An old devotion to the Sacred Heart finds new life

By Meghan J. Clark, 5 February 2021
A stained glass window featuring the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the former Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain. Image: Jebulon/Wikimedia Commons.


Reclaim the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

My great-grandmother’s house was full of mysteries. Full of secret rooms and eclectic memorabilia, the house always felt a bit like a treasure hunt. In the guest bedroom, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary portraits were prominently placed over the dresser. As a child, I thought they made the room feel a bit haunted. Jesus’ glowing heart surrounded by the crown of thorns with rising flames was somewhat terrifying when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I grew up with the image of the Sacred Heart present but not the devotion. About 10 years ago, it caught me by surprise when my grandmother asked me to reframe an antique print of the Sacred Heart for my mother, “because every Irish household should have the Sacred Heart.” As a devotion, it always seemed historical but not particularly alive or urgent. Sadly, I never even asked my great-grandmother about her popular devotion, nor did I ask my grandmother why there was a connection for Irish households.

To me, devotion to the Sacred Heart always felt like an individualised private devotion until I found myself challenged by a new book by theologians Matthew Eggemeier and Peter Fritz, who propose the Sacred Heart as a public devotion for the 21st century. In Send Lazarus: Catholicism and the Crises of Neoliberalism (Fordham University Press), they propose the popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a counter-practice for resisting the heartlessness of neoliberalism and throwaway culture.

The Sacred Heart, they argue, “brings concretely to expression that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is a person of heart who lives with and from the heart, and who commands any who would follow him to love as he does.”

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This article also appears in the January 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 1, page 40-41). 

Meghan J. Clark is an associate professor of theology at St. John’s University in New York. She is author of The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights (Fortress).

With thanks to U.S. Catholic, published by the Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the gospel of Jesus. 


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