By Jerry Creedon
June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most powerful images and reminders given to us of God’s immense love for each one of us and for all creation. This Friday, June 8, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. It is one of the most beautiful Feastdays in the Church calendar, and is always celebrated on the Friday after the great solemnity of Corpus Christi. Devotion to the Sacred Heart goes back a long way. It can be traced, in fact, to the Middle Ages, to the writings of St. Bonaventure, one of the most kind-hearted writers of the thirteenth century. Not surprisingly devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was developed most richly by women. After all, the physical heart of Jesus was given to us by a woman, Mary his Mother! So the great women visionaries St. Mechtilde, St. Gertrude, St. Julian of Norwich, St. Frances of Rome, all made devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus the centre of their spirituality. These saints lived between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. But it is a seventeenth century nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who made the image of, and devotion to, the Sacred Heart of Jesus popular. Through this humble, gentle woman, Christ reminded the Jansenist, Puritanical, guilt-ridden world of her time that God has a heart. Finally, in 1889 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Every Catholic home in the Ireland in which I grew up many moons ago had a picture of the Sacred Heart hanging on a wall in the kitchen. Inscribed on the picture were the names of all the family members. Suspended beneath the picture was a little lamp, kept alight by kerosene and hooded by a little red lampshade. Because the lamp was small, it had to be filled every day. And every evening in my teenage years I refilled it. The chore became a ritual. I was the family‘s high priest at our kitchen’s shrine, guardian of the flame that spoke God’s blessing.
Some years ago Harvey Cox wrote a very moving commentary on the Book of Lamentations. In it is a reference to Robert Pynchon’s surrealistic novel The Crying of Lot 47. The leading character in the novel is Oedipa, a confused, tormented figure, who believes people are mocking her and humiliating her. She cries into bubble glasses, so that any subsequent tears mix with them, and she sees the whole world through them. The story recalls the strange but beautiful line in Psalm 56: “O God, you have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle.” The image is that of a compassionate God gathering our tears in a heavenly flask and counting them so that no tear is lost or shed in vain. Our sorrows count in God’s loving eyes. They matter to God. Like Oedipa, God sees us and the world through our tears, just as he hears us and the world through our laughter. The opening paragraph of the Ontario Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, Renewing the Promise, tells us that “all those who work in Catholic education are called to reflect, in a faithful and discerning fashion, God’s presence in this world.” The God we are called upon to reflect, to make present, is the God whose love is reflected in the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I had not yet come across Psalm 56 when I filled the Sacred Heart lamp in our kitchen in Castlemahon decades ago. But I know now that the face of Christ in that picture of the Sacred Heart with all of our twelve names inscribed on it, is the face of the same God who bottles our tears and, as Ecclesiastes assures us, reveals himself to us in the joy of our hearts (5:20). What the picture did tell me, even way back then, is that the glow in the heart in whose honour I lit the lamp was warm enough to kindle in us the fire of its love, and powerful enough to renew the face of the earth. The Sacred Heart lamp is a symbol of what we are called to be, what Jesus told us we are, light for the world. The Pastoral Letter, Renewing the Promise, cries to us to keep the flame of that light aglow. If we heed that cry, the world will be able to hear the beat of Christ’s heart and feel the warmth of its love.
Friday, September 8, also happens to be the sixty sixth anniversary of Fr. Kyran Kennedy’s ordination to the priesthood. Fr. Kennedy’s devotion to the Sacred Heart was an integral part of his priestly life. He was my pastor for six wonderful years. He was a great priest, a “sacerdos magnus, qui in diebus suis placuit Deo,” a “great priest who, in his days, pleased God.” He was a priest after the heart of Christ. I dedicate, with deep affection, this reflection to his memory.