The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart may be a June feast, but Christian life is not quite right without its daily celebration — a renewed consecration to, unity with, and envelopment in love incarnate.
That’s the theme of Legionary Father Thomas Williams’ book A Heart Like His: Meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, released in June by Circle Press.
Lopez recently spoke to Father Williams about the book and about Our Lord’s most Sacred Heart:
You confess to relics making you squeamish, even after living nearly two decades in Rome. How do you explain the beauty of some of these devotions? What’s the point of kissing or kneeling before a body part of a saintly person? How is the Sacred Heart of Jesus different than the odd-sized skull of St. Agnes in her church at Piazza Navona in Rome?
The word “relic” literally means “what is left behind.” Relics could be bone chips or body parts or even clothing that the saint wore, which serve as poignant reminders of what holy people did and in a way represent their presence with us still.
As important as relics are, however, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is something altogether different. It’s not something he “left behind.” It is his real heart of flesh and blood that beats for each of us. It is the symbol of his true humanity and his love, a love that is not platonic or speculative, but present, personal and passionate.
You write that “Knowing Jesus Christ means more than knowing when and where he lived, or what he said and did. It means getting to know him more intimately by penetrating into his heart.” How the heck do you penetrate into his heart?
Jesus isn’t like Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Churchill. He is more than a historical figure that we read about in textbooks. He is alive today, accessible in a way that no historical figure is.
Because he is real, present and active in our lives, we have a chance to know him in a way that we can know no other person. He makes himself available to us. He reveals his heart to us. He wants us to know him.
So when we read the Gospels, for example, we are not reading just words or dead letters. He speaks to each of us personally, since his word is living. To know him we must spend time with him, converse with him, open our lives to him.
How is devotion to the Sacred Heart a “down-to-earth” devotion?
Catholicism is very earthy. Jesus himself was very “physical.” He chose to be born in a cold stable. He worked with wood. He made wine. He walked long distances. He overturned tables in the Temple. He cured a blind man by first spitting on the ground and making a mud paste to apply to the man’s eyes. He knew when he had been “touched” by a woman with a hemorrhage and power went out from him.
Jesus was far from the esoteric “spiritualism” that forms the core of much Eastern spirituality. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is deeply sacramental — constantly mixing the tangible with the intangible, matter and spirit.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart invites us to love here and now, concretely, practically, as Jesus did. Not in some theoretical, spiritualized way, but in all its earthy, gritty reality.
How does it help me know who I am and who I was created to be?
Each of us was created in God’s image and likeness, and in baptism we were adopted and made “sons in the Son.” We were meant to look like Jesus, to think like Jesus, to act like Jesus.
He is the perfect human being, what each of us should aspire to. But the resemblance we are called to have is not some external disguise, like a Halloween costume to be put on and taken off, but a change from within. We are called to let him re-forge our hearts so that they will resemble his own.
Why is his heart so important?
The heart represents who a person is at the deepest, truest level. The Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes his personal, passionate love for the Father and for every single one of us. It symbolizes his principles, his convictions, his aspirations, his resolve, his compassion, his tenderness. The heart is what moves us to act and makes us who we are.
“In order to grow in faith and love we Christians need to experience the love of Christ. We need to see it, feel it, grasp it, be overwhelmed by it, immerse ourselves in it. Only the intense experience of being unconditionally loved — by none other than God himself — can enable us to love him and others as we yearn to.” How do we do all that?
The saints — beginning with St. John the Evangelist — have constantly taught that we can only love when we have experienced what it is to be loved.
It is only through the experience of God’s overpowering love for us that we, in turn, are empowered to love him and others in return. Love isn’t something we fabricate in ourselves or the result of pure willpower. As St. Paul says, it is the love of God himself that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Before it is a choice, love is a gift.
Isn’t that the stuff of saints?
Of course. But in the eyes of God, each one of us is a saint in the making. When God looks on us, he sees the saints he created us to be. If only we could think of ourselves in this way! All of us, in the end, have the vocation to sainthood. It is what we were created for.
We come upon an issue: This book is dated. It’s addressed to the month of June. But it really is and could and should be any 30-day exercise, couldn’t it?
Originally, I intended the book to be a companion for the month of June, but soon realized, as you say, that it could be used profitably for any month of the year. The next edition of the book [now available] will eliminate the dates.
How can Jesus thirst? How can God need anything, least of all us?
It is mysterious to think that God has chosen to need us and that Jesus truly “thirsts” for us. Jesus longs for our love. But he longs for our love so that his love can fill us more completely. Our love doesn’t fill up something lacking in Jesus, but opens us up to the fullness of union that he desires for us.
What’s the most important thing you learned about the Sacred Heart of Jesus while writing this book?
As I was writing the book I realized over and over again that Jesus is a well that never runs dry. Every day we can learn new things about him, surprising things, wonderful things.
We never exhaust the riches of his personality, and his love for us is always new and beautiful. It makes me realize why we will never become bored in heaven. Jesus never grows old or stale. Every day with him is a new discovery and another step in an eternal adventure of love.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read the entire interview here.