Paul’s desire for the people of Ephesus is that they come to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. The Father and the Son and the Spirit most of all want to see this prayer of Paul’s realized, not only then, but in each of us today. The Three Persons are the ones who have placed this desire in Paul’s heart. They are the ones who have driven Paul to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ.
The mystery of today’s feast is that the supreme place where this love, the heart of God, is disclosed is from the cross, in Jesus’ wounded side. To know the depths of the heart of God and the incomprehensible love that resides there we are to look upon him whom we have pierced, gaze upon the wounded side of Christ. This wound is not the same as Christ’s other wounds in that it is the symbol of the heart of God laid bare, rent open, precisely for our gaze, that in it we might see the extent of God’s love, which calls out to us to respond, be converted and be transformed in him.
In the first reading from Hosea, God himself relates through the prophet the history of his love and care for his people in the most tender terms. “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.” He taught Ephraim to walk and took them in his arms. He drew them with human cords, with bands of love, he fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks and bent down to feed them. But there is nothing on the side of the people that corresponds to this constant love of God. Israel even runs away, but on his part, God is not ashamed even to run after him. “The more I called them, the further they went from my face” he says in the second verse, which is not included in today’s reading. (11.2). He says, “they did not know that I care for them.”
Israel causes God to suffer: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred”. Here we come up against the mystery of a suffering God; mustn’t God be above all suffering, isn’t suffering something that belongs to this world? St. Bernard answers this dilemma in an elegantly pithy phrase: “Impassibile est Deus, God is impassible, sed non incompassibilis”, but not uncompassionate. “It is his nature show mercy and pardon.” (SC 26.5)
Although he was free to do so, and would have lost nothing of the fullness of the Godhead if he had, God did not choose to remain safely enclosed in the community of the three divine Persons, but instead took the risk and ventured forth with the gift of creation, ultimately bringing forth man, a creature in his own image, who is free, capable of love, with the capacity therefore also of accepting or rejecting his offer of love, of saying yes or no. God undertook not only the risk of love but also the risk of suffering, for these are inseparable, as we know.
As Origen said “The Father is not without empathy (impassibilis), not beyond being moved. When he is implored, he has compassion and feels the suffering. He endures things on account of his love, and [because of it] he is transported to the side of those with whom he cannot be on account of his exaltedness.” (Origen, Hom. in Ezech., 6.6)
Origen says of the Son, “he came down to earth out of compassion with humanity. He underwent our sufferings before he underwent the cross and before he took our flesh upon him, for if he had not already suffered, he would not have entered on the course of human life. First he suffered, then he came down and became visible. What was that suffering that he went through for us? It was the suffering (pathos) of love. And the Father himself, the God of the universe…does he not also suffer in a certain sense? Or do you not know that when he involves himself in human affairs in the shape of providence, that he suffers the suffering of humanity with it?
Joseph Ratzinger comments on this passage that “it was…Origen who formulated the normative hermeneutic on the theme of the suffering God: whenever you hear of God’s passions and sufferings, says Origen, you must always relate these to love. God, says Ratzinger, is a sufferer only because he is first a lover; the theme of the suffering God follows from the theme of the loving God and continually points to it. The decisive step that the Christian concept of God takes beyond that of the ancients is the realization that God is love.”
The mystery of the wound is the mystery of divine love. So let us gaze upon this love. As St. Bonaventure says: “Let us through the visible wound, gaze at love’s invisible wound!”
And the path to this God of love is love. And what greater guides into the mystery of this love do we have than the Lord’s blessed Mother and his beloved disciple, who, united in their new relation as Mother and son, by the Lord’s own gift, stood together under the Cross and were witnesses of the wound.
Whatever John may have experienced during the lifetime of Jesus, no matter what he might have grasped up to that point of the mysteries of baptism and the Eucharist, and of the whole of the life of Jesus, was only a beginning compared to what has been opened up by the mystery of the wounded side. John believes. And from within this belief, everything he has encountered and grasped so far is now burst open in all directions. But wherever the wound leads him he always finds love at its source and end. And it is only love that understands love. Here we find ourselves at heart of one of the principal insights of our Cistercian mysticism. That love itself is a kind of knowledge. It is its own justification and meaning, and whoever lives in love searches for no other reason than love. Love desires nothing but to take a stand of pure belief, because it is only from within that simple faith that human love is fully open to the disclosure of divine love, where the love of the disciple encounters the love of the God through the wound and becomes fruitful in the fruitfulness of God.
Mary stands there as the Mother of Sorrows and the Mother of us all, as the one to whom it has been granted to participate in the Lord’s suffering and cross in an intimacy and fullness beyond that of any other creature. Her heart, too, has been pierced, and in this piercing her motherhood is brought to full fruitfulness. Through her suffering she has been prepared by the Lord to stand with him as a genuine partner in all the mysteries of his fruitfulness and be a mother to all. In their union of hearts, he can lead people to her and she can lead people to him.
By the Lord’s own gift, John stands there as the son of this mother and as such a complete brother to the Lord. In all her purity and simplicity, in her constant state of being beyond all sin, Mary would have been utterly open and transparent with her new son John about all the mysteries of her relationship with her son Jesus. John has all of the Blessed Mother’s fruitfulness at his disposal. It is his mission to be the guardian of this fruitfulness and of all the mysteries that the Lord has disclosed. The heart of John is to be one with the heart of Jesus and one with the heart of his mother Mary. He is to keep his eyes on the fruitfulness of the open heart of Jesus on the cross, from whose already dead body flowed the living water and the living blood.
When in our lectio we pray his Gospel, his letters, and the Apocalypse, he is a sure guide into the heart of God and of his blessed Mother. Fruitful prayer, lectio, require a movement out of ourselves into the heart of God, through his wound, corresponding to the movement of God out of himself into our wounded human nature. We have to let him in, just as he has let us in. Like he became naked, so must we be naked to him. As he endured the pierce of the lance so must we. As he did not retreat from love from fear of suffering neither should we. And finally, as he has shown mercy so should we. As we celebrate this day dedicated to his sacred heart, let us ask him for this grace.
The Sacred Heart, by Odilon Redon. Homily by Father Timothy.