Introduction - A Heart Like His

FATHER THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, LC

There's no greater adventure than getting to know Jesus Christ. But this involves more than historical study about where he lived, what he ate and who he hung around with. Above all, it means getting to know his heart.

I don't know about you, but I get a little squeamish when it comes to devotion to "body parts." Relics are one thing, but "body parts" are another. Living in Italy for the last eighteen years, I have gotten somewhat accustomed to the practice, but one's initial uneasiness never disappears altogether.

Here in Rome, for instance, at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva we have the incorrupt body of St. Catherine of Siena. Well, most of her body, that is, since her head was removed and sent back to her native Siena, along with a finger, for display at the church of St. Dominic. We also have St. Francis Xavier's right forearm, though the rest of him is apparently exhibited in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. Across town, we have the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, familiarly known as the "Bone Church," since the crypt below it is entirely decorated in the bones of deceased Capuchins. The list goes on and on...


Relics or realities?

So isn't there something strange about us modern men and women in the twenty-first century reading a book about devotion to the "Sacred Heart" of Jesus? At worst, isn't this just more worship of "body parts," and at best, isn't it a quaint scrap of dusty piety left over from our great-grandparents' day? Shouldn't we be moving on to something a little more trendy, a little more hip, and a little less "earthy"? Odd as it may seem, devotion to the Sacred Heart is not just some back-alley practice for the macabre-minded. Nor is it an outdated vestige of medieval piety to be quietly brushed under the rug. It was none other than Pope Benedict XVI who recently said that devotion to the Sacred Heart "has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love."[1]

In explaining this devotion, Pope John Paul II similarly made clear that the Heart of Christ is not just a physical organ, like the pancreas or the gallbladder. When we speak of the heart, he said, we refer to "our whole being, all that is within each one of us."

The heart represents "all that forms us from within, in the depths of our being. All that makes up our entire humanity, our whole person in its spiritual and physical dimension."[2]

Unlike the head (symbol of rational thought and calculation) or the belly (symbol of visceral desire), the human heart represents the seat of principles, decisions, convictions, yearnings, commitments, aspirations, and love. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then, means devotion to Jesus himself, to the Word made flesh, to the humanity of the Son of God, and, in a particular way, to the love of God in human form.


Knowing about Jesus or knowing Jesus?

Knowing Jesus Christ means more than knowing when and where he lived, or what he said and did. It means getting to know him more intimately by penetrating into his heart. Knowing him, in turn, leads to loving him, to entering into a friendship with him, and that leads to imitation. But imitating Jesus likewise means more than outward mimicking of his actions. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to make our hearts more like his.[3]

That, in short, is the whole point of this devotion. The simple meditations I offer in this volume are meant to help Christians in this endeavor: to know Christ more intimately, to love him more profoundly, and to imitate him more perfectly.[4]

A Heart like His
by Father Thomas D. Williams LC

As a standard for our own behavior, we often ask: What would Jesus do? This is a key question, but I can't help thinking that many times, our answer reflects "what I would do if I were Jesus," rather than "what Jesus would do if he were in my place." Why is this? Surely it's not ill will – it must rather be from ignorance. We simply don't know Jesus as well as we should.

Becoming like Jesus means becoming more human and more holy. What is holiness after all except union with God, a union that passes through the humanity of Christ and perfects our own humanity? The Second Vatican Council reminded us that Christ "reveals man to man himself... He who is ‘the image of the invisible God' is himself the perfect man." Moreover, "by his incarnation, the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart."[5]

If we want to know who we are, who we were created to be, we will find the answer in Jesus Christ and especially in his heart. This is a down-to-earth devotion, not based on esoteric practices or special techniques, but on contemplation of Jesus Christ, who reveals God to us and reveals our true selves as well.


Giving God a chance to change our hearts

Union with Christ is not just the result of hard work either. We grow more and more like Christ by cooperating with his grace in our lives.[6] In order to grow in faith and love we Christians need to experience the love of Christ. We need to see it, feel it, grasp it, be overwhelmed by it, immerse ourselves in it. Only the intense experience of being unconditionally loved – by none other than God himself – can enable us to love him and others as we yearn to.

St. John wrote that love consists in this, "not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us" (1 Jn 4:10). We need, in Pope John Paul's words, to penetrate the heart of Christ.[7] And as Pope Benedict recently wrote, it is by deepening our relationship with the heart of Jesus that "we will be able to understand better what it means to know God's love in Jesus Christ, to experience him, keeping our gaze fixed on him to the point that we live entirely on the experience of his love, so that we can subsequently witness to it to others."[8]

In the following pages, then, I will offer thirty meditations, one for each day of the month of June, the month traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I also include two extra meditations to be used on the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary respectively. Each meditation will focus on one particular aspect or virtue of the heart of Christ, as seen in the Gospel. I would hope to offer as comprehensive a view as possible of the many facets of his heart, so that at month-end we will know, love, and imitate him a little better. For some the book may serve as a short daily reading, as something to think about and reflect on during the day. For others, it will provide material for a period of prayer, to meditate on Jesus' love and converse with him in the depths of your heart.

Our goal, as I have said, is to know Jesus so as to love him and then imitate him. Day after day, our prayer will be: Lord, let me know you so well that I cannot help but love you. Let me love you so deeply that I cannot help but want to be like you. Make my heart more like yours!


Endnotes:

[1] Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, To the Most Reverend Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J, May 15, 2006.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Homily at Abbotsford Airport (Vancouver), Tuesday, September 18, 1984.

[3]" Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross. Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer, and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us" (Pope John Paul II, encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor, no. 21).

[4] "Is not a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life contained in this one devotion [to the Sacred Heart]? Indeed, it more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately and more effectively turns our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly"(Pope Pius XI, encyclical letter Miserentissimus Redemptor, May 8, 1928, AAS XX, 1928, p. 167).

[5] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, no. 22.

[6] To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone. He becomes capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. (VS 22)

[7] "No one can truly know Jesus Christ well without penetrating his Heart, that is, the inmost depths of his divine and human Person" (Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, June 20, 2004).

[8] Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, To the Most Reverend Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J, May 15, 2006.

 


 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Thomas D. Williams, LC. "Introduction." from A Heart Like His (North Haven, CT: Circle Press, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of Father Thomas D. Williams, LC.

THE AUTHOR

Father Thomas D. Williams, LC, is dean of the theology school at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. He has also worked extensively for Sky News in Britain covering church and ethical issues. For both NBC and Sky News, Father Williams has appeared as analyst on church affairs for CNN, CBS, ABC, and Fox News and now serves as consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News and MSNBC. He is the author of A Heart like His, Can God Be Trusted?: Finding Faith in Troubled Times, Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience, Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God as well as Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be and Who Is My Neighbor? Personalism and the Foundations of Human Rights. Father Williams is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Centre.

Copyright © 2010 Father Thomas D. Williams, LC.




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