Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Thoughts On The Sacred Heart Of Jesus

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published June 10, 2010

One can easily wonder about what kind of compass should be used that would truthfully guide one across the seas of life. The most obvious, and perhaps easiest to find in terms of availability, is one’s religious tradition. If faithfully followed, a religious tradition can safely bring one to the far shore of existence. A religious tradition can discern the stars of a night sky. It can brave the winds of storms and the rising swells of any number of tides. Come home to religion, and the promise is that it will bring you home.

We live in a time that offers a plurality of traditions. The religious traditions of the world, once easily discernible as separate, as truthful or not, as guaranteed or as bogus compasses pointing the way to salvation are now not only pressing upon each other. To a measurable degree, they are learning from each other and mingling with each other, even to the point that once clear distinctions are not only blurred but impossible to recover. A new spirituality is being born, one that is a living hybrid of religious truths. For those in need of a sure direction in such times of transformation, their Catholic or Jewish or Islamic compass may be grasped all the more tightly in the hands of those who fear being thrown far off course. But for others, there is the seizing of an opportunity to look at other traditions, learn from them, share meals with them, ride with them on subways and buses, and marry into them, raise children from such unions and in the process find that the compass needle is still pointing in a truthful direction.

I think that the great challenge of this age is to find—with the help of each other, a compass that remains true to one’s tradition and, at the same time, draws us closer to those who are different from us but who are also seeking a way to be at home with us.

I know of no better feast than the Sacred Heart of Jesus from which to draw upon in terms of a contemplative meditation on who we are, what we have within us, where we are going and how God wants us to get there.

The heart is one of the few universal symbols that bridge the many differences of time, peoples and cultures. You can find its expression in poetry from all over the world and from all the ages humanity has known. You will find the symbol of the heart etched on the trunks of trees, on the ancient stones of the Great Wall of China, on the walls of dusty catacombs, on lockets that rest on the hearts of lovers all over the world.

People of all time have known through experience that love entails sacrifice. To be possessed by love is to lose possession of oneself.

When a person truly lives for another or others, life is enhanced, is matured through self-denial. To know this for what it is, all one need to do is to look back and ponder those who gave us life, brought us into being, raised us, taught us the good, hoped for us and even may have died for us. The wisest would have known that it all came as a gift, this yearning to love through sacrifice, through the denial of self.

We may understandably find the future worrisome since the way is obscured with clouds of religious uncertainty and dogmatic doubts. We are encouraged today to look back and remember how we got here. The heart of God has been given to us, and has brought us to this place.

And in the decades ahead, that heart will guide us still. We will look to each other to find the sacred in life and to live from it. And the compass that will guide us will be that of the heart of Jesus – divine in its origin and deeply human in its expression.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery online store at