This year, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus will be celebrated on June 16 and is one of my favorite days in the Church calendar. As I have become more and more involved in the new evangelization, I have come to realize that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a crucial part of evangelization and relationship with Him. Trying to effectively convey the love that God has for His children is impossible without bringing them first to the Sacred Heart, where the depth and breadth of His love is felt and seen.
The Sacred Heart is an image or phrase that many of us may be familiar with, but what does it actually mean? The image of the Sacred Heart was given to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the late 16th century during a vision of Jesus that she experienced. Jesus desired not for Alacoque to keep this image to herself, but to share it with all people so that they could understand how deep His love was for them, and so that they had a way to return this love. When we look at the image of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, we see the entirety of His love for us. Through the flames we can see how He burns out of love for us. The thorns show us the depths of eternal suffering He is willing to endure for us, and His blood spilling out perpetually reminding us that the freely given gift of His love never can and never will be taken away.
We cannot bring others to encounter Jesus Christ without His Sacred Heart. We need to carry it within ourselves so that when we meet others they meet Him first, encountering His radical love as it flows into us and overflows into those around us. We also need to carry His heart for the people we encounter, asking Him to show us the way He loves the people around us so that we can love them in that same way. When we encounter the people around us with the love of the Sacred Heart, we help them to realize that there is a person who infinitely sees, knows, and loves them, and desires more than anything else to be in relationship with them, and His name is Jesus Christ.
Contained with the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the love He has for each of us, and the love we have for Him. When looking at His heart, Jesus invites each of us to find home within His heart and allow His heart to be at home within ours. The Sacred Heart is the image of Christ’s love for us, and the way we are called to respond to it. Looking at the radical, never ending love He has for us, the only response we have is radical, complete love given back to Him. We are called to receive the flame of love He gives us through the Holy Spirit and burn out of love for Him. We tend to His wounds in our love and unification of our sacrifice and suffering to His. We open ourselves up to Him and allow the Divine Mercy flowing from His pierced heart to wash over us. The Sacred Heart is not merely a symbol of love and salvation, but a call to relationship with Him.
In preparation for Pentecost this year, I began reflecting on its significance in my life and the life of the Church. When we as Catholics hear the word “Pentecost,” several things may come to mind. To some it is simply the birthday of the Church, to others it is the day signifying the end of the Easter season, to others still it may be a day that comes and goes without notice. That is how Pentecost was for me for a long time: a day that happened without me noticing until I realized a week later that all of the Easter decorations in the church were gone. As I grew deeper in my faith, I began to see the importance of Pentecost as the start of the Church and the reception of the Holy Spirit, but there was still something missing in my understanding of this day. I knew that Pentecost was supposed to be more than just a day that comes and goes each year, but I struggled to see how a day that happened two thousand years ago would impact the way I live my life today.
When we look at Acts 2, we can see what Pentecost was like. It was a time of prayer, fasting, waiting for God to fulfill His promises, and the fulfillment of those promises in the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. The beauty of this event when we look at it in Scripture is that this is not something that happened two thousand years ago. We know that Scripture is performative, that it is living, active, and does what it says. If we as Catholics are disciples of the Lord, then that means that this living reality of the descent of the Holy Spirit is something that we can experience as well, and we do so through the sacraments. And as disciples who have received the Holy Spirit, we can follow the footsteps of the Apostles and take the Holy Spirit with us out into the world, spreading the good news of the Gospel to those we encounter, using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring glory to God.
Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all spoken about the coming of and need for a new Pentecost. As the world we live in grows increasingly secular, as the number of people who know and experience the love of Jesus Christ diminishes, it is our job as Christians, as missionary disciples, to cry out for a new Pentecost. We must ask for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us like He did at Pentecost, to give us the gifts we need in order to guide those around us to encounter God. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord—we have the ability to listen to the Holy Spirit and be obedient to His will in our lives. When we live with recognition of this reality, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us and our actions, we can live as witnesses like the Apostles did after Pentecost, carrying Christ’s Spirit in us at all times, allowing Him to breathe His life and love into those we encounter.
Last month I had the opportunity to go to Lisieux, France, and visit the tomb and home of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. While visiting the Carmelite monastery where she lived, one thing that struck me was the hundreds of letters from soldiers fighting in World War I, letters thanking Therese for her intercessory prayer from heaven that miraculously protected them during battle. Not knowing how to thank her, these soldiers sent letters of gratitude to her religious order. It was these letters that opened her cause for canonization. St. Therese is now considered the patron saint of missionaries because of her powerful intercession. This experience brought me to reflect on the importance of intercession in our lives and how we can better live intercessory lives by imitating the model of St. Therese’s life.
It seems that asking for intercessory prayers is a part of the daily life of many Catholics, but what is our disposition when this happens? It can be so tempting to half-heartedly ask someone to intercede for a person or situation in your life, not expecting anything to happen as a result. Even more often, I find myself saying yes to intercede for someone and then not putting the intention and time into the prayer that I should. I think the main cause of all of these roadblocks in intercession comes from not understanding the power our prayer has, and this is a lesson we can learn from St. Therese.
St. Therese realized that our prayer has power because it is the cry of children to their Father, a Father who can’t resist saying “yes” to His children. She saw prayer not as bargaining with God, but as uniting her will and desires to God’s and asking that the same happen for whoever she was interceding for. Approaching prayer in this way radically changes the way that we intercede for others. We can step out and ask for prayer boldly and with confidence, because we can trust that the prayers will help bring about God’s will in our lives, not our own.
Another key part of St. Therese’s model for intercession is that she saw intercession not as her own work, but as God’s work. St. Therese called her spirituality “the little way,” and it involves recognizing our own weakness and littleness before God and asking Him to sanctify us and bring us closer to Him through our littleness. One of the most fundamental keys to intercession is believing in the power of our prayers despite our littleness and imperfection. To understand the power of our prayer, we need to understand that God delights in us and desires to use us in our littleness. St. Therese explains that when we become little, we make room for God to work. If we apply this same principle to intercessory prayer, we see that no matter how small or simple the prayer, God wants to use it for His greater glory. God doesn’t ask us for a big complicated prayer but for the honest prayer of our hearts, no matter its size.
Intercessory prayer is one of the most important parts of Catholic life, but often it can be overlooked. Looking at the model of St. Therese and her little way, we can learn that intercessory prayer is a beautiful part of our lives. Further, we see that it can make a real, tangible difference in the natural and supernatural realities around us when we offer our prayers with full confidence in God’s providence despite our littleness. St. Therese, pray for us, and teach us how to intercede like you!
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
There’s a moment in every Lent when I begin to stumble. When the promises I made seem too difficult, when I convince myself that the Lord doesn’t need my sacrifice, when I begin to follow the call of comfort and leave Christ’s side—and very suddenly I find myself lost in the desert. Maybe this experience sounds familiar to you, finding yourself two, four, six weeks into Lent, and all of a sudden you lose your motivation and forget why you decided to make your Lenten promises in the first place. It can be tempting when you find yourself in the place I fondly call “the mid-Lent slump” to give up entirely and say, “Maybe next year will be better,” “Maybe next year will be my year,” but in this post I want to present a different solution. This year, when we find ourselves lost in the desert, let’s press into the discomfort and ask Christ to teach us how to be with Him there.
There’s a meditation that I have found to be incredibly helpful when I find myself in this place during Lent. Begin by placing yourself at the scene of the Baptism in the Jordan. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? How do you feel when it is revealed that the man in front of you is the Son of God? Then Jesus begins to walk into the desert and you follow Him. Why do you follow? Have you prepared for this trip, or have you brought nothing, trusting that He will provide? How do you feel now that you are in the desert?
When we find ourselves in “the mid-Lent slump,” we need to remind ourselves of why we committed to Lent in the first place. When we are able to remember this “why,” we are given new strength to continue into the desert, to press in with Jesus into the discomfort, leaning on Him for strength, because we realize we aren’t alone in the desert. All of this, however, can be very difficult without practical steps to return to Jesus in the desert. Here are some that I have found to be most helpful when Lent becomes difficult.
Most importantly, as you press into Lent in the midst of the “slump,” remember the Lord’s unending mercy and love for you. As it says in Joel 2, God desires for us to return to Him with contrite hearts so that He can pour out His mercy and grace onto us. When you find yourself struggling in Lent, turn back to Him in all His kindness, and ask Him to walk with you and give you the strength you need to continue following Him into the desert.
“Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only He gives the fullness of life to humanity!” – Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the 20th World Youth Day
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, it was always easy to take the Eucharist for granted. Even though I recognized the true presence, it was tempting to see Holy Communion, adoration, and Jesus being present in the tabernacle as a bonus to the faith and not the foundation of the way I lived my life. Now that I serve in youth ministry, I see that this line of thinking too often becomes the norm for young Catholics.
But what happens when young Catholics live a life centered around the Eucharist, when they allow themselves to be consumed by Christ, finding complete freedom in complete surrender? They begin to live in their identity as beloved sons and daughters.
I got to witness this transformation firsthand this summer serving as a missionary with Catholic Youth Summer Camp. Every week, I watched middle school and high school students meet Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time, experiencing His love and feeling the truth of their identity in a real, tangible way. And every week after these experiences, there was a shift in the way these kids lived their lives. It was as if they were no longer afraid of being judged or not accepted by the teenagers around them; instead, they were confident in the sufficiency of the love they felt from God. When the campers started to recognize and feel the truth of their identity as sons and daughters, when they realized that they can look into Jesus in the Eucharist and physically see that truth, they no longer cared about the opinions of the people around them and would do whatever brought them joy. This often looked like the small but life-changing steps of fully entering into the Mass and worship, taking times of prayer seriously, and having childlike fun and joy throughout the day.
Throughout the summer, I began to realize that the experience that these teenagers had in their first moment of encounter with Jesus, the childlike joy and freedom they experienced, is not an experience for them—or for children—alone. All of us, including You and I, are all seen by the Father as His beloved daughters and sons, and He desires to show us that truth and the love He holds for us in a real, tangible way through the Eucharist. Every time we receive Jesus into our bodies, every time we spend time gazing into His face in adoration, we give Him the opportunity to remind us of how unconditionally loved we are, how we belong with Him and nothing else. These truths give us the freedom to not fear what waits in the world, nor fear the chains of sin or worldliness. They help us recognize that there is no fear in the perfect love we experience living in Jesus Christ, and the only thing we have to worry about is following His will. When the world is not something to fear, we can recognize creation as the gift that it is and receive what the Lord has waiting for us.
The next time you go to Mass or adoration, recognize that Love Incarnate is entering you in order to prove just how far He’ll go to show that you belong with Him. Allow that truth of His unconditional love and your belonging in it to shape the way you live your life, embracing the freedom He has won and given to us.