Bishop Anthony WYD13 Homily - Votive Mass of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - World Youth Day 2013 Votive Mass of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Basilica da Imaculada Conceiçāo, Botefogo, Rio de Janiero, 24 July 2013
I recently attended the First Communion party for the twin sons of friends of mine. One of the boys, who is ‘a handful’, decided to read me a prayer to the Sacred Heart on a candle he had received on his special day. He read it very beautifully: the only problem was, each time he saw the words ‘Sacred Heart’ he read ‘scared heart’.
Well, which is it? I think my young friend’s mispronunciation was a happy fault or a sign that he is destined to be a theologian, because in an important sense our devotion is both to the Sacred Heart and to the scared heart of Jesus. Let me explain …
Rio de Janiero sits in the shadow of the famous statue of Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on Corcovado Mountain. It’s probably the most famous statue of Jesus in the world and a powerful symbol of the role of faith in the biggest Catholic country in the world. For us non-Brazilians it reminds us that Christ oversees the whole event of World Youth Day …
Christ with His arms outstretched is a multilayered image. It evokes the Creator-Provident God, supreme over all the cosmos, constantly holding creation in being and everyone in it and endlessly pouring out His being and blessing upon it.
Because of its white colour and position atop a mountain, it also recalls the transfigured Christ, with arms outstretched and radiating like the sun. St Thomas Aquinas taught that at the Transfiguration the brightness of Christ’s body “overflowed from His soul” signifying that He is “the light of the world” and foretelling His glorious body after the Resurrection and Ascension. If we conform ourselves to Jesus in this life we too may hope to join in “the Communion of Saints, the Resurrection of the Body, and Life Everlasting”. As we look at the statue we can imagine streams of light and love, the divine grace of creation and re-creation, flowing over all of us.
Yet before Christ’s human body was suffused with perpetual light He was humbled before our very eyes. Before His ascent to the throne of glory He descended to the realm of the dead. No Christian can look at Christ with arms outstretched, even in glory, and not think also of His crucifixion. His transfiguration was, of course, to prepare the disciples and us for that.
Hence my thought that the scared heart of Jesus is a crucial part of the story also. At the transfiguration Jesus took his best mates Peter, James and John up the Palestinian equivalent of Corcovado to witness His arms outstretched revealing His glory; He will take the same three with Him for His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He will declare that His heart is troubled (Jn 12:27; 13:21). He will sweat great drops of blood and beg the Father to take this cup from Him (Lk 24:41-4). So the apostolic courtiers at the Transfiguration point forward to what is to come; so, too, the two prophets who attend: Moses and Elijah standing either side of Him, like the two criminals either side of Him at the crucifixion, discussing His Passover to the Father. When Jesus descends from the Transfiguration, He talks ominously about how the Son of Man must suffer grievously, and be handed over to the authorities for execution. The Sacred Heart is also the scared heart, God facing the full reality of human suffering, in solidarity with every suffering soul, transforming evil from the inside, as it were.
There is yet another significance in the image of Christ with arms outstretched and that is the posture of priestly prayer and sacrifice. The Sacred Heart mediates divine grace and endless mercy through a human body, a human heart and hands. When we see the priest offering the Mass, not just today but every day from this day forward, we should think of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with arms outstretched, blessing the whole world; we should think of Christ transfigured and crucified, creating and redeeming the world; we should think of Cristo Redentor of Corcovado, offering peace to all young people of good will.
And from that frightened, broken, scared heart we can take heart. That where there is suffering and darkness in our lives He has been there, He is with us. That where there is violence in the womb or home, conflict between neighbours or nations, where there is injustice or indifference, that a new civilisation of life and love, of light and truth, is possible.
St Bernard of Clairvaux said that Christians should “read in the pierced heart of Christ the mystery of God’s infinite goodness and merciful tenderness”. There is a long history here, of devotions shared by mystics such as Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, Margaret Mary Alacoque and St Faustina, the first saint of our third millennium. Why does this cardiac spirituality endure? Because in every generation we need to hear those consoling words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:25-30) In our catechesis today we talked about the restlessness, the burdens, the thirst in our souls. Well here in the Sacred Heart we have the answer to that perennial longing, that universal prayer.
In Rome’s Piazza San Pietro, the greatest basilica in the world stands over the bones of the Apostle Peter, the apostle who knew the divine mercy of Jesus better than most and returned that love better than most. Three times he had denied Jesus, as we have all done so many times by our sins; three times he confessed his shame and his love; three times he was commissioned to feed the sheep and lead the lambs. The lambs, of course, are the young sheep and the successor of Peter has a special mission to youth which we see being fulfilled this very week. The very architecture of St Peter’s Square tells of his mission: extending either side from the Renaissance basilica and surrounding much of the square is the famous Bernini colonnade. It is a colossal structure, four columns deep, and it represents the arms of the Church open to all humanity.
That, you see, is your job now. To be the arms of Christ, the arms of the Church, opened wide to the world, ready to clutch every searching soul to her bosom. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate my heart to you. When I am scared extend your arms around me and be my strength and consolation. When I am brave by your grace let me extend your arms to the world. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Cristo Redentor, have mercy on us.
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