I can still picture the cheap, framed print of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging in my maternal grandmother’s bedroom. It portrayed a long-haired, distinctly Caucasian, and vaguely blue-eyed Jesus, a thorn-crowned heart superimposed on his chest. Rays of light emanated from it. Jesus had one hand directing our gaze toward his heart—as if it would otherwise be possible to ignore—and the other raised heavenward. I was not inspired. It was too sentimental for my taste; it suggested the kind of cloying piety that seemed horribly out of step with contemporary spiritual sensibilities. Or so it seemed to me at the time.
Yet, as I reflect on my grandmother’s life, two facts have led me to reconsider my perspective. First, hers was an extraordinarily difficult life, one marked by over fifty years of almost ceaseless precarity. Relying on an eighth-grade education and without support from her alcoholic, absentee husband, she raised six children largely on her own (a seventh died at an early age). Saccharine her life was not. Second, the joy she found in her Catholic faith and regularly shared with me later in her life (she lived to be 100!) was palpable to any and all who knew her. She met the many difficulties that came her way with a supreme confidence in the love of “our Lawd” (always pronounced in that distinctive New England accent). Where I saw kitschy religious art, in her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus she rightly located the center and source of God’s unconditional love. It was that radical assurance that allowed her to communicate with Jesus in prayer with a boldness and ease that regularly surprised and startled me.
Memory of her intimate relationship with Jesus brings to mind the famous motto associated with St. John Henry Newman: cor ad cor loquitur, “heart speaks to heart.” The phrase can be traced back through the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales to St. Augustine. There can be no more profound expression of what God invites us to: heart speaking to loving, divine heart. Thank you, Mémère.