I hail from a small province in northeastern part of Argentina that owes its name to the Jesuit missions among the Guarani. Misiones is still characterized by a very deep religiosity expressed in the devotions and festivals of the people throughout the year. Since childhood, I remember seeing in many houses a framed painting of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In my paternal great-grandmother’s house, that image adorned a light blue painted wall as if indicating the transparency of the sky that was made one with those who lived in that home; they were very religious people.When I came to Africa and especially when I was working in Tanzania, the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus there was adorned a mud wall in the countryside of a village or on a fine plaster in a city house. Even more to my surprise I have found the same image in homes of brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations. A very sweet image of Jesus with his open chest showing a burning heart, bursting from it the ray of light, pierced by spears, surrounded by thorns. A heart that unites and does not divide, an ecumenical heart, which brings together in a great family those who are scattered, which leads to discovering the other, not as an enemy, but as a brother or sister. May all be one, that was one of Jesus’ deepest wishes and dream before his heart was pierced on the cross by the cruelty of men.
What does the Heart of Jesus have that so many people pay tribute to it in various cultures? I think that one of the answers to this question and even more in the global context of pandemic that we are experiencing, is that the devotion provides comfort and encourages not to lose hope, trusting that there is always a way out, even in the worst situations of life. The difficulties and challenges that so many people experience day by day due to economic hardships, health problems, deterioration of family relationships, isolation, loneliness, and many others; leads many people to be fascinated and drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to deposit their afflictions onto Jesus who waits for each one with an open heart to give comfort, rest and encouragement. The pierced heart of Jesus suffers in each person who suffers and rejoices in each human being who finds a breath of life for the journey.
“May the Heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all people.” It is one of the prayers and motto of our founder Arnold Janssen, who was a great devotee of the Heart of Jesus and a faithful promoter even before initiating the Steyl’s missionary work. There is no doubt that our founder discovered the living Heart of Jesus in every human being who has made his way to the divine grace. He dreamed that this Heart, which is the close presence of God, may live in every human being in all cultures and, for this reason his dream was that his missionaries may be able to reach the most remote places on the planet to announce the good news of consolation and hope.
For the Arnoldus Family members, Saint Arnold’s prayer is very eloquent and we recite it many times, perhaps many times with some complacency and a bit of contempt, leading to praying without thinking about its depth. Usually there is no meeting, or prayer session where that prayer is not part of the repertory.
If we go a little further with our reflection, it is clear that without the heart we cannot exist. According to biological sciences, the heart is the first organ that is formed and begins to beat just a few days after our conception in the womb. When the heart stops beating, life ends, a cycle ends. The heart is the beginning and the end, it is the source that lets life flow into the body. Therefore, we can conclude that the life of the believer emanates from the Heart of Jesus and returns to him when his mission ends.
Furthermore, what do we mean when we speak of a heart that is sacred? We cannot leave aside the reference to the Bible, the word “heart” is mentioned over eight hundred times and it does not just refer to a muscle tissue that pumps blood to the body. In a deep and poetic language, it is the dwelling place of attitudes, emotions and intelligence. “More than all else, keep watch over your heart, since here are the wellsprings of life.” (Pr 4, 23), “For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too” (Mt 6, 21), “Good people draw what is good from the store of goodness in their hearts; bad people draw what is bad from the store of badness. For the words of the mouth flow out of what fills the heart.” (Lk 6:45), “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22, 37).
These biblical texts among others make it quite clear that every heart is created as the source of life and the engine of love. It is where the deepest feelings and pretensions of the human being take place, but it is also there where grudges and violence of all kinds originate. The heart is sacred but it is contaminated with the seeds of evil, in Jesus that does not happen because his heart is not contaminated with the sin that stains and degenerates the heart of man.
Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart…” (Matthew 11, 28 – 29). In a world divided and torn by all forms of misery and torment, far from being an old-fashioned devotion, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is more valid than ever.
We are invited to focus and guide our lives from and towards Him, He is the source from where we give ourselves in missionary work with a burning zeal and passionate heart. Only when focused on Him, will our missionary service be more effective, close to those who are in need and willing to share or suffer with those who suffer. With attentive ears and heart, we strive in a combat attitude to banish the evil that oppresses and kills the happiness of hearts.
And to you, dear brother / sister, what feelings does the Heart of Jesus awaken in you? What does it tell you? What does he invite you to do?
Hugo J. Calis, SVD
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