Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – June 22, 2017 

Not too long ago, a dear friend of mine from one of the parishes in which I served in the Diocese of Scranton passed away after a long battle with cancer.  She was a very faithful and committed Catholic who was generous to a fault with the gifts that she’d been given by God and who was a proud and active member of her parish.  …  She was also blessed with a keen and lively Irish wit.

One day when she and I were involved in something or another at the parish, she began to muse a bit on her life and her family.  For as profound as her reflections proved to be in that conversation, she began them with a quip that I will never forget and that brought me to tears from laughter.  She began by saying, “Father, when I die I’m probably going to go to hell.  God has been so good to me in this life; I can’t imagine that he could continue in the next.”

We all understand what my friend meant.  In her own way, she was acknowledging God’s gracious care for her and her family.  …  But isn’t it interesting how we often perceive God?  …  Isn’t it interesting that the best of us at times put limits on God’s capacity to love and care for us?  …  We judge ourselves – or worse yet, others – by our own understanding of life and justice and not God’s.  …  And while we all know of the truth of the Gospel message, so very often, we miss what permeates all that has been revealed about God in the scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments.  …  Saint John says it best and most succinctly in our second reading this afternoon:  “God is love.”

If we’re not convinced by these words, go back in the Old Testament, to a passage written thousands of years before Saint John wrote his letters and listen again to the Word of God that we just heard from the Book of Deuteronomy:  “Moses said to the people: “You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God. … The Lord set his heart on you and chose you … because the Lord loved you.””  From Old Testament times, the core of salvation history is God’s unfailing love and election, and our human answer to that love.

These words remind us that our faith is not simply the result of our searching for God.  In Jesus Christ, it is GOD who comes to find us, to speak to us and to show us the way to himself.  Pope Francis, in words that he shared several years ago on this feast day, echoed the message of Deuteronomy.

“God’s steadfast love for his people is manifest and wholly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who, in order to honor God’s bond with his people, made himself our slave, stripped himself of his glory and assumed the form of a servant. Out of love, he did not surrender to our ingratitude, not even in the face of rejection.  …  Jesus remains faithful, he never betrays us: even when we are wrong, He always waits for us to forgive us: He is the face of the merciful Father.  …  This love, this steadfastness of the Lord manifests the humility of His heart:  Jesus did not come to conquer men like the kings and the powerful of this world, but He came to offer love with gentleness and humility. This is how He defined himself: “learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). And the significance of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which we are celebrating today, is to discover ever more and to let ourselves be enfolded by the humble faithfulness and the gentleness of Christ’s love: the very revelation of the Father’s mercy.”

Isn’t this notion of God’s love amazing?  Yet, make no mistake; the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus poured into our lives is not a cheap love.  It was born on the cross and cost Jesus his life.  It is the very source of our life and salvation.  And when authentically embraced, it demands a response – the challenge of discipleship.  Recall the words from our second reading today, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.  …  In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” 

Once captured by God’s love, we have no choice but to respond in the same spirit that gives us hope.  While God’s love doesn’t cause us, at once, to be perfect nor does it wipe away in an instant the brokenness of our human frailty, it does enable us to assume, more and more, the pattern of Jesus’ life and mission in our own lives and hearts.

But lest we romanticize this notion, remember what happened to the heart of Jesus.  …  Jesus’ heart was moved to pity when he saw broken, hopeless people before him, yet when he brought them healing and hope, his heart was wounded by criticism and broken by a lack of gratitude.  …  Jesus’ heart moved him to tears over the lack of love in the streets of Jerusalem, yet when he tried to call the city to repent and to be gathered into the loving arms of God, he was marched out of the city as a criminal and hung upon a cross.

You and I have known both the consolation that comes from opening our hearts to the heart of Christ – and the pain that so often accompanies our conviction to live the Gospel of Jesus in the midst of a world that so often disregards its values.  That pain, my brothers and sisters, is the cost of discipleship.  And therein we discover the mystery of faith that emerges from the loving heart of Jesus.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  Jesus’ total gift of himself – seen most powerfully in his love poured forth from the cross – is the gift that gives us hope.  …  It is the gift that enables us to love and serve our brothers and sisters.  …  It is the gift that allows us to see through the pain and loss of this world to the promise of life and peace.  …  In other words, as Saint Francis of Assisi proclaimed through the example of his life:  It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Jesus lived that mystery.  Authentic discipleship demands that we seek to weave that same mystery into every aspect of our lives.

As we embrace the gift and responsibility that come from opening our hearts to the love that flows from the humble heart of Jesus, may each day find us accepting with renewed confidence the words spoken by God spoken to Abraham at the beginning of the patriarch’s long and incredible journey of faith: “Fear not.”  …  May we trust the goodness of God and allow life to unfold, even in unexpected ways.  …  May we come to know the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus.  …  And through the gift of our lives, may we, in turn, be living images of the God who is love, and faithful witnesses to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.