This year we celebrate the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on 23 June.
Many of us, of an older generation, have very happy memories of growing up with images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus placed all around our family homes. There was something warm and comforting in these domestic images which reminded us of how God was very close to us.
Perhaps today we need to rediscover this special feast day and its simple message of how much God loves each one of us.
For us Catholics the heart is a symbol for love. The biblical image of the heart means the depth of ourselves, where we decide for or against God. God, who always speaks to us using our own experiences, has chosen our symbol of the heart to represent Jesus.
Jesus’ pierced Sacred Heart became a sign of the completeness of his love for us, a love that compelled him to die for us and that prompted him to remain with us in the Eucharist. The physical heart of Jesus is the symbol of the total love of Jesus, divine and human.
That love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus still keeps on beating today in many hearts. We especially encounter this loving Jesus in the sacraments and living in the people all around us.
The Spirit also keeps on raising up special people of ‘heart’ who witness in a striking way to this extraordinary love that our God has for us.
One great witness in this regard, for many of us Melbourne Catholics, is the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who came to our city on a number of occasions.
His story is a living parable of God’s love. The Melbourne Vietnamese Catholic community especially have so many fond memories of this hero of the Catholic faith.
Cardinal Van Thuan was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese government for 13 years before being expelled from his country. He once wrote that at first he had found loving as Jesus loves difficult. He found the key in seeing Jesus in those with whom he came into contact. He wrote, ‘Here is an easy formula to remember: Others = Jesus. Applying this equation in my own life would make me a collaborator of love forever.’
How hard it must have been in those North Vietnamese re-education camps to love as Jesus loves. He committed himself to seeing Jesus in the guards, the generals and others who kept him in captivity and prison for so many years.
During Lent 2000, Cardinal Van Thuan received a special invitation from Pope Saint John Paul II to preach the Lenten Retreat to the Curia, at the beginning of the third millennium. When the Holy Father received him in private audience after the retreat, giving him a chalice, Cardinal Thuan said: ‘24 years ago I said Mass with three drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of my hand. I never would have thought that today the Holy Father would give me a gilt chalice. Our Lord is great indeed and so is his love.’
It may often appear to us, who are not saints like Cardinal Van Thuan, that God’s love seems far away. But no matter our vocation or our job, no matter the circumstances or crises in which we find ourselves, the Sacred Heart of Jesus calls us to love.
Cardinal Van Thuan prayed, ‘Lord, love is the means you want me to use to bear witness to you, or you would have shown me another way’.
It is easy for us to become embittered and vengeful when we find ourselves in a situation that seems devoid of love.
On this special Feast day, let’s all pray in memory of Cardinal Van Thuan—and for the grace to become like him, close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
+ Denis Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne