The Real Sacred Heart is Not Pretty. But it is Everything.

The Real Sacred Heart is Not Pretty. But it is Everything. June 7, 2024

APRIL 5,2023At the sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Quezon City., you Whisper your worries and problems to the lying Image of Jesus Christ. This is part of the walking rosary which devotees walk thru as they say the Holy Rosary specially during lent.

One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. John 19: 34

I can’t provide an erudite theological understanding of the Sacred Heart. In fact, the Sacred Heart as a concept has always confused me. I know that Jesus’ heart was pierced by a soldier’s sword after He died on the Cross and a mixture of blood and water flowed out of it. 

I have read that this break down of blood into serum and red blood cells is something that happens after death. 

I know that there is a reference in Revelations about a river of water flowing from the Temple of God. I know that Simeon told Jesus’ mother that a sword would pierce her heart also, and I think it surely did when she was standing at the foot of the cross watching that soldier ram his sword into her son’s heart. 

I know that all of this is re-enacted in the mass. 

But I don’t understand all the twists and turns of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart devotion has always seemed to me to be a devotion to Our Lord’s Passion, symbolized by His broken and bleeding heart. What I feel is worship and gratitude for the incredible sacrifice He made of Himself in order to become a bridge, a Way, to eternal life for all of us. 

Our Crucified Lord, hanging on the Cross, is and always has been a scandal to unbelievers. Sadly, it seems that it is also a scandal for many Christians, including clergy. It is such an ugly image. It is degradation, shame and death in all its horror.

We pretty it up with crucifixes made of gold and inlaid with precious stones. We drape it in beautiful cloth and hide it behind images of a flaming heart with swords sticking out of it in artistic arrangements. 

We hide the ugliness of the price He paid for us. We do that because we can’t bear to see the thing for what it was, which was the slaughter of innocence. There was nothing artistic or pretty about the Crucifixion. It smelled of blood and bodily waste, of sweat and fear and anguish. It was raw, ugly and devastating. The whole thing reeked of cruelty and indifference to suffering. It was built on lies, ambition, greed, cowardice, arrogance and self-righteousness. 

The cross was not pretty. And the real Sacred Heart was torn flesh gouged open by a sword thrust and smelling of the brackish smell of dead blood and serum that looked like water. 

I understand why we turn our faces away from the ugliness and the horror of the Cross. I do it too. I wear religious jewelry to symbolize my faith and I draw comfort from it. I have a print of the painting of the Divine Mercy with its calm-faced Jesus and the rays of red and silver emanating from His heart. 

I find comfort in those things, those pretty symbols signifying the real, animal horror show that gave me life. 

But I do not forget what they symbolize. Because what they symbolize is not only the source of all my hope and joy, it is the place where I am made new. 

This newness of life, this finding of yourself when you are lost, this home for battered, exhausted, grieved and guilty souls is most empathically not the pretty jewelry and beautiful liturgies. People who are really broken by life instinctively move past that to the real thing. If they don’t, then they can never be made whole. 

It is the Cross, it is the Crucifixion, in all its ugly horror, that heals. I have experienced this and I have seen it in the lives of people that most of the self-announced super Catholics who have set themselves up as judges of the rest of us would not speak to. 

I have seen people who are so battered by life they are incoherent and who seemingly cannot be helped find profound healing in the Cross. They were not healed by the pretty cross. The jewelry cross actually pushed them away. 

They were healed by the real, ugly, smelly, scandalous Cross that was designed to execute society’s lowest classes in a public spectacle of sadistic cruelty meant to both entertain the masses and to caution them into obedience. That is where they found something magnificent and beyond the comprehension of people who have not plumbed the depths of misery and degradation. They found a God Who understands. 

They didn’t find a God of judgement. They found a Brother God, a God Who had been as far down and despised as them.

Religion really doesn’t like and isn’t comfortable with Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The reality of the Cross, the brutal truth of the Sacred Heart runs counter to the puffery, self-promotion, and power plays that seduce far too many religious leaders. 

The profound implications of what the Cross means concerning humanity, the absolute leveling equality that it imposes on our viewpoints of ourselves and one another is an affront and an assault on all the little empires of greed, power and position that people build for themselves. 

He will be a sign of contradiction Simeon told Mary. That is just as true today and as it was 2,000 years ago. And today as then, that contradiction enrages the powerful and power hungry. 

The Sacred Heart, a sword shoved through it, dripping the water and blood of a murdered innocent, is not the stuff of ego, self-righteousness, empire building, greed and condemnation that religion can and usually does become. 

The real Sacred Heart was torn open for the least of these. 

The tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God before you, Jesus told the priests of His day. They were so enraged that they bribed one of his disciples to betray Him and then bullied a cowardly politician into killing Him. 

That is what religion becomes when it forgets its true relationship with the divine. That is what Christianity becomes when it pretties up the Sacred Heart and the Crucifixion so completely that it becomes a nothing much show piece that can be manipulated into a weapon and a club against the very people Jesus died to save. 

I have witnessed quite a number of attempts to use the Passion of Our Lord for cheap political propaganda, just in the last few days. 

It is massively important that we not allow the Passion of Our Lord to be degraded in this manner. 

There is one Passion.

There is one Cross.

There is one Empty Tomb.

There is one hope for all of us. 

I don’t have the theological training to discuss the Sacred Heart in an intellectual way. 

But I can tell you from lived experience and walking with the Lord that the real Cross, the actual blood-and-water dripping Sacred Heart, is ugly and scandalous. It causes people who are so sure of their own perfection to turn up their noses in disdain. 

But to those of us who have been broken by life, it is healing, hope and eternal life. It is everything. 

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