Many were the nights I would walk in the damp, chilly evening down the back lanes. Further into autumn, the rain and the wind picked up and resisted my ten minute stroll along the pavement. Yet the horrid shivers down my spine, the pelting rain, the aching legs, and the desire for a warm cup of tea and an early dinner were not enough to stop me.
I found the church long before I ever stepped foot in Ireland. I had no idea what to expect because I couldn’t, at the time, find pictures of the interior. All I knew was the time for daily Eucharistic Adoration and Mass. It was hardly an average parish. At one time it had belonged to the Jesuits, but it had long been left to the unforgiving Irish elements. Several years ago, the Institute of Christ the King bought the church and began renovations on it. I would try to explain the Institute of Christ the King, but I would fail utterly at it so instead I link to their website if you are interested in learning about them.
When I first walked breathlessly into the church on an early September evening, I found refuge in the bizarre half tumble down, half triumphantly splendorous church. I did not at first see the stained and torn walls or notice the rickety wooden planks on the floor or recognize that the chill continued from street to pew. All my attention was caught up in the mosaic scene above the high alter. In stunning detail and brilliant color, Christ ascended in glory with a worshipful saint to either side of Him. Here he exposed his Sacred Heart. Not long after I arrived Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament began and my eyes drifted down from the mosaic to the host exalted high above the altar in a glittering golden monstrance. There He was, the very Jesus who the astonishing mosaic depicted. He was present to me, to the few of us gathered there on bended knee. My bewildered eyes searched again and again the mosaic. From monstrance to Sacred Heart, monstrance to Sacred Heart they went in a dizzying, rapid-fire movement. It was as though I had never seen a depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From my youth, I have seen various depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in paintings, prints, prayer cards, and statues. Yet most are saccharine-sweet with doe-eyed, blonde-ish haired, complacent-looking Jesus. This is not the Jesus I know and love. That is the Jesus of the easily appeased. Not being an artist, I can hardly wrap my head around how difficult and weighty an undertaking it is to attempt to convey some sense of the Word made Flesh who is Christ our Lord. My words ramble, and I am acutely aware of the narrowness of my understanding of Him. Therefore, I do not intend to attack attempted artists of Jesus, but very few manage to capture in art anything that closely evokes familiarity between image and Subject. Art that attempts to imitate Christ and fails except in a basely superficial way is very sad art indeed.
For those who do not know about the Catholic Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it has existed for centuries, but began in the form we know today in 1672 when St. Mary Margaret Alacoque began receiving private revelations from Jesus about spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart as his heart of flesh that is both human and divine. This is truly a devotion to remembering in a special way Christ’s love for us. The images of the Sacred Heart most often have the heart ablaze with the fire of His love and surrounded by the crown of thorns which pierced him during the ultimate sacrifice of love in his passion and death.
Laying my eyes on this mosaic was as though learning about the Sacred Heart all over again. Laying my eyes on the Blessed Sacrament set my own heart pumping wildly for love of His Sacred Heart all over again. That first evening spent at Sacred Heart Church in Limerick was truly saturated with His deep and abiding love for me.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus loves us foolishly in the eyes of the world for it loves without measure. The Word became flesh for love. He walked this earth anonymously for thirty years for love. He taught and traveled for three years, garnering many followers and many naysayers for love. He died an agonizing death for love. He rose from the dead for love. He reigns triumphantly in Heaven for love of us as He guides each and every one of His lost sheep to the Eternal Home.
It is this Sacred Heart that pulses for us in Heaven and on Earth. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and its lifeblood is His lifeblood. We are sustained by His love in the Eucharist. It was at Sacred Heart Church that I adored Him in the Eucharist and received Him in the Eucharist during my time in Ireland. I was sustained by His life and His Sacred Heart that semester as my own heart tittered in anxiety, wallowed in loneliness, and exulted in joy. Nothing could keep me from returning again and again to seek refuge at that church seeking refuge in Him.
As Romans 8:35-39 tells us,
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:“For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing can separate us from His love. Even if we were to turn our back to Him the moment we turned around to face Him He would be there holding out His heart to us. Today on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, revel in Jesus’ achingly beautiful love for you.
May God bless you on your way!