His opened heart never ceases to blaze with love for us….
-Preface of the Mass of the Sacred Heart
Suffering and grief happen to all of us in the human family and in our own families. The betrayals, disappointments, and abandonments are wounds, the same as those of Jesus. Are our hearts wounded because we are being punished? Suffering is actually richer in meaning: It is the necessary ingredient for growth and redemption. In mystery religious initiations wisdom was gained only after the enduring of trials and suffering. On the heroic journey of our own lives, struggle and pain is the necessary step toward enlightenment. It is ancient in the psyche that heavenly beings endured pain and were acquainted with sorrow before they could give their gifts of redemption to humanity. Demeter’s grief for the loss of her daughter Persephone, the mourning of Isis for her brother Osiris, the seven sorrows of Mary for her son all bespeak this theme in religious consciousness.
Bread is broken so it can be shared, as in the Eucharist. A heart is broken and its suffering is shared by being told or shown to others. Hopefully, our sufferings evoke compassion in others toward us. In addition, our sufferings help us become compassionate toward others, a profound opportunity for spiritual growth. This spiritual practice of giving and receiving compassion is a form of self-healing. We can trust that we are designed for self-healing since we are destined for wounding. The image of the wounded heart of Jesus, crowned with thorns, is an authentication of this possibility. His heart cut open and yet beaming rays of redemption also represents the wounded healer, an ancient theme in religious consciousness. All human wounds are the stigmata when we are ministering to Christ in those who suffer.
Devotion to the Heart of Jesus in the past imposed an obligation that we make reparation for his suffering for our sins. Now we can appreciate this devotion in a more expansive way: we are called to a devoted consciousness of the sufferings of all humanity. This makes devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus an expansion of our hearts to include all our fellow sailors on life’s tempestuous sea. Serenity results from inclusive love: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Eph 2:14
We were taught in childhood to deal with our own suffering by “offering it up” to God. In that practice we were concerned with our own suffering and how to endure it. We may now expand our way of dealing with our pain by accepting it as a path to wisdom and compassion. Then we let it be transformed within our hearts so it can be released again as love. In our suffering, we are not alone so we show a sincere concern for others who are experiencing an identical suffering to ours. Our hearts are alchemical vessels in which selfish concerns become universal caring. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is utterly without limit, like love, like redemption.
Redemption happens through the wounds of Christ. The striking image of a God who shares human suffering, a common theme in religion, changes the question: “Why does God permit suffering?” Now the question is a comment: God joins us in our suffering: “For thou art with me.” Suffering has redemptive and evolutionary value. It is a given, a law of life. Spiritually aware adults have noticed that suffering is not a punishment and happiness is not a reward. Our question is not why is there suffering but how can we relieve this here and now suffering in ourselves and in others. Hell is suffering that cannot be redeemed. What then shall I do?
Teilhard de Chardin speaks to this directly and consolingly: “For our heart to yield without revolt to the hard law of creation, is there not a psychological need to find some positive value that can transfigure this painful waste in the process that shapes us and eventually make it worth accepting?.... Dark and repulsive though it is, suffering has been revealed to us as a supremely active principle for the humanization and the divinization of the universe.”