Come to me

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

It was in 1984, during the first time I visited Europe, that I went to a town in the centre of France, Paray-le-Monial. The town has a majestic Romanesque church. But I was drawn to a small chapel in a side street, the chapel of the convent of the Sisters of the Visitation. It was there in that chapel on December 27,1673 that the Lord appeared to a young nun from the community. She had remained back in the chapel after night prayer. It was the feast of St John, the Beloved, and Sr Margaret Mary Alacoque was in personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

The Lord appeared to her and she described her experience in these words,

I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when I felt myself wholly penetrated with that Divine Presence, but to such a degree that I lost all thought of myself and of the place where I was, and abandoned myself to this Divine Spirit, yielding up my heart to the power of his Love.

She was absorbed – transfixed – in a profound personal experience of the presence of God.

Then we hear echoes of what St John the Beloved described of his moment of personal intimacy with the Lord at the Last supper. Sister Margaret Mary says,  

He made me repose for a long time upon His Sacred Breast, where he disclosed to me the marvels of His Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart which so far He had concealed from me.

She adds:

Then it was that, for the first time, he opened to me his Divine Heart in a manner so real and sensible as to be beyond all doubt, by reason of the effects which this favour produced in me, fearful as I always am, of deceiving myself in anything that I say of what passes in time. It seems to me that this is what took place.

The Lord revealed his Sacred Heart to her. In later apparitions the Lord would appear with his Sacred Heart visible. Sr Margaret Mary would be asked by the Lord to promote a devotion to his Sacred Heart.

The image of the Sacred Heart with which we are very familiar – like the statute here in this cathedral – is a representation of the image that Sr Margaret Mary witnessed.

I have visited this small chapel in a side street in Paray-le-Monial on a number of times in the intervening years. I have spent time in the chapel, picturing where the humble nun would have been and where the Lord would have appeared to her.

What constantly runs through my mind is that this was a revelation of the love, the immense love for humanity, found in the heart of Jesus. Sister Margaret Mary was shown the heart of Jesus, on fire with love. She was shown the heart of Jesus surrounded by a crown of thorns because it was a heart prepared to suffer for the sake of humanity. It was a heart that carried the wound caused by the soldier’s lance – the pierced heart – the heart from which flowed out blood and water. This heart, burning with love for sinful humanity, released mercy and saving grace upon all of mankind.

On one occasion the Lord said to Sr Margaret Mary: “Behold this heart which loves so much and receives so little love in return”. These words haunt me to this day.

When I gaze upon an image of the Sacred Heart, I see a heart with so much love. When I gaze upon a crucifix I see this love personified in the most radical way possible.

Today in the Gospel reading Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest”. These words express the yearning in the heart of Jesus to let his love flow into the lives of those who struggle and suffer, those who find that the trials of life are overwhelming.

The heart of Jesus is full of compassion. Jesus knows that our burdens can overwhelm and crush us. He reaches out to us, with the simple words, “Come to me”.

But there is more. Not only does Jesus want to pour forth his love upon us, he invites us to something far more wonderful. In the apparition to St Margaret Mary he asks her to give him her heart. Listen to how she describes what happened:

After this he asked me for my heart, which I begged him to take. He did so and placed it in his own Adorable Heart where he showed it to me as a little atom which was being consumed in this great furnace, and withdrawing it thence as a burning flame in the form of a heart, he restored it to the place whence he had taken it.

We can easily imagine this. We can take a piece of metal and place it in a furnace and it glows red hot. Then removed from the furnace it continues to glow. Her heart was set on fire from the divine heart of Jesus.

The Lord then said that this fire would remain always within her.

Jesus invites us, urges us, “come to me all you who labour and are overburdened”. His heart, so full of love, yearns to bring us comfort in the midst of our sufferings.

But more than this, the Lord invites us to give our hearts to him. Not only to receive consolation in times of trouble, but he wants to light a fire in the hearts of those willing to give their hearts to him. This is a fire that will never go out.

Jesus says to us today, “come to me”.  Let us come to him with our burdens and anxieties.

Then, let us offer our hearts to him. If we are willing, let us offer our hearts to be set afire with his divine love.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 9 July 2023

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