A refuge for parents? Find it deep within the Sacred Heart

June 4, 2024 at 12:18 p.m.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz) (Gregory A. Shemitz)

By Elizabeth Scalia , OSV News

As summer approaches it is good to recall that the church dedicates the entire month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recognizing it as a mighty source of hope and immeasurable consolation. No matter how much we plunder the depths of the heart of Christ, we discover that we may go deeper, still.

The Sacred Heart is rather like the Cabinet of Curiosity featured in several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books – a mysterious structure no one fully understands yet everyone instinctively knows is vital to the proper functioning of, well, all things.

To the human eye, the cabinet looks like an ordinary antique with bowed legs and clawed feet, but opening it reveals endless spaces branching off in more directions than can be seen. The cabinet's inexplicable interior width and breadth are able to contain an infinite number of artifacts while wizards zoom about, exploring its vastness so far into the distance they can barely be detected, rather like the atoms that busily hold us together.

Depending on an artist's representation, the Sacred Heart of Jesus – which certainly holds me together – can look like a flaming, thorn-crowned valentine, or a colorful abstract of pulsing movement. From a sideways perspective, especially if one is science-minded, the Sacred Heart can resemble a never-ending Mandlebrot Set. It can even look like a functional human heart: chambers with open vessels by which it receives what it needs to function – the will of God, the flaming love of the Lord and the oxygen of our own trusting prayers.

My devotion to the Sacred Heart came with parenthood. As a young mother, depictions of the heart of Christ began following me around – as though Jesus was leaving me mash notes – until I was forced to give the devotion some attention. After decades of contemplation, the praying of countless litanies and a home enthronement, I can no more gauge the true immensity of this "abode of justice and love" now than I could back then. I am left pondering the Heart of Christ as a continual empathetic outreach, offering "the safest place" of protection and solace we all seek and need in our lives.

As the saying goes, after 39 years of parenthood, "I’ve seen some things" and learned a few lessons:

First: Parents mustn't blink, and not just because our children can paint dogs, flush car keys and fall out of trees in a half-second, but because time advances with flummoxing speed. Now they are in possession of driver's licenses – your sleep officially ends; next they are moving out, being grown-ups. One day they walk in and show you their first gray hairs. Yes, it happened that fast. All we can do is wonder how many things we missed with what seemed the flick of an eyelid.

Second: Regret is a low demon that creeps in on the small, nighttime doubts and recriminations that every parent sometimes feels, blasting reminders of our mistakes. Every parent will have regrets – some parental remorse is always warranted – but entertaining demons so pathetic that they're assigned to spend eternity sneering rehashed harangues at those who must get up for work in the morning is simply wasting the fire that leaps from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to purge, cleanse and restore. Consign the doubts (and the demon) into those flames of love and that huge heart, and go to sleep.

Third: The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the refuge of parents. Truly, it is the refuge of all of us, but for parents, the Sacred Heart is the mysterious, otherworldly and supernatural thing that pulls us back from the edges of every anxiety because it is an actual "abode." It is the place into which we can safely place every mental and spiritual ache, every anxiety and fear.

My elder son just pulled up to show me his new motorcycle – a beautiful contraption that instantly filled my heart with unspeakable maternal dread. Do you know how many bad things can happen to your child on a motorcycle? I do! I imagined every one of them in a nanosecond.

And then I hugged my graying little boy – because he is forever my little lad – and wished him luck and acknowledged him for a prudent, careful man whose bike needed a blessing. Going inside for holy water, I immediately turned to the enthroned Sacred Heart and imagined shoving my entire son, every bit of my imaginative terrors and that distressing motorcycle deeply – as deeply as my own heart could reach – into that mysterious and colossal "source of all consolation."

And yes, I am consoled.

Elizabeth Scalia is editor-at-large for OSV. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @theanchoress.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support




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As summer approaches it is good to recall that the church dedicates the entire month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recognizing it as a mighty source of hope and immeasurable consolation. No matter how much we plunder the depths of the heart of Christ, we discover that we may go deeper, still.

The Sacred Heart is rather like the Cabinet of Curiosity featured in several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books – a mysterious structure no one fully understands yet everyone instinctively knows is vital to the proper functioning of, well, all things.

To the human eye, the cabinet looks like an ordinary antique with bowed legs and clawed feet, but opening it reveals endless spaces branching off in more directions than can be seen. The cabinet's inexplicable interior width and breadth are able to contain an infinite number of artifacts while wizards zoom about, exploring its vastness so far into the distance they can barely be detected, rather like the atoms that busily hold us together.

Depending on an artist's representation, the Sacred Heart of Jesus – which certainly holds me together – can look like a flaming, thorn-crowned valentine, or a colorful abstract of pulsing movement. From a sideways perspective, especially if one is science-minded, the Sacred Heart can resemble a never-ending Mandlebrot Set. It can even look like a functional human heart: chambers with open vessels by which it receives what it needs to function – the will of God, the flaming love of the Lord and the oxygen of our own trusting prayers.

My devotion to the Sacred Heart came with parenthood. As a young mother, depictions of the heart of Christ began following me around – as though Jesus was leaving me mash notes – until I was forced to give the devotion some attention. After decades of contemplation, the praying of countless litanies and a home enthronement, I can no more gauge the true immensity of this "abode of justice and love" now than I could back then. I am left pondering the Heart of Christ as a continual empathetic outreach, offering "the safest place" of protection and solace we all seek and need in our lives.

As the saying goes, after 39 years of parenthood, "I’ve seen some things" and learned a few lessons:

First: Parents mustn't blink, and not just because our children can paint dogs, flush car keys and fall out of trees in a half-second, but because time advances with flummoxing speed. Now they are in possession of driver's licenses – your sleep officially ends; next they are moving out, being grown-ups. One day they walk in and show you their first gray hairs. Yes, it happened that fast. All we can do is wonder how many things we missed with what seemed the flick of an eyelid.

Second: Regret is a low demon that creeps in on the small, nighttime doubts and recriminations that every parent sometimes feels, blasting reminders of our mistakes. Every parent will have regrets – some parental remorse is always warranted – but entertaining demons so pathetic that they're assigned to spend eternity sneering rehashed harangues at those who must get up for work in the morning is simply wasting the fire that leaps from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to purge, cleanse and restore. Consign the doubts (and the demon) into those flames of love and that huge heart, and go to sleep.

Third: The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the refuge of parents. Truly, it is the refuge of all of us, but for parents, the Sacred Heart is the mysterious, otherworldly and supernatural thing that pulls us back from the edges of every anxiety because it is an actual "abode." It is the place into which we can safely place every mental and spiritual ache, every anxiety and fear.

My elder son just pulled up to show me his new motorcycle – a beautiful contraption that instantly filled my heart with unspeakable maternal dread. Do you know how many bad things can happen to your child on a motorcycle? I do! I imagined every one of them in a nanosecond.

And then I hugged my graying little boy – because he is forever my little lad – and wished him luck and acknowledged him for a prudent, careful man whose bike needed a blessing. Going inside for holy water, I immediately turned to the enthroned Sacred Heart and imagined shoving my entire son, every bit of my imaginative terrors and that distressing motorcycle deeply – as deeply as my own heart could reach – into that mysterious and colossal "source of all consolation."

And yes, I am consoled.

Elizabeth Scalia is editor-at-large for OSV. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @theanchoress.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support



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