“I need a Heart...who will be my support forever” (Saint Thérèse).
The Salve Regina is right when it calls this world a “vale of tears.” From Mary Magdalene to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the saints have sought in the Sacred Heart of Jesus their solace along this painful path we call life. If you are looking for a friend who will be refuge and strength in your every need, these two great saints point you to the most Sacred Heart of the Master.
In the still-darkened dawn, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb in which her Master had been laid after being taken down from the cross. It was the third day since the beating of that great Heart ceased on the hill of Calvary. Did Magdalene have any tears left to shed? Any marks of grief not yet exhausted?
Unknown to her, God was coming to meet her there at the tomb. He veiled his glory, showing her first his face, before allowing her to hear once again her name upon his lips: Mary.
Like Mary Magdalene, we all want to see the face of God. It is a desire planted in us at our creation, for it is the final goal of our lives to see the glory of God, to surrender to the glory of God.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, in her poem “To the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” declares how, like Mary Magdalene, she wants to see God. She writes of her own search for him:
“I need a heart burning with tenderness,
Who will be my support forever,
Who loves everything in me, even my weakness...
And who never leaves me day or night.”
Little Thérèse, in words typical of her Little Way, does not consider the symbol of Christ’s Heart wounded by the lance, a picture with which we are so familiar. Instead, she opens up for us the reality of that Heart: “the loving Person of Jesus, his deep feelings, and the love that fills his Heart” (The Poetry of St Thérèse of Lisieux: The Complete Edition, ICS Publications). For her, Mary Magdalene is the woman who opens up to us the floodgates of tenderness from a Heart that has loved us as no other.
She cries out in her poem, as if she herself suddenly sees Jesus face to face who has come in answer to her call:
“You heard me, only Friend whom I love.
To ravish my heart, you became man.
You shed your blood, what a supreme mystery!...
And you still live for me on the Altar.”
John Henry Newman, convert, cardinal, and major figure in the Oxford Movement, whose canonization is expected to take place later this year, composed this prayer to the Sacred Heart that is found in his Meditations and Devotions. He reminds us where we can find the Master’s face today, where the Heart of Jesus still beats: at the altar. What joy that after we receive Jesus in communion, we can pray, “O make my heart beat with Thy Heart.”
O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still… I worship Thee with all my best love and awe, with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will.
O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, O make my heart beat with Thy Heart.
Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness.
So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace. Amen.
Jesus wants to replace our heart, with all its suffering and treacherous disorders, with his own Heart. The story of Saint Lutgarde has always inspired me. Born in the 13th century, Saint Lutgarde was a Cistercian mystic of Aywieres, Belgium. She was one of the great precursors of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Christ came to Lutgarde and offered her any gift of grace she desired. She asked for a better grasp of Latin, so that she might better understand the word of God and sing his praise. She thought this gift would help her love the Lord more. Christ granted her request and Lutgarde’s mind was flooded with the riches of psalms, antiphons, readings, and responsories. However, her painful emptiness persisted. She returned to Christ, asking to return his gift, and wondering if she might exchange it for another. “And for what would you exchange it?” Christ asked. “Lord,” said Lutgarde, “I would exchange it for your Heart.” Christ then reached into Lutgarde and, removing her heart, replaced it with his own, at the same time hiding her heart within his breast.
All we need to do is ask for this most precious of gifts. We may feel no different. We will still fall in our weakness. But with Saint Thérèse we need not fear our littleness. As she prays in her poem To The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:
Ah! I know well, all our righteousness
Is worthless in your sight.
To give value to my sacrifices,
I want to cast them into your Divine Heart.
...I hide myself in your Sacred Heart, Jesus.
I do not fear, my virtue is You!...
Thérèse teaches us to not tremble before the history of our weakness and sin or before the power of Almighty God. Instead, she encourages us to dare to trust, to cast our works into Jesus’ Heart. Even this daring is an expression of her love, and it can be also an expression of our own.
I pray this prayer for you. Let us pray it for each other:
O Heart beating with love for us, help us find you, always waiting for us, to show us your face. Oh what joy it must give you to find us there before the Blessed Sacrament where your Heart beats still and your love pours forth on the sisters and brothers you so love!
When tears moisten our pillows and depression weighs down our spirits, lift us up by calling us by name, turning our eyes to your face.
Let us remember that even as we look for you, you have already come in search of us, eager to reveal to us that we are, with all our weaknesses, welcome in your Father’s embrace.
Take our hearts as your own, hearts so in need of purification and consolation, disordered in so many ways. Cast our hearts into the fire that burns in your own most Sacred Heart.
Plant within us, tender Master, your own Heart, that your fire burning within us might propel us to help, preserve, and nurture every living being, that we might run through the world sharing the glorious inheritance you have freely given us by rescuing us completely from the rule of darkness, cancelling our sins, and translating us into your kingdom forever (cf. Colossians 1: 5, 12-13).
I praise you now for all you are working in us, all you will accomplish in us, for the holiness you will bring about in each of us and all we love. Amen.