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On the June 15 feast of the Sacred Heart, Bill Zalot will consider the many ways and times God’s mercy has been communicated to him through his image of Jesus’ heart pierced by thorns.
BY Bill Zalot
I keep many
sacred images in my apartment. Like the pictures I have of family members and
friends, my holy artwork reproductions keep people who are special to me close
to my heart — no matter how far apart we may be, physically speaking, due to
miles or years or even death.
is a portrait of the Holy Family right here, a print of Rembrandt’s “Return of
the Prodigal Son” over there. But my favorite is an image of the Sacred Heart
of Jesus. I venerate it with special intensity each year on the Friday
following the second Sunday after Pentecost. That’s the feast of the Sacred
Heart. This year it falls on June 15. It’s a good day to ask: Why do we pause
to adore Jesus’ heart apart from the rest of his body?
“Only the heart of Christ who knows
the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy,” the
Catechism teaches us in No. 1439. It also notes that the Church venerates and
honors the Lord’s heart, which, “out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced
by our sins” (No. 2669).
In a way, devotion to the Sacred
Heart began at the foot of the cross. One of the soldiers stabbed Our Lord
through the heart with a spear to make sure the executioners’ job was finished.
In his Gospel account, John the Evangelist testifies that not only blood flowed
from the puncture but also water. Why water? There are multiple layers of
meaning to consider — too many to fully explore here. But two come instantly to
any Christian’s mind.
For one thing, we must be baptized
with water in order to be saved. For another, earlier in his ministry Jesus had
said: “If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me,
as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living
water’” (John 7:37-38).
The devotion got a big boost in
1675, when Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. He promised 12
spiritual benefits to all who devoted themselves to his Sacred Heart. (The
promises are posted online at enthronement-sh.org.)
And just last year Pope Benedict XVI
said that gazing upon Jesus’ pierced heart — the customary image shows his
heart ringed with the crown of thorns — “helps us become more attentive to the
suffering and needs of others” and “reinforces our desire to participate in
Jesus’ work of salvation by becoming his instruments.”
There are many devotional customs
associated with the Sacred Heart. One is the Litany of the Sacred Heart, in
which we address Jesus with a series of 33 poetic titles, one for each year of
his life. To each we respond: “Have mercy on us.” The Church grants a partial
indulgence to those who pray this prayer. (It’s online at
Another Sacred Heart observance is
to go to confession and attend Mass for First Friday in nine consecutive
months. I always try to do it and, despite my confinement to a wheelchair due
to spastic cerebral palsy, I’ve sometimes managed to pull it off.
As a sinner who depends on God’s
mercy, I need all the help I can get on my pilgrim journey toward heaven.
Looking with love at my image of the Sacred Heart, exposed and wounded for love
of us all, does wonders for my own heart.
It gives me strength to continue on,
one heartbeat at a time, toward the place Christ has prepared for me — close to
him and my loved ones who have gone before me.
I pray that it works the same
wonders in your heart.
Bill Zalot writes from