In Christ, we do not have a theoretical savior, but a living, breathing, concrete Lord whose flesh and blood cannot be relegated to the celestial ether that keeps him just far enough away from us to mitigate any claims his Incarnation may have on us.
I've been Catholic for 38 years and counting, but there are still a few things that -- from time to time -- strike me as a bit odd. Mostly, it has to do with the human body. I've acclimated to Catholic culture as it is expressed in art and devotion, but sometimes, what we do with body parts makes me squeamish. Images and abstractions like St. Paul's "body" or "bride" of Christ are fine. But if I allow myself to think about how we display St. Anthony's tongue or St. Catherine's head for more than a minute or two, I can't help but wonder if we couldn't tone it down a bit.
Relics, though, aren't the only thing that make me -- and a lot of other people -- uncomfortable. Graphic images and depictions in religious art can also be a challenge. For me, that is epitomized not by life-sized paintings of historical events like martyrdoms-in-progress or even of Christ's crucifixion, but by the Sacred Heart. Don't get me wrong: I love the Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with thorns and aflame with mercy and sacrificial love for poor and wretched sinners like me. I don't have any difficulty believing that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's vision of Christ in the 17th century is a movement of God's grace and has something important to teach us. It's just that showing our savior in such an intensely physical way evokes an equally intense reaction.
And that is probably one of the best reasons to cultivate a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It takes the intellectual flights of theology and brings them back down to earth. It forces us to remember that the Incarnation is real: that the Son of God united himself to a human nature, emptied himself into a human body, and entered human history in the flesh. He really did have muscles and bones, a brain and a stomach, and a heart that pumped blood through arteries and veins. In Christ, we do not have a theoretical savior, but a living, breathing, concrete Lord whose flesh and blood cannot be relegated to the celestial ether that keeps him just far enough away from us to mitigate any claims his Incarnation may have on us.
The best-kept secret of Christian faith is that the spiritual and the physical are one in Christ; that our bodies are sacraments; that flesh and blood are not obstacles to the divine, but vehicles of grace. When he reveals his inner life to us, we see the passionate heart of love that motivates him. We see the suffering our sins have wrought consumed in the flame of his mercy. We see a living human heart beating out salvation to the whole world. We see the possibility of every human heart beating in union with his, and thereby in union with one another. And, we see the truth of God's offer to us -- the genuine offer of himself as a gift -- in a way we can grasp and understand it, in a way that shows us how to respond.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, revealing your love for every person, draw us closer to you. Take the thoughts, ideas, and inclinations you have inspired in us and enflesh them; make them concrete in our lives. Help us to burn with love for all, and not only for those who love us in return. Consume our selfishness. Enlighten our darkness. Warm our affections. Teach our hearts to beat in union with yours: to be moved by the compassion which moves you, to suffer willingly for salvation, to be a visible testament to divine love and an open gate to heaven. Amen.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.