June is traditionally the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes to us most popularly through St. Margaret Mary Alacocque, a 17th century French nun. She experienced visions of Jesus in which He shared with her the profound compassion and love He has for human beings, at a time when much of the Church in France was heavily influenced by the heresy of Jansenism.
The Jansenist heresy preached a harsh, angry God who had chosen to save a very small number of people and willed that everyone else go to hell. Jansenism took two facets of the truth – that God is not pleased with sin, and that hell is real – and presented this reality, divorced from the full context of God’s love. Although Jansenism is a heresy, it took a strong hold in many forms of piety of the day, leading many people to approach God, not with a reverential fear of the Lord, but with terror.
Heresy always operates in this way, by taking one facet of the truth, out of its proper context – to the neglect of the full message of the Gospel – until it is no longer recognizable as the Good News.
Jesus’s message to St. Margaret Mary was one of restoration and reconciliation – a reminder that God watches and waits for us, not to catch us doing wrong, but to love us into heaven, if we will let Him. As an image of His love, He offers us His Sacred Heart. Why? Because He took on a Body – to live, love, delight, suffer, die, rise, and be glorified – so that we might know His love.
I am reminded of this history as we begin the month of June, more recently claimed by secular society as “pride month.”
In our society today, there are still strong and lingering fear-based misconceptions of who God is. Many people leave the Church because they want nothing to do with a God who has so many “arbitrary rules,” or who would “send” people to hell, or because they feel rejected or shamed by members of the Church. All of these are misunderstandings and distortions of the truth, but the pain they cause is real, because we are not created for rejection. We are created by Love and for Love. This is the real Good News!
Our society takes this one facet of truth – that love is good, that rejection and shame are not what we are made for – and distorts it. Now “love” is used to mean acceptance and affirmation and celebration – not of who we truly are, as unique image-bearers of God – but of everything we desire and everything we do. This carries disastrous consequences, not because God is petty and doesn’t want us to be free, but because we are not made for this. We are meant for a love much deeper than the false love society preaches.
Here again, the Sacred Heart of Jesus offers us salvation from these lies. The Heart of Jesus offers the unending, unconditional love that all of us need because we were created for it. This love is not a superficial, saccharine affection that tiptoes around our errors. Neither is it a harsh taskmaster looking to tally up our errors for a final report card of shame. The Heart of Jesus, the Heart of God, overflows with true love – love that hates our sin because it hurts us, and love that never stops delighting in each of us. This love is the Good News.
Emily Archer is the donor relations manager for TOBET. She enjoys reading, writing, and planning for her future as the grandmotherly owner of a bed and breakfast in the Irish countryside.