In the following homily from 1973, Pedro Arrupe asks that people embrace the most authentic expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by sharing effective love with one another. Such sharing would be a suitable response to the “sign of love” Jesus gave from the cross.
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1. The Sign of Christ Crucified
In the book of Numbers the inspired writer tells us that the Lord punished the Israelites with several plagues. One of the most terrible was the plague of serpents. Very many died of their bite. Moses pleaded for the people, and at the Lord’s bidding he made a bronze serpent, set it up on a pole, “and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus made use of this passage of the Bible as a term of comparison: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And later on, a few days before the Passover on which he was going to be crucified, Jesus said to the crowd around him: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
This is that “sign of salvation” of which the book of Wisdom speaks. “For he who turned towards it was saved, not by what he saw, but by thee, the Savior of all.” And the sacred book continues: “And by this thou didst convince our enemies that it is thou who deliverest from every evil;” “thy mercy came to their help and healed them;” “For thou hast power over life and death” (v. 13).
More explicit still is the prophet Zechariah: “They will look at him whom they have pierced.” Here is an invitation to look on the one who has been “transfixed,” “the only begotten son,” whose open side—Saint John tells us—is like a fountain of salvation: “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”
The figure of the Crucified over the earth, with his side wide open, has its roots in the Old Testament and is a compendium, as it were, of the theology of John’s Gospel. It could be said that it is a summary of the whole of Christianity. More than any other symbol, this is a sign in St. John of the redeeming fecundity of the death of Christ. The open side, from which blood and water gush forth, responds to a Semitic symbolism: the wound, a sign of death (the slain lamb); and the blood and water, a sign of life and fecundity. Thus the pierced heart is the symbol of the Paschal Lamb of the New Covenant. This is the teaching of the encyclical “Haurietis aquas:”
“The words of the prophet Zechariah, ‘they shall look on him whom they have pierced,’ referred to by John the Evangelist to Jesus nailed to the cross, have been spoken to Christians in all ages. Nothing, therefore, prevents our adoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ as having a part in and being the natural and expressive symbol of the abiding love with which the divine Redeemer is still on fire for mankind.”
Placed before Christ Crucified in deep contemplation and looking at “him whom they have pierced,” from whose open side blood and water flow, we shall hear him say to us what he said to the Jews on the feast of the Tabernacles: “Standing up he proclaimed: ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Such language was perfectly clear to Christ’s audience, who saw in this “living water” the water they drew from their wells to offer it to the Lord with the fruits of the earth. These words are still more clear to us who are conscious of the drought of our souls and feel the thirst of the spirit: “My soul is thirsting for my God, the living God.” And with the Psalmist, our dry hearts cry to the Lord, “My soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.”
2. The Response of Unbelief
Many do not heed the invitation of Jesus, “If any one thirst let him come to me.” Millions of human beings are distracted in the midst of life with their successes and failures, their joys and sorrows. Although in the bottom of their hearts they feel a burning thirst for perfection and happiness, they never raise their eyes to the “pierced” one, and consequently never come to know what true happiness is.
History repeats itself, and men today, as in the times of Jesus, “though they had seen so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him.” They do not believe in him, nor do they accept his words: “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” They also refuse to accept the testimony of his works, “The world was made by him, yet the world knew him not.” Nor do they accept his person. “He carne to his own home, and his own people received him not.”
Men find Christ’s language difficult to accept when he announces to them the mystery of the Eucharist. If they seek him, they do it out of self-interest: “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They will come to the point of stoning him: “The Jews took up stones again to stone him,” and even of putting him to death. How appropriately John’s Gospel has been called “the Gospel of the unrecognized love.” How true it is that “men loved darkness rather than light.”
Here are to be found the roots of the problem of unbelief, atheism and modern secularization. The world refuses to look up to the Crucified; they are afraid of that figure, they do not know that there the fountain of living water is to be found, which will slake their thirst.
3. The Response of Faith
“Whoever thirsts, let him come and drink,” says Jesus. To believe in him one must first go to him. There is no one who finds him and is not fascinated by his personality.
This happened to Nathanael on first meeting Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” The same was the case with the people of the town of Sichem who told the Samaritan woman: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” And we have the great confession of the apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” We have besides the testimony of many others: “And many came to him, and they said, ‘Everything that John said about this man is true.’ And many believed in him there.”
With faith comes a living in keeping with that faith. In the second letter of John we read: “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.” Life in Christ is a life whose principal purpose is love: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.”
This love, evidently, is not a mere intellectual concept; it consists in embracing the truth wholeheartedly and being penetrated by it. Without this love deep down in one’s life, one cannot possess the true knowledge of God: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Genuine faith, therefore or the coming to Jesus necessarily includes the love of the neighbor: “This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”
This is the central thought of the ethical and moral doctrine of the Evangelist John. The faith by which we believe in the “pierced Heart,” would be illusory and of no avail if it did not impel us to brotherly love, for “he who does not love has not known God.” It is worth nothing how John proposes the love of the brethren as the true response to the love God has for us. It is clear that the love of Jesus is in the background in all the writings of John and that the Evangelist’s personal love for the Lord can be felt throughout; but it is a fact that nowhere does this love of God appear expressly as a commandment or is even mentioned. On the other hand, the love of the brethren is constantly insisted upon: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Saint John reduces Christianity to its greatest simplicity: believe and love. “The believer,” Spicq would say, “is the one who knows what love is, and gives himself to it unreservedly.”
4. The Devotion to the Heart of Christ
In summary, here we have also, in its simplest and profoundest form, the essence of the true devotion to the Sacred Heart. Looking at this “book written within and on the back,” we can learn “the mystery of Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Gazing and reading in the Crucified Christ, with the open side, we shall recognize the Son of God “who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And going to him, we shall believe with a faith which, if it is genuine, will drive us to action, to the love of God, which will unfailingly manifest itself in the love of our fellow men.
If God’s love for us reached the point of giving us his only-begotten Son, our response to this love ought to be an absolute surrender to Christ and to the brethren. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Thus Pius XII could write that the cult of the Sacred Heart “contains a summary of all religion and the most perfect kind of life.”
This life of love for Christ and for our fellow men, which is the most perfect expression of Christian living, carries with it all the characteristics proper of the Spirit of God:
—it puts fear to flight: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…he who fears is not perfected in love;”
—it drives out all anguish and anxiety: “I am writing this to you that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”
—it increases our confidence: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming;” “In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment;”
—it is an expression and gift of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid;”
—it is a token of victory: “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.”
Original Source (English translation):
Arrupe, Pedro. In Him Alone Is Our Hope: Texts on the Heart of Christ (1965–1983): Selected Letters and Addresses—IV, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1984, “A Response of Faith and Love,” pg. 119–124.