23 June 2022

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart: the Human Heart, Living Mystery at the Center of Self (Reprise)

(Preparing for Friday's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. Note that references to readings are for another year at this time.)

 Today's ordinary (daily Mass) readings use the text from 2 Corinthians I spoke about earlier this week, namely, "We hold a treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing power will be of God and not from ourselves." You may remember that in conjunction with that text and the Feast of Corpus Christi I spoke of Sue Bender's experience of seeing a broken and mended piece of Japanese ceramics. (Marking the Feast of Corpus Christi) She wrote, [[“The image of that bowl,” she writes, “made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized — filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”]]

That image has been with me all this week in prayer and also as I have reflected on the various readings, especially those from Paul. It seems entirely providential to me then that this year today, the day we would ordinarily hear a reading about treasure in earthen vessels, is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The image of this bowl --- broken, healed, and transfigured  reminds me of the Sacred Heart --- traditionally the most powerful symbol we have of the indivisible wedding of human and divine and of the power of Divine Love perfected and glorified (revealed) in both human and divine weakness; thus it has provided me with a wonderfully new and fresh image of the Sacred Heart and (at least potentially) of our own hearts as well.

The heart is the center of the human person. It is a deeply distinctive anthropo-logical or human reality --- at the center of all truly personal feeling, thought, creativity and behavior. As a physical organ it stands at the center of all physical functions within us as well empowering them, marking them with its pulsing life.

At the same time, it is primarily a theological term. It refers first of all to God and to a theological reality. Of course, it cannot be divorced from the human (and that is the very point!), but theologically speaking, the heart is the place within us where God bears witness to Godself, where life, truth and beauty, love and integrity, call to us and invite us to embrace, embody, and reveal them in our own unique ways. As I have noted before, in some important ways it is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where God dwells within us and bears witness to Godself, (and where we respond to that mystery deep within us) we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood) is a dialogical event where moment by moment God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are and (we hope) are called to be.

Everything comes together in the human heart --- or is held apart and left unreconciled by its distortions and self-centeredness. It is in the human heart broken open by love that the unity between spirit and matter is imagined, achieved, and then conveyed to the whole of creation. Here the division between earth and heaven, human and divine is bridged and healed. It is in the human heart that the unity of body and soul is achieved and celebrated.

The vulnerable and broken human heart is the paradoxical place where everything is brought together in the power and mercy of God's love; it is the place where human life is transfigured and then --- through us and the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us in Christ --- extended to the whole of creation itself. It is in the human heart that prejudices, biases, bitterness, selfishness, greed and so many other things are brought into the presence of God to be healed and transformed. At least this is the potential of the heart which is meant to be truly human and glorifies God. The human heart is holy ground and despite its limitations, distortions, darknesses, and narrownesses it is meant to shine with the expansiveness of God's creative "Yes!" Here is indeed treasure in earthen vessels.

And if this is true anywhere it is true in the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of the reunion of all of reality, the place in that unique life where human life becomes completely transparent to the love of God, the sacrament par excellence of the ministry of reconciliation where human and divine are inextricably wed and exhaustively revealed.

Imagine then an image of the Sacred Heart similar to the image Sue Bender described, a clay pot broken and broken open innumerable times by and to the realities it dares to be vulnerable to and allows to rest within itself. Imagine too that God, that supreme potter refashions it, mends it with his love --- a love that allows the cracks to glow with the light of heaven, a light that transforms the entire pot and all who are touched by its transcendent beauty and truth. This is what we celebrate on today's Feast. The scars will remain, but transfigured --- as though mended with brilliant silver. Light and love, water and blood will pour from this heart and, in time, God will love all of creation into wholeness through Jesus' mediation and through the ministry of each of us who allow our hearts to become the Sacred places God wills them to be.  We "hold" a treasure in earthen vessels. In us the surpassing power of God in Christ is at work reconciling all things to himself.