In the prospect of treating of a topic so dear to me as devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my way of being would lead me to try to study, reflect and meditate until I have been able to know everything possible on the subject. In my opinion, this is also how love should be: made up to the maximum degree of sentiment, but also of reasoning, by which we try to understand to the maximum degree what is felt. From the sum of these two factors comes true love.
Nevertheless, the duties of my apostolate do not allow me to act according to this principle, at least not as much as I would like. So, even though I have not been able to do in-depth studies on the subject, one always knows something, and I propose that we enter into the subject making use, above all, of what we feel with regard to this devotion.
Two conceptions of the heart
First of all, I would like to analyse two distinct, but not contrary, conceptions of what the heart represents.
One is the modern conception, according to which the heart symbolizes pure sentiment, divorced from reason. In this view, one’s heart should thrill at the sight of something that creates a good impression, causes endearment, and produces a feeling of goodness and affinity.
Something along these lines happens to me, for example, whenever I see a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that is in a church dedicated to Him in the city of São Paulo. When I see that statue, I remember a series of emotions of a religious nature that I have had while standing before it, which I certainly do not consider bad in any way. But I ask myself: does the heart represent only this?
We ought to consider that the ancients understood the heart in a deeper sense: for them, the heart represented the sum total of all that man knows and loves. With a love, however, according to the conception that I pointed out above, that is, feeling, reasoning, judging and, as the case may be, adhering and loving. Everything that man loves in this way constitutes a whole that forms the mentality of man, which is represented by the heart.
Considered in this light, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus acquires an unfathomable depth.
Different aspects of the same scene
Let us imagine how someone who knew Our Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly life should love Him to the point of being able to recognize the majestic and gentle timbre of His voice.
Let us suppose that this person had seen a gaze full of His goodness and mercy resting upon someone and, on the other hand, had contemplated Him scourging the moneychangers of the Temple or replying “Ego sum” (Jn 18:5) to the Temple guards, and all of them falling to the ground. I believe that, if I were a painter, I would be able to do at least fifty paintings representing the different aspects that must have been reflected in Him at this moment.
The same could be said of the scene in which, from the height of the Cross, between groans He said: “Woman, behold, your son!” and then to the Apostle St. John: “Behold, your Mother!” (Jn 19:26-27). With what countenance did Jesus say this? Or, again, when He said to the good thief: “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). In this episode we need to consider not only His words to the good thief, but also His icy silence towards the bad thief. How expressive is the silence of a person like Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Well, if I were given the grace to witness all this, I believe that, despite my efforts to learn about mentalities, I would forget it all and pay attention only to Him. Obviously, I would also pay attention to Our Lady and a little to the Apostles, but to nothing else. Above all, I would try to know Our Lord as well as possible. Not out of desire for control or mistrust, but on the contrary, in order to be able to love Him and to give myself to Him more and more.
What might Our Lord’s mentality be like?
Having adopted this conception of the heart, we can ask ourselves what the mentality of Christ must be like. The answer proves to be very difficult, because the theme is so lofty that, being here below, one is afraid to ascend. On the other hand, when one has reached the top there is no desire to descend.
If we consider the human nature of Our Lord, we can try to make at least something explicit, but when it comes to His divinity, the subject reaches such heights that it becomes impossible for man to reach it.
Faith teaches us that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate who came to dwell among men. In His Person, the human and divine natures are united hypostatically, in a way unsurpassable and unattainable by any human creature. Not even Our Lady, to whom I believe the gift of Eucharistic permanence was given, can attain a union with God comparable to that of Jesus’ human nature.
The relationship between humanity and divinity in the Person of the Word is something so extraordinary that St. Louis, King of France, had the beautiful custom, later adopted by the whole Church, of bowing down at the point in the Creed that says: Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis.
The greatest joy and the most terrible suffering
What joy must such a union produce in Jesus’ human nature? Without taking into consideration His divinity, by which Christ is the very source of all joy.
Yet by some mystery, during the prayer in the Garden, this joy seems to have given way to a terrible sense of abandonment, which led Him to ask: “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me” (Lk 22:42).
Even more eloquent is His cry from the Cross: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mk 15:34). What took place at that moment with this union of the human and divine natures that could have caused so great a sentiment that shortly afterwards led Him to say “Consummatum est” (Jn 19:30) and to surrender His spirit?
We see that, in spite of the union of Our Lord’s human nature with the divine, He suffered. And by a certain balance that there usually is in this life between happiness and sorrow, considering the joys of Jesus we can measure how profound must have been His sufferings.
I believe that one of the most poignant sufferings that Christ went through was that of the inexplicable, for no human pain is so great as that of suffering without knowing the reason. Although Our Lord knew everything as God, and knew that He was not blameworthy, in some mysterious way He must have felt this form of pain, otherwise His suffering would not have been complete.
I have the impression that just as God, after creating every being that exists in the universe, considered the whole and saw that it was better (cf. Gn 1:31), in an analogous way Our Lord, after having undergone all the torments of the Passion, must have looked upon the beauty of the whole of His sufferings and thought: “Everything is offered; whatever I could suffer, I have suffered for the redemption of the human race. And then He cried: “Consummatum est.”
A mentality composed of harmonious opposites
Now we must keep in mind those aspects of grandeur and fortitude of soul that we see in the last acts of the Passion of the Divine Redeemer as we analyse every moment of His life on earth. Indeed, He who suffered such a death is the same One who caressed the little children when they came to Him, and of whom He said: “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Mk 10:14). There is no person, of whatever age, who, on hearing these words, is not affected by them – for who does not feel small before Our Lord? – and therefore thinks: “So there is also a place for me with Jesus.”
Let us remember that these words, overflowing with tenderness, came from the lips of the One who, during the Passion, showed unequalled strength and resolution.
But how can the human soul put all these aspects together in a single picture, so that at the sight of Our Lord it may consider Him as the One who drove the moneychangers from the Temple, and at the same time see in Him the Master who with unspeakable goodness caressed little children, cured the sick, and spread joy, consolation, serenity, health and delight around Him? Moreover, how can we combine in a single vision the strong, unique and incomparable Man visible on the Holy Shroud, with the newborn Child Jesus, opening His arms and smiling at Our Lady?
Even though, upon opening His arms He already held them in the form of a cross, foreshadowing that He was born to be crucified, how could anyone imagine that in that Child, so sweet, innocent and tender, there was also the Hero who would endure the most terrible sufferings that have ever been or ever will be seen until the end of the world?
The drawbacks of a unilateral vision
How then can we condense all these perfections of the God-Man into a single vision?
They are so many that we would tend to be satisfied with the consideration of only one. Indeed, everyone worships Him in the way he feels called to do, but in my particular case, for by my way of being, I would never be satisfied to worship Him for just one of these aspects, without seeking to join them to the others, so as to form, even summarily, a notion of the whole.
Therefore, if I could know Him in this life, what I would most like to admire in Him would be the transitions of states of mind, so that in these variations I might see the harmony they formed.
On the ceiling of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus1 there is a 19th-century-style painting that has the characteristic, typical of the tendency of the men of that century, to represent things exactly as they are in the practical reality. From this arose the school of art called Realism. To me this is not true art, because the value of a work is in reproducing something imponderable that only the eyes of authentic observers can capture.
If reproducing things just as we see them has artistic value, the most perfect of the arts should be photography. Now, the greatest shortcoming of both Realism and photography lies in not portraying the transitions of soul that I mentioned above. For this reason, in the paintings of Jesus that follow this school, one can see that the artist chose a single aspect of Him and tried to represent it. And the attempt is generally made to represent the infinite mercy of Our Lord, which, though very right, is incomplete.
In the Litany of the Heart of Jesus there is the invocation: Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues. This means that the depth of His virtues is such that it constitutes an abyss for men. We could even call it the firmament of all virtues, considering the firmament as being an abyss in ascension.
Painting forgotten beauties
How good it would be if someone were to paint pictures representing other episodes in the life of Christ. For example, His meditation in the desert when He spent forty days there in fasting and prayer. We can even imagine Him standing by a rock in the middle of an arid landscape, with only commonplace and sparse vegetation in contrast to the grandeur of that scene; in the distance, vast expanses covered with beautiful sands that stretch all the way to the horizon, where we see a blazing sunset, punctuated by the profile of Jesus.
Or, again, a painting could be made of Christ in an affectionate attitude towards Our Lady. If He took satisfaction in contemplating the universe, how much would it not please Him to gaze upon Her who was superior to the whole universe! So, to represent Him looking into the eyes of Mary Most Holy, who is filled with enchantment for Jesus. As Creator, He thinks: “My masterpiece!” and, as Son: “My Mother! What perfection!”
What would we not give in exchange for contemplating a scene like that, even if through a keyhole? After seeing it, why go on living? For if someone were to say to me, “Look at the sea, how lovely!”; I, who love the sea so much, would think, “What is it to see the sea after having seen Mary?”
All in all, I would like to see the attempt made to represent each of His states of spirit, for I am not content to adore and adhere only to His mercy.
Consideration of all that resonated and pulsated in the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Another thing that I would very much like to do would be to make a collection of the timbres of Our Lord’s voice, for example, while He was teaching. He being the Divine Master, what clarity, wisdom, depth, vastness of horizons and simplicity must have shone forth in His timbre of voice!
Perhaps even more than the timbres of voice, what would one not give to have the representation of some of Jesus’ gazes? To mention just two: How was the look He gave to St. Peter, to the point of converting him and making him weep bitterly with repentance all his life? Or the last gaze He directed to His Mother at the foot of the Cross. What affection, appreciation and love must have been manifested in that gaze! On the other hand, what would His stern look have been like, casting the moneychangers out of the Temple? or His displeased look at Pilate; or His look of reproach at Annas and Caiaphas?
This entire ensemble is contained in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which it resonated in such a way that in each of these various moments it must have pulsated differently, sometimes more intensely, sometimes less.
Therefore, to have a true devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus it is not enough for us to know and love only one of these aspects; we need to have a vision of the whole that it represents. This, evidently, no one is capable of achieving without the special help of grace. However, for those who aspire and strive to know and love this magnificent, unspeakable and priceless whole as much as possible, this grace will come at a certain moment. ◊
Taken, with adaptations from:
Dr. Plinio. São Paulo. Year XIV. N.155
(Feb., 2011); p.10-15
1 Shrine located in the Higienópolis neighborhood in São Paulo.