Monday, November 19, 2007


"And since there is in the Sacred Heart, a symbol and sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore it is fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart; an act which is nothing else than an offering and binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this Divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself."

Pope Leo XIII
Encyclical on Consecration to the Sacred Heart


Theology is, first of all, God's Word addressed to us. Apply this immediately to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pierced Heart of the Crucified is God speaking a word to us, a word carved out in the Flesh of Jesus' side by the soldier's lance. It is the Divine Love of God laid bare for all to see: "God stepping out of His hiddenness."

When we speak of a theology of the Sacred Heart we mean this first of all: not our discourse about love, but the love of God revealed first to us, the poem of love that issues forth from the Heart of God. This is exactly what St. John, whom the Eastern tradition calls, "The Theologian," says in his First Letter: "In this is Love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10).

The difficulty here is that, in order to receive this word inscribed in the flesh of the Word, (cf. Jn 1:14), we have first to stop in front of it, to linger there and to look at the wound of love. "They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37).

To contemplate is to look, not with a passing glance, but with the gaze of one utterly conquered by love. Jeremiah says, "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I was seduced; You are stronger than I, and You have prevailed" (20:7).

The call to be an adorer and an apostle of the Sacred Heart is addressed to every Christian. The apostle is, in essence, the bearer of a word, one sent forth and entrusted with a message.The image that the apostle carries into the world is the one he has learned by looking along with the eyes of adoration at the pierced Heart of the Crucified Christ.

The Word of Crucified Love is hard to pronounce - not with our lips but with our lives. Adoration is the school wherein one learns how to say the Sacred Heart. It is in adoration that the apostle receives the Word of the pierced Heart that, in turn become His Life's message.

Adoration and apostleship of the Sacred Heart together model a spirituality accessible to all Christians: the word received
in adoration is communicated in the dynamism of one sent forth with something to say.


Theology is, in the second place, our word addressed to God. Applying this also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus we see that all we could possible want to say to God has already been uttered and is being said eternally through the "mouth" of Christ's glorious pierced Heart in heaven. It is through the Sacred Heart that the Blood of Christ speaks "more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Heb 12:24).

The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: "Christ is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He lives forever to make intercession for them" (7:25).

Christ exercises His priesthood of intercession in the "inner sanctuary behind the veil" (Heb 6:19) by presenting to the Father the glorious wounds in His hands, His feet and His side. The wound in the side of Christ, "great High Priest over the House of God' (Heb 10:21), speaks to the Father on our behalf. It is our word addressed to God.

At the core of devotion to the Sacred Heart is a passing-over into the prayer of Christ to the Father, a long apprenticeship to silence by which we begin to let the Heart of Christ speak in us and for us to the Father.

The mystics of the Sacred Heart, in particular St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde, speak of offering the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the Father. This means allowing His Sacred Heart to speak for us, to pray in us, to pray through us, taking comfort in what the Scripture says, "that we have not a high priest who is unable to symphatize without weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15).

This suggest a simple way of praying, one accessible to all: "Lord Jesus, I come to be silent in Your Presence, trusting that Your Heart will speak for me, knowing that all I could ever want to say, that all I would ever need to say, is spoken eternally to the Father by Your Sacred Heart."

In this way, everything that prayer can or should express - adoration, praise, thanksgiving, supplication and reparation - finds it most perfect expression.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart, thus understood, is a manifestation in the Church of the Holy Spirit, "helping us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). The Sacred Heart is, in the life of the Church, the organ by which "the Spirit intercedes for the Saints according to the Will of God (Rom 8:27).

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "We have seen who Jesus is if we see Him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into His prayer and being priveleged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus' prayer and its interpretation is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to Him.

This is the prayer of the Sacred Heart, the prayer that filled the days and nights of Jesus' earthly life, the prayer that suffused His sufferings and ascended from the Cross at the hour of His death, the prayer that with Him descended into the depths of the earth, the prayer that continues uninterrupted in the glory of His risen and ascended life, the prayer that is ceaseless in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Cardinal Ratzinger further wrote that "by entering into Jesus' solitude" and "only by participating in what is most personal to Him, His communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is: only thus can one penetrate to His identity." The Sacred Heart represents and invites us into what is most personal to Jesus: His communication with the Father.

In words that today sound almost prophetic, Cardinal Ratzinger concluded that "the person who has beheld Jesus' intimacy with His Father and has come to understand Him from within is called to be a rock of the Church. The Church arises out of participation in the prayer of Jesus (cf. Lk 9:18-20; Mt 16:13-20),"


Word of God addressed to us, word addressed to God, word of the Church addressed to the world: herein lies one approach to a theology of the Sacred Heart. The Liturgy remains it primary articulation. Together with the Liturgy of the Hours for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, the 12 Biblical Texts provided for the Mass - a First Reading, Psalm, Second Reading and Gospel become a fundamental resource, an inexhaustible treasure waiting to be mined for every one called to hear, to pray and to offer the healing word that is the pierced Heart.

The Sacred Heart is the Heart of God laid bare for man: Word from God. It is a human Heart lifted high on the Cross: Word to God. It is the Heart of the Church open to all who seek, to all who thirst, to every lost sheep waiting to be found and carried home: Word for the world.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the full and irrevocable message of the Father to us. It is everything we ever could or should need to say to the Father. It is all we have to say to the Father. It is all we have to say to one another and to the world.

Pope Benedict XVI, writing in 1981 as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, challenges us to nothing less: "In the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us. It expresses everything, all that is genuinely new and revolutionary in the new Covenant. This Heart calls to our heart. It invites us to step forth out of the futile attempt of self preservation and, by joining in the task of love, by handing ourselves over to Him and with Him, to discover the fullness of love which alone is eternity and which alone sustains the world."

Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby, O. Cist. is a Cisterian monk of the Abbey of the "Santa Croce in Gerusalemme," which is located in Rome. He serves as Chaplain to the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, in Connecticut. He has published extensively on many topics related to sacramental theology, and particular on the nature of sung prayer.