What the world needs now: To burn with the love of Christ’s Sacred Heart

The love that saves us from sin and death is revealed in the Heart pierced by thorns and a lance. The world often says that “love is love,” but not all loves are the same.

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Andrew Church in Sag Harbor, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“I came to cast fire upon the earth.” —Luke 12:49

Fire! What single word more immediately commands people’s attention? No sane and moral person would ever consider yelling the word fire in a public place, for fear of causing a panic.

Fire has tremendous power. It gives warmth and light, but its consuming heat also ignites virtually everything in its path.

One of the most curious and often vexing characteristics of fire is that it can be so difficult to kindle and also extremely difficult to extinguish. Countless campers have embarrassed themselves struggling to start campfires before the watchful eyes of their companions. And the difficulty of extinguishing large fires—wildfires that consume entire neighborhoods, for example—is a grim fact of life in places like California.

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus reveals God’s love as a fire that burns in the Heart of Jesus Christ. This feast day also reveals the eager desire of Jesus to spread His love over the entire face of the earth.

This is a time when many people feel imprisoned by doubt, fear, sickness, hatred, and division. Only Christ’s burning love offers the ultimate, perfect treatment for these diseases of the human soul. Pope Benedict XVI once called this fire, “Christ’s own passion of love” and “a fire that is to be handed on.” These designations provide an apt way of thinking about devotion to the Sacred Heart.

“Christ’s own passion of love”

Most artistic depictions of the Sacred Heart show it surrounded by His Crown of Thorns, with the Cross planted atop the Heart, a lance wound clearly visible on its side, and flames bursting forth from within the Heart and burning around the Cross.

These signs of Christ’s Passion and death show the exact kind of love that burns in the Heart of Jesus—crucified love, self-sacrificing love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

The love the world celebrates is symbolized by a heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The love that saves us from sin and death is revealed in the Heart pierced by thorns and a lance. The world often says that “love is love,” but not all loves are the same.

The late and immensely talented singer Whitney Houston once sang that “learning to love yourself can be the greatest love of all.” Love of self has its place in human life, but it is not the greatest love of all.

The greatest love of all is that love by which the unthinkable happened, and became the defining truth of human existence: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). God took our human flesh and allowed it to be nailed to a cross in order to rescue us from hell. That is the greatest love possible, and it is the measure of all other loves.

Thomas á Kempis, in his Imitation of Christ, wrote these words about the crucified love of God at work in the heart of a Christian disciple:

Love is an excellent thing, a very great blessing, indeed. It makes every difficulty easy, and bears all wrongs with equanimity. For it bears a burden without being weighted and renders sweet all that is bitter. The noble love of Jesus spurs to great deeds and excites longing for that which is more perfect. Love tends upward; it will not be held down by anything low. Love wishes to be free and estranged from all worldly affections, lest its inward sight be obstructed, lest it be entangled in any temporal interest and overcome by adversity.

Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger or higher or wider; nothing is more pleasant, nothing fuller, and nothing better in heaven or on earth, for love is born of God and cannot rest except in God, Who is above all created things.

One who is in love flies, runs, and rejoices; he is free, not bound. He gives all for all and possesses all in all, because he rests in the one sovereign Good, Who is above all things, and from Whom every good flows and proceeds. He does not look to the gift but turns himself above all gifts to the Giver.

Love often knows no limits but overflows all bounds. Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of troubles, attempts more than it is able, and does not plead impossibility, because it believes that it may and can do all things. For this reason, it is able to do all, performing and effecting much where he who does not love fails and falls. (Book III, Chapter Five)

Going back to the difficulty of kindling a fire, it was impossible for humanity to set the fire of God’s love ablaze. This supernatural fire required a supernatural source, and so the Son of God became man, and sacrificed Himself so that in and through His humanity he could cast the fire of His love upon the earth.

From His Heart the hearts of all who believe in Him become inflamed with the very same supernatural love. And the hearts of Christians are to serve as torches—or, better yet, flamethrowers—spreading the fire of Christ’s love everywhere.

“A fire that is to be handed on”

In order to spread the fire of Christ’s love, however, it is necessary to believe firmly in its power. Why bother to share something of little or no use? There would be little to motivate such sharing.

But Christ’s love is of infinite worth. And that is not something Christians tell themselves in order to justify their religion or to feel better about life. Christ’s love is of immediate and decisive consequence in the crises the world faces today. It is not some abstract concept or a spiritual warm blanket for those who need comfort.

The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ is the center of all things, the great reality at the heart of all of reality.

Like any fire, the fire of Christ’s love destroys, purifies, and gives warmth and light. It destroys sin and the reign of Satan in the hearts of men. It purifies human hearts so that they become fixed on love of God and neighbor. And it brings the warmth of friendship with God and the light of His truth to a world torn by hatred and blinded by the darkness of sin, prejudice, and ignorance.

This process of destruction, purification, and receiving warmth and light requires humility, because it involves self-surrender at the deepest possible level. It is not a negotiated surrender, but one that is unconditional. Yet is a surrender that brings not defeat, but victory.

Put most simply and practically, people could face COVID-19 with complete peace if their hearts burned with the love of Jesus Christ. There would be no racism, no hatred of police, and no unjust violence of any kind if the world were engulfed with the fire of Christ’s love.

The fire that burns in the Sacred Heart of Jesus can never be extinguished. In that sense, it is more out of man’s control than any wildfire. But the flames among us can fade if we neglect them. These flames seek fuel in order to grow and spread. That fuel is the human heart.

Hearts have grown cold and rejected God’s love. That is the first cause of all sin and fear, the cause of all the sorrows these strange months of 2020 have brought us. A COVID vaccine is needed. Renewal of race relations and relationships between police officers and citizens is needed. Sound laws and virtuous government officials who write and uphold these laws are needed. But what is needed more than anything is for the fire of Christ’s love to spread everywhere, to everyone.

In one of his sermons on the Sacred Heart, the Eucharist, and evangelization, entitled, “The Fire of Love,” Msgr. Ronald Knox describes the full-flowering of Eucharistic grace, and of Christ’s love in the hearts of His true disciples.

He begins with the early growth of the Church as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, when the fire of Christ’s redemptive love, consummated on the Cross and communicated in the Eucharist, was beginning to spread through the apostles’ preaching and ministry:

So the flame that was kindled in the upper room swept through Jerusalem—three thousand souls that day, five thousand souls the next, brought under the influence of the holocaust of love which had been offered for them on Calvary. They continued daily, this multitude of believers, in the breaking of bread; the heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist fed the flame within them and made them in their turn missionaries for the faith they had received. The fire was spreading…

What need to follow the history of that conflagration further? Still, all down the centuries, the love that burns in the Sacred Heart has found in men’s hearts fresh fuel to catch its flame. Again and again, through the centuries, men have prophesied that the Christian faith was doomed: “the superstition”, they say to one another, “cannot last much longer; the blaze has lasted so many centuries; in time it must burn itself out”. They do not understand that though the flame of charity in our imperfect human souls seems here to mount, there to die down as the Spirit, blowing where he will, fans it or lets it smoulder, the heart of the blaze is something that glows white-hot with the interpenetrating glow which the Godhead communicates to it, inextinguishable and indefectible as the Being of God himself. Let them try to quench the flames, they will rise higher; let them wait to see the end of the conflagration, and it will burst out with fresh vigour where they least expected it. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to cast a fire on the earth; and what was his will but that it should be kindled? And what is his will, no human effort can gainsay.

As for us Christians, we will draw near to it. Oh, we are very cautious about it, some of us; we only just want to warm ourselves a little, we don’t want to get scorched with the flames. Or are we really Christians, when we calculate like that? Are we really Christians, when we think that the fire of divine love which beats in the Sacred Heart can destroy anything in us, except that base dross in our natures, that worldliness, that we should want to see purged away? It was not so that the saints understood the invitation of the Sacred Heart; they would not come near it hesitatingly and with calculation, as if to warm their hands at it. Rather, they would plunge themselves into that abyss of fire, to be refined of all that was unworthy, to be melted and moulded according to God’s plan, to become, themselves, glowing reflections of its heat to kindle the cold hearts of their fellow men.

Let us think what it is we want this divine flame of the Sacred Heart to do for us when we draw near to it, as we do draw near to it every time we receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist…

If we want to bring others to the faith, if we want to reclaim others from lives of sin, if we want to bring up our children in the love of God, then the first thing is to burn red-hot with the love of God ourselves. And then, if it be his will, we shall be able to pass the conflagration on.

May the fire of God’s love spread in and through the Church today. If it will be so, it must begin with individual acts of self-surrender to Him. He will then make such disciples to be like Himself, so that they might share Him and the fire of His love with a world grown cold.

The love that fills the Sacred Heart of Jesus does not grow weak with age. We might sometimes feel stale, but divine love never grows stale, and a fresh outpouring is always available to us.  Christ only asks that we not hoard this treasure greedily. He showed us His love on the cross, He gives us His love in the Eucharist, and He asks us to show others the same love, to heal a broken world by giving with the same measureless, self-sacrificial generosity. There is no better way to bring people to Christ, to fulfill the mission of the New Evangelization, to which the entire Church has been dedicated.

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted at CWR on June 23, 2020.)

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About Fr. Charles Fox 86 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.


  1. “But what is needed more than anything is for the fire of Christ’s love to spread everywhere, to everyone. “He will then make such disciples to be like Himself, so that they might share Him and the fire of His love with a world grown cold”

    The Truth is a burning fire it looks not at man’s desire..
    Popes cower before it denuding power
    Bishops it mocks Priests defrock
    Leaders stand in disarray it’s all relative they say
    But honest it is not integrity is the loss
    The denial of goodness to make it dark is to lose ones heart.
    To look into the living flame is to know one’s shame
    To bend one’s knee is to be set free
    The spark to become a flame in every mortal frame.
    We are to become as lamps
    We look within and acknowledge our own sin
    We bow our heads as by the Master we are led
    With cleansing grace we start to see His face
    The air becomes clear as we relinquish fear
    Love and clarity of thought
    Is what our suffering will have bought
    As we stand by His side His Peace (Will), will reside
    We no longer struggle alone as The Master leads us
    Before the break of the new day
    Our lamps will light the way.
    ‘Father’! With tongue and flame, give us unity again

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • “Love and clarity of thought
      Is what our suffering will have bought”
      It would take an essay to honestly and coherently respond.

      • Thank you, Fior for your comment “It would take an essay to honestly and coherently respond.
        Or perhaps one’s life story
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  2. The fire in Luke 12:49 is a fire of destruction and division. It’s not about love at all. We need to stop using the words of Jesus as props for our own favorite theological ideas, and start trying to understand what He was trying to tell us.

    • The same fire that condemns sin is the same fire that purifies the saints. And that is because God is Love, and so every actions of God—saving, judging, etc.—flows from Divine Love. That’s basic Catholic theology.

      “We affirm,” wrote St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “that the fire that Christ sent out is for humanity’s salvation and profit. … The fire is the saving message of the Gospel and the power of its commandments.” (“Commentary on Luke”)

      “Love,” wrote St. Ambrose, “is good, having wings of burning fire that flies through the saints’ breasts and hearts and consumes whatever is material and earthly but tests whatever is pure. With its fire, loves makes whatever it touches better.” (“Isaac, Or the Soul”)

      Note that when John the Baptist speaks of Christ in Luke 3, he refers to fire as cleansing, saving, destroying, and judging:

      “John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Lk 3:16-17)

      And that is precisely because the same Love that saves is the same Love that judges and destroys everything that is contrary to salvation, holiness, and divine communion.

  3. With all respect, this piece falls kind of flat in telling us about the Sacred Heart. I would suggest Fr Larkin’s book on the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is engaging with each human being, requests us to partake in his atonement, reveals the Eucharist in a way that one would never again even consider dumping the body of God into a human palm. Listen to the words of Christ Himself to St Margaret. His promises are extraordinary if not outlandish. The devotion is the greatest fire sale ever for sinners. And he delivers in a very short time. Viva Cor Jesu.

  4. My first encounter with the His Sacred Heart

    Scullery shout hot tea poured out.
    Porridge blob of jam, egg running yoke, finger of toast
    Cold embrace flannel to face.
    White shirt, clean sock to polished shoe, tying laces, adjusting braces,
    Jumper overhead, pulled ears, tears.
    Brushed hair, now stepping down from chair,
    Navy raincoat, then my mother spoke
    Grandma is taking you to Church today
    It’s a place where you go, to learn how to pray.
    ‘Grandma never goes to church’ but she must make a show
    If her daughter, to Lourdes, is to go.
    Warm embrace, wet lips all over my face.
    Take my hand, we must be early, we don’t want to stand.
    Long walk a gentle little talk
    “God’s Son” he loves everyone.
    We make a blessing at the door.
    Large font tiptoe in my hand did go,
    Cold dip water drip, to nose and lip.
    Full hall, feeling quite small
    “We will have to stand” but then came alternative command.
    “Follow me” there is a seat, in front of God’s Son
    He was showing His heart, to everyone.
    Kneeling, standing funny words, then the Priest’s voice in English was heard.
    Sin and redemption pay attention.
    A large wooden dish was passed along,
    Clinking a gentle song.
    Silver and copper are what we have to offer.
    Filled to the brim, atonement for every sin,
    Small hand, such weight did not understand.
    Somersaulting dish made its own trip,
    Rolling coins everywhere, the whole church in despair
    All fours, like playing tore’s (marbles).
    Priest with bent knee, his face I could not see
    Taller now than everyone
    Looking around, only ‘one face’ to be found,
    Finger-pointing to heart, looking down, but He did not frown.
    My Grans’ face looked very grey, but no word did she say
    I hope my aunt Mable to Lourdes will go, after such a dreadful show
    Leeds City Station aunt Edna aunt Mable sat in a wheelchair
    I and Breeden set the scene
    The Bishop was there to say farewell
    He wanted to see me as well
    He did not speak, he place the back of his hand against my cheek
    Flashing light in The Evening Post that very night
    An aid whispered in my ear but I could not hear
    I did not understand the ring on the hand
    Steaming train, dragon mouth, whistle shout
    They are on their way we all did pray.

    A rolling on, of 70 years, but still in arrears, with tears, joys and fears, down through the years, a damaged soul sits alone, but His finger, to His heart is still shown, directing me/us home.

    Sweet heart of Jesus, fount of love and mercy,
    today we come, thy blessing to implore;
    O touch our hearts, so cold and so ungrateful,
    and make them, Lord, thine own for evermore.
    Sweet heart of Jesus, we implore,
    O make us love thee more and more.
    2. Sweet heart of Jesus, make us know and love thee,
    unfold to us the treasures of thy grace;
    that so our hearts, from things of earth uplifted,
    may long alone to gaze upon thy face.
    3. Sweet heart of Jesus, make us pure and gentle,
    and teach us how to do thy blessed will;
    to follow close the print of thy dear footsteps,
    and when we fall – sweet heart, oh, love us still.
    4. Sweet heart of Jesus, bless all hearts that love thee,
    and may thine own heart ever blessed be,
    bless us, dear Lord, and bless the friends we cherish,
    and keep us true to Mary and to thee.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Kevin Walters. You are a beautiful poet, sure it’s my opinion, but to me only God’s opinion and my fallen self can judge what I read and feel. Bless you always and may others understand the beauty and truth you convey in your words.

      • Thank you, Florence for your most generous comment, words fail me. Blessing to you also.
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  5. If I may interject here with a related moment in Christian history, the striking by the Supreme Court today of Roe. Catholicism isn’t dead yet. Of the Christian majority of 6 justices who voted to overturn, five are Roman Catholic.
    The sacred heart of Our Lord I’m convinced motivated their hearts with true justice, and the most just flame of love for innocent infants of the majority justices including Gorsuch. The inviolability of innocent life is first a justice issue, both for civil law and the eternal law.
    It’s remarkable and wonderful that the striking down of this misconceived faux right to murder the innocent occurred on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
    Now we await the response of those within the Church who acknowledged, at least tolerated a right to abort human life what colors they wish to fly during this epic battle.

  6. Thank you, Fior for your comment “It would take an essay to honestly and coherently respond.
    Or perhaps one’s life story
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  7. Fr. Fox writes: “But what is needed more than anything is for the fire of Christ’s love to spread everywhere, to everyone.”
    Isn’t that expecting a utopia to arise?
    Several recent popes have spoken of a soon coming “civlization of love.” I wonder if we harm of our spirits if we set up an expectation of a coming new age of universal holiness in the entire nation or world.
    Isn’t there something in this passage from Jesus in the Bible: “For the gate is narrow and way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
    I’ve been in many offices, many workplaces, many families, many parishes, many meetings, and I just don’t see any indication of any possiblity that the “fire of Christ’s love” will ever “spread everywhere, to everyone.”
    St. Thérèse of Lisieux spoke of a “little way.” Thomas á Kempis, in his Imitation of Christ, recommends a life of great austerity.
    Isn’t the life of holiness always going to be rather the expection than the rule? Isn’t that just the way things always have been, are, and always will be (until the end of his age with the Glorious Second Coming of Christ).

    • Gus. first of all “everything is possible with God. And, after a dark night the light shines even brighter. If your body is weak you have to start exercising. Same with the inner life of our soul. We follow Jesus who came to sacrifice Himself. St Therese and Thomas Kempis talk about sacrifices. Start with a little sacrifice and continue this spiritual rehab and you will be surprised

  8. Saint Augustine frequently refers to life in Christ as a song. Fr Fox is likely too young to recall a 1965 hit song by Jackie De Shannon, What the World Needs Now is Love. I recall it well during the turmoil of the Sixties. First stanza: What the world needs now is love, sweet love
    It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
    Our human spirit is a divinely authored spirit reflecting what the heart if ever slightly brushed by grace instinctively yearns. Christ’s heart when pierced an effusive lyric.

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