Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Three-fold Love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

                In his encyclical on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Pius XII points out that within the Heart of Christ are three types or levels of love:  the divine, eternal love that flows from the Divine Nature of the Second Person of the Trinity; the spiritual love of the humanity of Christ by which He chose to enter into His Passion for us; and the emotional, affectionate love of the human heart of Christ that, essentially, likes us.

                I often wonder at the way in which my mind tries to focus on these types of love, especially when it comes to the Divine love of the Holy Trinity for the world, and for me in particular.  The infinite nature of this love literally expands my mind, for the mind cannot focus upon eternity or infinity as it does upon a basic truth like 2+2=4; or the qualities of an apple.  Epistemologically, when we think about some thing, a created object like an apple, we literally lift that object up to a greater level than it has in itself.  We see beyond the particular object into the realm of the idea of apples or oranges or even mathematics.  Our minds, as part of our spirit, so to speak, are greater than other created realities, and therefore we actually “make” them better than they are by pondering them.   We can even manipulate them in a way with the creative faculty of the mind.  An apple becomes a symbol of love, or temptation, or a reminder of mom’s apple pie.  We apply mathematics to objects and create a wheel, a wagon, or an ipod (I say we generically; I’ve never created anything like that).

                Yet, when we ponder God, it is our minds that get lifted up and beyond themselves.  It is as if our heads are open on top and then raised above the focused place of our crania.  The danger of idols is that they are tangible, moveable, and makeable.   God cannot be touched in Himself, or moved, or made in our image or any other image.  His infinite nature is so far beyond our ability to quantify or qualify.  Even His attributes (mercy, goodness, omnipotence, etc.) are infinite and really are attempts made by the mind to grasp the ungraspable in the forms of words and ideas.  We will literally spend eternity contemplating the eternal and infinite attributes of the Eternal and Infinite One.  There is no end to how far our minds can go in pondering Him in His essence.

                As with His other qualities, so with His love, His infinite Love.  It is an endless expanse of infinite Being, and we will never be able to deconstruct It or make it compact enough to fit into our heads. 

                Yet this infinite love is present in the Heart of Christ, for His Heart is really HIS Heart, the Heart of His Divine Person as Son.  We cannot focus or grasp or localize this Love; but God can, and does.  This is the nature of His infinitude.  Think of God’s infinity as beyond measure.  That means there is nothing capable of encompassing that love; no created being can fully put his arms around it.  Yet, neither is there anything so small that it can keep that love out.  Even light photons are too large to detect the center of an atom.  That’s why we need electron microscopes at the subatomic level.  Yet God is there in His infinite(read: without bound) Love.  No problem is so vast and of such a magnitude that God does not surround that problem with His love.  No problem is so small that it escapes His notice or divine concern.  So God makes His love graspable in the Heart of Christ.  Man cannot lift his mind to see God, so God made Himself man so that He could be seen, and touched, and known.  

                Christ as a real man, a human being like us in all things but sin, has a human mind and a human will.  While on earth, He made choices that were deliberate and thoughtful and direct, all with an eye towards the reason for His coming here in the first place:  to show God’s love to those around Him;  to make choices that were acts of love for His Father in heaven, and for us, generally and individually.  The greatest choice was His decision to enter into the Passion.  “Not my will, but Thine be done!”  It was a deliberate choice, an act of love to put His life on the line in place of us.  And what it cost Him was the essence of His act as sacrifice.  He gave Himself over to that awful suffering and death in a conscious act to substitute His death for mine, and yours.  It hurt.  A lot; which makes it an act of heroic love, for the easy path is often a mere matter of sloth or gravity.  Every step towards the cross was an act of manly love for His bride, the Church.  His Sacred Heart beat harder and harder as His body endured the agony and passion of His final hours, and each beat was like a reminder in His own ears of the “why” of His sacrifice.  “For THEM…for THEM….for THEM!”

                These are matters that theologians and psychologists and story tellers can describe, and it makes for a good study.  Even the demons know all of this.  An atheist could describe the Passion of Christ as a piece of good literature, and possibly the actions of a good man railroaded by others and his own self-delusion into a tragic scene of heroics in the midst of violence.

                But no demon, and no unbeliever, will ever grasp that third element of the Heart of Christ that is truly essential to living a Christian life: He has affection for us.  He feels for us as a brother, a friend, a companion; even as a mother (“like a hen gathering her brood beneath her wings”).  He is empathetic towards us, even now while enjoying the bliss of heaven.  His heart still beats for us.  He likes us, even unbelievers and sinners and the wayward.  I don’t think He likes the demons, though, and that’s what drives them madder than anything else.  They know He loves them still for He made them, but He doesn’t like them.   The affection of Christ is not affectation.  He doesn’t pretend to like us so that we will like or love Him back.  It is an entirely free gift of care and delight in us.  It is a human affection that drew the work hardened apostles to leave everything and follow Him.  It is the compassion that inspired so many to reach for Him even just to touch the tassel of His cloak, to ask for healing, to seek deliverance and peace and calm. 

                The powerful impact of the life and mission of Jesus Christ is obviously part of the Divine Plan for the human race, and God’s choice to send His Son to redeem the world, but an element that must not be lost is that He lived a real human life among other human beings, and He liked them and cared for them.  They were attracted to Him because they learned to feel that love from His Person.  Preaching and proclaiming the fundamental truths of the Gospel are essential to the success of the Church from day one, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.  It was the radiant and radiating affectionate love of Jesus the Man felt by the apostles, and then expressed and channeled by them, that brought them in and kept them there.  His words and actions had power because He is God.  They had their opening into the souls of men and women because He cared for them and got them to feel it.

                We can philosophize about divine love, and we can explain how God can exist in logical proof.  We can describe the events of the life of Christ and make Him a study of serious scholarship.  We cannot always sense the love He has for us, but that makes it no less real or present.  It takes an act of faith, especially in dark and painful moments, but it is worth the effort to ponder and focus on that affection.  We may not feel better afterwards, but often do.  Gazing upon His open, pierced Heart should be a moment of intimacy with Him, our Savior, our Redeemer, our best Friend.