The Way of Love – Br. James Koester

I am not sure when the Feast of the Sacred Heart entered the liturgical life of our community, but it is an image found in Father Benson from the earliest days. Speaking to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in 1869, three years after the birth of our community, he says:

Love was the guiding principle of [Jesus’] life, and entered into every relationship of his earthly life. Think of the love of Jesus for those who came to him in penitence. Think of the loving grief of that Sacred Heart for all the sin and sorrow and misery that lay around him, – that poor, sin-laden, suffering humanity, which love brought him down to earth to save. And then the love reaching even beyond the grave for the souls gone into the very region of the kingdom of Satan.[1]

On another occasion he tells his listeners,

The love of Jesus is a light within our hearts, quickening the faculties of all our life. However near God might call [us] to himself, it would avail nothing for [our] redemption, it would but show [us our] own sinfulness, and reveal more clearly the meaning of [our] own nature. We must have more than nearness to God, we must have union with [God] – and this can only be in Jesus.[2]

Living then in Jesus, not simply near Jesus, we come to live in the love of Jesus.

Oh live in the love of Jesus, he told the Brethren during the summer retreat of 1874. So shalt thy find thyself satisfied. In the love of Jesus thou wilt know thy sin. In the love of Jesus thou wilt know the worthlessness of the world. In the love of Jesus thou wilt know what the glory of God is. In the love of Jesus thou wilt experience the mysterious foretaste of the abundance of redemptive glory. Oh cherish the love of Jesus![3]

Living in the love of Jesus and cherishing that love, we come to love as Jesus, and with the heart of Jesus.

We must go forth into the world, he tells us, with a heart that imitates the Heart of Jesus. It is for us to seek to have that Heart really communicated to us; it is for us to ask him to take our hearts away and give us his, – that Heart which he yearns to find reproduced.[4]

Living in the love of Jesus, loving as Jesus, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, beating within our breasts, we come to know the power of the love of Christ as the law of our being, … [loving] all that are around, according to the fullness of the same law. As Jesus loveth all, so must we, if our hearts are really moved by his holy Heart. The love of [others] grows out of the love of God. We love [others] because they are redeemed in Christ. We love them because we see the love of God resting upon them.[5]

In a world marked by fear, injustice, hatred, disease, and poverty, the Feast of the Sacred Heart invites us to another way of life. It invites us to follow Jesus in his way of love, loving all, because they too are loved by God.

Oh we must learn to look into that all-embracing Heart, and therein to attain to love one another. We cannot know the love of Jesus unless we do know that love whereby he redeemed [all humanity]. We cannot know the love of Jesus unless we do know that love whereby he sanctifies the elect. We cannot know the love of Jesus unless we do enter into his mighty purpose. To have our portion in that love implies the full recognition of all who are called to share in the same. Mediate on the necessity of loving one another in as much as all are gathered into the same Sacred Heart, which is the fountain of love.[6]

We have the power to change the world, and that power lies within our breasts, for when we live in the love of Jesus, we will come to love as Jesus, with the very heart of Jesus which transfigures and glorifies all that it touches.


Homily preached by Brother James Koester SSJE on Friday, 19 June 2020, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, in the Monastery Chapel, Cambridge MA.

[1] Benson, Richard Meux, Notes of a retreat given to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, 1869, as quoted in Look to the Glory, compiled by Granville Mercer Williams SSJE, Cowley – Bracebridge Press, 1966, page 27

[2] Ibid., Notes of a retreat given to the Community of St. Peter, Horbury, Yorkshire, 1873,  as quoted in Look to the Glory, page 28

[3] Ibid., from Instructions on the Religious Life, Second Series, as quoted in Look to the Glory, page 28

[4] Ibid., Notes of a retreat given to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, 1868, as quoted in Look to the Glory,  page 30

[5] Ibid., Notes of the SSJE Christmas Community Retreat, 1874, as quoted in Look to the Glory, page 28

[6] Ibid., Notes of the SSJE Christmas Community Retreat, 1874, as quoted in Look to the Glory,  page 29

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7 Comments

  1. Randy LaRosa on June 7, 2024 at 09:19

    I want to thank all of the Brothers for these daily sermons and reflections. They are a great source of comfort and inspiration to my every day life .
    Thank You All So Very Much.
    Randy La Rosa

  2. Bill Palmer on June 7, 2024 at 08:53

    I’ve always reacted to the imagery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as something rather grotesque. My Puritan eyes have been opened this morning by your words, Br. James, and those of Father Benson. Now, I will never see it as other than a reminder of Love that endured the cross (and the awful anticipation of that ordeal) for the sake of a broken world–and my own brokenness.

  3. CR on June 7, 2024 at 07:01

    A few thoughts about the devotion to the Sacred Heart:

    Yes, the temptation exists to sneer at those mass-produced, “saccharine” images of the Sacred Heart that, a generation or two or three ago, seemed to be nearly everywhere. But to do so would be a terrible mistake.

    In a journal entry of November 29, 1952, Thomas Merton explains why we should rethink our snobbery: “There really is an abyss of light in the things the simplest faithful believe and love. And which seem trite to the intellectuals. Perhaps the simplest and most popular truths are the deepest after all.”

    I think that the Sacred Heart used to be, at least sometimes, “weaponized,” the idea being that since Jesus was fully human, he was also capable of fully human sorrow and that therefore our behavior caused him pain. The idea was, basically, “When you are bad, you hurt Jesus’s heart.”
    But I think the Sacred Heart can also be understood as the means by which Jesus understands our human pain: because he has a human heart himself, he knows what human sorrow is. The locus of Jesus’s infinite compassion for our pain is indeed his Sacred Heart.

    If you go back and look at those much-disdained, “saccharine” images that graced so many dime-store shelves decades ago, you will see, at least in some of them, the representation of this love and compassion. The expression on his face is one of tenderness and solicitude. He points to his Sacred Heart and tells us with his eyes, “Yes, my beloved, I feel your pain. I am with you as you suffer.”

  4. Wendy on June 11, 2021 at 11:45

    A question arose as I this read today.
    What about the pharisees and scribes and sadducees?
    What indications do we have that Jesus loved them?
    Or how do we love those in our time who are evil, manipulative, narcissistic etc?
    How to Love with NO!
    It’s a bit more complex than saying that I love the person but not the behavior.

  5. Sharon on June 11, 2021 at 09:10

    Ages ago, when I was a somewhat arrogant agnostic ,the Sacred Heart images just seemed a little creepy and tasteless to me. But I also didn’t pay any attention to them – I rarely encountered them at all . Some years later, I started using a variant as one of my focuses for prayer . I cannot say how or why it happened. I just opened myself to an image for a focus and there it was. Was it God being a bit mischievous? Maybe.
    My thought today is that although we should follow Christ, sometimes that’s not the right focus. Being ‘in Christ” is different . It lets us focus on our own paths, no matter how small or peculiar.

  6. Ann Hoffman on June 11, 2021 at 08:12

    I love the daily “Word” from SSJE and have found myself wanting to read the whole sermon every day! Thank you so much!
    I especially love listening to the sermon, for it adds an important dimension of inspiration by and connection to each Brother. Please, please continue to share the audio where it exists!!
    Thank you for all the effort that goes into sharing the “Word.” God bless all of you at SSJE!

  7. Pat on June 25, 2020 at 20:44

    This was my father’s favorite image of Christ.

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