Sacred Heart of Jesus, 19th June 2020
What causes racism? It’s an important question but one to which there are no easy answers, otherwise we could have with greater ease eliminated it. Personally I’m sceptical whether how we teach imperial history or which statues are in our cities are issues that are going to affect people’s racist tendencies. That doesn’t mean statues shouldn’t be removed or that we shouldn’t review how Britain’s past is taught, but I don’t think we can satisfactorily argue that it will lead people to be less racist. I want racism to end. God wants racism to end. The cause of racism is very clearly hatred, and hatred we all know is the opposite of love. God is love and today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is supremely a celebration of that love. So what do we know about it?
One clear message from the Psalm we recited together is that the love of the Lord goes on for ever; it is everlasting. The Church teaches us this through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. You’ll remember the vows that are made: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.” Love isn’t love if it runs away at the first sight of trouble, or if it is conditional on certain factors being met. It is not time limited, nor does it have a use-by date. It is eternal, just like God has no beginning and no end. In our second reading St John reflects that God is love and that to be caught up in love is to know something of who God is. So, even those who don’t believe in God experience something of His wonder, not just through the life they live, but through the love they know.
How can we talk about love without referring to St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter thirteen? There we read, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” These characteristics are worth spending time pondering because they tell us how we should treat others, how we should love God, and indeed how God loves us. Is this really how we treat people? Irritable; being envious; being rude; being glad when we see someone we don’t like making a mistake or failing in something. No matter whether we count them as friend or foe, lover or enemy, we are to despite these emotions within ourselves and recognise that they lead us away from God. Too often we think they’re so much a part of human nature that we have no impetus to confess them as sins to a priest and so no desire to banish them from the way we treat others.
St John wrote in the passage we heard, “God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world His only Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” God’s love is revealed on the Cross. The Sacred Heart of Jesus we celebrate today is a heart with a crown of thorns around it, a heart that is pierced, a heart that has died the death of a common criminal. And why does Jesus, the Innocent One, do this, my brothers and sisters? Because of love, His love for us. And did we do anything to merit this love? Were we especially good or kind or successful at following Him? Did we perform great miracles to impress Him or have faith enough to move mountains or did He reward us more than those who do not follow Him? No, St Paul puts it: “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Perhaps the first stage to allowing love to have a greater hold on our lives is for us to know how we are loved. St John Vianney, reflecting on the love of God, observes that faith and hope will not be needed in Heaven, but that most excellent of gifts - love - is different. He writes about the presence of love in Heaven: “But love; oh, we shall be inebriated with it! we shall be drowned, lost in that ocean of divine love, annihilated in that immense charity of the Heart of Jesus!”
So we as Christians have something to say in the fight to end racism. When we do so, we recognise where we have got it wrong, when we have had failures of love, but we do so pointing to the source of all love, the best example of love we have: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When we come to our churches, kneel before these statues and ask that that love might overwhelm us, as people from all nations and races come to worship the Lamb who died for us all.