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The Sacred Heart of Jesus, 2020

Having reflected on the ‘big’ feasts of June 2020 it would seem a shame not to conclude with the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – which is smaller in the Church’s calendar but speaks powerfully to our time.

Many of us grew up with the picture of the Sacred Heart in our homes. It was part of the furniture, sometimes with a small light glowing beneath the lovingly inscribed family names. Most of us have not continued the tradition in our own homes. The picture seems dated and, with its Caucasian features and sometimes blue eyes, is certainly not a likeness of a middle eastern Jew. It seems perhaps a relic of a Catholicism which belongs more to the 1950’s than the 2020’s.

But think for a moment about what the Sacred Heart represents. When NGO’s and people involved in humanitarian work at home and abroad appeal on behalf of the poor and vulnerable they are sometimes criticised for being ‘bleeding hearts.’ They are deemed to be excessively soft hearted. They put people first – above politics, money, power. They propose an economics of the heart where those who are in need matter as much as those who are healthy, wealthy and safe.

These are the values of Jesus in the Gospel. Those who are more attached to power, wealth or religious rules than caring for the poor are criticised by Jesus. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what the Kingdom of God will look like. He invites people to experience God’s love and mercy. He prioritises love over every other value or concern, even adding his own second commandment to the famous Shema (of Deuteronomy 6:5):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

The image of Jesus who wears his heart, not on his sleeve, but front and central gives us a strong message: love first. Human beings are as hungry for love now as in first century Judaea. Jesus still invites us to experience the endless love and mercy of God and, in turn, to have a heart for others.

As we re-emerge, blinking, into the post-COVID world, we have a choice. We can return to business as usual, an economy of progress, leading to health and wealth for some, and poverty and lack of opportunity for others. Or, as followers of Christ, we can envisage a different way, a sacred economy of the heart, where all are cherished equally, where everyone is provided for, and where those starved of love and opportunity are prioritised.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:34)