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.
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? 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.