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"[The Son of God] worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart"
-Gaudium et spes, no. 22
Jesus Christ loved with a human heart. Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Haurietis aquas (1956), asserts that, from the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb, the Savior’s heart was formed, and it beat with a love at once human and divine. Jesus’ heart was filled with pity for the widow of Nain (Lk 7:13); it was moved with compassion at the sight of the crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36); and it throbbed with sorrow at the death of Lazarus (Jn 11:35). In these movements of Jesus’ human affectivity, the Incarnate love of God is made known to us.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus brings the mystery of the Incarnation close to us. It gives us direct contact with the love of God in the beating heart of His Son. And like every encounter of love, we become “undone” at the core of our being. In the presence of Divine love, all of our selfish, inordinate affections are dispelled and we begin to love as He loved (Jn 15:13).
Holy Mother Church exhorts us to consecrate ourselves and our world to the Sacred Heart because it is “a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another” (Annum sacrum, 8). In Jesus, we are called to respond to God’s love with our entire being, as individual and social persons. For this reason, religious freedom is vital. When the government seeks to coerce believers into violating their conscience, it is saying: “You can believe what you want, but in your action, you must do what we say.” In this way, it introduces a division between our private lives and public lives.
Of course, we are integral wholes. Our actions manifest our minds and hearts. When the Church works in areas like healthcare and adoption, she is expressing her love for God and His world in a concrete, public way.
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart fittingly falls during Religious Freedom Week this year. Religious freedom is essential for the mission of the Church, which “is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 5). As we work to meet the challenges of our time, may we draw our strength in hope through our encounter with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Sr. Theresa Marie Chau Nguyen, O.P., Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate Province.
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