This past Friday, nineteen days after Pentecost, we celebrated the beautiful solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Regrettably, the high feast is oftentimes lost on the average worshiper since it always falls on a week day. Yet it echoes life-changing wisdom from the teachings of the Lord Jesus, and these lessons shine beyond the actual observance of the solemnity.
What are these lessons? How can they help us today? And where, in particular, can they be applied?
As the physical heart keeps the human body alive by the regular flow of blood, so the heart of the Lord Jesus keeps all the tenets of his gospel together and sealed by the passion of his love and the gentleness of his care. The imagery of the heart shouts to the world. The “heart” places tenderness and compassion at the forefront of who Jesus is. As it is shown both burning and suffering, it shows the depth and sincerity of the Lord’s love for all men and women.
The heart places an interior order to the array of the Lord’s teachings on mercy, prayer, integrity, simplicity of life, kindness, chastity, selfless service, etc. It crowns the Christian life with charity and reminds believers of their primary call and commission in the world, namely, to love as the Lord loves.
As the human family is bruised and hurt by an absence of love, or suspicious and defensive because of false definitions of love, or overly busy and disinterested in love because of its perceived weakness or real vulnerability, the Heart of Jesus “which so burns with a love for humanity” is especially needed.
The need for healing, encouragement, reconciliation, and hope are in tall order today and the powerful rays of so compassionate a Heart are in ready supply and willing to help. The strength and message of the Heart of Jesus can provide us with the things we all need the most, the things that make us most human and most unified as the children of God.
The Sacred Heart can help people along the way of their own journey. It can assist marriages and friendships. It can inspire families and work places. The Heart of Jesus can bring light to neighborhoods and communities, both in real time and on the cyber continent. The Sacred Heart can be a remedy to the ills and sufferings, sorrows and desolation of the world today. It offers a path to peace and hope, enlightenment and abundant joy.
But of all the areas where the Heart of Jesus is needed – and they are plentiful – there is one area that can be easily missed. It’s an area that we can all overlook because it’s one that we can take for granted or assume is doing well on its own. Because of its need, the Church actually highlights it for the Sacred Heart. And, of course, this area is the ministerial priesthood. The Church observes the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests on the solemnity of the Heart of Jesus.
Yes, we can all forget the men in black who take care of the parish’s patrimony (from investments to septic tanks, from roof leaks to ensuring enough parking spaces), who balance the community’s budget, supervise the formation and social programs of the parish, train and manage the professional and volunteer staff, reach out to the poor, visit and anoint the hospitalized and home-bound, bless homes, give pastoral counsel and spiritual direction, comfort the grieving and scared, preach and teach the faith, hear confessions, offer the community’s Masses, and –somewhere in the midst of all that — makes sure that he himself remains a good Christian.
Referencing Saint Paul, the priest carries the responsibilities of his sacred ministry “as treasures in earthen vessels.” He is a fallen man with a high calling. He gets frustrated, disappointed, he has to use the bathroom and eat, he has sleepless nights, and he overly worries. He mistreats his body, falls into self-pity, mismanages his own finances, is concerned about his aging parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews.
The priest is everyone. And, oftentimes, in the needs and flow of the Church, this simple observation can be missed.
The priest is a fallen human being who is doing his best to be a good Christian and an attentive minister of Jesus Christ. Of all the things he needs, generalized criticism and harsh gossip are not on the top of the list.
And so, as we reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and as we all want to receive the consolation of that gracious Heart, let’s also be mindful and willingly extend that tenderness and gentleness to our parish priests, who try to always extend that love to us.