymond Burke in his time as Archbishop of St Louis reflects on Scripture’s portrayal of the human heart, the heart of Jesus, and the heart of God in order to prepare his flock for the Enthronement (and Consecration) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
To prepare well for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and for the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is essential to reflect upon the Heart of Jesus in the divinely inspired texts of the Sacred Scriptures and the official teaching of the Church.
Through His inspired Word in the Sacred Scriptures, God Himself opens up for the depth of His love for us in Jesus Christ, love symbolized most fully in the Sacred Heart. The official teaching of the Church guides us in applying the Word of God to our daily living, helping us to return a response of love to God for the immeasurable gifts of His love to us. Our attention to the Word of God and the Church’s teaching, and the obedience of our response makes our devotional life true and strong, fruitful in love of God and our neighbor.
The Pierced Heart of Jesus
The principal text from the Holy Bible which inspires devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the account of our Lord’s Passion and Death. After our Lord Jesus had died on the cross, the soldiers wanted to use the customary means of ensuring that crucified criminals had truly died, namely the breaking of the legs. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that the soldiers broke the legs of the other two criminals crucified with Jesus (Mt 19:32). When they came to Jesus, however, it was clear to them that there was no need to break His legs, for He was already dead. As a result, one of the Roman soldiers thrust his spear into the side of our Lord, from which there immediately flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). The soldier pierced the Heart of Jesus with his lance. The blood and water which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus is the sign of His life with us in the Church. Once risen from the dead and seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, Christ has never ceased to pour out, from His glorious Pierced Heart, the grace of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. The Preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus expresses the ancient symbolism of the water and the blood:
“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 sacramental life in the Church.
To His open side the Savior invites all men,
To draw water in joy from the springs of salvation” (The Roman Missal).
The flow of water and blood from the Pierced Heart of Jesus also reminds us of our Lord’s words regarding the source of salvation in His Heart:
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me,
Let him drink who believes in Me.”
Scripture has it:
“From within Him rivers of living water shall flow” (Jn 7:37).
Our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus leads us to remember always the many ways in which Christ has poured out and continues to pour out His love for us in the Church from the moment of His death on the cross.
Meaning of Heart in the Scriptures
In understanding the meaning of the Scriptural passage referring to the piercing of the Heart of Jesus, it is important to remember the significance of the heart in the Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, the heart is the center of man, wherein is found his fullest being. It is in the heart, in the words of the Holy Scriptures, that all our thoughts and desires have their origin. When God speaks to us, He speaks to our heart. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, our Lord quotes the Prophet Isaiah to describe our hypocrisy when we claim to love God and, at the same time, disobey His commands: “How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites when he wrote, ‘This people pays Me lip service but their heart is far from Me’” (Mk 7:6).
Later on, in the same passage, our Lord reminds us that our evil thoughts and deeds have their origin in the heart:
“Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit” (Mk 7:21-22).
Uniting our heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our heart is at once purified of all wrong thoughts, desires and inclinations and inflamed with love of God and our neighbor. The revelation of the Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary showed the mark of the piercing and the purifying flame of love with the cross within it, which crowns the Divine Heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is surrounded by the crown of thorns to signify the entire Passion by which He poured out His life for us.
Heart of Jesus
What the Holy Scriptures understand about the heart of man applies also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for His heart is the heart of a man. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, took a human heart under the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. In the Litany of the Sacred Heart, there is a most beautiful invocation which is inspired by our reflection upon the Incarnation: “Heart of Jesus formed by Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.” The invocation which follows reminds us again that the human heart of Jesus was made one with His divine nature: “Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God.” It is to His own Heart that Christ refers in the Gospels: “My heart goes out to My people” (Mt 15:31); and “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-29).
The outpouring of Christ’s Life for us, represented in the blood and water which flowed from His pierced Heart, continues in the Church, especially through the sacraments. The Church has always seen in the water and blood which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus a sign of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, by which we come to life in the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls, and by which the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is nourished by the Heavenly Food which is the true Body of Christ.
Heart of God
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the forming of the human heart of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is the fulfillment of the Word of God spoken through the Prophet Ezekiel. Speaking through Ezekiel, God described His work of Redemption with these words: “I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart, so that they will live according to My statutes, and observe and carry out My ordinances; thus they shall be My people, and I will be their God” (Ez 11:19-20).
The “new heart” and the “new spirit” is nothing less than a heart animated by God the Holy Spirit because the Heart of God the Son was pierced and welcomes now every contrite heart into the deep and peaceful recesses of its joy and peace.
The prophet Jeremiah provides a profound and ample reflection upon the heart of the people whom God is coming to save. In speaking about His saving work, through the Prophet Jeremiah, God the Father refers to His own Heart, His deepest being: “I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently” (Jer 3:15). We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to send shepherds to care for us, who are animated by His own divine love, by the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through the sacramental consecration God transforms a man’s heart, in order that he may act in the very person of Christ for the salvation of the people.
It is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that Christ the Good Shepherd continues to lay down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11-18), faithfully fulfilling the promise of God the Father.
When Christ appeared to St. Thomas the Apostle after the Resurrection, He showed him His wounded hands and feet, and His open side, beneath which lay His pierced Heart. He said to Thomas: “Take your finger and examine My hands. Put your hand into My side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!” (Jn 20:27).
The response of St. Thomas at seeing the wounds of Christ, and especially His open side, has become for us a favorite prayer when the Host and chalice are elevated after the consecration: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). In the apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, our Lord Jesus invites us, who may have grown weak or cold in faith or who may have abandoned the faith, to examine his Pierced Heart and to believe in Him, the Incarnation of God’s immeasurable and unending love of us.
St. Paul reflects upon the Incarnation of the love of God in the Heart of Jesus in his Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3:8-19). He writes of the “inscrutable riches of Christ,” which open up to us God’s plan for our salvation. He, then, prays that “Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith,” and that “(we) will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that (we) may attain to the fullness of God himself” (Eph 3:18-19). Christ dwells in our hearts through the gift of His life for us, most perfectly in the Holy Eucharist. Christ dwells in our hearts when we respond to His invitation to place our hearts completely in His Sacred Heart, to open our hearts completely to Him in the celebration of the Holy Mass and throughout each day of our lives.
In a wonderful reflection on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expresses the profound significance of the references to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. He writes: “The pierced Heart of the Crucified is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the Heart of God, which overturns His justice with compassion and precisely in this way remains just. Only in this concordance between the Old and New Testament can we behold the full extent of the biblical message concerning the Heart of God, the Heart of the divine Redeemer (‘The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart’ in Towards a Civilization of Love [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985], p.159).
Heeding the Cardinal’s wise words, we should frequently return to the Word of God, in order that the Word of God may inflame in us a sorrow for our sins, a desire to make reparation and a new generosity in returning love to God for His immeasurable love for us.
There are many more texts from the Holy Scriptures which refer to the human heart, to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus. It is recommended that the Holy Bible be kept on the small table or shelf beneath the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, enthroned in the home. In our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should take up the Word of God daily, so that God can speak to us from His Heart, so that our Lord Jesus can open up to us all the riches of His Sacred Heart.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.