The apparitions of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary are arguably two of the most important theological developments in the past 400 years. The apparitions of the Sacred Heart are indelibly tied to the image of Divine Mercy. The Immaculate Heart of Mary was a major part of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. Not only are these images incredibly important, they are also extremely personal and teach us so much about Jesus and Mary. Whole books can and doubtlessly have been written about the theological significance of the two Hearts, so I shall limit myself to three things the images themselves reveal about Our Lord and Our Lady.
1. They have hearts.
It can be so easy to view Jesus and Mary as distant from the human race because they didn’t sin and because they have such pivotal roles in salvation history. Yet Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Hebrews 4:15), as was his mother, Mary. I realize that’s a big “but.” But if you examine the Gospels, you see that their sinlessness does not exclude their humanity. They both know what it’s like to grieve, to love, and to be persecuted (John 11:35, John 19:26, John 3:16, Luke 1:38, Matthew 2:13-15, and Luke 4:16-30). They both asked questions of God and both praised him (Luke 2:34, Matthew 27:46, Luke 2:46-55, and Luke 10:21-22). Jesus and Mary lived fully human lives and had as many moods as the rest of us. Their Hearts are a visual reminder of this.
2. Their hearts are aflame for us.
Have you ever felt a love so strong for someone that it felt like your heart would burst out of your chest? Or have you ever felt so safe with your beloved, as if they were your refuge? While these phrases may seem trite, they are the only human phrases that can capture the supernatural and overwhelming love Jesus and Mary have for us. The flames that consume the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts represent this love. This love is so overpowering, they not only want to shower it upon us, they have no choice to. This is why, I think, the flames are almost always depicted at the apex of the heart, where the aorta (the artery that carries oxygenated blood out of the heart) is located. Instead of me telling you about how much Jesus and Mary love humanity, I will leave you with some of their words spoken when they revealed their Hearts.
“Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify Its love,” Jesus said in one of his apparitions to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (you can read the full text of the apparitions here.) When Our Lady revealed her Heart to the children during the apparitions at Fatima, she said: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God….In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph” (full text of those apparitions here.)
3. Their hearts are wounded for us.
“The most beautiful hearts are the most wounded hearts.” I was on a women’s retreat a few years ago when I heard this and it has stuck with me. While that statement seems paradoxical, it’s true. Love that abides through the best and the worst of times is the greatest sacrifice anyone can ever make. And if we should ever forget that, then the images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts show us this.
Jesus’ Heart is pierced with the crown of thorns that he endured during his crucifixion. Mary’s Heart is either depicted with a sword through it (referencing Simeon’s prophetic message in Luke 2:35) or is shown with thorns also piercing it (since Our Lady of Fatima said her Heart is covered with thorns.) Regardless of how their wounds are portrayed, the fact is that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary have been and are wounded by our sins. This terrible reality strikes me anew every time I see these images. But what also strikes me is that, though their hearts are terribly wounded, their lights do not go out. The flames of their love keep raging, bringing light to the darkness. It is a lesson we all need to be reminded of: that in order to love greatly, we must suffer greatly. Our sufferings will not be the same as theirs, but we must try to endure them as gracefully as they did.
The Sacred and Immaculate Hearts show us what living a Christian life is like, in all its sorrows and its joys. They show us the love and suffering that they endured and that we, as followers of Jesus, will endure in our own ways. Their Hearts are the models our own hearts must strive to imitate. They are a challenge, a refuge, and an insight into our loving God and his devoted Mother. May they hold us close to their Sacred and Immaculate Hearts as we soldier home to Heaven.
God bless you all.