In many Catholic churches – probably all – you will invariably see the familiar image of the Sacred Heart, maybe by picture, but usually by statue, or oftentimes at a side chapel or altar, of Jesus, with His Heart exposed at His chest, usually aflame and surrounded by the crown of thorns, sometimes held in His hand.
Many households, in many countries, may display a picture or small statue; when abroad, you may also come across a street niche protecting the statue.
It was only when, through the revelations and particular instructions of Our Lord to Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690), a nun in her convent in the depths of rural France at Paray-le-Monial, and helped by the convent chaplain, St Claude de la Colombière (1641–1682), that the devotion spread and took hold universally.
It may be held that this specific devotion came just at the right time – France had been devastated by nearly a century of religious and civil wars, and religion at the moment is described as being a cold, joyless, formulaic affair.
The object of devotion to the Sacred Heart is, properly speaking, the physical Heart of Jesus which is worthy of adoration, because it is part of His sacred humanity, hypostatically united to the Word. Moreover, the ultimate object of this devotion is the love of Jesus, the symbol of which is His Heart. In other words:
A Meditation on the Sacred Heart
“Below the symbolic image of the Heart, we contemplate and venerate our Divine Redeemer’s immense charity and generous love”
This is the real meaning of the devotion to the Sacred Heart by which the Church admonishes us to honour the Heart of Jesus as the visible representation of His invisible love…
His divine love becomes sensible, understandable and tangible to us by means of the manifestations of His human love. It is always the humanity of Jesus which portrays His divinity to us, and just as we know the Son of God through His sacred humanity, so do we know His divine love through the human love of Jesus…
“We too,pilgrims in the flesh, love as much as we can, and hold unto the One who was wounded for us, whose hands, feet, side and Heart were pierced.
Let us love and pray: ‘O Jesus, deign to bind our hearts, still so difficult and unrepentant, with the chain of Your love and wound them with its dart’”
“O Jesus, a soldier opened your side with his lance,
so that, through the gaping wound,
we might know the charity of your Heart, which loved us unto death,
and that we might enter into your unutterable love through the same channel by which it came to us.
Approach, then, O my soul, the Heart of Christ,
that magnanimous Heart, that hidden Heart, that Heart which thinks of all things and knows all things;
that loving Heart, all on fire with love.
Make me comprehend, O Lord, that the door of your Heart was forced open by the vehemence of your love.
Permit me to enter into the secret of that love which was hidden from all eternity,
but is now shown by the wound in your Heart”
(St Bernadine of Siena).