Your heart pumps about 100,000 times a day to keep your lifeblood flowing through you. For this reason it has become a symbol for our very selves. We say, “I put my heart into it” and “I want that with all my heart.” The heart also is a symbol for love, perhaps because it seems to beat faster when we are in love. The biblical image of the heart means the depth of our selves where we decide for or against God. God, who always speaks to us using our own experiences, has chosen our symbol of the heart to represent Jesus.
The heart of Jesus was a human heart like ours. It stopped beating the day Jesus was crucified. According to the Gospel of John, after Jesus had died a soldier made sure of his death by piercing his side with a lance. Blood and water ran out (19:34). Jesus' pierced heart became a sign of the completeness of his love for us, a love that compelled him to die for us and that prompted him to remain with us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The physical heart of Jesus is the symbol of the total love of Jesus, divine and human.
Jesus said that from within him would flow streams of living water (John 7:38), referring to the Holy Spirit. The water from the side of Christ on the cross was the water of salvation, the Holy Spirit.
In art the Sacred Heart is pierced, surmounted by a cross, and encircled with thorns. Light radiates from it to show that it is a burning furnace of love. The Heart of Christ summarizes the paschal mystery—the death and resurrection of Jesus that were prompted by divine love.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart began in the twelfth century. Saints such as Bonaventure, Gertrude, Catherine of Siena, and John Eudes were attracted to the Sacred Heart. It was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a sister in France, who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (with the support of St. Claude de la Colombiere, S.J.). She had visions of the Sacred Heart from 1673 to 1675. For instance, in 1675 on the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ) Christ showed her his wounded heart. He said, “Behold this heart burning with so great a love for men.” In 1856 a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart was set for the Friday after the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In 1899 Pope Leo XIII dedicated the world to the Sacred Heart.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart focuses not only on the love and mercy Jesus has for us but on reparation for sin. In St. Margaret Mary's visions, Christ requested that a Communion of reparation be made on the first Friday of every month. An organization called the Apostleship of Prayer furthers the devotion to the Sacred Heart through activities such as the enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes. We pray that our hearts may become like the Heart of Christ.
† Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in you! †
© 1997 Loyola Press