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Friday, September 16, 2016

Reflections on the Sacred Heart

[I wrote this last June, but never got around to posting it.]

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My Franciscan Province has the Sacred Heart as its patron, so this day is doubly special for us.

I subscribe to a magazine called Sojourners. The editors describe themselves as "liberal evangelicals." They are not Catholic, but the magazine often includes pieces by Catholic writers.

This morning I was reading in that magazine a review of a book called Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. The book talks about how Christian churches so often see Jesus as someone who should be in charge of society, which is not the way the Gospels present Jesus.

I was praying the "Office" this morning. The opening prayer had the words: "Come, let us worship Jesus, whose heart was wounded for love of us." That prayer jarred me. It seemed to reflect an assumption that Jesus was in charge of his own suffering, so he let his heart be wounded because he loves us.

That is the spirit of much of our traditional Catholic piety, and especially the piety centering on the Sacred Heart. Jesus came down from heaven, saw how much evil there is in the world, and let himself suffer in order to make atonement for that evil. Without that atonement, God the Father would continue to be angry with the human race.

As I continued my with the psalms, the tone changed. The psalms reflect the attitude that we are in trouble, and we depend on God to help us. Jesus prayed those psalms. Tradition said that King David was the author of all of the psalms, so there was a Latin saying "In David, Christus." "When you pray the psalms, you see Christ." I really feel that when I pray the psalms.

But the psalms are not prayers of someone in charge. For example, look at today's responsorial psalm, and imagine Jesus praying it:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

This is not the prayer of someone in charge of society.

I see the incarnation as God becoming human because God wanted to share in everything human except sin. So when Jesus was arrested and condemned and executed, he was not voluntarily looking at all the sinfulness of the world and saying "I love them so much that I am going to suffer to make up for all that evil." That attitude seems to make him in charge of the situation. I see him praying "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" which is the opening verse of psalm 22. Jesus shared the deepest defeat of us human beings. He loved us so much that he wanted to be with us in that kind of suffering. He really was powerless at that moment and throughout his life.

If we look at Jesus that way, we do not see ourselves as in charge of society. Our lives are to share in the least powerful people of our society, not the greatest ones. We clergy should not be always invited to sit at the head table. Jesus would not belong there. Jesus would belong in the kitchen.

The book review I mentioned blames our Christian racism on the attitude that we know what is virtuous, and the people who do not look like us are not as virtuous as they should be, so we must pray for them so they will become like us. We need to see all of us, no matter what color our skin is, as sharing in the human destiny that God shares in the incarnation. We are all of us standing or sitting or kneeling, or flat on our faces in the presence of a God who loves each of us and wants each of us to have life and have it more abundantly. None of us is in charge of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent message, Joe.

    I think that "atonement" Christianity got off on a bad start with Paul, and that service Christianity is a step in the right direction. There is still a danger in the "service" model where there can still be a sense that the one doing the service is somehow superior to those receiving the service.

    We are called to share what we have not to determine whether we have more or less than the ones we are sharing with.