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The Feast of the Sacred Heart (properly the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus) is a solemnity in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. It falls 19 days after Pentecost, on a Friday. The earliest possible date is 29 May, as in 1818 and 2285. The latest possible date is 2 July, as in 1943 and 2038.
Though devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be clearly traced back at least to the 11th Century where it marked the spirituality of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, it spread throughout the world after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90). In one of the visions, Christ asked St. Margaret to request that the feast be celebrated on the Friday after the Octave of the feast of Corpus Christi.
What does the Feast of the Sacred Heart mean today? First the heart is a symbol of the person and so the Sacred Heart of Jesus represents the whole Christ who is and will always be unconditional and eternal love. This love of Christ is given freely, without reservation and measure to all who open themselves to receive it. Second, the feast reminds us of the constant care and concern that God has even now for each one of us and the whole Universe. By celebrating the feast we make present the self sacrifice of Jesus for all humankind. Our God is a God ‘with us and for us’. God is Emmanuel. Third, the feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us of the intimate connection between the Sacrament of the Eucharist and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Just as in the Eucharist we receive the real, whole and risen Christ, so in the devotion that we profess to the Sacred Heart we relive this encounter.
The feast is thus not only a privilege and grace, but also carries with it a responsibility. First, the love that we receive from the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a private possession, but one that must be shared with all. Just as the Father makes no distinction and makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good (Mt 5:45), so must we in our sharing of the love of Christ. Second, the concern that God has for us and our Universe must be a concern which we must show to our world. The wanton destruction of nature, excessive and abusive use of scarce resources like water, indiscriminate cutting of trees for selfish gain, unlawful and criminal killing of wild animals are signs that we are working against God’s concern. If God cares for us so much, must we not care for our world? Third, the intimate connection of the Sacred Heart and Eucharist reminds us that just as Christ is so easily available to us, we must also be to each other. The Eucharist and the feast of the Sacred Heart ought not to be private and passive devotions, but celebrations that make us ready to reach out in service and availability to anyone who needs us.