I really like Jesus – you may already know that about me. What you might not know is that I also really like art; I went to a high school where you had something like majors, and art was mine. A few years ago I came across something that merged these two loves of mine. It’s a Catholic tradition called the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pompeo Batoni, 1767Given that I have some training in both Christianity and art, naturally I had a very profound first impression to this particular genre of artwork:
The Sacred Heart of Jesus can’t be traced back to a clear starting point. There was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600s, who saw Jesus and heard him speak: “Behold the Heart that has so loved men. …Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude.” There was Saint Bonaventure in the 1200s who wrote, “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart? Who would not love in return Him, who loves so much?” And long before that, there was a Christ who died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice; the one who was pierced in his side (all the way to the heart?); the one who loved us enough to give his whole life for us.
Out of all that comes the Sacred Heart of Jesus – and its corresponding artwork.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Josef Mehoffer, 1911But it’s strange, right? Most of these are not cartoonish, Valentine’s Day hearts. They’re biological and bloody and graphic. They have arteries that should lead somewhere but instead lead nowhere. I feel worried for Jesus when I see them. “Jesus, your heart! It’s exposed! Be careful!”
But Jesus did not choose to be careful with his heart.
This is what most intrigues me about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s gross and dangerous and vulnerable… and so when I see it, I cannot help but remember how Jesus literally gave his heart for us.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Salvador Dali, 1962This is how God loves us – a love that gave all.
And this is how we – who are created in God’s image – are called to love.
Today we’re considering two Scripture passages, but they’re really one and the same; in Matthew 22 Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).
To love God with all our hearts…
ca 1880, from the Auguste Martin Collection, University of Dayton Libraries
I’d much rather love God with all my mind. I love to read and study and write. My mind makes a “to do” list and checks off things as they are accomplished. I like to think and plan. My mind is objective and logical. It says things like, “Don’t give people cash – they might spend it on drugs. Pay their bills directly instead.” My mind wants to carefully study Scripture rather than get led astray by the emotionalism of a religious experience.
I like living in my mind.
My heart, on the other hand, gets me in trouble. My heart hurts when others are hurting and is desperate to help. My heart ditches the “to do” list to sit and listen to someone. My heart might just sell it all to go on some crazy adventure with Jesus.
My heart is not to be trusted. My heart will get me hurt. And you know this, too – whoever you are. You have loved and had your heart broken. You have entrusted your heart to another and had them step on it. Your heart is wounded, too. Don’t you want to keep it safely inside your chest, protected from harm?
But that is not what we are made to do, we who are created in God’s image. We are called to love even though it will get us hurt. We are called to rip open our metaphorical rib cages and expose our hearts to the violence of the world, just as Christ did. We are called to be brave in our love – to love and be hurt and to love again.
Sacred Heart of Jesus in Stained Glass, Philip RalleyAnd how can we do that? How could our hearts take such a beating and continue to go on loving?
Because Jesus did before us. Because Jesus’ perfect love pours out on us continuously, so that when we are wounded there is always a source of healing. Because of Christ, we know there is no emotional wound that can mortally pierce us.
So love. Love boldly. Love as Jesus did before us.
Love, and may your holy woundedness create a sacred space in your own heart.