Catholics go to Notre Dame (the university) the way they go to Rome: it’s like a pilgrimage. When friends are going to Rome, they ask me where I want them to pray for me. When friends visit Notre Dame, especially for the first time, they ask if there’s any place I want them to visit for me.
The correct answers, of course, would be the Grotto, the Stadium, and maybe the Basilica. Or quarter dogs at LaFun. Lovely places, all. But I give very specific directions to my favorite spot.
“Okay, so go to God Quad–that’s the one with the dome on it. Get really close to the Main Building and look up at Mary. Then turn around and walk back to the statue of Jesus with his arms open wide, facing Our Lady at the top of the dome. The one that says ‘Venite ad me omnes.’ That’s my favorite place. Pray for me there.
I’ve been drawn to this statue since I first set foot on campus more than ten years ago. I’ve sat in front of it praying at all hours. Once, in a time of desperation, I actually hopped up on the wall that encircles the statue and paced around it for the duration of at least one rosary. When I’m in Northern Indiana and need comfort, this is my spot. I’ll gladly skip the grotto and I haven’t been to the stadium in years but I always take the time to run to the open arms of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and hear him say, “Venite ad me omnes.”
I’ve never had much of a devotion to the Sacred Heart per se. See, when I picture the Sacred Heart, I picture a rosy-cheeked Jesus performing feats of anatomical impossibility, exposing his heart without even breaking open his ribcage. Or maybe some saccharine, jaundiced guy with an oddly heart-shaped heart that glows and shows through his transparent chest and shirt. Or maybe it’s just a sticker. In any event, the traditional images have never really done it for me.
But devotion to the Sacred Heart has nothing to do with all those pictures, or even with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, although she was a pretty big deal. Loving the Sacred Heart of Jesus means loving being loved. That’s why I’m so drawn to that statue: because it’s Jesus begging to love me. His heart is ablaze with love for us and crowned with thorns because he has suffered so much out of love for us. That’s what the devotion is really about: being caught up in the love of Jesus, whose arms are open and whose heart is crying out:
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light. -Mt 11:28-30
I’m loving this song by Jamie Grace, inspired by this passage (which is one of my very favorites):
I’ll save further discussion of how being a Christian is not all sweetness and light for another day. Suffice it to say that it seems to me that the promise of this verse is that your heart will be at rest when you learn to be meek and humble. Because the less awful you are, the more you find rest from guilt and shame and anxiety and fear and all the other nonsense that was attached to that stinking apple.
Today, though, as we celebrate Christ’s heart bleeding for love of you, can we just let him love us? Just revel in the promise of love in that bleeding heart? Because the heart of Jesus is calling to you, begging you to know that, in the words of my incredible friend Jamie, you are a “totally accepted, deeply loved child of God…created, chosen, adopted by [your] Father.”1
One day in class, I was going on and on about how much Jesus loves us. I’m kind of a broken record on that topic. I’m sure it gets annoying. Anyway, a kid piped up with a skeptical look on her face. “Ms. H-K,” she said. “How do you know Jesus loves you?” It was funny, because that question’s usually earnest and coming from a place of brokenness and a desire for deep relationship with Christ. This time it just sounded belligerent.
“Oh, honey!” I stuttered, rather taken aback. “Well, it’s all over Scripture!” Whether or not you believe in the Bible is an issue for another day (although if you want an answer NOW, you can watch the first video on this page for an explanation2), but the love of God is everywhere in that book. From Genesis, where the whole universe is created for the joy of man and woman, to Revelation, a description of Christ’s wedding to his radiant bride, the Bible is a love letter to all of humanity and to each person.
I spent this whole day trying and trying and trying to write something beautiful about how much God loves you but it all just sounded like a cliché. Because what’s I’ve got in my head is the Word of God and nothing I say matches up. Turns out the Holy Spirit is way better at everything than I am, most especially writing. So here’s what I’ve got for you:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. I actually put it together for the girl who asked how I knew God loved me and I keep a copy in my Bible for inspiration in prayer.
So basically this post is a long introduction to somebody else’s words. Accuse me of plagiarism if you want, but it’s all I’ve got. Maybe after I get some good time with Jesus I’ll have something profound to say, but so far today, my deepest theological moment went like this:
Me: Yes, Cecilia, that’s the Holy Spirit.
Cecilia: (angrily) Biwd!
Me: Yes, sweetheart, it’s a bird and it’s an image of the Holy Spirit.
Cecilia: (more angrily) BIWD! TWEET TWEET!
Me: Can you say Holy Spirit?
Cecilia: (defiant) NO.
Me: Well, okay. But that’s the Holy Spirit.
Cecilia: Biwd. Eagow (eagle). Biwd.
So I might not be in the right place to reflect on the love pouring from the bleeding heart of Christ, but I didn’t want to miss the Solemnity. Consider this an IOU.
P.S. Take some time in prayer today to read this, a letter composed of Bible verses about God’s love for you. You’ll be glad you did.