Today for Catholics is the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a time set aside to celebrate the full, complete and perfect humanity of what Christians believe to be the Incarnation of God on earth. The Word, the Eternal, the Infinite, shown in a way that the human mind can fathom at least in part. It is not important to me any longer what others believe about Jesus, but my own relationship with Him and how it affects my connection with others as well, is what is central in my life.
The human heart is often seen as the seat of our emotions, especially that of love. It is also love that perhaps causes if not most of the suffering in the world; it may still be the onus of the deepest pain that can be felt in the human soul, as is manifested in our songs, literature and movies. Though the love often portrayed, (but of course not always) is more like infatuation, which passes. No, love and it’s healing in our lives, is often quiet, slow and yes, often painful and laborious.
Jesus used metaphors that we could understand, at least partially, when trying to reveal to us God’s love. He used the story of the good shepherd, who would leave the 99 to find the one missing member of his flock. I am not sure a shepherd would really do that in real life, but Jesus is showing us that it is the individual that God seeks; we are each seen as loved and pursued for our own sakes (as hard as that is to believe) and not just part of a larger group.
Or again, the woman looking for a lost coin, how she tore up the house in search of it, even though the coin was not of much value to the observer…. for the woman however it was worth it. She showed a passion for what she desired, so I believe this metaphor tells us something of God’s love for us, though imperfectly.
Love and suffering go together, just as it does with joy and contentment. Love is like water for the heart, without it the heart becomes like stone, unfeeling, unable to respond to the needs of others. Which often entails carrying their sufferings as well. Perhaps one of the reasons love can be both desired and feared is the unconscious knowledge that love if true, leads to a death to an old way of life, to one that is other centered. Any loving couple or good parents can tell the rest of us about that. I remember one day a friend of mine told me that if he knew how painful his love for his children would be, he might not have gotten married. He was a very good father.
Love is what makes us more fully human, and it demands a response. Now human love is a mixed bag and even the best is laced with need, which can have the seeds of its own destruction. For instance, you have good parents, who know that their love will lead to separation and work towards that, even though it can be very painful in doing so. In the end, when their children are adults and on their own, they may find another relationship, one of friendship. Other parents can’t overcome their need to keep their children close and become over protective, often forcing their children to rebel and leave home. Love either purifies are turns to ashes any relationship. Or in marriage, jealously is probably the best way to destroy any kind of relationship, yet again, there are those who can’t seem to overcome their need to control those they say they love and desire. For love to grow, there comes a time when suffering that comes from self centered clinging, has to be experienced and grown through, for the deeper fruits of love to bear fruit. Perhaps it is because we are not yet fully human or perhaps immature is a better term
Parental love, the love that is shown in marriage, friendship, love of country…. all of these point to the paradox of self forgetfulness, which at times can actually be achieved by humans. I think these are pointers, though imperfect that show us something of God’s love for us. We are called to and ever deeper ability to care and show compassion for others, if that is not achieved, I believe, we become stillborn and in the end our lives can be wasted. Bad news, yet, the good news is that it is never too late to begin. The story about Scrooge is a modern parable that shows this possibility. The seed that wants to grow into love cannot be destroyed, though it can become dormant, perhaps mostly out of fear. Contempt and anger can be strong armor against the pain and vulnerability that comes from a heart that loves.
I think Jesus shows us something about God’s love. Now many people prefer, for whatever reason, a God who is less than we are. God as some kind of entity that starts a project and then leaves us alone and goes off somewhere else; but love has nothing to do with it. The unmoved mover of Aristotle for instance…. for some this is more desirable than a God who has shown in Jesus, that the image that we are made in. is in fact love. So we are also love, and a loving relationship is the only thing that will fulfill us. Though infinite love is more than just human love, it is unlimited, so perhaps terrifying and beyond comprehension. God’s love is not gentle, though it is filled with compassion.
Man is into punishment, revenge, torture and killing. Christ after being wrongly accused, tortured and mocked, and then nailed to a cross, out of love, forgave all those who participated in his death. He also forgave his disciples who deserted him and fled. Well everyone except the women (who did not need it), who went all the way to the cross with him. It is true John went also, but one out of twelve is pathetic, though understandable…I have no illusions on what I would have done. Jesus lost his struggle with the powers that be, both religious and political….. Murdered, yet out of love he forgave. He showed mercy, something that most of us want for our selves, but perhaps for many, difficult to see it applied to others. No, as far as Jesus was concerned, all were forgiven.
Such a love; how to respond, dare we even believe it possible. I have decided to say ‘yes’, though I still struggle with trying to understand what this love means. The experience of it, a pure grace, is given when we most need it, even if that need is not discerned. An Ocean with no bottom, an infinite Sun burning away all that keeps us away from the relationship we are made for, and if we miss it, well that is what hell is, a freely chosen path away from love that always calls us.
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, is a verse often not mediated on enough by Christians. No, many would prefer to present God as harsh, when it fact it is we who are harsh. Well I am harsh, so excuse me for speaking for others. My heart is still hard, angry at times and filled with images that I would rather not have, yet it is this infinite love that calls me, makes love to my troubled soul and slowly draws me deeper into trust. This going deeper comes from a lifetime of experiencing God’s presence in my life and heart, no matter how dark and chaotic it gets. Some of this insight comes into focus as I age and look back upon my life and see how in fact, it was love that guided me, healed me and allowed me to get up when I found myself (as often happens) flat on my face.
The Sacred Heart is a symbol of a love so profound that I believe in the end none will be left out, well none are, it is a choice in the end, though when that happens and at what depth, is none of my concern, we are told not to judge for a reason……we don’t see deep enough. What is it we are saved from, well perhaps it is simply and eternity with ourselves, alone, without healing or love, or the desire for it. Eternal death is loveless, dark and freely chosen isolation. I pray than none of my brothers and sisters, who have lived, live now, or will live in the future will ever reject the gift of infinite love.