Up until a few years ago, any depiction of the Sacred Heart was to me just another holy picture—mysterious in its piety as one of the many Catholic images I grew up with. We even had a framed devotional in my childhood home with the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, blessing and protecting our family. But my understanding began to change when I looked up the devotion’s symbolism. Gradually but surely I found myself being drawn to know more about it, that is to say, about Christ, whose heart it is, through reading, art, and prayer.
The first attraction, aside from Google image search bringing up pictures of “Sailor Jerry” tattoos, was the humanity of Christ that the Sacred Heart depicts. There was something in the raw, visceral fleshiness that resonated with my own humanity, in particular, with my own wounds. To see thorns piercing the heart expressed the reality of human experience that Jesus shares with us, but that the heart was somehow still alive in its plumpness of shape, radiating living flames, made me take notice of the divinity of Christ. Consequently, I began to ask that if we accept our share in this human, wounded, and suffering heart of Christ, how much can be said of its radiance, fullness, and life?
To me, that an organ such as the human heart can be both pierced and alive at the same time is nothing short of a miracle. Sure, one could argue that this balance is possible because the image/heart belongs to Christ, the Son of God. But what about the heart of Mary, which image often accompanies that of her son? Even the image we have of her heart holds both suffering and life in tandem.
The accompanying drawing is my most recent depiction of the Sacred Heart. It serves as a personal icon of my journey to date, which includes moments of lightness and of darkness; attitudes toward life and toward death. Ultimately these are the Two Standards from which we are invited to choose. It will never cease to be a reality that sin, suffering, and brokenness exist in our world, but much more powerful and dynamic is the promise of new life, in the waters of redemption, which have as their source profound love.
In biblical language, “heart” indicates the centre of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy. Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life.