Spirituality of the Heart

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved! This devotional expression that Fr. Jules Chevalier gave along to the members and sympathizers of his congregations, goes far beyond what is popularly understood as devotion to the Sacred Heart, far beyond the statues, first Fridays devotion, pious prayers and novenas. It is a summary of a new mission: placing Jesus Christ in the center of life, inspiring people to love him – in whose life God’s Heart became so clearly visible – and to make him and his way-of-the-heart the model for the way we want to live. Believing in Jesus Christ is believing in his heart: sharing his conviction that love is possible and that it is the only possible force strong enough to save, to set people free, to change our world into God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

Not everybody can believe in love. Maybe all of us have times – when confronted with suffering and darkness, either in our own lives, or in the world around us – that we are tempted to shy away from love. It appears often easier to believe in “taking” than in “giving”, safer to put faith in violence than in peace, more effective to use people, manipulate them, oppress them, than to set them free. Are we for real when we believe in love? Can we really bet on love as the driving force to move from injustice to justice, from violence to peace, from oppression to freedom? For many people, love is for the dreamers, not for the doers; love is comfort for the victims, not a force for change.

In the Sacred Heart we celebrate one of these “victims”; in this heart we celebrate Jesus Christ who died from loving, but in whose rising above pain and death new life became visible. He loved to the fullest, gave himself completely. We celebrate him hanging on a cross, because his cross was the final act of what he had been doing his whole life long: giving himself, loving.

Throughout his life, his love had been the force that made him reach out to all who were suffering, touch them and heal their wounds, free them from all evil forces within and around them. That is why the Apostle John – looking backwards after the resurrection – could see the spilling of blood and water from Christ’s side as the sign of new life, as the fulfillment of God’s promise of a new world.

If we see the cross as the expression of commitment to love, it will be clear that we are talking about love, not as a sweet sentiment, nor as just any overpowering passion, but as an uncompromising commitment. Jesus’ only concern was the will of his Father, the mission entrusted to him. He was completely without self-interest, totally centered on the other. No hidden agenda, no position to acquire or maintain, no interest to lord it over others, or to enrich himself in any way. Because of this, he himself was so completely free, that he could be the channel of freedom for others, because only love sets free, only love does not imprison, nor abuse, nor oppress.

It became his mission to proclaim good news: to tell in word and deed of God’s love for people. God loves us to the fullest; that is the only reason why he creates us, why he wants to fill us with life. It is that love that became visible and believable in the love of Christ, in his heart-for-others. It was his mission to bring light to the blind and freedom to captives – to make a beginning of a new kind of world, a beginning of God’s kingdom for which we daily pray. It will be a reign of the heart, sharing the whole of creation together, as brothers and sisters.

Does that sound too good to be true? Like a dreamworld, far from reality? Admittedly, if we measure it against the inadequacy of our ability to love, it is often hard to believe in this kingdom of God. For however well-meaning we are, how much we are inspired by the love we see in the Heart of Christ, our loving is usually contaminated with a lot of self-interest. We are willing to love, but we tend to first count the cost. We can be good to others, but seldom without reservations. Instead of placing the Heart of Christ squarely in the center of our lives, we want to reserve plenty of space at the center for our own concerns, our own position, influence and power, our own theories and ideologies, and even our own needs and conveniences. The message of freedom we send out, may be God’s message, but still too often contaminated with messages of our own making. Maybe that is the reason why the Gospel message as we voice it out and live it out, often sounds too weak to inflame the world.

But we will keep on saying it, “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved everywhere”. In traditional words, our motto expresses a contemporary task. It expresses a commitment to bring the Heart of Christ to all people, not just as another devotion, but as a new way or model of living. All over the world we want people to experience God’s love as the foundation for reaching out to one another and for remaking our world into God’s world. It will be a task that goes far beyond a monthly prayer to the Sacred Heart; it means inspiring people to make the heart the foundation of their lives. Whatever they do, tilling the earth or constructing buildings, managing finances or working in communication, laboring in factories or offices, educating the youth or caring for the aged – whatever they do must be carried by the commitment to the good of all. In the measure we have helped to realize this we will have made known the heart of Christ – in that measure we have truly spread the spirituality of the heart.

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