Conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

We all want to be loved. To be wanted, and desired, and cherished. It’s this innermost longing to find someone in which we can be our most authentic selves and at peace. I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy movie. In the movie the plot is more or less the same; some couple (not yet together) try to follow this “longing” in their hearts to be loved and they stumble, fall, miss the very obvious signs, turn left when they should have gone right and somehow they end up broken-hearted. This is the part in the movie which is meant to make you go into your feelings—the main character has almost missed out on their one true love when suddenly there is this huge declaration of love and a happy ending. 

Oddly enough, those “sad” moments in the rom-com are some of the most important in the entire movie. The main character is tested, they go through trials, they figure out what truly is important to them, and when they figure out what truly matters they leave all the other pleasures and fun distractions behind to go get their love. Rom-com’s are entertaining. 

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates the immensity of the love that Jesus has for us. In the “rom-com” of my life I would be running all over NYC oblivious to Jesus inviting me to rest in him. When I am exhausted and overworked I would turn around—bumbing straight into him—and there would be Jesus holding his heart in his hands, outstretched for me to take it. This scene of my personal rom-com is on rerun quite often. But every single time I turn around and see Jesus, he gives me his heart and reminds me how much he loves me. 

Jesus loves YOU. He wants you, desires you, and cherishes you. The heart of Jesus longs to be with YOU. 

In the second reading today, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts! It is the power and strength of God’s love within us that gives us courage to live righteous lives, with the true knowledge that we are beloved children. The grandeur of God’s love for us is something that goes beyond human comprehension. God gives us everything that is good for us—all represented in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He loved us first. 

Pope Francis, in one of his homilies, tells us that “Jesus teaches us the kind of attitude a Christian should have; it is all about carrying on God’s own work in your own small way: that is feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, visiting the sick and the prisoner.”1 Our friend, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, carried the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside him in this way. Frassati dedicated his short young life to helping those in need and performing the corporal works of mercy that “pave the path of love that Jesus teaches us in continuity with God’s great love for us!”

God loves you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you. To be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to care about the same things that Jesus cared about—the dignity and salvation of everyone around him. When you turn around and suddenly bump into Jesus holding out his heart to you, take it! Hold it tight and close to your own heart. He wants you to have his heart. He wants you to know that you will always be loved. Friend, that love flows so rich and deep that when we accept it it will overflow like rushing waters and we will want to share it with everyone around us. 

Oh Lord, give me a heart like Jesus.

—–

1. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

2. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

3. Image Credit: Jose Luis Castrillo. Cor Jesu Sacatissimim III. 2020.

The Greatest Commandment (Having a Heart like Jesus)

Three years ago, during Lent, part of my prayers were the words “give me a heart like Jesus.” I was in a very isolated place in my life, saddened and feeling betrayed. The only thing that gave me peace that year was reading the Bible. So, I dedicated myself to opening up the Word of God more often and I prayed that my heart could be like the heart of Jesus. I wanted the heart of that man who died loving the people who betrayed him. I wanted the heart of that man who forgave his enemies while they hammered nails into his hands and feet. I desperately needed a heart like Jesus so that I could be happy.

Each day during lent that year, I prayed for goodness and blessings for everyone which I had an estranged relationship with. It was the most intimate moment near the Cross. I prayed to the Lord, “God I don’t know what to do. I am angry and saddened. I feel hurt. I want to love these people. I want to forgive them. But I don’t know how. Take my heart and give me the heart of Jesus. Give me his heart so that I may love them. Give me his heart so that I may forgive them. Give me his heart so that I may truly want all the goodness and blessings for them that you want for them. Give me a heart like Jesus.”

The Cross is love. The Cross is happiness. The Cross is obedience.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments? In first-century Palestine it was much of a debate to know which of the 613 mosaic laws was the most important to follow. Jesus immediately quotes Scripture saying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Loving God above all else, with all of our souls, with all of our hearts, with all our minds, with all of our strength— that is the first of the greatest commandment. Quickly Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself.

It almost seems as if Jesus gave the scribes two different answers when their question was in search for one answer, the most important commandment of all. But the scribe understood what Jesus meant in giving them the two greatest commandment together. There is only one God in all the universe who created everything, and to love the God of Israel with everything that you are automatically means that you love your neighbors, God’s children. These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot fully follow one while ignoring the other.

How can you say you love God, but in your everyday actions you dismiss and ignore the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you say you love God when you ignore those that are hungry, without shelter, are sick, or imprisoned? Can you say you love God when you walk past someone in the midst of their struggles, marginalized and not see the face of Jesus? God would never ignore us, never abandon us in our need. To follow the greatest commandment is to love like God, to have a heart like Jesus and be charitable towards everyone because you recognize their dignity— that they were made in the image and likeness of God.

Following the greatest commandment isn’t easy. I have failed and fallen many times. I have purposely told God, no I’m not loving this person today because they made me upset or I’m not loving that person today because their struggles don’t affect my way of life and I am going to sit with my anger and my comfort for a while and not care for them. I allowed sin to consume me. But Jesus died out of love for his enemies! He died out of love for you and for me. The virtue of charity calls for us to be all self-giving. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati says that to follow the greatest commandment is to conform our entire lives to loving God and loving our neighbor because this is the essence of the Catholic faith.

Pray friends, that this Lenten season brings you closer to the Lord, that you may grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. That you may have a heart like Jesus and through him be obedient to the greatest commandment.

“Each of you knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. Without it, our religion would crumble. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our entire lives to the two commandments that are the essence of the Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves… With charity, we sow the seeds of that true peace which only our faith in Jesus Christ can give us by making us all brothers and sisters. I know that this way is steep, and difficult, and strewn with thorns, while at first glance the other path seems easier, more pleasant, and more satisfying. But the fact is, if we could look into the hearts of those who follow the perverse paths of this world, we would see that they lack the serenity that comes to those who have faced a thousand difficulties and who have renounced material pleasure to follow God’s law.” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Peter Paul Rubens. The Raising of the Cross. 1610. Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, Belgium.

The Art… or Heart of Christian Hospitality

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest… and He more or less gives two answers. (Jesus is very clever like that.)  The first commandment is the greatest and “the second is like it.”

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:37-40


Jesus teaches us that loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul is inherently connected to loving others. 


I recently listened to a Catholic podcast on hospitality (for link to the podcast episode, see below or click here – I highly recommend listening!).  This has had me thinking and praying…  What does hospitality mean for us as Christians and what does it look like lived out?  I know it can look different for each person, depending on stage of life, vocation, etc, so it calls us to pray about what it looks like for each of us.  But at its heart, hospitality is a universal Christian call.  One of the priests on the podcast makes a beautiful connection between hospitality and receptivity.  In fact, ‘warm reception’ is a synonym for hospitality.  This receptivity, or openness, is not only at the heart of a hospitable person who opens their door to warmly welcome a visitor, but also at the heart of the visitor who openly accepts (receives) this gesture.  Being hospitable doesn’t require a perfectly clean home, the ability to cook a fabulous meal, or having a guest room – it requires a heart open to a visitor, or any person you encounter.  At the heart of Christian hospitality is a quality of being present to the person and the moment.  Thusfar, I’ve spoken of hospitality in specific terms of welcoming a guest, which is what I initially think of when I hear the word.  While this is a very tangible and beautiful example of hospitality, it is a specific example and many of us can think hospitality doesn’t really apply to us unless we often welcome visitors into our home.  (Though I do hope we will think of these things the next time we do host a friend or family member in town). 

The Christian essence of hospitality is its sacrificial and serving nature.  It’s the sacrifice of your time, your energy, yourself to receive another person, even, and especially, when it’s unexpected or last minute.  This can happen with a visitor from out of town, or a stranger at church who strikes up a conversation maybe looking for someone to talk to for a moment, or something as simple as being present and receptive to the person working the register at the coffee shop or grocery store.  For many of us, welcoming visitors into our homes may not happen often, but we all encounter strangers, acquaintances, friends, family – others – everyday.  These are all our neighbors.  Our current cultural challenge is to be present or to be receptive to our neighbors…  to love our neighbors… to welcome each as though he or she is Christ.  This can be more simple than we think.  Making eye contact with the person ringing up my coffee order, instead of checking my phone.  Saying hello to her and asking “how’s your day?”  Taking a moment to ask an acquaintance at church or work how he is doing.  Being receptive to those around us, as Christ is to us in every moment.  The two commandments Christ speaks of today are so interwoven because loving God is to receive from Him… and this moves us to love to our neighbors.  “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  When we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we are transformed to see every person for who they are – a soul loved by God, a soul whose very human nature reflects God.  We see Christ in them.  And we learn to welcome them as such. 

In our culture of inwardness, where it is easier to stay inside of ourselves, in our bubble, and not extend ourselves out into the reality around us, we can easily begin to lose touch with our call and ability to be present.  This not only challenges our ability to extend hospitality, but also to receive the hospitality of others.  We feel bad if someone offers to help us…we don’t want to inconvenience them…it will be easier to just take care of this on our own…  We are uncomfortable receiving. (Listen to the podcast for more on this).  This doesn’t mean we must forgo all sense of personal boundaries and, for instance, lose the ability to end a conversation when necessary or decline a visitor at a truly inconvenient time for your family.  Though, if we fail to practice and become aware of how to live hospitality and receptivity in our day-to-day lives, we may miss opportunities to share Christ’s warm reception and hospitality with others when He is calling us to.  It can be a great challenge to stay present to our reality.  But it is in this very reality that we meet God and others.  This is the receptive heart of hospitality – being present to opportunities, big or small, to serve another. 

It may just be my perception… reading through my modern lenses and bias… but in the first reading today, I perceived Naomi being uncomfortable with Ruth joining her.  As though it would be easier if Ruth stayed with her native people and Naomi was able to go on her journey alone.  But Ruth has a heart full of love for God and wants to be with her mother-in-law Naomi out of her total love – heart, mind, and soul – for the Lord.  His love takes us outside of ourselves and our inner worlds and connects us to each other in the tangible world.  It leads us to our neighbors.  But the source of this kind of service must be the love of God.  We must first allow ourselves to receive His love so we can emulate this authentic love to our neighbors. 

As the Lord leads each of us into our vocation, our mission, or as He guides those of us already in our vocation, I pray we are each given opportunities to extend Christian hospitality in many ways.  Some days it may be sacrificing time you ‘need’ to get something done to be present to a friend, a parent, your spouse or child, or a fellow friar or sister in your community. And sometimes it may be hosting visitors you know through a friend of a friend and welcoming them into your imperfect (maybe even slightly disorganized) home with the respect and attentiveness you’d give to Christ. The Christian host is not defined by the perfection of her home, but by the warmth and openness of her heart.  But a Christian does not have to own a home to be hospitable or to be a host in the Spirit of Christ.  He can be a young person, living anywhere, who extends a warm, open heart to those he encounters. 

Let’s pray together for an awareness of what Christian hospitality can look like for each of us – in our individual stages of life, in our vocations, or wherever we are on our path of discerning our vocations and the mission God is calling us to. 

Lord, how are you calling me to be more hospitable in my life?  How can I be more receptive of others?  Help me to receive your love more deeply into the crevices of my heart, mind, and soul.  Transform me and conform me to your heart, so I may understand what it means to be truly hospitable, to truly love my neighbor.  Thank you, Lord.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray all of these things.  Amen.         


Catholic Stuff You Should Know Podcast – “Chateau de la Rode”