Homily – Fr. Anton – Feast of the Sacred Heart – June 19, 2020

The Gospel: Matt  11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
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.”
After the Gospel:
“The Lord set his heart on you, and chose you,”  Moses told the people in the first reading. 
God took the initiative,  reached  out, in the beginning of a love story which continues in  one of our most widely-practiced Catholic devotions, The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
How many of our churches … our homes … have a statue or picture of Jesus, his wounded hands pointing at his wounded  heart – aflame with love for you!  
It began as the Crusaders returned from the Holy Land,  giving rise to the Stations of the Cross, and devotions in honor of the Five Wounds of Jesus.
Saint Bernard famously preached that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed his mercy and the love of his heart for us, which  echoed in his Commentary on the Song of Songs.
St Francis of Assisi asked: “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart?
    Who would not love in return   Him, who loves us so much?”
St Lutgarde, a Cistercian mystic of Belgium, experienced a vision of the pierced Heart of the Savior.
St Mechtilde and St Gertrude the Great  recorded visions, where Jesus bid:  love Him, and  honor his Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament.
They all laid the foundation for the first feast of the Sacred Heart, celebrated in the Seminary of Rennes, France,  August 1670.
   A feast of the boundless, long-suffering love of the heart of Christ for all humanity.
Tragically, however,  where there’s Love,   there’s often Love Unreturned.
Think of all the novels and films  driven by plots of unrequited love,    love given out but never returned,   stories of people longing to be loved back, but it may never come:
one-sided romances, where one person lives in a hope that love will be reciprocated,     but it’ll never come true,  
or marriages that grow cold and distant,
or families where unloving parents or rebellious children turn against each other,
all of them so painful    because  so much love has been heavily invested in a particular person,  who either  cannot or will not return that love.
Just as it is in real life:  No one has the power to make another love them.
Which is also the flip side of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
“Who  wouldn’t love in return, this wounded heart who loves us so much?” St Francis asked.
That’s the risk.  Christ knowingly took it.
A risk, because the almighty King of the Universe has no power to make us love Him in return.
                                       
Someone asked Jesus, as he passed through a village on his  way to Jerusalem:
“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
Just the thought probably broke his heart,  His merciful heart which longed that everyone take advantage  of the gifts  of his love and  mercy.
He was pained that such gifts might not be willingly accepted.
Instead of  answering directly,  He said:
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many will try to enter and will not be able to.”
                                       
You wonder how many of Jesus’  prayers were  made with a quivering voice or through teary eyes as he realized that all his redemptive work …
becoming human … his Passion and suffering … dying on the cross  …could be in vain.
In the Temple,  Jesus once lamented:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Closer to His Last Supper, Jesus  actually wept over Jerusalem, wept over their defiant ignorance:
“If only you had known the things that make for your peace!
The day will come when your enemies will surround you,
hem you in on every side, tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you,
not leaving  one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
                           
Whether God is offering love,  or humans are offering love,
it is  not always  received …   Love  can never be forced!
Yet Jesus never gave up on saving anyone.
On the Cross,  as  the Romans were putting him to death,
as His own people were mocking Him… 
      his heart was moved with a pity that  comes from genuine love,
he prayed for their forgiveness.
When others would have cried out for vengeance,  Jesus cried out for mercy.
That’s the glory of God …  his  unending love and his unfailing mercy.
Mercy means giving someone better than they deserve – 
    Isn’t  that how God has dealt with us all along:
          He’s always  given  us better   than  we deserve.
St. Paul said: The wages of sin is death,  that’s what we’ve earned,
but God’s mercy means
He’s offered us a second chance, new beginnings,
He’s  more than fair with us.
Francis Thompson, the poet, rightly described  God as The Hound of Heaven, always pursuing us,  never giving up.            
He’s also  the God who goes in front of us,
sometimes turning  around to see if we’re following,
if we’re holding up our side of the bargain.
Of all Feasts, today should be the day we specially return His love.