sacred-heart-of-jesus-stained-glass-window

Devotion to the Sacred Heart deepens my Pride experience

LGBTQ Catholics also have a place in the church.
Our Faith

I was not the most diligent kid when it came to participating in the Mass. As soon as my family entered the church one block away from our home, I would grab a bulletin and pen, place them on the pew as I knelt facing away from the altar, and furiously scribble tornadoes over the ads on the back page.

One thing never failed to capture my attention or wonder, however. Built in 1905, our church had beautiful stained glass windows. The most striking sat above the center of the choir loft: a magnificent rose window facing south and, as a result, almost always illuminated when the sun was out. When the church was bathed in the honeyed light flowing through its panes, the window transfixed me.

Right in the middle of the glass was an image I didn’t understand then. It was a heart encircled by thorns, on fire, and bleeding a little. I later learned that it was Jesus’ heart, the Sacred Heart, the Sacrum Cor in Latin. This symbol shows that God’s core, God’s heart, is on fire with love for humanity and creation, so much so that God is willing to be pierced and bleed for us.

For over a decade, I regarded that heart with fear alongside wonder. This wasn’t because of the blood, thorns, and fire (watching crime shows with my mom desensitized me to those), but because I thought that heart didn’t have room for me. That heart didn’t bleed for me, catch fire for me, feel pain for me, beat for me. God would not deign to embrace me in God’s heart, and, if God would not do so, other people certainly wouldn’t. I thought myself outside the circle of divine and human care. I couldn’t articulate the reason why until my sophomore year of college, when I came out to myself as a gay man.

Being anything other than straight was not at the center of my self-reflection until a few months before I came out. It wasn’t even at the periphery. It was simply out of the realm of possibility. How could it be? From all I had seen and experienced in my small town of 2,500 people and an even smaller church, there was no place around the altar, in the pews, or in the Sacred Heart for anyone queer. Such people had to disguise themselves before they came in and, if they dared to express any pride in who God made them to be, they would be asked—politely or not—to go back outside.

Advertisement

Coming out as a gay man put the junction of faith in Christ and queerness at the center of my life, where it remains to this day. I’m especially reminded of it in June, the month of LGBTQ  Pride and the Sacred Heart. This month more than others, I ask myself, “Is there room for me here?” How can I believe that, how can any queer person believe that, when we have been treated as though we do not have a place in Christ’s body, the church?

For me, at least, the answer comes directly from the Sacrum Cor, the Sacred Core itself, the heart of Jesus that sat in the middle of that rose window I stared at as a child. This heart beats at the center of my being, of this church, and of our universe. It beats for all, including LGBTQ people like me. The Sacred Heart and devotion to it are not inaccessible to queer Catholics. In fact, our experience of marginalization in the church and society may allow us a distinct and valuable insight into how Christ’s heart beats, into who God is. 

What kind of people did Jesus’ heart beat for? Let’s look at his followers. The twelve men we know as apostles were mostly poor, illiterate laborers from the margins—Galilee—of a marginalized society—Israel. Beyond them, there were women, adulterers, tax collectors, sex workers, eunuchs, enslaved people, people with various diseases or physical disabilities, converts to Judaism, and non-Jews as well as members of the religious and political authorities whom we see so often opposed to Jesus in the gospels.

Jesus was not against any person or group of people. He was for every person and their flourishing as a child of God, especially if they had been told or treated as if they were not beloved. Jesus was against the patterns of fear, apathy, and hatred—the patterns of hardened hearts—that led to death. That’s why God sought out and still seeks the people considered the lost or the least, including members of the LGBTQ community.

In St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s first vision in 1673, Jesus invited her to lay her head on his heart and spread the good news of that love to as many people as she could. Her subsequent visions of the Sacred Heart focused on this love, on the suffering Jesus underwent out of love for all humanity, and on the gift Jesus made in love of himself through the Eucharist. In 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated every human—past, present, and future—to the Sacred Heart, no matter their identities. The Sacred Heart beats for LGBTQ lives too. Our lives are not expendable or meaningless.

Advertisement

In his life on Earth and ongoing presence with us in the Spirit, Jesus’ heart beats for all of us. Jesus joins us in our suffering and celebrations. Jesus does not separate himself from us when we sin or when we are considered sinful or unclean by others because of who we are. Instead, Jesus reaches out to us, walks with us along the Way, and invites us to a deeper understanding of and love for our deepest selves, our neighbors, and our God. Jesus is just as heartfelt in his outreach, accompaniment, and invitation to LGBTQ people as he is to straight and cisgender people.

Our sexuality and gender are part and parcel of who we are at our core. The better we understand and integrate them into our lives (and give our neighbors the space and love to do the same), the more deeply we will enter into the mystery of the Sacred Heart.

God’s desire is that every person comes to know, trust, and accept their belonging in God’s heart and to extend that belonging to others. This is the good news at the core, the heart, of our faith. This is the salvation Jesus preached, promises, and is: us as a community, as creation, joining together in one body of many parts to gratefully receive and pass on God’s love, our hearts beating as one in the Sacred Heart.

One final beat: We need to open our hearts—as well as our eyes, ears, and minds—to all types of queer people too: white, Black, Latine, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander; wealthy and unhoused; neurodivergent; physically disabled; citizen, immigrant; young, middle-aged, old. Far too often, it is only LGBTQ people like me—white, cisgender men—who are told that we have a place in Jesus’ heart, that somehow we’ve managed to earn a scrap of God’s love. I urge all of us to keep learning from the diverse people for whom the Sacred Heart beats—queer and straight.

May we keep Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the core of our lives this June and every month, every day, so that love—love as justice, love as mercy, love as repentance, love as transformation—becomes the rhythm of our hearts, our communities, our church, and our world. May it be so.


Image: Courtesy of Alex Gruber