Friday, June 19, 2009

Bishop Olmsted - The Sacred Heart, Tepeyac and Us

Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has a real knack for presenting the truths of our faith in surprising ways. He begins this week's column in The Catholic Sun with a discussion of some symbolism in the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe I'd not heard before and ends discussing The Virgin's haunting message to her modern day children:

Nine heart-shaped flower blossoms decorate the tunic worn by Our Lady of Guadalupe, surrounding her hands, which are gently folded in prayer. This artistic technique told the Native peoples that the Virgin Mary was holding hearts in her maternal hands, protecting them from harm. This image mesmerized them as they gazed with awe and wonder at the sight. It filled them with new hope at a time when they teetered on the edge of despair. Why?

Hearts, they had thought, were what you offered to the gods in order to restore harmony in the world. In their own practice of human sacrifice, hearts were torn out of victims, usually enemies captured in battle, and then offered as a peace offering. But that effort to win peace with their “gods” had failed to save them from defeat by the Conquistadors. Worse, after the conquest, they no longer knew how to pray or even to whom to pray.

But then, Our Lady of Guadalupe came to them, gently holding their hearts in her hands. Harmony, they realized, was again possible! Her hands held their hearts just above the divine Child in her womb, the One whose Sacred Heart conquers violence and restores peace to the world.

Heart violently pierced

The Indians of the New World were not the first and not the last to think that violence can bring about peace. The Romans, in putting Jesus to death on the Cross, thrust a lance through His Heart, “…and immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn 19:34). Pilate thought this violent death would calm the clamoring crowd and give him temporary peace. The Evangelist knew it would do far more than that, since Jesus freely chose to suffer the violence as an act of reparation for the whole world. Thus, he immediately adds the following (Jn 19:35-37), “An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe. For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘Not a bone of it will be broken,’ and again another passage says: ‘They will look upon Him whom they have pierced’.”

How could this violent act against the heart of Jesus, made possible by the cowardice of Pilate, help us “come to believe”? Why is it so central to our faith in Christ? Where is the “good news” here?

Recall what Jesus says about the human heart (Mt 15:19), “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” What comes from the heart of Christ is the opposite of these. In fact, what pours forth is far more than the opposite of evil; it is total victory over evil. What flows from His heart is the mercy that conquers violence and all evil, the mercy that restores life where death had reigned. This is why His pierced heart is good news.

A Heart that purifies hearts

The people of the New World were right in thinking that their own hearts needed to be redeemed. They were even right in thinking that another ‘heart’ needed to be sacrificed in order to redeem them. But what they did not know, until Our Lady of Guadalupe helped them to see, was that it needed to be a heart that was both human and divine. It had to be a heart full of divine love that, when violently attacked, returned good for evil, and forgiveness in place of vengeance. What flowed from the heart of Jesus was not cursing and threats but “blood and water,” which redeem the world and become the fountain of sacramental life in the Church. By suffering in our place, Christ ransomed us from death and restored us to life.

In a marvelous way, God the Father fashioned the heart of Mary to serve the heart of His Beloved Son. He preserved her heart from every stain of sin; then, He invited her to share vicariously in the suffering and death of her Son. Simeon told Mary at the time that she presented her little child in the Temple (Lk 2:34-35), “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What Simeon foretold was fulfilled as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. It was fulfilled in another way when she stood on Tepeyac hill in Mexico and brought to the people of the New World, with the help of St. Juan Diego, the Good News of her Son’s Heart as a fountain of mercy and life. . .

Go see the surprising conclusion at The Catholic Sun.