The Vulnerable Victory of True Love: The Sacred Heart, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, C.S. Lewis and The Princess Bride

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True confessions: every so often (AKA when I have a newborn) I binge watch a show on Netflix. I’ve watched plenty of embarrassing shows during 3am nursing sessions but I’ll only name one today: ABC’s Once Upon a Time fairy tale drama.

Written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of LOST, it’s similar to everyone’s favorite stuck-on-an-island-with-polar-bears series in that it has an ensemble cast and jumps back and forth from present day (and in OUAT’s case, the “real” world) to the past to reveal back stories from characters’ lives. In OUAT the back stories usually take place in the fairy tale realms. Complete with awful special effects, some really bad acting (cough cough Prince Charming cough cough) and always over-the-top costuming, the show is actually pretty decent. But all that really pertains to this post is how the series portrays the heart.

Once Upon a Time and the Sacred Heart // Carrots for Michaelmas


In OUAT, the heart is the most powerful, yet vulnerable part of a person. In some ways it’s the essence of a person. The purity of a character’s heart can make him/her strong or invincible and evil acts literally blacken the heart. One has only to reach into a character’s chest to remove her beating heart in order to control or destroy her. If you possess someone’s heart, you can force her to do your bidding. And if you crush it, she will fall down dead.

At first it seems pretty silly. Everyone has an Achilles’ heel beating in their chest, just waiting to be grabbed by the next evil person to walk past and destroy them? Who would even go outside? With such a vulnerable heart, wouldn’t everyone find a way to protect themselves? But they don’t. At least, most of them don’t.

Two characters, the Evil Queen, Regina, and her witch mother, Cora, remove their own hearts in order to keep them safe from attack. And yet doing so means living a sort of half life until their heart is returned to their chest. The experience of loving anything is muted, deadened, numbed. Their hearts cannot be crushed, but they also cannot experience the depth of love available to the human experience, a trade-off that few would choose.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis gets it right:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Love anything and you are at risk. You can be vulnerable to excruciating pain, or you can refuse to love and lock your heart away.


What does this have to do with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary? The solemnity of The Sacred Heart and the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were celebrated over the past weekend. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is directed to Jesus’ Divine Love for humanity and through devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart we seek to imitate her great love for Jesus. As a convert, devotions that are specific to the Catholic faith always make me stop and think because they’re unfamiliar. So as I tried to understand this whole Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart thing, I started thinking about TV shows–because I’m easily distractible. But also because I realized that I’d seen hearts outside of chests somewhere else: on Once Upon a Time.

But the difference between images of the Sacred Heart and OUAT isn’t just that Jesus doesn’t hide his heart away in a box like the Evil Queen, but that he doesn’t even keep it in his chest like the rest of us. Even a few layers of skin and some ribs are too much distance between his love and humanity.

He holds his heart out to us, completely vulnerable, unprotected, and unguarded. It’s the foolishness of a God that loves us enough to die for us. Doesn’t He know what we will do to his heart? Doesn’t He know that when presented with the love of God, incarnate, infleshed, and coming to earth to save us, that we will spit in his face? That we will trample his love beneath our feet? That we will rage and scream and mock him? That we will torture him until his heart stops beating?

Doesn’t he know what we will do to his heart?

And yet, there He is. Holding it out to us. Showing us that after all of that, his heart is still inflamed with love for us–us! We who rejected God’s love and crucified him. We who nail him to the Cross with our sin. His heart still burns for us. The God of the universe will remain vulnerable–because He refuses to stop loving the unlovable.

So, what do we do? If we ask for a heart like his, what will he give us? I think he will give us a heart like Mary’s. Shining with love for him and for all those He loves. And He doesn’t want us to try to keep it safe, because love can’t be safe. Have you seen Mary’s Immaculate Heart? It has been wounded, pierced, by the sword of sorrow just as Simeon told her it would be in Luke, chapter 2: “And a sword shall pierce your heart.”

If we are vulnerable enough to love, our hearts will be pierced by sorrow, too. There’s no way of getting around it. It’s just part of the deal.

And since I’ve already included embarrassing fairy tale references in this post, let’s just add one more from the cult classic The Princess Bride. When the evil Prince Humperdinck threatens Buttercup, the one true love of Westley, a farmhand-turned-pirate, she replies: “You can’t hurt me. Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love, and you cannot track that; not with a thousand bloodhounds. And you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.”

Fairy tales and the Sacred Heart show us that love always wins. Jesus marks us as his own and will not let anything separate us from the Love of God. You cannot break it. Not with a thousand swords of sorrow. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us, and true love always, always wins.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
 we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:35-39

image 1 source (dandiandi22/rawr_caps @LJ), image 2 wikicommons, image 3 source

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    • Haley says

      Sometimes it’s soooo embarrassingly bad (Dreamy the dwarf episode?! OMG!) but I love it. Can’t stop. 😉

  1. says

    Great incite on love and our heart. I am a big OUAT fan, and love the themes, especially with continuing to triumph over evil, and how love is stronger and special. It is much better than some of the other shows on tv right now. You know unlike scandal where she is having an affair with a married man. Yep role model material there. Not saying OUAT is perfect n certainly not a family show, but overall better story lines.

    • Haley says

      I’ve really enjoyed OUAT. I think my biggest beef with the show was the whole Katherine/David and Mary Margaret/David story arch. It got really hazy with the whole who are you actually married to thing. Even if technically MM and D were married in the Enchanted Forest, they didn’t know that when they started smooching in StoryBrooke. Oh well, sorry for that tirade! But agreed, it’s a good show. With some imperfect themes.

  2. Tara says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have never been able to really connect or relate with the “heart” feasts – the way you put it in this post just helped me appreciate the feasts about 1000 times more than I did!

    • Haley says

      Oh, Tara! That makes me so glad! They’re new to me and I’m just now learning to navigate these devotions!

  3. Pat says

    Thank you for reminding me how much I love C.S. Lewis!! He is always so truthful–whether he’s being playful and clever, or pondering deeply, or pouring out the most private depths of his heart–he is so utterly honest. He was obviously a man of great courage, and insisted on gaining his insights the hard way– just like me! 🙂 The rest of my summer reading list just got bumped down several titles. Thank you, madam. An enlightening post, as always! 🙂

    • Haley says

      Aw, THANK YOU, Holly! That means a lot from you, friend. And I LOVE Monarch of the Glen. I watched the first couple of seasons in high school. I definitely need to do some binge-watching 😉

  4. says

    Second only to my daydreams about kicking butt and taking names in a zombie apocalypse are my daydreams about surviving a plane crash and killing it Robinson Crusoe-style on a deserted island. So, I was beyond excited to watch Lost back in 2005 (?) when it first came out. The husband is pretty busy and not a huge fan of TV in general, but I kept telling him how great it was and how he HAD to watch it with me. So finally he agreed . . . and it was the polar bear one. And, it was kind of embarrassing for me, frankly.

    So if I try Once Upon a Time, it’s probably going to have to be on my own.

    Great post. The C.S. Lewis quote is perfect!

    • Haley says

      Haha! Daniel is being very gallant about watching it with me (I finished season 3 so we’re watching one episode of season 1 each night because he hasn’t seen any of it). But….it’s pretty humiliating, haha. I’m thinking it might be a watch by myself with ice cream kind of show.

  5. says

    This is a really wonderful post. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was thinking, “I can so (and a little shamefully) relate to this” and also, “Wow, Haley from Carrots watches OUAT too so now she’s even more awesome than she was before!”

    My husband will watch it with me when I’m sick or if I had a bad day, but generally, I release him from that obligation since I know he really doesn’t enjoy it. Yes, BAD acting sometimes. Yes, the Dreamy episode was terrible.

    All that being said, I really appreciate the themes and there is a lot of potential for analogy and comparisons there. I’ve always adored fairy-tales so the concept of OUAT was right up my alley.

    And these were some great reflections too, it made me think a little more when looking at the beautiful art in the chapel at my parish and noticing the hearts. Thanks for sharing with us!

  6. says

    Wow … amazing thoughts! I watched that show, but never noticed the tie between the hearts and the C.S. Lewis quote … perfect! 🙂

  7. says

    Beautiful post! I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to the heart feasts either, but this post helps me appreciate them in a new light. Thank you!

    My husband and I watched OUAT for a while. (It was a guilty pleasure, despite the terrible acting.) We finally gave up when they seemed to resolved everything and then start over again for what felt like the 10th time. I think it was after season 2 or 3….But I have wondered a time or two what those characters are up to these days.

  8. Liz Underhay says

    Finally reading this post, I’ve been wanting too! Really good. The quote from St. Paul is such a powerful one!!

  9. April says

    I’m was raised non-denominational and have just in the last few years become interested in liturgical worship. I honestly never understood the heart imagery, but was always drawn to it. Now I understand why. His heart burns with love for us…beautifully captivating! I found your site by searching Pinterest for info on the church year. I’d like to start incorporating many of these practices into our home worship, while we search for a faith community. (And I plan on buying your book Feasts…I can’t wait to see it! I just found out I’m gluten intolerant and when I saw that it features GF recipes (or GF alternatives) I was so excited!

    We started watching OUAT over a long weekend where I was sick in bed and got hooked on it…we’re into the second season now, but we just have to laugh at the bad acting and **terrible** graphics sometimes. The Dreamy episode was awful, but seriously doesn’t even compare with the horrendous Mad Hatter/Jefferson episode. I was drawn to the show though because I love fairy tales, the good triumphing over bad, true love always wins and similar themes. I love seeing you relate it to the Sacred Heart because it helps me understand this imagery better.

  10. Louisa says

    So glad you re-posted this Haley! I had missed it. Wonderful celebration of God’s extravagant love for us in the person of Jesus –“And yet, there he is. Holding (his heart) out to us…”–even though he knows we will trample it! Wow. Lord, give me a heart like yours!

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