Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus goes back to the early Church in the time of Divine Revelation. Like all other true devotion in the Catholic Church, devotions to the Sacred Heart is based on divine revealed truth.
Two passages in Sacred Scripture are the revealed foundations for the Sacred Heart devotion. The first is Christ's invitation to His followers, "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." The second revealed foundation is Christ's Sacred Heart being pierced on the cross by the soldier's lance. From the very beginning, the followers of Christ were devoted to the Heart of Jesus. Our focus will be on what we mean when we say the Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist. Then, we shall discuss why this is so and how we can put Sacred Heart devotion into practice.
The Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist
Why do we make this equation? What do we mean when we say the Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist? We begin by recalling the centuries of Church teaching on what the term "Sacred Heart" expresses. The Sacred Heart signifies Christ's love in three ways: God is love, God is loving and God loves with human feeling.
God is love. The Sacred Heart symbolizes the love that is God. From all eternity, God is love. That is the primary meaning of God as a Divine Community and not a single person. The essence of love is to give, and within the Trinity, each of the three Divine Persons from all eternity shares the divine nature that each one possesses. When we say God is love, we are defining God as that Community of three Divine Persons who, from all eternity, each share with the other the fullness of what each one not only has, but of what each one is.
God is loving. God is loving not only by bringing us into being, but by bringing us into being as creatures who are capable of love. God could of made us insects or animals or trees or lofty mountains, but these cannot think and love. When this loving God chose to create other beings, it was only because He is loving that He wanted to share what He as God had from all eternity (love) with beings who would not even exist without His love. From the moment of creation and into the endless reaches of eternity, God will continue loving us. If He were to cease loving us, we would cease to exist! God manifested His love by bringing us into existence and making us creatures who are capable of love.
But God also manifested His by becoming one of us, and, having become one of us, He has remained and will be for all eternity one of us. When the Word became Flesh, It became Flesh not only for a time, but for all eternity. God will remain Incarnate forever. This loving God, who out of love for us became man and died on the Cross to show His love for us, this God became man and remains man, but He remains man on earth.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is the same Infinite Love who is God and who out of love for us became man and is here on earth. When we receive Him, that same God is within us. Love wants us to be intimate. Love wants us to be near. Love wants us to be close to the one whom it loves. The Holy Eucharist is divine genius!
God loves with human feeling. The third meaning which the Church gives to the Sacred Heart as symbolizing God's love is that God loves not only as God but also as the God-man with human feeling, human emotion, human sensibility and human sensitivity. We creatures of feeling, emotion and sensitivity need to hear this. God in the Holy Eucharist is man indeed, but with all the supreme sensitivity. Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is a sensitive Christ. He feels. St. Margaret Mary tells us that Christ in the Eucharist senses in a way we as hypersensitive human beings can understand.
Wives tell me, "I spend hours cooking the meal and all my husband does is sit down, eat and even ask for more. But he never thanks me!" Or among religious, "Father, you have no idea how much it hurts me to know that when we pass in the corridor, he does not even look at me." How sensitive we are! How we need to know that God became a sensitive human being! When we come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, He wants us to tell Him how we feel, and He will tell us how He feels. When we come to Church, we should not leave our heart in the car. When Christ came to earth, He did not leave His Heart in heaven.
Why is the Sacred Heart the Holy Eucharist?
It is impossible to identify the Holy Eucharist too closely with Jesus Christ. We should remember He is in the Holy Eucharist not merely with His substance. I have corrected many of my students over the years who tell me "Transubstantiation means that the substance of bread and wine become the substance of Jesus Christ." I reply, "No, transubstantiation means the substance of bread and wine are no longer there. The substance of bread and wine is replaced not only by the substance of Christ's Body and Blood. What replaces the substance of bread and wine is Jesus Christ!" Everything that makes Christ, Christ replaces what had been the substance of bread and wine. The substance of bread and wine become the whole Christ.
Therefore, Christ in the Holy Eucharist is here with His human heart. Is it a living heart? Yes! That is why the revelations our Lord made to St. Margaret Mary about promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart were all made from the Holy Eucharist.
Why do we equate the Sacred Heart with the Holy Eucharist? Because the Holy Eucharist is the whole Christ with His human heart. According to St. Margaret Mary, the Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist. So it follows that devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to the Holy Eucharist. It is infinite Love Incarnate living in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament.
Practicing Sacred Heart Devotion
How do we practice devotion to the Sacred Heart? The answer to this question is almost too obvious to express, but it is the most difficult task we have in our life. We are to love Him in the way He has been loving us and in the way He is presently loving us.
First the past. How has God been loving us? He brought us out of nothing into existence, making us human beings with minds to think and wills that can choose. Then, God became man and died out of love for us. We should note how these two words go together: love and death. True love wants to exhaust itself out of love for the one whom it claims to love. That is why God took on a human nature: so that He could manifest to human beings in the strongest language accessible how deeply He loves us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God died out of love. We know that if we love, we will die for the one whom we love; and the death of the body is only a symbol of the constant death of the human spirit, surrendering itself to God's will.
Next, how is God presently loving us in the Holy Eucharist? By totally giving Himself! If during Mass, I notice the cross on the consecrated Host is not quite straight, I may move the Host a quarter of an inch. That is love allowing Itself to be moved. I am speaking from my heart. At the same time, God is constantly and lovingly pushing, shoving, shifting and nudging us. He wants us to change. He want to move our wills, even if we remain statuesque.
How are we to return this love that Christ had for us and presently has for us? By totally and constantly conforming, submitting and surrendering our lives to Him. This is THE Sacrifice God wants of us during our lives – allowing Him to move our wills. God has given us a free will. Unless we had a free will, we could not love. God never coerces us but invites us to return our love for His selfless love of us. He invites us to do this by conforming, surrendering and sacrificing our wills to His. Not just by some will, but giving up our wills.
What do I mean by "giving up"? I mean just that: giving up! We can give up with our hands, but even smile in doing it. Deep down inside we are still holding on. But we must give up our wills completely and unconditionally. In everything we do we must say, "Lord I will do what You want me to do." "Not my will, but Yours." Every moment of our lives is a providential expression of God's love for us, inviting us to respond no matter what the cost is to ourselves.
Originally published as The Sacred Heart is the Holy Eucharist