The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Exchanges and Devotions, Consolations and Commissions

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated this year on June 7. This devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ is a place of tenderness, forgiveness, and mercy. From the redeemed pain of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, the heart of the Risen Christ speaks to our human hearts. It is sheer love.

Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, entrusted his priests to the heart of Christ Jesus. He believed the sacraments, especially Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation, flow from the merciful presence of Christ. He desired the priests to be dedicated to the action of Christ’s heart, to ongoing mercy and new life.

My encounter with the Sacred Heart began in high school. There was an elderly widow who always sat in the front pew during Mass at my home parish. I didn’t think she even knew my name until one day she handed me a prayer card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She advised me to pray the prayer on the back of the card every day, and if I did, I would find my genuine vocation.

I accepted the prayer card and the commission without hesitation, and carried that card in my wallet for more than forty years until it completely disintegrated. The widow’s prayer for me, the prayer I took to heart, led me to the Congregation of Holy Cross. I was ordained in Sacred Heart Church in 1983 at the University of Notre Dame, and eventually became pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Colorado Springs from 2013-2022. That devotional prayer became my way of life, and the image of Christ’s heart exposing love and mercy opened my heart to explore pastoral ministry.

My vocation has been more than just the name of the Sacred Heart.  My devotion has led me into a way of prayer. In August of 1982, before my profession of final vows, I began a special retreat time at a Trappist monastery in Iowa. On the first morning, I met with Fr. Sam, who was assigned to be my director for the retreat. Grass clippings clung to our sandals as we carried lawn chairs out to the yard of the monastery. After settling into our spot, I asked Fr. Sam to teach me to pray. He laughed and, leaning back in his chair, he replied, “Well, that is easy. Just ask Jesus for an exchange of hearts.” His words resonated within me, but I was young and did not yet know exactly what he meant or what that experience would become.

My prayer in early priesthood was to find a home in God in this sacred exchange, but I came to realize that was the wrong way of expressing my desire. Instead, I began to pray that God would find a home in me. That action of intent has been perhaps my greatest act of faith. I have renewed that intent over the years because I cannot be a healthy religious without complete surrender to God. The Sacred Heart of Christ Jesus finds a home in me, in my vulnerability, in all my worries, failures, doubts, and sins. Divine love creates a home in my humanity.

The Sacred Heart of Christ Jesus is not only the consolation of prayer but also the place of commissioning for me to serve. I learned that God’s love needs to be shared, explored in the lives of people who face humiliation, loneliness, and poverty. The scriptures that accompany the Sacred Heart of Christ are often the stories of the Good Shepherd, of Jesus searching for the lost, the inconsolable, and the abused. I have found such a mission throughout my priesthood, beginning as a young priest with people who suffered from AIDS, from poverty and marginalization, from addiction, or depression. I depend deeply upon God, who invites me close to a heart of love and then compels me to live my faith among the people most in need.

After all these years, I still depend on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I serve among our elderly men who reside in Holy Cross House, the staff teaches me anew about the human heart. Pulses are monitored and blood pressures are recorded. Some men prepare for heart surgery, or heart catheterizations, or heart valve replacement. Some men must learn new salt-free diets to help protect the heart’s function. But the human heart, even as it needs oxygen, exercise, rest, medications, monitoring, pacemakers, cholesterol tests, and ongoing attention, is strong and determined. Even in our vulnerability, we view it as the center of life, a core mystery of being human. The heart is a sheer miracle.

Our elderly priests and brothers also reveal to me the other kinds of attention our hearts need. I think of a retreat I preached for a group of religious men several years ago. At lunch time I walked into the group of strangers and sat down at a table. The man across from me blurted out that his heart was missing in his new home. He had spent his entire ministry in another country, living among people who taught him a new language, showed him how to cook their special foods, and how to celebrate life in their customs. They shared with him their lives, their dreams, and their pain, and he said that his heart was still there, overseas. He asked me to help him find Jesus in his heart again.

Our experiences, our joys, and our grief are woven into the very fibers of the human heart. Our hearts carry our physical and emotional histories. We laugh and we cry when our hearts are open and filled with love and hope. We shut down and pull inward when our hearts are threatened or poisoned by cynicism, loss, or regret. Our hearts hold our stories, our lives and our loves, our anguish, and our longing.

Redemption is not about tallying up our good actions. Forgiveness is not about tracking who is right or wrong in a bitter argument.  Faith and love are not found in accumulating academic degrees or writing articles to impress people. Faith and love are revealed in the human heart.

The image of the Sacred Heart calls us into a lifelong exploration of allowing God into our emotions, actions, and perceptions. Faith is an openness of the heart to encounter Jesus Christ.  We long for such an exchange of hearts.


Beloved Christ,

Rest in my weariness.
Come and find a home in my confusion.
Be here in my sinful actions.

Offer me the grace to surrender to you.
Release me from prideful ways.
Abide in me when I want to flee.

Open my heart when life shuts me down.
Tell me a new story when I whisper unworthiness.
Sustain your treasure in me.

Show me how to give my heart away.
Reveal your grace to break open my fear.
Encourage me to tend to the pain of others.

Shepherd us to merciful rivers.
Find us all in pastures painted in vivid greens.
Shine love upon our reluctance of being known.

May your death reveal hope in our hearts.
May your side’s blood and water birth us anew.
May your empty tomb invigorate hope.

May your heart find a home in our vulnerability.
May you redeem us forever.
May we all rejoice in our heart’s exchange.



Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, CSC serves as religious superior of Holy Cross House, our retirement and medical facility at Notre Dame, Indiana. He is an award-winning author, blogger, and visual artist. Learn more at

Fr. Ron painted this image of the Sacred Heart several years ago. The image centralized the Heart of Christ in Resurrection images, of the Good Shepherd, the Eucharist, The Redeemed Cross, the waters of Baptism, and the gift of Pentecost. His work has been printed across the globe in religious magazines and worship bulletins.   


Published April 30, 2024


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