When I was in junior high school, like many girls my age I struggled to learn about handling my emotions and how to get along with others. Whenever I experienced disappointment or a misunderstanding with someone, Mom would advise me not to wear my heart on my sleeve.
I came to resent that phrase, mostly because I didn’t understand that managing my emotions meant knowing where, when, and with whom I could express my feelings. Consequently, I became hesitant to share my true feelings and assumed that I should hide my heart from others. It was confusing to know how to let oneself be loved and how to show love to others. I hid my heart away.
I remember the first time I saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on a prayer card someone left on a table. I was captivated by the audacity of the image in its boldness of expression and its unparalleled vulnerability, as Jesus’ heart lay bare upon his chest, exposed to the world. His heart was also pierced, bound in chains, and aflame! Impossible to ignore such an image, isn’t it? Yet there he was, pointing to his heart as if one could miss it.
It is difficult to think one can look upon Jesus and ignore his heart, yet often this is the case. His heart is the place we turn to instinctively when reality forces us to deal with the things of this world we want to whisk away, the sin and suffering that comes with being human.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the only place where sanctity and succor can be found, but how difficult it can be for us to approach his open heart. In its vulnerable tenderness, which some artists symbolize with flagrant appeal, we can find ourselves entranced yet repulsed by such a conspicuous display of self-giving, sacrificial love.
Still, like children we have an inherent longing to be taken up into loving arms, to be absorbed by this Love that knows us without having to sacrifice our identity. Perhaps secretly, we want to find ourselves within that loving embrace, and we want to learn to embrace the world with this Love that flows into us.
Here is the Sacred Heart with the message that pulsates with an urgency not to be ignored; his open heart elicits an undeniable appeal. Christ stands before us as us, hearts exposed even as we hide behind our common fear of being known as we are, vulnerable, and longing to be received and prepared to receive one another.
The love of God risks everything and makes no pretense of hiding behind a self-protective screen, waiting for the right set of circumstances to reveal itself. Christ bares his heart without shame or hesitation for all to notice and draw close. How could we miss such an invitation to know and share God’s love?
By Noel Poston, Oblate OSB