Just outside my office, in the upstairs hallway of my home, hangs a picture of the Sacred Heart. Next to it, hangs another picture, the Immaculate Heart.
I bought the pictures—antique Victorian prints—four and a half years ago, on Election Day 2008. I had seen the pair in a Catholic bookstore a few weeks earlier and had been hankering after them ever since.
I still remember the drive into Pittsburgh, listening to pundits pontificating on the radio, all the while thinking more about the pictures than the election, fearful they would no longer be there, that some other person would have snatched them up. Suddenly, it had become so very important to me that those images be mine.
I needn’t have worried. When I arrived at the store, the two pictures were there, sitting on the floor, surrounded by other images of doe-eyed Virgins and suffering Christs. I dug my two out from the pile, did a little more browsing (used books, always a weakness) then carried them over to the counter where I shelled out $40 for each. That evening, with the help of a friend, I hung them in my hallway, where, much to my delight, they have hung ever since.
That’s not to say having Jesus and Mary looking down on me every time I passed through the hallways didn’t take some getting used to. It did.
Although I was raised Catholic, sacred images never had a place in our home growing up. And when I got serious about my Catholic faith at the age of 25, I was determined not to become one of those Catholics who had bad religious art in every room or faded holy cards propped up on her kitchen windowsills. After all, one didn’t see such things in the Pottery Barn catalogue.
The deeper my faith grew, however, the more I felt the need to have visible bits and pieces of it around me. More crucifixes started going up on the walls. When I found beautiful religious images, I bought them. And, somehow or other, faded holy cards did make their way into my kitchen. St. Catherine, St. Gianna, and St. Birgitta now all look out on me from the windowsill as I do the dishes.
Then, there are those images of the Two Hearts in my hallway.
Over the past four years, I have stood in front of those Victorian prints and had countless conversations with Christ and his mother. I’ve cried and complained and asked, a thousand times, “Why?” I’ve also begged and pleaded for divine mercies and thanked them exuberantly for answered prayers. I’ve hung my head in sorrow for being such a rotten little idiot, and tossed cynical witticisms in their general direction. I’ve also said, “I love you,” to both more times than I can count—casually, quickly, and almost without thought, as I dash past the pictures and down the stairs to do whatever needs doing below.
And yes, I know, they’re only pictures. They can’t feel or talk back. I’m not praying to an image or worshipping an image. But just as others need to look at pictures of their absent spouse, I need to look at pictures of my invisible God.
Even more fundamentally, I need to look at pictures of his Heart and his Mother’s Heart.
In the midst of my own sorrows and frustrations, selfish rages and grateful fits of joy, in the midst of all the busy business of the day, I need to be reminded of just how well the two of them understand me. I need to see the thorns and swords that painfully pierce their Hearts—thorns and swords put there by my sins and the sins of others—and I need to remember that they love me just the same.
We all need that reminder. Every living person. Which is why, on the eve of two great feasts—the Feast of the Sacred Heart and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart—I’m writing about pictures in my hallway. Mawkish though they may be, they are perpetual reminders to me of what these feasts are all about, of the truest things I will ever know: the love of Christ and the mercy of Christ.
I’m increasingly convinced that in in my old age, I’ll be known as the town nutcase. That’s because the older I get, the more tempted I am to run up to every person I meet, grab them by the hands, and tell them how much Jesus loves them. I want them to see that in his Heart they’ll find the answers and the rest for which they long, and that in his mother’s Heart they’ll find the surest way to his.
I don’t do that (mostly because I don’t want to be the town crazy just yet), but the temptation is there nevertheless.
And how can it not be? How, living in a world so rife with pain, insecurity, doubt, confusion, corruption, graft, greed, and hate, can each and every one of us who has experienced just an ounce of the love those Two Hearts have to give, not want to stand on the street corner shouting out the remedy for the whole cursed, nasty mess?
A lot more of us need to. That’s for certain. Although for now, the street corner method probably isn’t the way to go.
There are other ways, however, and this weekend we should give them a try.
So, today, tomorrow, Saturday, tell someone about Jesus. Tell someone about his mercy. Tell someone about his love.
Start with yourself. Go to Confession. Sit with him in the Blessed Sacrament. Read the Gospel of John. Pray the Litanies of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart. When frustrations or difficulties arise, close your eyes and think to yourself, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.”
Then, move on to others. You probably shouldn’t run up to strangers on the street, but you can post an image of the Two Hearts on Facebook. You can tweet a short prayer on Twitter or invite a friend to join you at Confession. You can look your spouse, your kids, or your hairdresser right in the eye and say, “I hope you know how very much God loves you.”
However you do it, just tell someone. Don’t let this weekend of feasting come to an end without sharing in some small way the love and mercy bursting forth from those Two Hearts.
And if you don’t know how to do that, go find pictures of the Two Hearts and stare at them for a while. They’ll help you figure it out. They always do.