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The Matter of the Heart

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The Church's Liturgical year commemorates  the work of God in the  history of salvation by events, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost;  by mysteries, The Trinity, Corpus Christi;  central beliefs to our faith,  and devotional aspects as well.  

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One of these, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, commemorated June 11 this year, is derived from the belief of the mercy of God through Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, the event,  celebrated in "unbloody manner" by every Holy Eucharist in the Mass, but particularly last Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi. 

The devotion to the Sacred Heart, intimately related to the mystery, however, is not merely an addendum of sorts, such as sprinkling of water, a sacramental reminding us of our baptism, or prayers crafted to honor a favorite saint.  It is pivotal to our embrace of God's Mercy, once we recognize the spiritual defects we carry, namely sin.  In the world of human devotion it is the heart that matters, that central designation of both human relationships and human-Divine matters.  So much so that what is in the heart measures the worth of what we do or fail to do, not just the act itself.  

But here the devotion of course is about not us - you or me - but with the Lord Who loves us first (1 John 4:19).  The salvific Action of Christ's sacrifice, culminating with the Blood and Water flowing from His heart as lanced by the soldier on Good Friday, commemorated perpetually and universally in the "unbloody sacrifice" of the Mass, displacing the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament that could never reach Calvary's infinite merit - that Action was drawn from the Heart of Christ physically, spiritually and divinely.  As the Divine Mercy Chaplet beckons: "O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You!"   God opens the channels of mercy and we respond in strengthening trust: seen, unseen, dark, bright. What is the measure of our trust? 

All is a matter of the Heart.   The Heart of the Savior, and our response to Him and to one another.  Love, not romance, cements ties.  This devotion is not about saccharine sentimentality, smiling statues, or even the devotion to legitimate miraculous appearances in nature.  Nor is it about reason, syllogistic thinking, what seems logical, workable, convenient.   Christ's Heart emptied Itself of all life- Sacred Blood and finally only "water" drained.  Symbolically these two substances represent Eucharist and Baptism.  So they give rise to nourishment and hydration for the Body of Christ, the Church.  

Around the country states are introducing bills whereby the heartbeat, measurable at three weeks in the growing human embryo, might become the measure to stop abortions, at least any beyond that date against the innocent child.  That is a time frame before most women even know they have become new mothers!  How ironic and tragic, that the same human center of life and love, the heart, marks both the first manifest sound and beat of new life and the final organ to die in the sublime Act of our Salvation.  

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We need to listen to the heart in both cases, beginnings and ends.  In Calvary, that death of the Heart led to eternal Life opened up for humans.  In abortion that heart, healthy and pumping, is snuffed off, a death sentence, yes, leading to Life after brief life for the child,  but a furthering of death to a nation, a society that treasures convenience even over another's life.  In the first, God's sacrificial, conciliatory Act of dying transforms and saves others.  In the second, repeated in millions, one throws away life for another life, but for convenience, as most abortions are done. 

This Feast of the Sacred Heart brings us back to a reality check.  Where do we place our hearts?  Our values?   How do we stand with others in stopping porn, the illegitimate sex that leads to "unexpected" pregnancies?  How do we lead others who have succumbed to abortions to call on the Heart of the merciful Savior beyond forgiveness to now speak forthrightly against the slaughter?  And to support the ever-growing but often struggling maternity agencies around the country that exist to save those children and to help those mothers?  The matter of the heart is the measure of sacrifice and here the Church presents a core devotion drawing us into becoming a part of the "heartbeat for life."

I recently enjoyed offering Masses for the 50th Convention of Heartbeat International in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a celebration of love, life and sacrifice.  The joy of those hundreds of participants, leaders in pregnancy help centers worldwide, was eminently palpable, beating joy, not just in the work they accomplish, but in rooting their work in the sacrificial saving of the Heart of Jesus in the Calvary of each child and in the hope and trust in their eternity.   O Heart of Jesus may we always trust in You!

Fr. Denis Wilde, OSA, Ph.D., is the associate director of Priests for Life. A concert pianist, he was formerly an associate professor of music at Villanova University.

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