In a set of three talks, Canon explores devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by meditating on St John at the Last Supper, the soldier who pierced the Sacred Heart and the three Marys at the tomb of the Risen Christ.
Maundy Thursday with the first Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St John the beloved.
The Last Supper “ Having loved his own in the world, He loved them to the end” John 13 V.1 This sentence only appears in the gospel of St. John. “To the end” could have two meanings: the end of Our Lord’s earthly life, or, as in the Latin, ’in finem’ which can mean border or fulfilment of an action or duty. Jesus fulfils all the prophesies and the phrase “the end” echo’s Jesus’s cry on the cross, “it is finished” Jn 19: 30. The relationship of St. John with the Sacred Heart of Jesus is shown by St. John’s attitude towards Jesus and by what he receives from Our Lord. When at the Last Supper, Our Lord reveals that one of the disciples will betray him. It deeply shocks the Apostles, especially St. John. Compare the response of St. Peter to that of St. John. Peter says aloud “Is it me?” which perhaps reflects his outspoken nature, whereas St. John bows his head and whispers the question. St. John is not confident in his own strength to follow Our Lord in His Passion and is worried that he might be the betrayer. He bows his head so as to be near the Sacred Heart and understand the consequences of such a betrayal on that heart. He wants to hear the answer, not from Jesus’ mouth but from His Sacred Heart. (The heart being the seat of our intentions.) We should have this same attitude to the Sacred Heart as St. John, especially at Mass, which is the liturgical expression of the Last Supper. We should want to renew our direct relationship with Our Lord and use the silence to listen to the beat of the Sacred Heart as St. John did. The seating arrangement at the Last Supper would have been tables arranged in the shape of the Greek letter Epsilon, with the most important celebrant central and facing the door to the east. The seats would have been of a Roman type where the diners where in a reclined position. To the right and left of Jesus, and slightly behind, would have been St. John and St. Peter respectively. This positioning enables us to understand how St. John was able to bow his head to Our Lord’s Heart and whisper to Him. Our Lord replies in a whisper to St. John, “ It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” (Jn 13:26) Obviously Judas has not heard Jesus say this or he would have realised his intentions had been discovered. Jesus shows us that although Judas was part of the Last Supper, his reception of the Eucharist is sacrilegious because he had no intimacy with Our Lord. When St. John rests his head on the Sacred Heart, Our Lord’s Heart is an image of the ‘New Stone”, an echo of Jacob from the Old Testament resting his head on the stone (when he receives his vision of the Angels ascending and descending from heaven) and also when Moses strikes the rock at Horeb in the desert, to let water flow. (Exodus 17:6) The Stone is also an image of the Church. The altar is marked with five crosses, one for each of the five wounds of Our Lord. When the priest kisses the altar at Mass, he renews the example of St. John.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Peter, James and John had been privileged to be with Our Lord at the transfiguration. They should have been ready for the Agony in the Garden, but even John falls asleep. The Passion really starts for Jesus when St. John, who was so close to Jesus, falls asleep. When Our Lord says, “ my soul is sorrowful, even unto death.”(mt 26:38) it is to be understood that although His human body can die, his soul cannot. Our Lord’s soul was always before the Father in perfect happiness and glory. The soul uses the body to express itself. The transfigured appearance of Christ is the normal expression of his glorious soul. However, for most of his earthly life, Jesus restricted the graces inside his soul, deciding not to manifest the glory of his soul on His body. In the Garden of Gethsemane, this manifestation became less and less. Jesus decided not to receive any comfort from the glory of his soul and this restriction was as if, the Father abandoned him. The ‘ death’ is the spiritual death of a soul who decides to leave God because of sin. Here in Gethsemane, Jesus is showing us the pain and drama that happens when a soul decides to live without God. Jesus touches the apostles three times to wake them up which is what the Church does to us via the sacraments so that we can live with Our Lord.