Yesterday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It's a feast that I've only recently begun to appreciate more fully as life changes. Many Protestants really balk at the idea of this feast with a deep, visceral revulsion and yet they themselves espouse and seek to espouse what this feast means to all Christians.
One thing that distinguishes a Catholic expression of Christianity is an objective, something that really focuses the senses and thus the attention on realities that are too nebulous to define. The Sacred Heart stands for all of the profound and inexpressible mercy that God the Son has for His Brethren and the adopted children of His Heavenly Father. It's a wonderful synecdoche, and Catholics have the means to do synecdoche very well if they choose to.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart focuses our attention on one profound image - the heart of Christ exposed to the world. We know that this must have happened at the crucifixion. When the lance pierced our Lord's side it pierced His heart, thus exposing its very interior to the world. Christ literally opened His heart for our sake.
This is not an image for the squeamish. Indeed, it is an image that should disquiet each one of us as it shows such an awful truth. Could we go so far as to suffer such an deep, violent injury for the sheer love of another?
Some of us can cope with pain better than others. Such people earn my respect as I certainly squeal if I stub my toe. The trouble is that it is so easy for the pain of those who can bear it well to go unnoticed, especially when they suffer such horrible injuries for others. All around the world, there are those whose duty to saving others transcends horrible pain, disfigurement, debilitation and injury, and that this happens unnoticed by the world.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart is the recognition of the Divine Love of Christ in the wounds that He received for us. It is a time to remember those who follow His example and who risk so much for our way of life, even when we do not deserve it one little bit.
To become wounded, there necessarily has to have been a failure of a defensive mechanism. The Lord's defensive mechanism was His Divinity. He could simply have made it all stop by calling fire down from Heaven to consume Scribe and Pharisee. He did not. He lowered his defences, emptied Himself, restricted His Divinity so that Our Salvation could be complete in His pain and death. There is a love that will, for the sake of the beloved, allow that beloved to mutilate the lover, like the spiders that are consumed by their young, or the male praying mantis which is eaten, in flagrante delicto, by his mate. There is an instinctual or deliberate suspension of any defensive mechanism for the continuation of the species or for the good of the community.
Our Lord shows us that if we truly want to love, then we have to open ourselves to the possibility of the greatest pain and to have that pain caused by and even ignored by the beloved. It is a truly horrible, horrible thought and we truly have to be brave in order to allow this to happen. It is only in such a situation that the extent of how unconditional our love can be made obvious. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Further still, what unconditional love can there be that a man lay down his life for one who shows not the slightest gratitude for this wonderful sacrifice?
The Feast of the Sacred Heart brings this whole idea of unconditional love in the sacrifice of Christ in to sharp focus. We may hate the imagery, but nonetheless the reason beneath it underpins Christianity for every single Christian, that "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" and that this love has not the slightest condition upon it. It is a love that can be spurned but will continue, despite being spurned.
To all those out there who labour tirelessly, thanklessly and painfully for the good of mankind and for the propagation of true love, who brave the greatest pain, who suffer the greatest losses and who are wounded to the very depths of their being, may God bless them and reward them fully.