In his recent book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, Walter Cardinal Kasper, considers the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the Church celebrates today. "In many centuries," Kasper writes, "veneration of the sacred heart of Jesus functioned as a special expression of faith in God's love and mercy." In Jesus' heart, "we recognize that God himself has a heart (cor) for us, who are poor (miseri), in the broadest sense of the word, and that he is, therefore, merciful (misericors). In this way, the heart of Jesus is an emblem of God's love, which became incarnate in Jesus Christ."
Kasper further notes the "important fact that the modern veneration of the sacred heart of Jesus became pervasive in the context of the dawning enlightenment and secularization, and in connection with the strengthening sense of the absence - indeed, the death - of God. ... In the middle of this night of moribund faith in God and the world's increasing obtuseness and apathy toward God's love in Jesus Christ, we may experience in the heart of Jesus God's suffering because of the world and his never-ending love for us." Pope Pius XII's 1956 encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Kasper notes, "emphasizes that, on the basis of the hypostatic union of the second divine person with humanity, the emotions and suffering of the human nature of Jesus are also the emotions and suffering of the divine person. The suffering of Jesus as a human being is, therefore, the suffering of God at the same time." What Kasper calls God's "compassionate suffering [Mitleiden]" is, in fact, an expression of God's omnipotence. "because of his sovereign love, God got himself involved, so to speak, in the incarnation and lowered himself to the status of a slave. He was not overpowered by suffering. In Jesus' death, God has not relinquished omnipotence, but rather has acted in an all-powerful way."
Especially on this annual solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Kasper's is a message well worth meditating upon on at this time when mercy - divine and human - has again moved even more overtly to the forefront of our consciousness.