How the Sacred Heart Transforms Us

There seem to be two types of icons of the Sacred Heart.

In one type, such as this one and this one, flames twist out of the top of the Sacred Heart, with a cross rising out of them. The heart is encircled with a crown of thorns and shines bright.

Note that the Heart is exposed and Jesus is pointing to it. Here then is the radical openness of His love. Normally a wound is something concealed and bandaged up—because an exposed wound continues to bleed and risks infection. But Jesus exposes His innermost of wounds from the cross to us. And He does so deliberately in directing our gaze to it.

The icon thus becomes an invitation.

The second type of icon, as exemplified here and here, extends the invitation. In this type, many of the features of the first are present—the fire of love, the cross and the crown. But there is one key difference. In this second series, Jesus is holding His heart, as if to offer it to us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

So it was promised to us in Ezekiel 36:26.

In the Sacred Heart, this prophecy is profoundly fulfilled.

But how exactly do we receive the heart of Jesus?

The answer is rooted in the reasons for the prophecy in the first place.

In the Old Testament, those who worshipped idols became like them. As Psalm 115 explains,

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths but do not speak,
eyes but do not see.
They have ears but do not hear,
noses but do not smell.
They have hands but do not feel,
feet but do not walk;
they produce no sound from their throats.
Their makers will be like them,
and anyone who trusts in them (vv. 4-8).

As Isaiah 44:9 puts it, those who made idols—which are nothing but inert wood or stone—become like them, transforming themselves into nothingness. These texts point to an important biblical principle: “We become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.” (This quote is adapted from the book, We Become What We Worship, by G.K. Beale, who happens to be the author’s father.)

In worshipping spiritless, material objects, idolaters become like them: unable to think, speak, see, or feel. Idolatry makes us less than ourselves.

It is in this context that we should understand what Ezekiel 36:26 says about new hearts. The language is clearly reminiscent of other Old Testament texts about the dehumanizing effects of idolatry. And the context of Ezekiel is clearly about idolatry as well. As the previous verse states, “I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

Unlike the above texts, Ezekiel focuses just on the heart. Why?

In ancient Israel the heart was of cardinal significance. The greatest commandment of the Old Testament was “to love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” The Psalms constantly invoke the heart in describing our relationship with God. Joel 2:12 calls upon us to turn to God with all our heart.

But again, why the heart? In ancient Israel, the heart was regarded as the seat of one’s being. It was an organ of both desire and understanding that ultimately directed all of one’s thoughts and actions.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are in need of new hearts because their idolatry has turned them into stone: their hearts have become like what they worshipped.

Now if we really become what we worship then the converse must hold true. In worshipping the true God, we become our true selves, more human. And in being more human we also become closer to God, since we were created in His image. (The connection between image and worship is also explored in We Become What We Worship.)

However, we fail at the mission of worshipping God. Left to our own devices, in a postlapsarian world, we constantly fall into idolatry and our hearts harden into stone. Hence our need for the Incarnation and the Sacred Heart. In assuming our humanity, Christ renewed it. As Vatican II put it, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” And in returning us to our original humanity, Christ is also pointing us towards God, which was our original calling.

In the cross, God took upon Himself the painful task of restoring humanity to itself. He was wounded so that we might be healed and His heart was pierced so that ours might be made whole again (to paraphrase 1 Peter 2:24).

But how do we accept the heart that is offered to us? Recall the principle—we become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.

So, how do we let Jesus’ heart transform ours? Worship the Sacred Heart.

Against those who would dismiss the Sacred Heart as unnecessary or even a superstition, it is hoped the above demonstrates how crucial this devotion is. For Christ’s work of restoration to be complete, our entire humanity must be restored, down to our deepest core. For us to be able to love God with all our hearts, as Scripture commands us, we must have new hearts suited to this purpose. Do you want to accept Jesus into your heart? Then accept His Sacred Heart.

image: Sacred Heart of Jesus by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Stephen Beale

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • theofile

    About ten years ago, I was given the grace to realize that Jesus is by nature infinite, compelling love. In my humanity, I can grasp, just a little, the compelling nature of love – you just want to do more and more for the beloved. It’s the infinite component that I just can’t get and neither can anyone else, but it explains it all; why He created us, came to save us, died for us and made Himself food for us. You can get lost in that meditation. There is no heart that loves like His.

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