A happy and holy feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to you and your families.
This great and beautiful feast following Pentecost was established universally by Pope Pius IX in 1856 at the request of the French bishops where the devotion had a long and strong history. Exactly one hundred years later on May 15 1956 Pope Pius XII raised the feast to the highest rank and dignity of a solemnity in his encyclical HAURIETIS AQUAS (On Devotion To The Sacred Heart). Barely a decade after the worldwide genocidal devastation of the Second World War, this message of God’s endless love and mercy through the heart of Christ to all human beings without exception, must have taken on an incredible poignancy as the Cold War began to gather momentum. But we don’t always need such lofty notions and thoughts to help us navigate this remarkable truth of our faith.
I recall reading an article some time ago about how a hug from a loved one is a very healthy thing.“Well isn’t that obvious?” you might think to yourself. And you’d be right. It’s literally a ‘no-brainer’ as the saying goes, in the sense that, because it sort of just happens, one doesn’t even need to think about it. And in fact, that’s exactly what happens. A physiological reaction takes place and endorphins or pleasure hormones are released in the brain which enhances a sense of well-being and contentment. Seems strange that something that literally brings two human hearts in close physical proximity should affect our brain activity. But then it is less strange when, apart from recognising that we are whole persons body mind soul and spirit, so what we do with our bodies is integral to our embodied self; we also recognise the fact that neurological activity within the brain has a lot to do with the heart – the seat of our emotions and affectivity. This was brought home to me in a real dawn of realisation moment when I attended a seminar in the House of Lords several years ago chaired by the famous brain physiologist/neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield. The meeting asked how and why should cognitive function and the activity of the neural pathways in the brain have anything to do with our emotions and feelings? The group was made up of scientists, philosophers, writers and theologians (the latter being the minority). And I discovered an amazing fact that day; that though there are countless billions of neurons cells in the human brain, some of these are intrinsically connected with around 33,000 neurons in and around the heart. I didn’t even know there were any neurons in the heart! As I listened to some of the speeches from agnostics and even self-declared atheists around the table claiming that belief in God and faith is not rational because it’s all about emotional sentiment and cannot be traced to the brain, it was the Sacred Heart of Jesus that shed the light in my own mind that I needed to share with the group. If brain and heart are physiologically connected not least through blood and especially neurological activity, then nowhere do we see this more eloquently displayed and manifested than in the words and actions of the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper. At that very moment, with His full cognitive understanding and capacity to know precisely what he was doing and why, Christ institutes the Holy Eucharist and gives His Body and Blood to the newly ordained apostles (bishops) in that upper room. His mind, though full of anguish and desperate mental strain over the prospect of what was to happen to him, (he knew only too well with foreknowledge the grisly death that lay ahead) his outpouring of love from his very soul, his heart, was so immense that He looked in to the future needs of humanity and assured us in every time and place of history from then on of his abiding love by the Real Presence of Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.
What’s astonishing and beautiful though at this moment is the fact that only one disciple, the beloved John, had the presence of mind to lay his head, not against the Divine brain but the Sacred Heart, which, having 33,000 neurons within it in perfect synchronisation with what was going on with the millions of neurons in His brain, gently taught St. John something which he would only fully begin to realise the next day at Calvary. That even in the midst of his dying and dead body, love literally flowed out of Jesus from his side (blood and water gushed forth at the piercing which St. John saw with his own eyes!) It was the unique embrace from Christ the night before that must have stirred something extraordinary in John at the foot of the Cross when he saw the full significance of that “hug” from the Lord.
So the next time you give or receive a hug from a loved one, linger a second or two longer, not just for the natural well-being it brings, but because when given and received in an authentic context, the love shared within and from it, is intrinsically linked to that “hug” of the Lord to St. John, uniting us through his passion, death and resurrection to the immeasurable love and mercy of His Sacred Heart. We all know, I’m sure, the pained but sorrowful experience of embraces and hugs between loved ones and friends at the shared loss of someone at a funeral. Mourners are often comforted most when their head is against the breast of the one who holds them. Well when we think of Jesus comforting his friend the night of his Passion and the brain and heart activity shared, it’s no wonder we draw strength and consolation from the same simple but profound human act. If God is love and God is everywhere, then this most simple but ubiquitous of human acts – the genuine hug and embrace – is an act of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself and thus God’s love is truly made more manifest in our world, our homes, our families, our marriages.
Only today the scientists of the University of London released their research findings that marriage has a proven positive effect on brain activity! Christ wants to marry us. His Heart pumps life in to our often weary and moribund souls helping us, cognitively-speaking, to “put on the mind of Christ” (St Paul).
One final thought. No human being had conformity to the mind of Christ more than His Blessed Mother. So don’t just enjoy the feasting of today just today, but carry it over in to the whole weekend through the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary tomorrow (Saturday see below).
Pope Pius XII
124. In order that favours in greater abundance may flow on all Christians, nay, on the whole human race, from the devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, let the faithful see to it that to this devotion the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is closely joined. For, by God’s Will, in carrying out the work of human Redemption the Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably linked with Christ in such a manner that our salvation sprang from the love and the sufferings of Jesus Christ to which the love and sorrows of His Mother were intimately united. It is, then, entirely fitting that the Christian people—who received the divine life from Christ through Mary—after they have paid their debt of honor to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should also offer to the most loving Heart of their heavenly Mother the corresponding acts of piety affection, gratitude and expiation. Entirely in keeping with this most sweet and wise disposition of divine Providence is the memorable act of consecration by which We Ourselves solemnly dedicated Holy Church and the whole world to the spotless Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster