At the beginning of the 1987 classic movie The Princess Bride, an old man starts reading an old favorite story to his bedridden grandson. The boy rolls his eyes and asks skeptically "Is this a kissing book?"
If you grew up Catholic you've likely had a similar to images of the Sacred Heart. The statue on your grandmother's dashboard of wispy-bearded Jesus, his soft blue eyes welling with tears, gesturing theatrically toward His heart. "Ugh," you probably said.
If you're reading this post on the day it's published (or any October 16th after that, I suppose) today is the feast day St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun. She, along with her Jesuit spiritual director St. Claude Colombiere, is largely responsible for popularizing the devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Catholic Church. While she was praying one day, Jesus appeared to her, with a raging fire in the place of His heart. She described his message:
“My Heart is so full of love for men that It can no longer contain the flames of Its burning love. I must discover to men the treasures of My Heart and save them from perdition.”
It was then that He made known to me the ineffable marvels of His pure love and showed me to what an excess He had loved men, from whom He received only ingratitude and contempt.
"I feel this more than all that I suffered during My Passion. If only they would make Me some return for My Love, I should think but little of all I have done for them and would wish, were it possible, to suffer still more. But the sole return they make for all My eagerness to do them good is to reject Me and treat Me with coldness. Do you at least console Me by supplying for their ingratitude, as far as you are able."
Reading this for the first time, I was shaken. I'm a passionate person, I swear, though I don't often show it. I'm more inclined to rational analysis and to viewing God as transcendent (that is, removed and above the rest of creation). This isn't wrong, exactly. God is separate and above all of creation. Humans can't, as the pagans thought, reach him by climbing tall mountains or worshipping the strongest trees.
But that's not the whole story. He is also a Father to us. He wants to be with us so much that He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men....and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” He wants our love so badly it hurts when we withhold it. This isn't just an appeal to our emotions, it should affect the way we live our daily lives.
Recognize the ways we hurt Jesus in our unfaithfulness, not just as individuals but the whole of humanity. When you love someone, you try to make up for the harm you do to them; the Catholic Church calls these acts of reparation. Consider saying a quiet prayer of reparation (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/prayers/sacred-heart-of-jesus/act-of-reparation-to-the-sacred-heart-of-jesus) when you encounter the name of Jesus being used with disrespect.
Dedicate yourself to the Sacred Heart. I suggest praying the Daily Offering (https://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/heart/offer_mary.htm) in the morning, to prepare yourself to recognize Jesus's work in your life throughout the day.
Receive the Eucharist frequently. The Sacred Heart is a reminder that Jesus took on human form. He had a body, just like ours. Blood pumped through His veins and flesh grew on His bones. How better to honor the
Heart of Jesus than to mingle His body and blood with your own?
Of course, all of this isn't simply self-help advice. The Christian life isn't about improved self-esteem, becoming a good person or living a happier life. The point of the Christian life is to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Your heart and the Heart of Jesus should be so thoroughly united that your response to His commands is, like Mary or Wesley, “as you wish.”