Last Tuesday I met with the Lolek Group (http://sites.google.com/site/lolekyoungadults/ ) . Up to 60 young adults, aged 18 to 35, meet twice a month at St. Mary's Parish in Elm Grove, WI. I was invited to speak about the Sacred Heart and Lent. After talking about how our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not performed to win God's favor but in response to His love, I talked about how that love is revealed most clearly in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I call this "The True Love Story." There are all sorts of ideas about love and that word is used to describe all sorts of things, but true love is found on a cross. Here's what Pope Benedict had to say in his first encyclical "God is Love":
This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (John 19: 37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: "God is love" (1 John 4: 8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move."
The "pierced side of Christ" is the opening to His Heart from which blood and water flowed to bring eternal life through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Jesus gave His life so that we might have life.
What is the history of this Heart? You could say the Heart of Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is eternal. God, who is Love itself, has an Eternal Heart. His Heart was set on sharing His love and eternal life with creatures He made in His own image and likeness. But when these creatures rejected His love, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity chose to become human. That happened at a moment in time--the Annunciation. When Mary said "Yes" to God's plan of salvation, when she surrendered her will to God's will. At that instant a new life was conceived in her womb. God took flesh and began to develop in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Within twenty-one days a new heart began to beat--the Sacred Heart.
The "heart" is more than the organ which pumps blood throughout the body. It's also a way in which we talk about the deepest core of a person. Having a "heart to heart" talk doesn't mean that our physical hearts actually communicate to one another. But it's important to keep the two together--the physical heart and the heart as the deepest reality of a person.
God continues to speak to our hearts, just as He spoke to Mary's heart through the Angel Gabriel. And when we say "Yes" to God's will, something similar to what happened to Mary happens to us. We give flesh to Jesus today. We live as His Body. Pope John Paul II wrote about this in his 2003 encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":
The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood. As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord.
This is the "Eucharistic life" to which we aspire in the Apostleship of Prayer: to surrender to God's will one day at a time by praying and living a Daily Offering. Through this daily surrender and by receiving the Holy Eucharist we believe that we are bringing Jesus into the world anew. His Heart now beats within ours. His Heart loves in concrete and practical ways through ours.