It took me a while to appreciate the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion. To tell the truth, as a convert, it all seemed kind of sappy, sentimental and well, French. All hearts and flowers and perfume–almost like a Valentine from Jesus. Yucch.
But then I learned about St Margaret Mary Alacogue and realized that she (like all the saints) was pretty tough. The saints inevitably endure some sort of suffering in their identification with Christ, so it has to be that Christ’s love–shown in the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everlasting love–but it is also tough love.
C.S.Lewis once wrote to a friend who had lost his wife and was questioning the love of God. He said that his friend was experiencing “a severe mercy”. When thinking about the love of God it is absolutely vital that we keep this in mind. God’s love is unconditional and everlasting, but it is also a tough love. I’ve written here about “Rooster Cogburn Catholicism” a Catholicism that is tender but tough. One of the most terrible things about modern Christianity is that we have forgotten this. In an attempt to please everyone we’ve turned Christianity into a soft and sentimental self help philosophy.
Americans live and breathe an entertainment culture, and this lust to be entertained has ripped the true heart out of Catholicism and replaced it with an artificial, sugary heart. In an attempt to keep people from leaving their parishes (and taking their money with them) priests have appeased them, given them a happy clappy, warm hearted feel good version of the faith. It’s cotton candy Catholicism, and like cotton candy, it’s all sweetness and hot air–and too much of it rots your soul as cotton candy rots your teeth.
Combined with the soft hearted, cotton candy Catholicism which is demanded of those addicted to entertainment is the influence of the consumer mentality. Church goers want what they want and when they want it. They shop and hop from church to church, and this desire to have it their way is one of the great enemies to the development of a deep spirituality and a barrier from truly learning about the unconditional love of Christ.
The love of Christ is unconditional. Jesus loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. We need discipline and perseverance and training in holiness if we are to climb the mountain to heaven. Going where we want for church because it suits us and makes us feel good is counter productive. This doesn’t mean we must endure the worst church in the world simply because it will teach us patience and fortitude. However, we are called to be patient and strong when things do not always go our way.
The love of God is sweet and tender, but it is also astringent and tough. We have to be sweet and salty at the same time. We have to be flexible but not brittle.
The qualities we need are pictured in the sacred heart of Jesus. Meditate on the image for a moment. The heart is exposed so we must be vulnerable. The heart is red and warm so we must be passionate, but the heart is also entwined with thorns–which means we must endure the crown of thorns and gather up our suffering and the suffering of the whole world into this sacred heart. It is also a heart that is on fire–a fire that warms and inspires, but also a fire that purifies and burns away all that is wood, hay and stubble–all the worthless trash in our lives.
This is the heart of love for the Catholic, and any form of Christianity which offers only the sweet red glow of the love of God and forgets the thorns and the fire is a false religion.