Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has been important to many Anglo-Catholics over the past few generations. John Henry Newman had devotion to the Sacred Heart at the centre of his personal spiritual life and we find representations of the Sacred Heart in English Catholic as well as European and Latin American and many other churches globally. Indeed, the Sacred Heart is one of the most recognizable images of our Lord around the world.
For some Anglicans coming into full communion with Rome this may be a new window into the life of God. We in the Toronto St Thomas More community are fortunate to have been welcomed to the parish of Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart of Jesus) in the very heart of downtown Toronto where, with our French-speaking fellow Catholics, we are presented with the life of Jesus in this challenging way.
In our Arian-inspired, if not totally secular, age the divine humanity of Jesus needs to be at the centre of our sacramental spirituality and action as Christians.
An early hymn to the Sacred Heart is Summi Regis Cor Aveto, believed to have been written by a Norbertine monk, Blessed Herman Joseph of Cologne, in what is today Germany, in the early 13th century. The hymn begins: "I hail Thee kingly Heart most high." This is one of the first references in hymnody to the Sacred Heart.
Though some disdain devotion to the Sacred Heart as sentimentality, this focus on the divine humanity of Jesus has been, for Catholics, an important corrective to a purely intellectual or aesthetic approach to faith and liturgy.
The Sacred Heart in Christian art is often represented as a heart shining with divine light depicted as a flame. The Sacred Heart is pierced by a lance wound, recalling the lance to the side of Christ in his crucifixion. The heart is circled by the crown of thorns with a cross on top. Sometimes the image is shown shining from the chest of Jesus with his wounded hand pointing at his heart. The wounds in Christ's hands and heart, along with the crown of thorns, represent the passion and death of Jesus for us. The light of the fire represents the transforming power of divine love from the Light of the World.
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is on the Western Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was placed in 1856, and is celebrated 19 days after Whitsunday (Pentecost) on a Friday, always recalling the passion of Good Friday. The following Saturday which commemorates the Immaculate Heart of Mary recalls St. Luke's affirmation that Mary kept the life and ministry of Jesus in her heart where she pondered these mysteries. So we must also ponder and pray these mysteries in the heart of Jesus and Mary in order that we may be given grace to live in the light of his love in action in a hostile world of individualism, atheism and moral decay.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart emphasizes the unconditional love, compassion and long-suffering in the heart of Christ for our humanity. The modern form of devotion to the Sacred Heart has developed from the accounts of the French sister Marguerite Marie Alacoque. In a mystical experience at prayer, she saw the devotion revealed by Jesus, and this experience is depicted over the altar at Sacré-Coeur in Toronto.
As the Anglican ordinariate community of St. Thomas More takes shape we know that our martyr patron, devoted as he is to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, will pray for all those who are drawn to the Church of Sacré-Coeur and to the unity of faith in the heart of inner-city Toronto. His prayers will help guide us in our mission to make known the passion and love of our Lord through prayer and action and in reparation for the hostility to the divine heart of Jesus.
As Fr. Kenyon pointed out in his homily yesterday, we must be prepared to accept the disdain and rejection of our current culture and to stand with Christ in this day, bringing to others his message of love and compassion. Our mission of re-evangelizing as an act of reparation is in and from the very heart of Christ -- the Sacred Heart of Jesus.