I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord God. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.
Ezechiel 34: 15-6
Indeed only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us
Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Mass liturgy for the day begins with a familiar and resonant antiphon, which comes from two verses of Psalm 33: “The designs of his heart are from age to age,/ to rescue their souls from death,/and to keep them alive in famine.” Today’s feast reminds us that it is in the heart of Jesus that we know “the designs of God.” In Jesus, we can see and hear and touch the designs of God as incarnate in human life and as expressed in the human heart. When Jesus calls his disciples, all of us, to follow him, he is calling us to form and reform our hearts and so our lives in accordance with his own.
Perhaps the most famous of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées reads in part: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” This insight suggests that to know the truth we must know the reasons of our heart. In part, perhaps, the designs of God remain so mysterious to us because the reasons of our own heart are largely unknown to us.
Recently in a conversation, a friend reminded me of how true it is that we may readily forget many good things that someone has done for us, but we seem to never forget the hurt or the ill they have done. Without the very hard work that is our own formation of heart, we run the risk of distancing more and more from our hearts. Much of the character or personality we develop as adults is our defense against the vulnerability of our hearts and the suffering involved in living out our lives.
“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” The heart of Jesus never ceased being aware of the distance between the love of God for the world and the world’s lack of reception and response to that love. This is courage. Courage comes for the Latin and then old French word cor or heart. To live from the heart, which is the only way to know the heart’s reasons, requires courage. The courage to be and to be truly the human being we are requires a willingness to suffer reality. As we are so prone to discouragement (loss of heart), we find it extremely difficult to keep loving and serving and working in the face of rejection and ingratitude. As the letter to the Romans points out, we know the heart of God, the love of God, in the fact that Jesus could give his life not for the good but for sinners.
When others hurt us or speak ill of us, we readily recognize that they are not good. We do far more than recognize it, we build up ways of being, of covering over our hearts, to keep them, and others like them, from ever hurting us again in that same way. Yet, we do not so readily recognize that we ourselves are not “good.” If we live not from our hearts but from our unconscious fears and needs, we believe that we deserve to be loved and have a right to demand to be loved by others. We are always the aggrieved party, ready to strike out at whomever and whatever threatens us “again.” In this distorted way of thinking love should come to those who deserve it, who prove themselves worthy of it. Yet, this is a source of great conflict within us because what our hearts most desire and crave is to know love, as Martin Luther said, in that place where we cannot love ourselves. Although we want to become good and worthy of being loved, we realize at some level that we most need to be loved where we are not “good.”
God, in Jesus, seeks out the lost and longs to overcome the distance that our sinfulness would creates between God and ourselves. Every time that we move against our tendencies to withdraw or to retaliate against another, we dispose ourselves to a reformation and transformation of heart. Each time we have the courage to suffer the reality of life in awareness and self-presence over our propensity for escape in distraction and dissipation, we open ourselves to the grace and love of God that of its nature reforms and transforms our hearts to resemble more and more the heart of Jesus.
The reasons of our heart are, in their depth, the reasons of Jesus’ heart. We are made in and for the love of God, but God’s love is not a love for “the good” and those we see as good but rather for a sinful and broken world. It is in humanity’s very nature to keep getting lost, and it is in God’s loving nature to keep seeking out what is lost. What is of the heart of Jesus in us will always be seeking the lost and loving what we see as sinful. As a young adult, I experienced a level of repulsion at the devotion of the Sacred Heart. In those years there was a sentimental and romantic tinge to the iconography and prayer associated with the devotion. In later years, however, I have come to recognize that this devotion is really “the heart of the matter.” Far from sentimentality and romanticism, the heart of Jesus is the greatest of gifts and of challenges. It is the gift of a love that we both crave and fear, a love that can only be known in the depths of humility and truth. And it is also a challenge. The heart of Jesus is our own end and call. Our heart must come to resemble his, the incarnation of God’s effective and long-suffering love in the world. it is a challenge to a total conversion and reformation of life, that we may take on life’s hardships and sufferings and discover and offer, not selectively but to all, the love at their core.
O thou dweller in my heart,
open it out, purify it, make it bright and beautiful,
awaken it, prepare it, make it fearless,
make it a blessing to others,
rid it of laziness, free it from doubt,
unite it with all, destroy its bondage,
let Thy peaceful music pervade all its works.
Fix my heart on Thy holiness
and make it full of joy, full of joy.