Usually, June is an exciting month. School is ending, vacation season is gearing up, and northern states are beginning to enjoy the warmth of sunshine once again. This year, however, feels less exciting for obvious reasons. In the face of the pandemic, and now national protests and civil unrest, I’ve found myself more introspective and heavy-hearted with all of the uncertainty and turbulence.
While I’m tempted to ignore these aches of my heart, I am reminded that June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Just as May is traditionally the month of Mary, in June, we turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and reflect upon the suffering and love of this Most Sacred Heart.
Reflecting on the Sacred Heart allows us to reflect upon the wounds of our hearts without getting swallowed up by discouragement or pain. This is because the Sacred Heart knows suffering intimately—personally—and has redeemed it. Blood and water flowed from Jesus’ pierced heart after he died on the Cross. The symbols of blood and water represent the Eucharist and baptism, the sacraments that give us new life. The image of Divine Mercy is associated with this moment of outpouring, and we are reminded that God desires to heal our brokenness through his mercy and love.
Knowing this, let us spend some time examining common wounds of our hearts and how the Sacred Heart redeems and heals these wounds, if we let him. If you’re like me, then you know how difficult it is to examine or talk about wounds, especially the wounds that have cut us to the core and we would prefer never to think about again. But, as you also may know, ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. We must have confidence and trust in the Sacred Heart, knowing that Jesus wants nothing more than to heal these wounds. Trusting in his tender care, let us approach this infinitely abundant font of love and experience the peace, consolation, and joy of being fully known, redeemed, and loved by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Guilt, Shame, and Sadness
There cannot be a worse feeling than guilt. The ache gnaws at the conscience until forgiveness is sought. The feeling may linger after receiving forgiveness, but for the most part, the awfulness of guilt passes quickly when it is confronted by mercy. That being said, feeling guilty is actually a good thing, to an extent. That feeling is what helps to form our consciences and prevent future sin. A toddler only has to touch a hot stove once to know never to do that again; the same should work with the feeling of guilt.
Guilt can become a wound of the heart in two ways, either when feeling guilty is ignored and numbed or when the feeling is prolonged and turned into an accusation. The former is, in my opinion, more dangerous than the latter, and causes a deeper wound. I say this because ignored guilt is a wound that is allowed to fester and worsen as long as it is ignored. Rather than curing the problem, numbing guilt makes it an unmanageable problem. The heart becomes hardened, cold, and unable to interact with reality authentically. The fruit that a guilty heart bears is typically anger, resentment, jealousy, pride, stubbornness, arrogance, and bitterness.
Conversely, when the guilt is acknowledged but not released, the heart becomes wounded by shame. Shame is never a good reaction to faults or failings because shame causes division within a person. Self-loathing becomes the new operating status and the heart is robbed of peace and compassion. Inner thoughts common for a person suffering from shame would be, “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t deserve mercy or compassion,” or “I shouldn’t be trusted.” Shame scourges the heart again and again and seeks to deprive it of future pleasures or relationships out of punishment. The heart becomes a prisoner, the person remains divided, and only frustration, discouragement, despair, and apathy can be the fruits of this action.
It is necessary to address sadness when examining guilt and shame because it is the emotion that generally bubbles up unless anger has already taken over. Feeling sad is not damaging or bad for us; emotions are morally neutral. However, emotion can become bad or good depending on what we do with them. If, when immersed in the feeling of guilt or shame, sadness arises and the response is repentance and recourse to the Father’s mercy and love, then that is a good response. But if this sadness only confirms our decisions to cage our hearts or punish ourselves for misdeeds, then sadness further wounds the already failing heart.
Encountering the Sacred Heart
While the Sacred Heart did not experience personal guilt or shame, because Jesus was sinless, it did experience the wounds of our guilt and shame. During Jesus’ passion, his suffering was not just physical. He was also suffering spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. The weight of our sins caused him more pain than the wounds of his body—and this is almost unbearable to conceive. But, as we will see with all of the wounds we examine, the Sacred Heart was not defeated by our faults and failings. Rather, the wounds that he bore became the channels through which his mercy could be outpoured. By his wounds, we are healed.
A heart that is numb, distant, or cold needs the fire of Divine Love to bring it back to life. The Sacred Heart burns with love for every soul, no matter the number or kind of transgression. God will never force his love upon someone, but he will also never give up trying. All he needs is a little crack in the cold heart’s armor to pour out his love. Encountering the fire of Divine Love is painful; it takes great courage to admit to sin and to desire change.
But as much as Divine Love is painful, it is also gentle, caring, consoling, and tender. Having felt the burden and pain of every sin, the Sacred Heart knows full well why hearts go numb. Some pain seems impossible to bear. And so, the Sacred Heart bears that pain with us, down to the smallest detail, and looks to soothe every ache if we would let him. Admitting to sin, however great or small, is the first step to warming the heart. Take this step and God will provide the way to restoration and healing.
God Bestows Mercy
For those suffering from shame or sadness, a different sort of admittance is needed. Since the individual is well aware of the pain of the transgression, the person must allow the fire of Divine Love to burn away the fault and destroy it completely. It is a recognition of God’s infinite mercy and love, which can conquer any sin, that frees the heart from the slavery of shame. When the heart allows the Sacred Heart to be the judge, rather than itself, then it opens itself to forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, and peace.
If you find that you are lacking peace, kindness, joy, or gentleness with yourself or others, perhaps spend some time reflecting on your heart. Ask Jesus to show you how he sees you and how he loves you with his Sacred Heart. Easier said than done. But, remember that the Sacred Heart never looks to condemn or destroy. God only seeks to bestow mercy and restore life, and the Sacred Heart is proof.
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Caroline Harvey is the associate communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Prior to working at the archdiocese, Caroline worked in various ministry positions throughout southeast Wisconsin, focusing on teaching and discipleship. She is currently pursuing a doctor of ministry degree in liturgical catechesis from the Catholic University of America. She has a master of arts degree in biblical theology and a bachelor of arts in communications media from John Paul the Great Catholic University.