I’ve written a lot about this feast in previous years but realise I’d never admitted, until recently, that the often syrupy form it takes in some parishes was always a barrier to my appreciation of its theology and, indeed, historicity (it was clearly a pre-Reformation devotion at Netley, which was impeccably Cistercian). I suspect others feel the same. The clue to overcoming this will be found, as so often, in the preface for the feast and its reference to the piercing of Christ’s side with a lance as he hung on the cross, and the streams of grace and mercy which flowed from the wound.
Videos and television may have accustomed us to the sight of gore. Blood flowing from a wound may no longer have the power to shock. But for a Christian, the thought of God’s Son shedding his blood for us is truly awful. (Interesting: I originally wrote ‘bleeding for us’ but thought the more conventional phrase might be less offensive . . .) The blood of Christ washes us clean of sin, nourishes us in the Eucharist and restores us to union with God. Christ’s heart pulses eternally with that redemptive blood. The feast of the Sacred Heart, therefore, challenges us with a love so complete, so unremitting, that we are forced to choose: will we accept that love, or reject it? One of the wisest things ever said to me was to look in the eyes of a crucifix and say, if I dared, that I didn’t give a damn. One might do the same with an image of the Sacred Heart. Who could possibly be indifferent?