Sacratissimi Cordis Iesu / Evening, 24 June 2017 / Church of St John / Agawam
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with spear, and at once there came out blood and water . . . For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” And again another scripture says, “They shall look upon on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:34, 16-37).
Titus would later be emperor; but for now he stands at the head of four Roman legions. The slow siege had been taking place through the city since February and now it was late August. A few weeks earlier, Titus barely escaped during a sudden battle; his mediator, the historian Josephus, was also wounded. To this day it is unclear as to which side began the fire, but once was kindled, there was no extinguishing it. The fire raged, adding more destruction and chaos to the scene, if that were possible. The year is 70 AD; the besieged city is Jerusalem; and it is the Second Temple that is razed to the ground. Matthew, Mark, and Luke bear witness to Christ’s prophecy of these events.
Forty years earlier, on a hill of execution outside Jerusalem, another apparently destroying act takes place—but of infinite difference. That brings us to our Gospel. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ attested to by all the prophets, has made his crucified self-offering pro multis. No one took his life from him, but he lays it down of his own accord. We just heard the narrative. The attendant soldiers do not need to induce forced suffocation by breaking our Lord’s sacred body; instead, a lance is brought to bear and opens the waiting Heart of God. In the visible form of blood and water, out flows “an abundance of mercy and grace,” as father will sing in today’s preface.
The Second Temple of Jerusalem was broken to dust and pebbles—Christ remains unbroken: “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” In the old temple, the Holy of Holies was veiled; when it was destroyed, all worship ceased—but with Christ “They shall look upon him whom they have pierced.” The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the true temple; the Savior’s very Person is the center of all worship and adoration and life. “Heart of Jesus, sacred temple of God: have mercy on us.” “Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High: have mercy on us.” “Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness: have mercy on us.”
The Old Temple was doubtless a magnificent edifice: after all, dignified worship of one true God took place there, as he commanded. Rightly, it was the center of the chosen people’s worship. But when the Son of the Father took flesh, being presented in that very temple, worshipping with his righteous family in that temple, teaching in it, casting out the money changers from it—when the Sacred Heart had appeared among us in the fullness of time, what need was there for it to stand?
Our churches are, as it were, a kind of extension of the Incarnation of Christ. We love our stone and stained glass, because they speak to us of the splendor of supernatural truth. Christ was made flesh, so everything material, when consecrated to him, may become holy and useful unto our supernatural health. But dear friends, mark this: who can say how long our churches will stand? All the magnificence of our sacred art and architecture points to one small, simple, infinitely precious reality: that the very Heart of Jesus is held between four fingers of a priest, so as to be given to us. So when the rose window at Notre Dame du Paris is shattered to bits; when the Bernini’s columns in St Peter’s come tumbling down; when the gild mosaics of St Mark’s are tarnished; when every apse and chancel and nave becomes the haunt of wild animals and a garden of weeds—the Catholic faith will suffer not the slightest harm. For “not a bone of him shall be broken.”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is our worship, “in which dwells the fullness of divinity.” The Old Temple, in the designs of Providence, is no more; but our Temple, that Heart, is eternal. So no matter the wreckage that surrounds us—personal or public—our Temple is unshaken; our Temple will never cease to pour out every goodness and grace, because this Temple, this Heart, is “the sanctuary of divine bounty.”
Burning furnace of charity: have mercy on us. Abyss of all virtues: have mercy on us. Salvation of those who trust in you: have mercy on us. Desire of the everlasting hills: have mercy on us. King and center of all hearts: have mercy on us.