Jesus’ heart figures prominently in the story of salvation. During his ministry he revealed himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). And upon his death on the Cross, when his side was pierced with a lance, blood and water from his heart flowed from the wound (John 19:34). Christians have always seen this as symbolic of the sacraments of salvation – baptism and the Eucharist.
Likewise, the blood and water which flowed from the heart of Jesus are also symbolic of the origin of the Church, the spouse of Christ. Citing Saint Ambrose, the Catechism teaches that just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam, so was the Church formed from the side and pierced heart of Jesus, the new Adam (CCC 766).
These events, which influenced the development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart, help us to see that the term “Sacred Heart” really stands for the entire mystery of our Savior Jesus Christ, the totality of his being – tender mercy and infinite love, the salvation of mankind. Furthermore, just as the Risen Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand into his side (John 20:27), so too does the Lord want us to enter into his side to touch the heart of our salvation.
For those who would suggest a harsh God of rigorous punitive justice, devotion to the Sacred Heart can serve as an antidote, inspiring a trust in the compassion of our Redeemer who takes upon himself the misery and sin of the world. Through the transformative power of the heart of Jesus, which is on fire for love of humanity, we are made new again.
“The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy,” affirms Pope Francis. And this “is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.” In particular, he says, “from the Heart of Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed on the Cross, flow forgiveness and life for all people.”
Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, came to save us from a dire situation, one from which we could never extricate ourselves through our own efforts. He came to save us from sin and death. This is accomplished in a special way in the Sacrament of Confession. Born of the heart of Jesus, it remains one of the marvels of his endless love that he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us. In the simple acts of contrition, sacramental confession, absolution and penance, we are restored to a whole new life.
Confession serves a real human need that has not diminished with the passage of time. The human race has, unfortunately, not outgrown its tendency to sin. When we sin, we are injured and feel the burden of our transgressions whether we have a sense of sin or not. And when we fail to treat our wounds, when we continue to carry all that baggage with us, accumulating more along the way, it only makes life all that harder. However, Jesus came to heal us and give us rest from such burdens, and he gave his Church the power and the means to do this through this sacrament.
The fruits of Confession are manifold and profound. We experience them primarily in the order of grace. Sometimes we notice an improvement in our prayer life. Sometimes we sense renewed strength in our moral struggles. Nearly always the person who enters into the heart of Jesus in the confessional experiences the immense relief of a great weight being lifted from him or her.
Regular examinations of conscience and Confession make for a happier life. That is the promise of Jesus and the message of the Church. It is Good News that we need to proclaim to the world.
This forgiveness is a very great gift, but even that is merely a precondition for something greater – the gift of the Lord’s own divine life. God loves us in spite of our weaknesses. In fact, he loves us so much that he wants to help us overcome them. Our purpose in life – what God has planned for us – is to be transformed into Christ. For this to happen, Jesus has opened his Sacred Heart to us and, like Saint Thomas, we need only accept his invitation to enter into it.
This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Light is On for You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession (2014).”