Among the earliest heresies in Christian history are those which deal with the person of Jesus Christ. It was particularly difficult for some Christians in the first centuries of the Church to believe that Jesus was truly a human being.
Convinced that Jesus was God — if he were not, he could not be the Savior — they would not accept his humanity as anything other than an “appearance” of humanity. The very idea that the eternal God would take to himself our weak and sinful humanity was repugnant to some believers.
When Jesus preached during his public ministry, his claims to divinity were greeted with: “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 14:55). It was unimaginable that this humble rabbi was actually God in the flesh. And as Jesus hung upon the cross, the crowds taunted the dying Jesus, who was not particularly recognizable as God: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27:40).
There is even a theological opinion that the cause of the fall of Lucifer from heaven was, in fact, his revolt against the reality of the Incarnation, which he was allowed to foresee. Lucifer and the other fallen angels would not believe that God would unite himself to our human nature, a nature inferior to that of the angels.
In the face of these heresies the Church insisted that Jesus was truly and fully human and, at the same time, truly and fully divine. He was one divine Person with two distinct natures — human and divine.
The humanity of Jesus, through which God redeemed the world, is nowhere more prominent than in the accounts of the Lord’s passion and death. From the cross, immediately after his death, the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ side was pierced by a lance, and blood and water flowed out (cf. Jn 19:34). This image of the pierced heart of Jesus is one of the most beautiful images of the overflowing love of God in the flesh.
The month of June is dedicated the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose feast we celebrated June 8. Devotion to the Sacred Heart grew at a time in the history of the Church when a new heresy, Jansenism, was rampant. Jansenism doubted the goodness of material things and of the human body in particular. The followers of this heretical movement were harsh and severe in their search for holiness. The body, they contended, was a hindrance to sanctity and, therefore, was to be disparaged.
In the midst of this theological climate, Jesus appeared to a simple French nun we now know as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In 1675, while Sister Margaret Mary was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus appeared to her and showed her his Heart. “Behold this Heart, which has loved so much and which receives so little love in return,” Jesus said to her. “What is most sad is that many souls consecrated to me are the ones who treat me this way.”
The object of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not his heart, as such, but rather his very person. In dwelling upon the mystery of the Sacred Heart, we are celebrating God’s love as it passes through the humanity of Jesus. From the pierced Heart of Christ, there flows all the mercy that makes the forgiveness of sins possible. It is a source of mercy that is inexhaustible and that does not admit of exceptions or conditions.
Early in his pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of this quality of mercy found in the Heart of Christ.
He said: “Mercy is the essence of Christianity because it is the essence of God himself. God is One in that he is entirely and solely Love, but precisely because he is Love he is openness, acceptance, dialogue. And in his relations with us, sinful mankind, he is mercy, compassion, grace, forgiveness.”
Pope Francis, in his general audience of June 6, reminded the gathered faithful that June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and added: “I invite you to pray to the Heart of Jesus during the month of June and to support your priests with closeness and affection, so that they are the image of this Heart full of merciful love.”
It is the Catechism of the Catholic Church that explicitly links Jesus’ love for us with his Sacred Heart: “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his Passion and gave himself up for each one of us. . . He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that . . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception” (No. 478).
Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto thine.