Words on the Word

Sacred Heart of Jesus

I was nineteen when I first visited the Benedictine convent at Vadstena and heard the prayer which the Prioress still prays every night at the end of compline:

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, who have endured the agony of death, have mercy on the dying!

It impressed me deeply. I was a fairly recent convert, so knew my catechism; I was a second-year student of theology, so had studied the doctrine of the Sacred Heart. But there was something so striking in the phrase, ‘the agony of death’, that a door in my own heart was opened.

Thus I acquired, through the prayer of the nuns, a kind of existential insight into the reality of the incarnation. In order to save us who were lost, God had gone that far: he had stared death in the eye and confronted the possibility of extinction. God’s compassion with us is based on experience. He knows how fragile and painful a human life may be.

John tells us that one of the soldiers on Calvary, at sunset on the day on which Our Lord accomplished his sacrifice, ‘pierced the side of Jesus with a lance, so that blood and water poured forth’. That expression provided the Church with an image of herself. The wounded, pierced side of Jesus, intended to provide confirmation of his death, became a source of life. The water and blood represent the holy sacraments, a torrent of grace spreading across the world through the Church.

In the Heart of Jesus we find assurance that God loves is with a love that is divinely boundless and humanly specific. The love of Jesus is not abstract or generic, but personal.

No darkness, no sin is alien to the Heart of Jesus, for the chalice he drank to the dregs is our chalice, with the essential difference that Jesus, unlike us, never turned away from the Father’s truth and mercy in despair or pride. He remained utterly at one with the source of love. Yet he knew our humanity entirely.

For that reason we can turn towards the Sacred Heart with infinite trust, without embarrassment and without having, as it were, to explain how things are. The Lord knows. He carries, redeems, transforms.

We should never hesitate to approach the Heart of Jesus with what we are carrying; at the same time we should not burden it unnecessarily.

Here we touch an aspect of sin we perhaps do not think about enough. The Heart of Jesus is not a geiger counter that catches, measures, and evaluates sin with precision just for the sake of statistics; it is touched by our options, wounded when we do evil and prefer darkness to light. Each of us can bring the Heart of Jesus grief or consolation. This is another sign of God’s humble, unlimited philanthropy: to think that the almighty Creator of heaven and earth should let himself be consoled by us!

A traditional prayer to the Sacred Heart runs like this:

Iesu, mitis et humilis corde, fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum.

‘Jesus, meek and humble of heart, fashion our heart after your Heart.’

We find here, in a nutshell, all we need to live a radical, sanctifying Christian life, if we pray that prayer with an undivided heart – or at any rate with a firm resolve to overcome our heart’s divisions.


The Monastery of the Sacred Heart south of Vadstena.