They were small round discs, buttons that you could wear on your lapel. They said, ‘Smile God loves you’. I could not stand them. They irritated me no end.
Well-intentioned they might be, but they flew in the face of this world’s endless sorrows.
I am reminded of a dear friend of mine, a lovely priest, John Trenchard, who was not overly impressed to be told, ’we are an Easter people and alleluia is our song!’ ‘I am more of a Good Friday person myself,’ he commented.
Today is the feast of the Heart of Jesus and for me this is the feast that holds all life in a great balance. It is the heart that loves and seeks love. It is the heart that knows sorrow and sadness. It is the heart that is the very essence of things, the centre of the universe, the centre of every human life.
The love of Jesus in his birth in Bethlehem…the love of Jesus in his growing up in Nazareth…the love of Jesus in his public life and preaching…the love of Jesus in every word he said and every thing he did…the love of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane…the love of Jesus poured out on the cross…the love of Jesus promised to us always.
I grew up in a little parish in Lancashire, the parish of the Sacred Heart in Hindsford, between the towns of Atherton and Tyldesley. In those days coalmines dotted the landscape and coal dust filled the air. Cotton mills and factories were everywhere. We grew up happy children in the midst of God’s love in Jesus, found in church and school and family life and friends, while all the while knowing and absorbing the grim reality of dark skies and frequent rain and hard work for little money.
But the heart of people, their deep desire for life could be seen in their humour and their friendliness and in their ability to rise above their grim surroundings and to truly want to live.
Our religion, our catholic faith reflected to us the true situation of human life from the cradle to the grave. The mass was silent mystery in those days. We knelt before the mystery of God and his gift to us of his son. Benediction gave us the chance to say how much we loved the Lord and our songs were romantic…O Sacred Heart, our home lies deep in thee. The Stations of the Cross truly reflected the cruel world that we knew only too well in angry people and argument and war.
In that little church as a boy I felt the warmth and human solidarity of the people I knew there, quietly gathered and praying the silence together.
During benediction we often prayed the litany of the Sacred Heart and the sentiments that we find there perfectly match and mirror the joys and sorrows of our own daily lives, be they young or old.
Heart of Jesus bruised for our sins, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus pierced by the lance, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus desire of the eternal hills, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus salvation of all who trust in you, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus hope of all who die in you, have mercy on us
Heart of Jesus desire of all the saints, have mercy on us
Life is joy and sorrow and glory and the mysteries of the rosary, reflecting the life of the Lord, also reflect the life and times of each one of us. As a boy, going into my little church to serve morning mass, I would walk up the left hand aisle and with every step draw nearer to the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who looked down on me with kindness as I came near. Every time I did that walk I knew how much the good Lord loved me. The message came home to me and has never left me.
That statue represents the human form of the Lord and it is in his body that he came to bring God’s love home to me. That body enjoyed the warmth of this world and endured its bitter cold. On this feast of the Sacred Heart the Lord calls me again to draw near to him and in my own body to bring the message of God’s true love to everyone I meet.
In the days of my priestly life I was privileged to work with The Beginning Experience, a ministry that helps people move through the trauma of grief after loss. They have a saying that I found true to life. We do not promise you sunshine instead of rain. We do not promise you sunshine after rain. But we do promise you sunshine in the midst of rain. It reminded me of my Lancashire home!
When God’s love comes home to you it also radiates out of you, come rain or sunshine. No need for buttons!
8 June 2018