One of the most common depictions of Jesus in Western art outside the crucifixion is the depiction of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. All of these depictions show Our Lord’s closeness, tenderness, and love toward all of us. Out of the varying depictions of the Sacred Heart, there is one unique feature of all these artistic renderings in paint and sculpture and that is the position of Jesus’ hands. Sometimes, Jesus in His Sacred Heart is depicted with his hands in an open embrace toward each soul and the entire world. Other depictions often depict Jesus holding his Sacred Heart with one of his pierced hands and his other pierced hand is either pointing towards his heart or it is raised in priestly blessing.
However, there is a third depiction of the Sacred Heart that is the most important and overlooked because it has a two-fold meaning for the life of faith. In this depiction in art and statuary, Jesus is standing up with one of his pierced hands holding his wounded, enflamed, Sacred Heart and his other pierced hand is open and outstretched toward all who pray and pass by before him. The first meaning of this gesture of Jesus is that He wants to take us into His Sacred Heart. Yet to be taken into the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to pass through His side wound, where blood and water, grace and mercy flowed upon the world (cf. Jn 19:31-37). This is a love of a heart that desires to unite the mysteries of His Divine life into the ordinary events and mysteries that I face in my own life. This is alluded to in the Preface of the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus where it states:
For raised high on the Cross, He gave himself up for us with wonderful love and poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church’s Sacraments, so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior, all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
When we approach Jesus in the Eucharist with attention, reverence, and surrender, we are taken into the side wound of His heart. In His Sacred Heart, we are reborn as children of God, and we learn the way of trust, surrender, and love. To be taken into the heart of Jesus is to root my identity in Him and from that place where the springs of salvation gush forth upon me act with His grace and in His name. His heart becomes a place where I can unburden myself (cf. Mt 11:25-30) and allow him to be present to me in my joys and sorrows as a preparation for the full embrace of divine union with Him in heaven.
In being taken into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we experience what Saint Paul prays that we may “have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:18-19). This love sees beyond instinct, preference, ego, pain, and sin to a God who desires to be near us, help us carry our burdens, and fully flower in His love and grace. This is a love that sees the created goodness, truth, and beauty of the created order of the Holy Trinity and His plan of salvation for what it is in itself, as He gives me glimpses of it in my prayer and the ordinary events I face in my life.
The second meaning of Jesus holding His Sacred Heart and stretching out his hand towards me is that He wants to give us His own Sacred Heart to love with. Such a gesture and gift is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel where he states:
[Thus says the Lord] I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my decrees…and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezek 36:25-28)
This loving with the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to love God, myself, my neighbor, and all creation with the very love of the Holy Trinity in my own heart. Such a love removes all selfishness, and brokenness that narrows love into use and self-absorption. It burns away by its tender warmth all things that hold authentic love in bondage through sin and self-hate. This love of the Sacred Heart then allows me to see myself, creation, and others in my life with the very eyes of Jesus and leads to reverence and worship of the created order and the plan of salvation as God desires it.
To love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus will also lead us to pray with Jesus on the cross for those whose hearts are burdened and hardened by indifference, unbelief, blasphemy, and mortal sin. In praying and sacrificing for their conversion and salvation with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the same blood and water that flowed from His pierced heart can serve as a balm that can break walls and lead to healing and salvation even if we do not see the fruits of this prayer completely in this life.
There also is a phenomenon known as the exchange of hearts. This is when Our Lord has appeared to various saints in visions received through prayer and extracted their human hearts and placed within their bodies His Sacred Heart. This grace symbolizes mystical union and is usually indicated by a scar that appears on the chest of the saint who received it such as Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, and Saint Catherine Ricci. Yet we do not need to receive such a miraculous phenomenon in our interior lives to receive the gift of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. All we have to do is ask Him for His Heart to love with, whether we face easy or difficult situations.
This was a point once driven home to me when I was on an eight-day silent retreat as a seminarian in 2012. I decided to do one of my meditations outside before a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with His left pierced hand and his right pierced hand outstretched toward mine. I remember hearing in prayer, “Matthew give me your heart and I will give you mine.” I never forgot this moment and found in this grace an inexhaustible source of light and strength. So when we are wounded by sin, burdened by difficulties and desolations, or filled to the brim with consolations and joy, may we in prayer ask to love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus with trust, confidence, boldness, and love. This is a prayer that delights Our Lord and is one He is always eager to grant no matter where we have been or what we may be facing currently:
“Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, give me your heart to love you with!
Give me your heart to love myself with, in my goodness, beauty, darkness and sin.
Give me your heart to love those closest to me.
Give me your heart to love those who have betrayed and wounded me.
Give me your heart to love in times of sorrow and joy,
peace and pain, in grace and temptation.
Give me your heart to love with in all things,
whether it be easy or hard.
Give me your heart to love with
through the Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of your Holy Mother Mary,
she who through the yes of her heart
you entered into the world as the fruit of her womb
and took upon Yourself our human nature.
For my heart is so limited and wounded,
but in Your heart and by the power of Your grace
I can do all things for the love of You and the praise of Your glory. Amen.”
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