Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

[Scripture Readings: Ez 34:11-16; Rom 5:5-11; Lk 15:3-7 ]

Some of us came to the monastery to find God and others because God found us! Whether we were among the ninety-nine or were the one who strayed when we came we found an affinity between the holiness we perceived here and the deepest aspirations of our hearts. The monastery is the place where God and the disciples could live together.

Whether we were among the ninety-nine or were the one who strayed, Jesus' whole intention is to give Himself completely, totally into our lives. This is the characteristic of the Sacred Heart, of the God who is love. Love is essentially the communication of oneself.

The power of Jesus was the power of persuasive communication and, above all, the spiritual attractiveness of his person, of his effective peace, love, and meaning that he gave to those He touched and who were willing to receive it. Jesus had the power to touch hearts. And that power is what He left us when He left us the Holy Spirit. All the laws and precepts of the church are offered to the world for the sole purpose of discovering the deep heart. The heart is where we answer the call to holiness.

The heart is the very core of a person. When that very center is deeply affected one's whole way of thinking about the world, one's whole way of feeling it, of being in it is profoundly and permanently altered.

It is the mission of Jesus Christ to have just that effect on the hearts of humanity.

What frustrates this love-inspired mission is not so much that love is not returned as that it is not received. We can frustrate the love of Jesus by not letting him give himself thoroughly.

When we begin our spiritual life we feel devotion to the Heart of Jesus. We admire His unselfish compassion; we are grateful for His loving sacrifices and for the power of His grace. We dedicate ourselves to Him. Well and good, but not enough.

True devotion to the Heart of Jesus will allow it to be itself, to do what it desires to do, what it is its nature to do. We get out of the way when we respond as He taught us: “Thy will be done.”

And what does He desire to do? He desires to show us that the word “God” means a being that deserves to be worshipped. He shows us that what we worship, is what we prefer to everything. And one thing worship cannot be is half-hearted. Worship, the way we live for Him, has to be extravagant. To love God, the Sacred Heart is telling us, is to spend oneself completely and without reservation … or die trying.

So it is His own experience that He wants to share. He wants us to have this kind of experience ourselves.

We are coming to know the Sacred Heart from the inside, inside His consciousness and inside our own consciousness. And our “inside” is becoming more and more like his inside. His heart is becoming the heart of our heart. Being a Christian on the inside means we simply let it be.

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

[Scripture Readings: Ezek 34:11-16; Rom 5:5-11; Lk 15:3-7 ]

As the one, or one of the ones, that strayed and that Jesus went after, I feel hesitant preaching to the ninety-nine righteous who remained in the fold. But this gospel is not about the sheep. It is not about who ranks where in the National League East of Morality. It is about an experience of the inner life of Christ. It is read today because it is about His heart.

The first two verses of Luke’s 15th chapter set the context for this story. Jesus is explaining to religious leaders why He is eating with sinners; people of low status. He eats with them because they let Him. They let Him because something about Him awakens something deep in their hearts.

There are four depths to the heart, four levels on which the heart can be set to find happiness.1 The first and shallowest level is pleasure and possessions. These last a short time and are experienced only by the self. They encourage us to take actions, such as eating, that are good for us.

The next deepest level is ego-gratification or competitive advantage. This is the human default setting. As relational people we tend to live daily life at this level. It is concern for reputation that motivates us to do our best or at least make it seem so. It is gauged by comparing self to others. It takes more effort and gives more satisfaction.

These first two levels are about acquisitiveness and self-satisfaction. They orient us to the practical aspects of daily life. The deeper third level is about giving and receiving; it is about making commitments and contributions. It requires more deliberate effort. It requires self-sacrifice and a sense of purpose ordered beyond self. In short, it requires grace.

At the deepest level of the heart is God. When we love Him with all the heart it means we order the other three levels to what will bring us to Him. At the level of commitment and contribution we love neighbor; at the deepest level we love God. We reverence neighbor; we worship God. What we reverence we prefer to self; what we worship we prefer to everything.

The heart is the very core of a person. When that very center is deeply affected one’s whole way of thinking about the world, one’s whole way of feeling it, of being in it is profoundly and permanently altered.

The heart is formed by our intentions, feelings, perceptions, and life experiences, some of which we’ve sought and others that we endured. If the heart is set on the shallower levels it is formed to avoid a break; if set on the deeper levels its goal is to unite with what it loves. This formation is what the scriptures call our “Name.” We are called by name. That formed heart, with its wounds, its hopes, and its sense of purpose, is the cross each of us is called to carry.

So it is not hard to read the heart of Jesus Christ. He enjoyed the pleasure of eating and drinking with sinners. When he sought out the lost sheep he lived his commitment. When he rejoiced with the Father over the found sheep he rejoiced from the deepest part of his heart.

What is remarkable about the heart of Jesus Christ is His ego. His ego was not gratified by comparing himself favorably to the sinners he ate with, nor by the approval of religious authorities. It was gratified by the will of the Father, which was to call sinners to the Kingdom of God. That will was Jesus’ commitment which was driven by his love of the Father. It was on this deepest level that he set his heart and sought his happiness. That’s what makes his heart sacred. He calls us to do the same. He calls us by name to form our hearts to his as he forms his to the Father. That is a lofty calling. It awakened something deep in the hearts of his fellow-diners.

Each of us answered by name , by the formation of our hearts, when we came to New Melleray. In the silence, some darker aspects of the heart were laid bare. Our hearts were more set on ego gratification than we thought. So we answered awkwardly. Michael Casey says we “wobble!”

Our hearts were attracted to monastic life by Ch. 7 of the Rule: Humility. More precisely, we were attracted by humility’s sister virtue of magnanimity. Magnanimity is the aspiration to do something great with our lives. It is inspired by awareness of the greatness of God when experienced by the littleness of self. It is daring. It is this virtue that moves us from ego-gratification, to commitment and contribution. Magnanimity, as different from pride and ambition, combines with humility to open us to the power of God. Magnanimity steadies the will and stiffens the spirit against hopelessness and it gives it courage in pursuit of the lofty goal of contemplation. Humility faces the truth we learn about ourselves in the course of this undertaking.

The most difficult thing about answering any vocation, whether to marriage, active ministry, or monastic life, and answering it at the level of ego, is the experience of our inadequacies revealed by the goal we aspire to. We seem to be inadequate in a world of people who are not. And so we must admire the magnanimous humility of the heart of the Good Shepherd; we must also be ready to admire magnanimous humility in the heart of one another. We must not let wobbling deceive us.

St. Bernard links humility with empathy. We must see two truths in ourselves first: our inadequacies in the spiritual undertaking, and our refusal to live life without aspiring to the lofty. We will then be able to empathize with the same truth of our brother’s experience.

Bernard tells us that the empathy which results from magnanimous humility will lead to love. Love conforms our hearts to the Sacred Heart. As our father Benedict concludes, “May he bring us all together to life everlasting.

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

[Scripture Readings: Hos 11:1,3-4,8c-9; Eph 3:8-12,14-19; Jn 19:31-37]

Pope at Auschwitz praised, faulted.”1 This sums up the mixed reviews that Pope Benedict XVI’s address at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, reaped as he made the commemorative visit of the Holocaust memorial on May 28, 2006. It was his second international pastoral visit, this time in the homeland of his predecessor, John Paul II. For the Polish Catholics who still grieved at the loss of their beloved son Karol Wojtyla, Benedict now serves as a new father who takes the place of John Paul. “The feeling is one of rebirth, a new spiritual beginning,” a university lecturer from Poland told the correspondent of Our Sunday Visitor.

Immediately after that visit, the papal address drew criticisms especially from the Jewish sectors. In his speech, Benedict asked, echoing the tone of Psalm 44, “Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?” It was a cry of lament in solidarity with the woes of Israel, particularly the innocent victims of the Holocaust. He said, “In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.” Richard Cohen who writes for Washington Post feels deeply hurt for the wounds of the Shoa (Holocaust). Instead, his question was, “Where were you, O God? I don’t think you were silent. I don’t even think you were there.2 Like other Jewish critics, he wanted to hear the Pope to speak more boldly against anti-Semitism which he actually did on his subsequent Wednesday general audience in Rome. As Cohen debated on a silent and absent God at the Holocaust and the perceived silence of the Church and other Catholics, he asserted, “I am at a loss to explain this. I cannot believe in such a God.

We believers likewise say that we do not believe in an absent God; yes, God may seem to be silent, but He is never absent. For all the woes that Israel, God’s chosen People, has gone through in its history, God has never been absent, but neither has he been silent always. From the book of Hosea, God expressed his caring love for Israel and Ephraim. Through the prophet, He said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son(Hos 11:1,3). Like a loving father, Yahweh has doted on his people with affection and love. Unfortunately, such love has not always been requited. Like a selfish child, this people have turned to idols, burning incense to Baals. They did not know their God, their healer and savior. Would that mean that all the blows, hardships and falls of Israel were God’s punishments on them? There was the judgment of God on Israel, however, not to destroy it but to draw it back to God. Only by loving the one true God, and not the false gods, would Israel experience true life and freedom. “I am God and not man…I will not let the flames consume you,” says the Lord assuring his people of his saving plans for them (Hos 11:9).

In the face of any situation of tribulations and sufferings, especially the vicious acts of men towards their fellow men, we likewise reflect with the Holy Father: “How many questions arise….Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?” With the psalmist, we also wonder: “Why do you sleep, O Lord?…Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?…Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!(Ps 44:24-25,27). In the gospels we see the image of an innocent man, closest to God and yet the victim of man’s viciousness. He suffered all sorts of pains and beatings not worthy of him—the betrayal and denial by the ones he trusted, the reversal in loyalties of those who followed him, the ingratitude of those who benefited from his good works, the arrogance of those who professed to be the voice of God, the fatal envy of these leaders, the abandonment by his own men when things went rough and tight, and the more tragic one, the feeling of being forsaken by the God whom he loved and served and to whom he dedicated his life. Like any of us, in such kind of situation, if we still decide to live and not die in desperation, we ask, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?(Ps 22:2; Mk 14:34; Mt 27:46). We all feel one with such innocent victim, a Holocaust offering. Who would not be pained when even God seems silent in the face of deadly blows? Does that mean God whom he called his Father was absent?

This man who was made a victim for us all was still able to say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?(Lk 23:34). At the final moment, he affirmed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit(Lk 23:46). He cried out in our name, and in our name too, he uttered the best way to face the senseless onslaught of evil on us even up to death. Death struck him, but in the end, his Father vindicated him as he raised him from the dead. Now he has become for us our Savior, the path to new life even when meaninglessness overcomes us. His mother who offered her life to God and became the instrument for God’s Word to be made flesh—she was the sign of God’s presence, loving and yet like her Son, allowing evil to strike him because in the end, the pangs of the Evil One would be eradicated. Instead of having to fight evil recklessly, she submitted to it in silence, absorbing its pangs and in God, turning it to something good.

This man Jesus represents the worst that could happen to any man, but also the best that man in God is capable of doing. The fragile man seeks vengeance, but the fortified man in Jesus asks for reconciliation and forgiveness. In Jesus, we see the heart of man in all its fragility. In Him, we also see the heart of God in all His love and mercy. Man wants an eye for an eye; God changes our retaliatory heart with His heart full of compassion. This is what we commemorate today in this solemn feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Amidst the debilitating attacks from all sides on our volatile hearts, the Divine Heart of Jesus strengthens us—to hang on with Him, and to let our hearts beat according to the divine rhythm. It is the rhythm of love, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of life. Though his heart was pierced to assure his death as he hanged on the cross, blood and water came out (Jn 19:34) which produced new life in us. He gave up his spirit (Jn 19:30) and imparted it to us. With him, and in him, nothing is so tragic that God could not transform into something salvific for us.

A story3 is told that a young man who was raised into an atheistic family environment was training to be an Olympic diver. He had no religious influence except his outspoken Christian friend in school. The young diver never paid much attention to his friend’s sermons but he heard them often. One night he went to the indoor pool at his college. The lights were all off, but with big skylights under a bright moonlight, he had plenty of light to practice by. The young man climbed up to the highest diving board. He turned his back to the pool as he prepared to make a somersault. As he went to the edge of the board and extended his arms out, he saw his shadow on the wall. The shape of his body was in the shape of a cross. Instead of diving at once, he knelt down for the first time and finally asked God to come into his life. As he stood, a maintenance man walked in and turned the lights on. The pool had been drained for repairs that night.

We may not know that in the silence of the daily events in our lives, God has been there providentially guiding us to experience a reconciled life. God is never absent. He continues to render his loving mercy to us through His Son whose heart is the heart of our heavenly Father. Even as we go astray, he calls us back to Himself like the father to his prodigal son (Lk 15:23-24). With the wounds and fatal strikes of others on us, He will raise us to new life with His Son. In the face of the mysteries confronting us in this violent world, we ask God to keep standing by us, never to be silent and asleep. We ask Him that we never keep silent too and may never be the unwilling partners of the Evil One in inflicting sufferings on our brothers and sisters. We pray, in the words of St. Paul, that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, and that grounded in love, we may fully comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ for all of us (Eph 3:17-19).