God desires to draw all things to his heart, and he desires to fill the hearts of men. The heart is the ground and center of the human being, the ultimate point of encounter with the mystery of God and the world. Lovers understand the heart. But philosophers and theologians who are not blind to love understand it as well. The German philosopher Robert Spaemann is such a philosopher. His analysis of the heart deepens the significance of devotion to the Sacred Heart. The following dwells on the philosophical and theological significance of the Sacred Heart so as to deepen our appreciation of the devotion.
Thanks to Fr. Robert Sokolowski’s essay “What is Natural Law?” I discovered Robert Spaemann’s profound insights on the heart and Christianity (page 525). Spaemann says, “The Gospels speak of the human heart as the ultimate reason for words, actions, and decisions, and the center of the human being.” He also says, “The heart is its own basis and needs no further basis.” At first glance, this seems like sentimentalism or the will to power epitomized by many who have supposedly found their “true self” irrespective of everything else. Many say they are simply following the promptings of their heart when they decide to do something that is questionable. When Spaemann says there need be no further basis than the heart, does he equate the “heart” with feelings and emotions, and, if yes, is it right to say that they are the ultimate reason for words, actions, and decisions? While the Bible places the heart at the apex of the human being, it is also suspicious of the human heart. Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Are we left with no reference beyond ourselves? Is freedom its own measure? As Christians, we know that Christ as Logos is the measure of all things. He understands the human heart, and by reference to His Sacred Heart can we understand our hearts beyond the ebb and flow of our emotions.
Many theologians say that the heart is the best word to represent the whole human person. The heart is not independent of all the other levels of the human being. Each level plays its part in constituting the heart even while the heart transcends them. Karl Rahner says that the heart is “the inward-corporeal core of the personal being of man, which borders on the source of all mystery.” While man encounters God at many levels, the heart is the most intimate. Rahner believed the Devotion to the Sacred Heart plays a pivotal role in Christianity. He says, “Among these [the mysteries of Lent and Passiontide] is the mystery of the Lord’s heart, torn open and pouring out its life-blood. It is the most profound of all the mysteries of the Passion (emphasis mine), in fact the source of them all.” Rahner seems to be saying that in order to properly reflect on the mysteries of Christianity one must encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From what was said above, one can draw the conclusion that in the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus does the mystery of man take on light.
In the Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger says, “In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up; here we see who God is and what he is like.” At the height of salvation history the Heart of God, opened and torn for us on the Cross, reveals to us our hearts true desire. Christ desires to “dwell in our hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). He desires to give us a new heart. In seeing God through the Crucified Heart of Jesus we see the end to which we are called. Gaudium et Spes (GS) has a profound insight on this which was emphasized by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Paragraph 21 of GS reads “[apart from the Church’s message] nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man.” Right after this GS 22 reads, “The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” While the heart points to transcendence, it is the revelation of the Heart of God on the Cross that makes immanent the object of our immortal longing and, thereby, sheds light on the mystery of ourselves. This is why Sacred Heart of Jesus burns for union with the hearts of men. Let us pray that Devotion to the Sacred Heart will bring about the conversion of many hearts.