As a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, I am probably not the most qualified person to write here about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was never a devotion I had ever heard of growing up, being a rather marginal devotion even in the most Anglo-Catholic of Anglican circles. The pre-Reformation English devotion was towards the Five Holy Wounds, and not necessarily the Sacred Heart, despite its nascent cultus. Apparently, it isn’t necessarily the most widely accepted devotion either in Eastern Christian circles, being largely seen as a Latin introduction. It makes sense — St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the main visionary of the Sacred Heart, lived in the 1600s, after the Reformation, and long after the Great Schism.
Yet, something that we do VERY well in the Anglican world is hymnody, and this tradition has happily been carried into Catholicism by many notable converts. And so, for this Feast of the Sacred Heart, I’d love to share one of these hymns. “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” is written by Fr. Frederick W. Faber, Cong. Orat., convert to Roman Catholicism, founder of the Brompton Oratory, and an associate of St. John Henry Newman. It is sung to a myriad of different tunes, yet the words ring true no matter the music.
Now, it may not be immediately obvious why a hymn on God’s mercy is acceptable for the feast of the Sacred Heart. However, when we pray to the Sacred Heart, what is our petition? — “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.” In His apparition to St. Faustina Kowalska, Jesus Himself says: “My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world.” The Sacred Heart is an ocean of mercy, vast and endless, in which we find every gift that we need.
Jesus’ Sacred Heart is His human heart, the one that endured everything on Earth for our sake. This is the Heart pierced at Calvary, in salvific sorrow, and so it is only natural that Christ will feel the little miniature crucifixions that we endure keenly. His Sacred Heart knew the death of St. Joseph, of St. Lazarus, and so He knows our griefs intimately too. His Sacred Heart knows temptation, as it endured it for forty days in the wilderness. It knows failure, being betrayed in Gethsemane, by Peter’s threefold betrayal, by however many daily disappointments Christ felt amongst the people of Nazareth. Yet, Jesus is able to upbraid his disciples while remaining patient, compassionate, and loving. This is the Heart that will come to judge ours at the end of time, in justice, rendering to us our due. Yet, do we turn to the Sacred Heart now, trusting in the ocean of graces contained therein? Do we bring Jesus our sorrows great and small, knowing that His Sacred Heart has been moved to tears too? Do we go to the Sacred Heart when we fail, knowing that He alone has the justice, wisdom, and kindness to invite us on a journey of metanoia?
Yes, we are sinful people. This cannot be denied. We, as Christians, reject the Sacred Heart daily in some small way, to say nothing of the secular culture around us who mocks this Heart who can do nothing but will our good. And yes, this breaks the Heart of our dearest Lord. He spreads a banquet wide before us; we decide to stay home. He invites us into the dance of love; we say our dance cards are full and our feet hurt. But this is the Heart of Jesus in action! If the same had happened to us, we would feel hurt, rejected, bitter, sullen — yet, the Sacred Heart keeps on loving us and loving us, willing our good, showing us mercy. His Heart can out-love any excuses or sinful rejections we throw His way.
On the other hand, we also easily reject the Sacred Heart by our limitations we place on God’s love. Yes, there are a lot of precepts and regulations in our faith, designed to stir our souls to fervour. But how many people do we know who say: “I was raised Catholic, so I know about how you have to [insert rule here].” We give people no access to Christ’s Sacred Heart by introducing them to faith as a set of rules and regulations, rather than introducing people to the Lover of their souls: tender, compassionate, eager to strengthen and draw to greater heights. Worse yet, we teach that Jesus has no love in us, looking down from the right hand of the Father in perpetual frustration, anger, and disappointment, ready to reject us for the sins we commit. We reject Christ’s Heart often — but even in mortal sin, God’s love can reach deeper and transform us. If the penitent thief could be forgiven completely by Jesus in the moments when He was being offered up as expiation for every last sin we commit, then even our sins that wound Christ most deeply can be absolved through our contrition. So, run! Run to the Sacred Heart — for by the breaking of His Heart we are saved!
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers