14 Jun 2015

Matters of the Heart - Thinking Faith

[12th June was] the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion that inspires many Catholics but from which others shy away. Dermot Power encourages us to be sensitive to the truth about God’s love for us that this feast can help to illuminate. 
The Sacred Heart as a devotion has for some time suffered a mixed press. The Irish priest and commentator, Brendan Hoban, sees in it a passivity which leads to a spirituality with some negative pastoral consequences. 
My own early memory of the devotion to the Sacred Heart comes from my Catholic, London Irish, Angela’s Ashes upbringing and is bound up with my fear of the dark as a small child. Outside of the little bedroom I shared with my brother, there was an old-fashioned, tiny night light attached to a rather battered and old picture of the Sacred Heart. This light was just enough to see me through the night and assuage my fear. In the midst of the violent and harsh environment around the streets of Notting Hill, where Irish and West Indian immigrants lived in tenements overseen by the notorious landlord Rachman, whole families living in just two rooms, I remember being touched at some primal level by the light and the image of a tenderness that I associated with God. Somehow I knew that God had his heart aches too, which wasn’t such bad Christology for a 7-year-old! 
The sentimentality, the soft, even effeminate image of Jesus, bordering on the kitsch, can often be an affront to Catholics of high culture and even those of biblical sensitivities. Like its cousin, the devotion to the Divine Mercy, it raises liturgical blood pressure if it manages to invade the sacred spaces of altar and ambo.
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