Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart, a devotion most Protestants and many Catholics find rather odd. My childhood parish had a life-size statue of Jesus on the front lawn, holding his own heart outside of his chest. We kids thought this was just the weirdest thing. So I asked Mom, and she told me it was Jesus offering his heart to me. That made sense. If God is not love, then what good is He? You can have all the candy bars in the world, but if your Mom doesn’t love you, life would still be unbearably sad.
“The term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’ denotes the entire mystery of Christ,” the Catholic Church teaches, and Pope Benedict said that “the essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus.” When he became the Pope in 2005, Benedict chose “love” as the topic for his first open letter to all the world. He began with a line from St. John’s first epistle, Deus caritas est, “God is love.” Religion must be a thing of the heart if it’s going to be any good at all.
Last night I watched a heartwarming Disney movie from 1962, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. The last time I watched that movie was fifty years ago (Mom took all us little kids to see it), and it still touches my heart. It portrays village life in 19th century Holland, when Europe was still Christian. Movies back then allowed characters to mention the word “God,” and the Brinker family do their best to practice Christian virtues such as humility, forgiveness, diligence, and trustful prayer. But, for the most part, religion is kept safely out of sight. No one goes to church, and the Brinker’s cottage has no Bible on the mantel (which Dutch Protestants of that period would certainly have prominently in view).
By 1962, Hollywood had already decided to keep religion safely behind the scenes. We thought we could have it both ways. We thought we could sustain a well-ordered society without the personal sacrifices religion requires. We thought public faith as window-dressing was enough. But 60 years from that charming movie, Disney has found it necessary not only to cancel religion but to belittle faith in God. Just about every movie today speaks the same message: you have the right and the duty to choose every aspect your life. You are your own god, and any religion that gets in your way must be removed.
“He who is not for me,” Jesus said, “is against me.” Even in 1962, Disney was ambivalent about religion. Today Disney is decidedly against Christianity. A society that does not choose to be “for God” will inevitably end up being “against God.”
The good news is that God is love, and love wins. The “essential nucleus” of reality is divine love, and although cultures make a go of it without God, or try to win wars against God, love always wins. The Sacred Heart is eternal, and after every civilization collapses, the love of God remains. Do you want to be on the “right side of history?” My advice is to take the long view. Cultural movements come and go, but God remains. His love is everlasting. He offers that love, His “Heart,” to all who come to Him. So, as Jesus implores in the Gospel today, “come to me.” There he is, on the front lawn, holding out His Heart to us.
From Father Illo’s blog. Father Illo is pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco