Feast of the Sacred Heart – Br. Curtis Almquist
Until twenty years or so ago, the only thing I had ever heard about the Sacred Heart was from my childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Ronnie Impens, who went to a parochial school, Sacred Heart School. Ronnie always bragged that the Sacred Heart had the best basketball team. Otherwise, this feast day which we commemorate today, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, had absolutely no meaning to me. My experience probably parallels many people’s today in the Episcopal Church, especially those of us who have come from other Protestant traditions. This Feast Day of the Sacred Heart only came to have real meaning for me personally when I made my first visit to Mexico about 20 years ago. You too will know, if you have visited Mexico, or the southwest in our own country, the Latin Americas or Spain or Italy, that Jesus’ wounded heart is depicted most everywhere, in all types of religious art, statutes, paintings, T-shirts, holy cards and other religious kitsch, altar frontals, and much more. I must confess that in my own cell here in the monastery, I now have both an icon and a plastic glow-in-the-dark image of Jesus with the sacred heart featured prominently (and in our community, I know that I’m not alone in this!). At Emery House, our rural monastery in northern Massachusetts, we have an outdoor statute of Jesus, prominently depicting his Sacred Heart.
For many people this image of the Sacred Heart serves as a powerful symbol of Christ’s being with the poor – being with us when we are poor or when we feel poorly: in the most simple and profound of ways – this image of Jesus’ sharing his broken heart with our own. The Sacred Heart of Jesus: a visual and verbal symbol how Christ is with us and others in suffering, Christ’s sacred, passionate, wounded, encompassing heart broken open for the broken hearts of the world.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The devotion seems to have sprung from the cult of the Wound in the Side. This devotion was for a long time confined to a relatively small number of mystics and saints, the most familiar to us being Julian of Norwich. By the 16th century the devotion extended from the visions of the mystics to the regular practice of many in religious orders who were drawn to the ascetic life, especially the Carthusians and later the Jesuits, and then to the church at large. The commemoration of the Sacred Heart came to be a solemn feast in the Roman Catholic Church, but that happened in only 1969.
Our own community was formed in the 1860s, and our founder, Richard Meux Benson, was particularly drawn to Ignatian spirituality, the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). The Jesuits’ ardent devotion to the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus became an important part of our community’s spiritual formation. Ignatius of Loyola has left us with a wonderful devotional prayer, the Anima Christi:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me;
Within thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from thee;
From the malignant enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to thee,
That with thy saints I may praise thee
Forever and ever. Amen.
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Thank you brother Curtis for that stirring meditation! It reminds me of Matthew Foxs saying “compassion is a lifestyle”. In other words, not a virtue or strength to cultivate. It is being broken open to the world, from trapped insects to our most bitter enemies. Jesus wept when He looked down on Jerusalem and saw that “they did not know what belongs to their peace!” And, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!”
Thank u for the Anima Christi. I have written it in my note book for frequent use in prayer.
Like the others have said, the Sacred Heart Prayer was a part of my devotion as a child, a significant part of my spiritual formation. I longed to be held in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thank you for including this prayer in your sermon.
I grew up a Roman Catholic, very familiar with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but never completely understanding its significance. I do now. This beautiful prayer will now become a welcome part of my daily devotions. Thank you!
Dear Brother Curtis, Many years ago (75 more or less) Mrs. A. a devout Roman Catholic, a neighbor of whom I was very fond, and the mother of my closest playmates, gave me a statue of Jesus with His hand on His sacred heart. I accepted it gratefully, perhaps with the encouragement of my mother. I did not, however, understand what it meant, dismissing it in my Protestant mind as just another Roman Catholic bauble. Nonetheless, it was kept and displayed in my home then and and later in my own home until it collapsed with age.. Thanks to your sermon, I now understand what it meant to Mrs. A., what giving it meant to her, and how thoughtful it was of her to give it to me. The words and meaning of the Anima Chritie, as Phyllis McCormick wrote, “have penetrated my own heart”. I now am able, as Joseph Mazza wrote, to “plumb its depths of meanIng”. I thank you for your sermon and Phyllis and Joseph for their comments. I wish, as is so often the case, that I had not had to wait so long for this deeper understanding. Peace, David
A glow in the dark Jesus sacred heart action figure—sounds cool to me! Your words draw strong visual memories of when I as a 16 year old cerebral American evangelical became an exchange student in Bavaria, one of the strongest culturally Roman Catholic regions in Europe. I remember being both put off and drawn by the statuary and emotionally evocative visual images I encountered—all so literal, in my face and an affront to my more familiar “just between Jesus and me” theology.
Today I am grateful for such images, and should I hold any critique of Roman Catholicism for focusing on the suffering or dead Jesus, I can only extend that further to questioning if some Protestantism leaves the Rabbi Yeshua out completely in favor of a rebranded Greek-styled god called Jesus Christ.
As I mature in the paradox of accepting “Virescit vulnere virtus” or “Courage grows strong at a wound,” I am glad to explore the Jesus of the Sacred Heart. He is perhaps the figure to overcome the boundaries of the living, suffering and risen Son of Man, as well as the geographical and brutal socioeconomic boundaries of this world. The world needs more action heroes.
Thank you for sharing the Anima Christi with us, Br. Curtis. With it’s rich allusions it has been the source of contemplation for me over many years, a prayer I use after each act of communion. More should plumb its depths of meaning.
It has been many years since I recited this prayer in a child like way, by rote. Today as I read it the words and meanings penetrated my own heart. Thank you.