Some who have read my articles before know that after a long journey of seeking God I converted to Catholicism at age 28. I was baptized and confirmed at Easter, 7 years ago in Seattle. Already I had been dedicated to the study of religion. I focused fairly exclusively on themes relevant to the study of religion as an undergraduate and then spent a semester testing the waters of comparative religions graduate study at the University of Washington. I loved engaging with my cohorts about religion. It was a blessing to be with other young people who were sincerely interested in questions of religious truth and morality. They inspired me and I was able to be open with them about my fledgling Catholic beliefs. In a sense I think I was already becoming a type of apologist.
I decided after one semester at UW—since I was becoming Catholic that Easter—I wanted to go somewhere to study Catholic theology for a graduate degree, that I might better understand and articulate the faith. I decided on a small school of theology in Southern Indiana called St. Meinrad. St. Meinrad is Benedictine and has a monastery, a seminary, and a school of theology. I chose St. Meinrad because of the natural beauty of the setting, and the beauty of the liturgy of the hours which was chanted throughout the day. The bells would summon the monks to pray and I would often join them.
I was a new Catholic—a neophyte—but I was already thinking about becoming a monk and a priest, so I sought out a spiritual director. It was so helpful to go to him and talk about obstacles to prayer, struggles with sin, and my desire to grow in my faith. I sensed that my faith at this point was still very much in my head, and not in my heart. This was evidenced by the fact that there was an incongruence between what I said I believed and how I felt on the inside.
The gifts and demands of Christian living were new to me and despite my idealism I think I struggled to be even a novice disciple of Jesus. I wasn’t consistent in personal prayer, often going days or weeks without real prayer. I wanted to go to Mass often but when the time came I was too tired or busy. I knew the importance of confession, yet my pride kept me from going when I needed.
My spiritual director gave me a suggestion: meditate on the love of God. I had no idea what he meant. In one sense I was convicted by the faith—enough to become Catholic. I was dedicated to my studies. But meditate on the love of God? What did he mean?
I went home and tried it. I struggled to focus on this as an abstract meditation on God. I focused so hard, I wasn’t left with much more than a headache. After a few attempts, I gave up trying and moved on to other pursuits with my spiritual director and in my Christian life.
After a number of years of slow growth in Christian faith, life, and prayer, I was introduced to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It happened providentially; nobody told me it was something I should do, I just became more drawn to Jesus’ Heart.
The Heart of Jesus is understood not merely in a physical way —though the heart is often used as a symbol—but also in a spiritual and psychological sense, as the center of Jesus’ person. By thinking about Jesus —who he really is to us—and by reflecting upon the sacrifices he made for us, especially in his Passion, and by adoring his loving presence in the Holy Eucharist we come evermore in contact with his loving Heart.
This type of meditation engages the whole person: the imagination, the intellect, the will, the spirit and the body. After spending some time being drawn more deeply into Jesus’ Heart, and beginning to see it as my home and refuge, I finally began to understand what that good spiritual director meant. Meditating on the Heart of Jesus allowed me to actually begin to feel the love of God in my own heart, the center of my own person. I began to experience love from God not merely in an intellectual way but in an experiential, affective way, that truly began to change my life. It was the love of God that I needed to begin bridging the chasm I had created in my own heart between me and God, and me and my neighbor. Indeed the path of devotion to the Heart of Jesus is a path of mutual self-giving: I give him my heart and he gives me his. Our hearts begin to beat as one.
The month of June is traditionally devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I look forward, with the Church, to giving my heart to God and receiving his through an intentional devotion to his Sacred Heart during this month. If you are interested in learning more, or talking and praying about the Heart of Jesus please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.Barry Schoedel currently resides in Juneau where he is the Diocese of Juneau Assistant for Evangelization and Technology.