Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrates the love of Jesus for all men and women. It celebrates the love of the God-man, a redeeming love that took Christ to the Cross in order to free us from sin and to open up the gate to eternal life for us. From His side pierced by a spear flowed forth blood and water, symbolizing the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism. In other words, the Church – the sacrament of salvation – was born from the Cross. As such, the Church and her Sacraments are intimately bound up with the redeeming death of Christ on the Cross. In the Church and in the Sacraments God’s love, which transcends the capacity of our limited understanding to grasp, is made present.
Today’s Gospel tries to help us, however, to appreciate something of the nature of God’s love for us. It begins with the question, “What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it?” What a strange question! What shepherd, in his right mind would leave ninety-nine sheep, thereby placing them in grave danger, in order to go looking for one that was lost? To do so would be an act of utter folly.
God’s love for us, manifested in the crucified Christ, can be described in exactly the same way: by human standards, it is an act of folly. And this is the way St. Paul speaks about it in 1 Corinthians. The Cross appears as mere foolishness to human wisdom but by it “God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom” (1 Cor 1:20). Human wisdom, that is to say, human thinking that is shot through with the self-centredness that is the result of original sin, tends to be calculating. It engages in cost-benefit analysis: how much is this going to cost me and what is the potential pay-off for me? God’s wisdom, in contrast, is identical with His infinite love and each one of us is the object of that infinite love. In His desire to bring us to eternal life with Him, it is as though this Divine Love, in all its infinity, is concerned only with the individual sinner – and we are all sinners! – to the exclusion of everyone else.
And what does Divine Love seek from the sinner? It seeks repentance. Christ died on the Cross to reconcile the world to Himself but we are left with free-will. Repentance is an act of free-will: we are free to repent and to accept God’s salvific love for us or not to do so. We can be sure, however, that repentance will occasion great joy in heaven. Even here on earth, it will provide relief from the sorrow and angst that characterize and flow from our fallen ways of thinking and behaving. In other words, repentance in response to the Divine Love – symbolized by the Sacred Heart of Jesus – affords us a glimpse of heaven.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.