We celebrate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus today. The Gospel throws us back into Easter–a Good Friday look from John’s perspective of Christ’s heart being pierced while on the cross. Jesus has a heart of love. He is both human and divine and we see in the daily readings how this plays out. In the First Reading from Hosea the compassion that a brokenhearted God has for creatures who are sinful. Jesus has the heart of the Creator. In Ephesians, Paul prays that we may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you be filled with the fullness of God.
Can we know this love in our lives for ourselves and others? I have been reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly which explores the courage to be vulnerable and looks at shame and feeling never enough. On this Feast Day, I wondered how many of us would love differently if we let go of shame and knew that we were loved beyond all our imperfections. How fewer games would we play with those in our circles? How much more would we dare greatly in scary arenas? We could face any lion that came our way if we simply understood a Love that surpasses any other that we have ever known.
A few amazing things happened today. First of all, prior to heading to mass this morning and during my morning prayer time, I remembered the beautiful image that happened at my church before my surgery. I was praying before the Sacred Heart statue and had seen the image of Christ laying his hands gently on my head, leaning his forehead against mine and praying with and for me. We stood silently for a few moments. Tears streamed down my face at the power I felt surge through me. I often return to this beautiful vision of my Beloved.
Following that reminder this morning, I remembered my experience of waking up in the hospital after surgery. This time though I understood that while I was glad to be alive, I had not clung to that outcome. I was mostly glad for those who loved me that I was still here and I am joy-filled at knowing I will continue to serve God. Today, I noticed a bit of a detachment in the awareness of that moment. All would have been well for me had I not lived. Perhaps all the leaning into the Principle and Foundation of Ignatian Spirituality has allowed me to rest in God’s hands more than ever now. When we know that we are going to a God who is Love there is no reason to fear death.
After mass, I knelt before the same statue of the Sacred Heart and let this Love continue to permeate my soul. My local church community–and the wider community–has carried me well. I could feel the many prayers that had been raised for me as I knelt there and I placed each person inside the Sacred Heart of Christ. I continue to be so grateful for the prayers that upheld me and carry me still.
One of the unexpected outcomes of this journey is learning about a few new saints. Today I started a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that Padre Pio recited daily. I have not had a strong devotion to this saint but others I know have. The couple who gave me the relic and prayer cards had a whole monastery of monks praying for me. Padre Pio was a man whose heart was like Christ’s. His soul was so inflamed with love for Jesus that he received the stigmata–the marks of Christ’s crucifixion–soon after his ordination. St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded stigmatic and his role in my journey is dear to me too.
These men adored Jesus and their hearts were transformed. Francis in particular was a vessel of joy. Back to my reading of Brene Brown today: she stated that she thought that joy was the most difficult emotion to feel because it can be attached to a sense of foreboding that something will come and take that joy away. Even though both these saints suffered greatly they continued to be incredibly vulnerable and loving. They served as Christ would have. Padre Pio writes at one point of his embarrassment of bearing the stigmata but he asks only that his shame be taken away and not the painful wounds.
I sense more and more that I have some valuable lessons to yet integrate into my life as this experience of mine continues to unfold. On this Feast Day I look at these two saints who suffered the stigmata and continued to serve with unwavering love. I read Brene Brown and ponder at how vulnerable I make myself with sharing my news so publicly. I know people can criticize me and that the emotional exposure may bite me at some point. I trust that wherever God is leading, my humble task is simply to follow attentively. I want a heart like Christ’s. I want to love more purely, less judgmentally, and more wholeheartedly.
I had a beautiful video message from my goddaughter’s family in Nairobi when I returned home from mass. One of the girls (I am not 100% sure if it was my dear goddaughter or her younger sister) poked her head into the screen and said,” I love you very much. I miss you very much. I want you to come to my house right now!” This child’s words echo Christ’s to Zacchaeus about coming to his house this very day. Her love is pure and vulnerable. She does not care if her house is a shamble or if she is not ready to receive me. She focuses on the better thing–on her deep and uncomplicated love for me.
What about your heart? How does it love? Who does it have as a role model in a world that would prefer us to stay closed and comfortably safe?