The Sacred Heart and Consecrated Life

by Father James Kubicki, S.J.

Loving with the Heart of Jesus! Who can deny that our ultimate calling is to love with the Heart of Jesus?

A few years ago I got some insight into how we might attain this goal. I was reading a book called In the Footsteps of Jesus by Bruce Marchiano, an actor who played the role of Jesus in “The Gospel According to Matthew” in a series called The Visual Bible.

Marchiano described how he approached playing the role of Jesus. Like any good actor, he knew he had to get into the mind and heart of his character. He could not approach a scene merely thinking to himself, “What would Jesus do here?” He had to become the character he was playing. And to do that he had to get into Jesus’ point of view, his attitudes, thoughts, and feelings. In Marchiano’s words: “It’s essential for an actor to grasp the character’s point of view. The world looks different to different people and therein lies the difference in people’s reactions and sensitivities. A good example is two people looking at the same homeless person. One’s heart is broken, the other’s gets annoyed, resulting in two very different responses”.

So how exactly did Marchiano seek to enter into the point of view of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Here’s what he said: “My acting coach, Al Ruscio, used to quote the saying, “The journey from the head to the heart is a journey of a thousand miles.” Somehow I knew it was that journey that had to be taken before the cameras rolled, so that was the specific focus of my prayer—a prayer that, for the first time in my life, went like this: “Lord, show me what it all looks like through Your eyes”.

And so Marchiano prayed for the grace to see and feel what Jesus would have seen and felt. As he describes it, that grace was given to him in a flash. He entered into the human and divine Heart of Jesus and felt all its human emotion with divine intensity. He described the experience like this: “Everyone was swarming around me, paying no attention. I was pacing and praying and looking over the tide of faces, “Lord, show me what it all looks like through your eyes.” This is where it gets difficult because I don’t have words to describe what happened in the next moment. It was so fast—just a fraction of a second—and I’m convinced the reason it was so quick was that the Lord was protecting me. And what I “saw” in that moment was not with my eyes—it was something in my heart. And the only way I can put it into words is to say it was a sea of people living lives in ways He didn’t plan. People living lives away from His love, away from His care; outside of His goodness, His embrace, His plans, purposes, and hopes for them. It was so awful a thing—I don’t have words to describe to you how incredibly awful it was. I remember when it happened, it was as if the wind got knocked out of me; I couldn’t breathe, and my heart just broke. It broke on a level I never knew existed, and I just started shaking and weeping… For the first time in my life, I understood what the word “compassion” means when it comes to Jesus Christ. I understood that it isn’t just a feeling sorry for people; it’s a heartbreak so intense, so deep it’s like your gut is getting ripped open. It is a heartbreak that screams in utter agony for the needless, pointless pain of people—people who need only turn to Him. What I felt that day was so incredibly tragic. And there can be no doubt what I tasted was just a drop of water in the oceans of the universe compared to what it truly feels like for Him”.

Like Marchiano, our goal is to enter into the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, to be, in the terminology of the Church, configured to Christ. We desire to love with the Heart of Christ, not just for a short period of time while we act a role, but always, permanently, every day of our lives. This configuration, this transformation, is what Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, calls “Loving with the heart of Christ.”

To be configured to Christ means to live in union with His Heart and to love as He loves—the Father and all of God’s children for whom Jesus suffered and died. Configured to Christ means having the love of God at the center of our being so that all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds radiate from that fiery core. Configured to Christ means being set apart and being totally committed—consecrated—to God’s purpose of calling each human being into a spousal relationship. Like the heart which pumps the life blood into every part of the body, so the hearts of consecrated people—configured to the Heart of Jesus and loving with His Heart—send eternal life and love through the Body of Christ and into the world. At the beginning of Vita Consecrata, Pope John Paul II wrote: “In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided heart’”—a reference to 1 Corinthians 7: 34. There is only one truly “undivided heart”—the Heart of Jesus. Being devoted to this Heart is essential for living the consecrated life with authenticity.

From the first centuries of the Church, devotion to the Wounded Heart of Jesus has been an important spirituality. Pope Benedict continues that tradition, and, in 2006 on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s great Sacred Heart encyclical Haurietis Aquas, he wrote a letter to the then-General Superior of the Jesuits, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. In his concluding remarks he said: “Therefore gazing on the ‘side pierced by the lance,’ in which shines God’s boundless will for salvation, cannot be considered a passing form of cult or devotion: the adoration of God’s love, which has found its historical-devotional expression in the symbol of the ‘pierced heart,’ remains absolutely necessary for a living relationship with God.”

If devotion to the pieced heart of Jesus is urged upon all the faithful, how much more essential is it for a consecrated person who is called to follow Christ wholeheartedly “by conforming one’s whole existence to Christ…”

This is the meaning of the vows: “The evangelical counsels, by which Christ invites some people to share his experience as the chaste, poor and obedient one, call for and make manifest in those who accept them an explicit desire to be totally conformed to him.”

Ultimately such conformity is a matter of the heart. It begins with “heart knowledge” of God’s deep personal love. It is not enough for a consecrated person to have “head knowledge” about Jesus. Each of us is called to a deep heart to Heart relationship with Jesus, to come to know Him intimately. This is the knowledge that transforms hearts and configures consecrated people more closely, one day at a time, to Jesus. But remember what Marchiano the actor did to enter into heart knowledge of Jesus—he prayed. And God favored him with an encounter with the very Heart of Jesus. Prayer is essential for those called to a closer configuration to Christ. Prayer is so much more than reading about Jesus in the Gospels and then going out and trying to imitate Him. Imitation asks the question “What would Jesus do?” We pray for configuration, to be drawn into a living relationship with Jesus so that we share His attitudes, values, desires, thoughts, and feelings. It leads us to say each day ever more authentically, as St. Paul put it, “Now I live, not I, but Christ” (Galatians 2: 20). As our hearts are gradually configured to the Heart of Jesus, they beat in unison with His, as did the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We pray that our two hearts — Jesus’ Heart and our own hearts—may beat as one in their love of the Father and His love for every human being. As we have seen, devotion to the Sacred Heart is not one devotion among many, nor the particular charism of a few, but an essential element of the Christian life. The actual expressions of this devotion—the artistic representations and prayers—vary widely, depending upon personal practice and cultural preference. Yet devotion to the Heart of Jesus is simply not an option for those chosen to be configured to Christ. For how could anyone be configured to Christ without His Heart?