The following is the homily that was given by Fr. Michael Berry of the Heart of Jesus to the Discalced Carmelite community at Holy Hill for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 19, 2020.
These Solemnities of Ordinary Time we have been celebrating since the end of the Easter Season, powerfully reveal to us what is distinct about the God of Christianity: He is One God but He is Three Persons, and for love of the creatures He fashioned and wishing to heal their defection [Hos 14:5], He has chosen to become a creature in the Incarnation of the Son, the Second Person, so to restore us, to raise us up beyond the dignity that was ours as creatures, and make us to sit at His own Divine Banquet, that beautiful image of communion. And to have communion means to share in God’s very likeness. To love as He loves and to make His love known to our brothers and sisters. But first, we must come to know ourselves as LOVED.
The Catechism states: “The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of reason and of others; … the heart is the place of decision. … It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant” [#2563]. The human heart is the place of ENCOUNTER and the place of COVENANT. In the Word Made Flesh, God, too, has a heart which He has assumed so to SPEAK TO US and to MANIFEST THE VERY GIFT OF HIS LOVE TO US.
The first reading from Deuteronomy tells us,
You are a people sacred to the LORD, your God;
he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth
to be a people peculiarly his own.
It was not because you are the largest of all nations
that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you,
for you are really the smallest of all nations.
It was because the LORD loved you.
Note the PECULIARITY of God’s choice, the SPECIFICITY that is personal and which ORIGINATES IN GOD. This the Lord says to Israel; but today, in the Church and in His Carmel, the Lord says it to each and every one of us: I have set my heart on you and chosen you. NOT because of what you can offer me, BUT solely because I HAVE LOVED YOU and have set a place for you at My banquet.
This is our deepest longing: To be CHOSEN, to be desired, to be understood—to know my life is not an accident, not a whim, regardless of the countless human circumstances surrounding our life, including the very base and sometimes self-preserving motivations that may have seemingly underlain our choices in life, even those of great significance. While love requires and invites me to choose, I am not condemned to some sterile, unilateral human agency of my own and doomed to a life solely merited by my petty choices. The Word of the Father, without violating my freedom, offers to me and for me HIS HEART. The gift of God, manifested in the heart of the Incarnate Word, transcends the petty conditions that bind us, and remains always new and unfettered. From His Heart, He again and again chooses you and me. His Heart redeems us and transforms us by His prerogative to make all things new.
Pope St. John Paul wrote in Tertio Millennio Adveniente in preparation for the Great Jubilee:
In Jesus Christ God not only speaks to man but also seeks him out. The Incarnation of the Son of God attests that God goes in search of man. Jesus speaks of this search as the finding of a lost sheep (cf. Lk 15:1-7). It is a search which begins in the heart of God and culminates in the Incarnation of the Word. If God goes in search of man, created in his own image and likeness, he does so because he loves him eternally in the Word, and wishes to raise him in Christ to the dignity of an adoptive son.
Even more, John Paul goes on to say that Christianity is “the religion of ‘dwelling in the heart of God’, of sharing in God’s very life.”
The Heart of the Son reveals the deepest desire of the Father for us and the desire that we should share in His own divine life. In the Romances of St. John of the Cross, the Father tells the Son: “My Son, I will give myself to him who loves you and I will love him with the same love I have for you, because he has loved you whom I love so.” From eternity, the Father has set a banquet for us, and the gift of His Son’s heart is the invitation to sit at His table and to eat. In the Romances, the Father tells the Son: “Because of you she will deserve to share our company, and eat at our table, the same bread I eat.”
As I come to know myself as loved by the God who seeks me out in Jesus and gives me His Heart, I can say in the words of the Prayer of a Soul Taken With Love:
You will not take from me, my God, what you once gave me in your only Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for you, you will not delay. With what procrastinations do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart?
We see reflected here the words of our second reading, 1 John 4:10-11:
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
The realization of DIVINE LOVE in our lives is NOT JUST TO KNOW OURSELVES AS LOVED, BUT TO THEN LOVE OTHERS IN TURN. And here, I think we must reflect upon the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU AND LEARN FROM ME; the Eternal Word has assumed our humanity so to reveal Himself and to seek us out. He emptied Himself, not clinging to the divinity that was His, but becoming as a slave to seek out what was lost, TO LOOK FOR US and to DRAW US TO HIMSELF (Phil 2:5-8).
If Jesus bids us to “take His yoke,” it means surely, not that we must assume a humanity, BUT THAT WE TOO MUST EMPTY OURSELVES for LOVE’S SAKE so to SEEK OUT our brothers in community and to meet them WHERE THEY ARE and reveal to them the Face of God. Like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we must be willing to leave our own house and go out to meet our brothers and our sons who are estranged. We mustn’t be like the Pharisees in John’s Gospel about whom we are told: “Each went to his own house.” The love of the Trinity, the love of the Heart of Jesus, bids us to go out from ourselves, to take on the YOKE of CHRIST and to bear and to reveal GOD’S love to our brothers, even if that means taking the form of a slave. Our celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will not be of any benefit to us if we in turn are not willing to carry His Yoke and to seek out the lost and trouble among our own brothers.
FINALLY, we are living especially in times when the message of Christ’s Heart must be better known and the message of His mercy proclaimed to all. There is a story concerning St. Gertrude the Great who fostered a great devotion to the Heart of Jesus: “St. John, the beloved disciple and evangelist, appeared to St. Gertrude, and she took the opportunity to ask him about the tender moments he shared with Jesus at the Last Supper. She was curious as to why he had not written about that encounter to further instruct the faithful. He replied: My mission was to write for the Church, still in its infancy. As for the language of these blessed beats of the Heart of Jesus, it is reserved for the last ages, when the world, grown old and become cold in the love of God, will need to be warmed again by the revelation of these mysteries” (from Anne Costa, Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart, ch. 1, Kindle ed).
May we ponder the sacred mysteries of this precious Heart of Jesus, so to be renewed by His love and to enkindle faith in this love among our brothers and sisters!