Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Sacred Heart: The greatest love story ever told!

Early February is a time when we see hearts all over the place. St. Valentine’s day illustrates all too well the very long association of the heart as a universal symbol of love – especially of romantic or erotic love.  In C.S. Lewis’s famous book on the ‘The Four Loves’ he discusses the difference between the kind of love that we associate with ‘St. Valentine’s Day’.  Cards are sent to those we love in a romantic or erotic ( eros, ἔρως)  way, but also to those we love in a ‘philial’ ( φιλία )  way- that is tokens of friendship: to show we ‘love our friends’.   You can even get Valentine cards for your family members to show our ‘affection’ ( or ‘storge’, στοργή ). Indeed, you can get a Valentine card for practically any kind of  ‘loving' relationship.  (That includes your ‘teacher’- but I  have never seen one for your college ‘professor’!)  The heart symbol in many way is what we might term in economics a ‘debauched currency’  - it is a means of exchange which has lost its credibility.

The 4th kind of love discussed by Lewis is, of course ‘agape’ (ἀγάπη)  – selfless love.  In Latin, caritas or charity. It is this kind of love which is the highest Christian virtue .  The highest because ‘Deus caritas est’ —"God is love." (1 John 4:8).  As the ultimate symbol of Divine Love the Sacred Heart  asks you to think about agapic love – the love which has God as its main source.  The Catechism states that :

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own "to the end," he makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you". (Catechism, 1822-23)

The relationship between God – who is love – and humanity is a love story. Indeed, it really is the greatest love story ever told. As ( Servant of God) Catherine  Doherty (who had a great love for the devotion to the Sacred Heart)  once wrote, the story of the relationship between God  and humanity is  about a passionate love affair:

For too many people, the Christian faith is a series of dogmas and tenets to be believed, commandments and precepts to be observed and obeyed in a negative fashion. Of course Christians should believe in the dogmas of their faith; of course they must observe the commandments. But Christians must also realize, with a joy that can scarcely be expressed, that the Christian faith, in its essence, is a love affair between God and man. Not just a simple love affair: It is a passionate love affair. God so loved man that he created him in his image. God so loved man that he became man himself, died on a cross, was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven—and all this in order to bring man back to himself, to that heaven which he had lost through his own fault.+

If you would like to read more about Servant of God, Catherine Doherty (1896 – 1985), go HERE and HERE .  (And the title 'Servant of God', is the first stage in the process of becoming recognised as a saint  - canonization - in the Catholic Church.) 

Catholics, of a certain age, who still know large chunks of the ‘penny catechism’ by heart were taught the concise version of this great love story:

Who made you?
God made me.
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next.

We were made to know God and love God.  When human beings do not know God and do not love God, they truly cannot be fully human.  We were made to love God, and were made to love God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. That is agape. St Augustine said it best in his Confessions:

Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

This means  that no amount of the other kinds of love can ever complete us as human beings. Human beings – as we see every day in the newspapers – can have everything they can possibly desire in this world, and yet still be empty and restless.  Sadly, all too often in such a state they turn to drugs and other kinds of addiction: sex, food, money, violence, power etc.  But, we were made to love God, not ourself.  Adam wanted equality with God,  but  God Almighty desires us so much that he humbled himself to become vulnerable like us! That is the most amazing love story ever told.   Amazing, because it is true: God loves us and wants us to love Him - passionately! True love is, of course,  about being open hearted and being vulnerable.  Lewis puts it nicely in his book on the four loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The Heart of Jesus is a doorway into that great mystery: that the Almighty God  became utterly vulnerable; and that the God who made all things opens His human heart to us.  In the Sacred Heart He calls us to enter into His heart. We are restless until our hearts rest in the heart of God.  If we just love ourselves - if we 'lock our heart up' - we will never find the rest our hearts desire.  The deadly sins are so called because they really do kill us! If our ego is the centre of our life, we will never be really complete as a human being.  This can only happen when God is our centre - when we open our hearts and give our hearts ( our real self) to God. We only can become like Christ when our heart is open and vulnerable: when we are prepared for our heart to be wounded and pierced.

This icon is asking you to reflect on this love story - on this passionate love affair between you and God!  Humanity is made for love.  We are made to love God with every fibre of our being and  to go on and harness this love, for God. We were made to 'serve Him in this world', through love.  Teilhard put it so well :

Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu. 

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.*

Sacred Heart  Paray le monial - inspired by Teilhard

+ Catherine Doherty, The Gospel Without Compromise, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame. 1976, p77 
You can read  chapter 4 online  HERE.

*Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, L’Évolution de la Chasteté, ( Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris 1973, p92) 

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