“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Many of our minds are distracted, diverted, and anxious and our hearts are restless. Many times what we seek does not fulfill and what we gather does not satisfy. Jesus, who is more than a wise teacher, for he is also the Son of God, invites us to enter into his rest. This rest is not determined by our external circumstances, but in finding fulfillment for that which we seek. St Augustine came to realize some sixteen hundred years ago that, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
In 1672, St. Mary Alacoque experienced this feeling as well when she received a series of visions of Jesus. Jesus shared with St Mary that not only was his heart wounded on the cross but continues to be wounded by the ingratitude of his sacrifice especially through humanity’s inhumanity toward each other. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was to be a practice to experience his Divine love and mercy. This devotion and practice became recognized by the Church as a Solemnity in the liturgical calendar in 1856. It has been celebrated each year nineteen days after the Solemnity of Pentecost.
The practices of devotion to his Sacred Heart that St Mary received were to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month, receive the Eucharist often, and as a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to do so on each first Friday. Putting these practices into place, one was promised that they would come to experience Jesus’ love and mercy. This special grace once received is a gift to be shared. We are to go out and bring the life, love, and mercy we have received to effect change in our world.
The practices of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are disciplines to help us to find our meaning and rest in him. We are invited to dwell in his presence to receive his acceptance and love and so once loved we are to love others as he loves us. In that grace, we can find our rest, meaning, and peace that surpasses all understanding no matter the external challenges.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the rest that can be experienced in a close walk with Jesus even during turbulent times when in 1965 he gave a speech looking back at the bus boycott of 1955-56: “But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, “No,” the person said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”
Amid our disunity and polarization, amidst the call for much-needed change and reform, we can see hope from the past in the fact that today is also Juneteenth day. This is the date commemorating the announcement by General Gordon Granger in Texas on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln, that, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Two hundred forty-six years it would take for slavery to be abolished in all 35 states by 1865. It would take eighty-seven years for the Jim Crow laws to be turned over by the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are still not where we need to be today in this country regarding equity and justice for all. The Solemnity of Jesus’ Sacred Heart falls on Juneteenth this year. His heart was pierced that all might be freed from the scourge of our slavery to sin and unfortunately continues to bleed for those who continue to be unjustly demeaned, dehumanized, and continue to lose their lives.
As Christians, we are to draw close to his Sacred Heart, to draw close to those who suffer to hear their voices, their stories, to lean into the difficult conversations to actually listen to one another. The issues before us are complex, multilayered, and nuanced, yet the arc of change that we have seen in our dark history will continue to move toward equity for all the more we are willing to see each other as human beings with dignity and value and the more we are willing to encounter, spend time with, and accompany one another.
Photo: Black Jesus at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Detriot