by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
During the month of June, we are at the midpoint of the year. June’s centrality is evident in its containing the longest day of the year in terms of daylight. In this regard, it is significant that June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. June is a good time to reflect upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus as central to the brightness of God’s mercy for each and every one of us. In his Angelus message of June 9, 2013, at the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis beautifully stated that, “The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy – but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.” The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated this year on Friday, June 24. There is no more living and moving expression of God’s merciful love than that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Last year, in his Wednesday general audience immediately before the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis noted how fitting it is that the whole month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. He expressed that devotion to the Sacred Heart can help us to “experience in prayer the invitation to go to Jesus, bringing our weariness and difficulties, to find refreshment and thus learn from Him, who is ‘meek and humble of Heart’ (Mt 11:29).” The Pope urged that to have a heart like Jesus, we must ask Him to purify our heart from “all that is pride and disorder, from all that is indifference; fill it with Himself, so that in His love and fear of Him, our hearts may find peace.”
The Gospels make several references to the Heart of Jesus which are helpful in understanding the centrality of His mercy. We are told that, “At the sight of the crowds, His heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). This compassionate mercy of Jesus is constantly expressed in the Gospels as He poured out His Heart to all those whom He encountered. This compassion is expressed in the simplest matters of hunger and food when the Lord said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse along the way” (Mt 15:32). Perhaps the most moving words of the Lord in regard to His Heart are, as referred to by Pope Francis, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28 – 30). Jesus truly is revealed as one who is meek and humble of heart.
The humble Heart of Jesus was truly filled with joy but also with sorrow and pain on many occasions. As Jesus hung upon the Cross and His Heart was pierced with a sword, He physically felt that pain which went to the very center of His being. How many times the humble Heart of Jesus was filled with pain as His disciples misunderstood His words and many turned away from Him and His merciful Heart. The Lord felt excruciating pain as Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, and His disciples fled from Him at the Cross. Before His death on the Cross, His Heart was filled with not only the pain of the piercing sword but also the pain of those who rejected Him and fled from Him.
The merciful Heart of Jesus certainly knew what was in the heart of the human person, as expressed in the Gospel of St. John, He “did not need to testify about human nature. He, Himself understood it well” (2:23). He knew the good and He knew the evil. It was the evil which came out of men and women which hurt His Heart in the deepest way. The Lord came to call the heart of each and every person to Himself in order that each heart might be free from evil and know the joy which only the Lord can give. It was to give that freedom of heart that the Lord allowed His Heart to be filled with pain and to be pierced with a sword. Truly the Lord invites all of us to His humble Heart because it is there that we find the rest that only He can give us. During this month of June, as we reflect upon the Lord’s merciful Heart, let us turn our hearts more and more to Him always knowing that He never turns His Heart away from us.
It is most appropriate to reflect upon the heart of Mary during this month of the Sacred Heart, as the hearts of Mary and Jesus are one. The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary falls this year on Saturday, June 25, the day immediately after that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was from the human heart of Mary that the human Heart of Jesus literally came into existence. The Heart of Jesus is from the heart of Mary. The love which Jesus expressed to others from the depth of His being truly was a reflection of the love which Mary expressed to Jesus from the depth of her being. The Heart of God, in His human existence, is intimately bound to the heart of Mary and that Heart is now bound to Mary in the fullness of life in heaven, where she has been bodily assumed, as she exists as the Queen of Heaven and Earth.
During this month of the Sacred Heart, we look upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus as we reflect upon His love and mercy. As the Lord looks into our hearts, He experiences many good things but also many distressful things which turn us away from His Heart. Because of those evils within us, the Lord is drawn even more to us so that we might come to know His merciful love as did the heart of Mary, our Mother. There is a beautiful litany of the Sacred Heart composed by a great Churchman, Cardinal Merry Del Val, who was Secretary of State to St. Pope Pius X. It is a litany which calls upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus to turn us away from those things which prevent us from being humble and calls us to become more alive to the Sacred Heart of Christ. It is a very fitting prayer during this month of the Sacred Heart and during every month. The opening of the litany has been refashioned in a simple and merciful prayer which can easily be said at any time, “Jesus meek and humble of Heart, make my heart like unto thine.” This prayer is in keeping with the exhortation of Pope Francis last year in his audience before the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, “Let us ask the Lord to make our hearts like His: humble, merciful, persevering in love, in prayer, and in good works.” May we know the Heart of Jesus and may our hearts become more like His.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 3, 2022