Creation Care as Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Updated: Apr 5
Today is Holy Saturday -- a day to reflect on the events of Good Friday. It was a tough day for Jesus' first followers since they did not have the knowledge of Easter Sunday as we do. It was a day of hiding away, fear and uncertainty -- and waiting. Very ordinary human things and so familiar to a world that is experiencing COVID.
But today is a pause as Jesus' body lays in the tomb and it is a time for deep reflection.
We remember that Jesus was rejected and ridiculed. His friends deserted him. He fell as he carried his own cross. His side was pierced, blood and water flowed from his wounds. His mother watched him die.
Jesus chose to take all this on. He chose to become vulnerable and be wounded - in order to save. This is true love. Yesterday marked a dark chapter in the eternal love story that is Jesus' life, ministry, passion, and resurrection. But it is not the entire story. We must remember that this love story expands back from Bethlehem to the spark of life and forward from Golgotha to end time. And a devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus can ignite hearts to hear the cry of the poor and Earth.
Jesus' incredible horizon of love is why Pope Pius XI (1928) wrote that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is "a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life...." The in 1956 Pope Pius XII wrote Haurietis Aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart) and claimed that "the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues."
Thus devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus is so important to Catholic tradition -- and is connected to the Eucharist. Saint John XXIII offers such a wonderful description of his great love for the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist that could inspire us today.
Every time I hear anyone speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or of the Blessed Sacrament I feel an indescribable joy. It is as if a wave of precious memories, sweet affections and joyful hopes swept over my poor person, making me tremble with happiness and filling my soul with tenderness. These are loving appeals from Jesus who wants me wholeheartedly there, at the source of all goodness, his Sacred Heart, throbbing mysteriously behind the Eucharistic veils... I love to repeat today 'Sweet Heart of my Jesus, make me love You more and more'
We need to resurrect a deeper devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus to purify, inspire and strengthen us to address the 'wicked' problems of today -- Poverty, Climate Change, Education, Hunger, Homelessness, Displacement, Violence. We love Jesus "more and more" when we become Jesus' hands and feet and work to liberate all those struggling with poverty or are displaced due to violence or rising sea levels or becoming extinct or who are food insecure. Creation care is how Jesus is calling Catholics to love abundantly in the 21st century. We need liberation by love and only a source of Infinite Love -- the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist -- can move our hardened hearts and arid mindscapes to do what is necessary to care for the poor and Earth.
Check out this EcoJesuit article about Sister Ma Lani Saligumba, a member of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her devotion spills over into her organic gardening and sharing of the fruits of her labors.
Organic Gardening as a Work of Heart
So let us begin our meditation with a beautiful icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus created by Ian Knowles. I chose this artistic rendition because it resonates with the cosmic horizon of love spoken by Saint John Paul II in his very first encyclical: ‘
The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history’ (Redemptor Hominis)
I love this icon because it balances the cosmic Otherness of God, Creator of all, with the intimacy of a God who is present to every single creature and individual and desires abundant life for all. It tells a provocative story of love with so many of Earth's elements and creatures woven intricately within it. My favorite symbol is the living water that is flowing from the divine center of the universe. I always feel at home and at peace by water and can feel the ebb and flow of Christ's love refreshing me and moving me to newness of life. This icon very much reminds me of St Hildegard of Bingen's mandalas (which I love!).
Spend some time with this icon -- explore its nuances and details. I also am enjoying the Lenten Taize playlist on Spotify while I sit a while to meditate on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. If you want more intellectual stimulation in this process, I suggest reading a beautiful blog by Knowles about this icon. It holds so many gems -- some of which I have woven into my reflection here.
Growing up in a Catholic household and the descendant of Irish Catholics we had a treasure hanging on our wall: a hand embroidered Sacred Heart of Jesus made by one of my relatives in Ireland. It was more traditional than the icon above -- it was the heart of Jesus with the crown of thorns, fire, cross and wounds.
On Palm Sunday, I remember how we would place our Palms (as best we could) behind it as it hung on our kitchen wall, the heart of our home. It was one of the only pieces of art I remember vividly adorning the walls of my family home. I think as a child I was fascinated that someone from long ago whom I never met, could create something so beautiful. But I know I was also enamored with God who could love so much -- because that meant God could love me too, warts and all.
As I continued my path to studying theology, Christian anthropology and suffering, I never lost sight that God is Love and that this love manifest as liberation from that which thwarts abundant life. Meditating on the sacred heart of Jesus I recognize two types of wounds:
Grief caused by pain, suffering and death inherent to a finite world. Every sparrow that falls elicits great concern and love from the Father (Matt. 10:29) and one lost sheep gains all of the shepherd's attention (Luke 15:3–7). When creation groans in agony - predation, evolutionary waste, decay, death -- God grieves. In more familiar ways we saw Jesus take on this grief: he was so moved at the death of his dear friend Lazarus of Bethany, he wept (John 11:32-36). Despite knowing of this inherent suffering, Jesus so loved the world that he chose to become fully human to offer us a great gift: peace, healing and wholeness in God's eternal embrace. (Isa.11) I think Pope Francis says it best
"The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things" (Laudato Si, 83)
Sin. We wound the sacred heart of Jesus when we willfully turn away from him and inflict pain, oppression, suffering and death. Sin alienates humanity from God and causes us to destroy those who we think are not worthy (people who are poor, incarcerated, differently abled, people of color) and Earth. Pope Francis said it was a "duty" to add the "ecological sin against the common home" to the church catechism (spoken during the 20th World Congress of the International Association of Penal Law in 2019).
"It is a sin against future generations and is manifested in the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment"
Devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus recognizes that despite these two wounds Jesus still wants us to experience healing, peace and wholeness in God. And like Saint John XXIII, we ought to be giddy with a joy and let that overflow into our care of creation -- an extension of Jesus' desire to love, heal and liberate.
The Catholic catechism also connects the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the Eucharist:
Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.' (Catechism, 1419)
I found that the blogpost with the icon helped me see the pierced heart of the Savior -- the blood and water that came from his wounded heart -- as the source from which the Eucharist flows. Christ is at the center of the world and this means that the Eucharist has a cosmic character. Saint John Paul II offers a beautiful statement about what this means:
When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it…This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became [hu]man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.’ (Ecclesia de Eucharstia: 9)
Olive Tree on the Mt of Olives
To take part in the Eucharist is to unite heaven and earth and enter into the presence of Jesus who is working to heal and liberate all who are oppressed, marginalized, hungry, or imprisoned.
How are we called to love abundantly?
Care for the many bodies that suffer when we neglect and degrade Earth due to ecological sin.
Jesus fed hungry bodies, and healed broken bodies, families, communities and spirits. With the mixing of saliva and soil together, he healed diseased, marginalized bodies. With the touch of his robe or a command -- or the sharing of bread, wine, and fish -- sickness, division, and loneliness were healed; and with the performing of miracles on mountaintops, beside lakes, in the wilderness, and on a hillside populated by olive trees, Jesus healed and refreshed sagging spirits.
Why? Because Jesus loved so abundantly and Catholics are being called to do the same by caring for creation. For Jesus, loving abundantly meant giving people good food, clean water, table fellowship, space to gather, and dignity. Unless we care for creation, the poor will continue to be displaced, remain hungry, drink unclean water, be unable to find dignified work, be more vulnerable to COVID, and bear a greater burden of the effects of climate change.
A devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus and the Eucharist will transform our hearts of stone and ignite a wildfire of love that hears and responds to the cries of Earth and the poor. This love overflows from the celebration of the Eucharist into every facet of our lives and can take a multitude of forms!
turning our air conditioning down in the summer to save energy is abundant love
planting, tending and donating fresh garden produce to food banks is abundant love
reducing your families dependence on plastic is abundant love
noticing where greenspaces are and speaking up at their absence in disadvantages neighborhoods is abundant love
buying second hand or borrowing is abundant love
speaking up when you encounter hate for another under the guise of jokes or innuendos is abundant love
volunteering to feed for Title 1 school sports teams nutritious meals prior to their games is abundant love
becoming less dependent on fossil fuels is abundant love
supporting parish creation care and justice teams by attending or hosting events and desiring to learn more ways to care for creation is abundant love
using your political clout and consumer power to ensure landfills and toxic sites are not placed in disadvantaged communities -- and that they become unneeded altogether -- is abundant love.
hosting fix it sessions (button sewing, clothing repair, small appliance repair) to diminish waste is abundant love
Choosing to avoid buying styrofoam and water bottles (and thinking of creative alternatives for table fellowship) is abundant love.
Earth cries out as her oceans are polluted with plastic, the soil is stripped of nutrients, garbage litters her landscapes, toxic materials poison drinking water, devastating storms batter the landscapes, and the air pollution fill our lungs. And so do the the most vulnerable -- they suffer even more because they are unable to insulate themselves from these effects. All who are devoted to Jesus are called to do something -- and if we do not choose abundant life for all, we will have chosen death.
In the silence of the tomb this Holy Saturday, we wait... we hope...we reflect.
A devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus is constantly telling us that even death could not extinguish the abundant love Jesus has for the world. Neither the suffering of the finite world nor our sin can dampen the desire Jesus has to enfold us into God's loving embrace. The physical, social and spiritual healing Jesus performed is just a taste of the peace, wholeness and healing to come. We are called to continue this work -- on Earth as it is in heaven.
Meditate a while on how you are being called to love more abundantly.
Let this prayer wash over your heart and ignite a passion for creation care that will never be extinguished.
Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore you, I love you and will a lively sorrow for my sins. I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure, and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessings on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Within your heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to you with humble trust saying, Heart of Jesus, help me. Amen.