Under the Mighty Hand of God
Sunday within the Octave of Sacred Heart
During this Octave of the Feast of the Sacred Heart the Church places our focus on one thing and one thing only—the love of God for us. Last week, we examined this love from God’s perspective and saw how his love extends, from the supreme act of sacrifice that was Calvary, to the present time and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that continues daily, perpetuating that act of love and bringing us the graces of which we stand in constant need. Today, we are reminded in no uncertain terms what is expected of us in return. It’s really not very much at all, simply that we should love God in return. And how do we do so? Certainly, by obeying the commandments. But there’s more to love than simply doing what we’re told. Our Lord asks not just for blind obedience to his laws, but that we love him in return, not reluctantly, not begrudging God what we’re giving up, but loving him with all our heart and strength. It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus that most clearly represents the love God has for us, and in return all he asks is that we love him with all our heart.
What happens when we truly love someone? When we love, our heart goes pit-a-pat, it beats more strongly. And the more we love, the more intense becomes the beating of our heart. One of the saints, Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians, experienced this phenomenon in a strange and extreme way. The historian Bacci describes it thus: A few days before Pentecost in 1544, “while he was with the greatest earnestness asking of the Holy Ghost, His gifts, there appeared to him a globe of fire, which entered into his mouth and lodged in his breast; and thereupon he was suddenly surprised with such a fire of love, that, unable to bear it, he threw himself on the ground, and, like one trying to cool himself, bared his breast to temper in some measure the flame which he felt. When he had remained so for some time, and was a little recovered, he rose up full of unwonted joy, and immediately all his body began to shake with a violent tremour; and putting his hand to his bosom, he felt by the side of his heart, a swelling about as big as a man’s fist, but neither then nor afterwards was it attended with the slightest pain or wound.” For the rest of his life St. Philip Neri was fueled by an intense divine love and possessed a joy that was contagious, and his heart would palpitate violently whenever he performed any spiritual action. The cause of this swelling was discovered by the doctors who examined his body after death. The saint’s heart had been so dilated by that sudden impulse of love, that in order for it to have enough room to beat, two ribs had been broken, and curved in the form of an arch. If a mere mortal, no matter how holy he may have been, could experience such love, how much more are we loved by the Sacred Heart himself.
If we poor sinners cannot “feel” such physical and emotional love, we must at least do our best to show our love by surrendering our will to God. Our greatest act of love is in this sacrifice we make of ourselves, laying aside our attachment to our own wants and desires, and instead, placing ourselves trustingly into the hands of the Almighty. As St. Paul admonishes us in today’s Epistle: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God… casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”
And indeed he does care for us. That heart that was pierced with a lance, that shed its last drop of blood for us poor sinners, how much love did this God-Man have for us? His love is infinite, and when we compare the feeble love we have for him, we may be tempted to despair that we come so short of truly pleasing him. But if we think about it for a moment, we would realize that God’s love for us neither requires nor desires such despair. What he does want is that we always try to raise ourselves above the mere mortals we are. God wants us to stand up again when we fall, he wants us to reach out our hands for his almighty hand, take it in our own, and walk with him again. And the Good Shepherd will raise us even higher, laying the lost sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing, for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
It is such a great comfort for us to know that we live “under the mighty hand of God.” During this Octave of the Sacred Heart we’re now celebrating, we should think often and deeply about this, for it is the great consolation of our lives, the only thing, in fact, that truly matters and that makes sense of all around us and within us. That mighty hand of God holds us safe, guides us into the right directions when we stray. It gently nudges us forward, encouraging us to persevere in our trials and difficulties without yielding to the temptations they cause. It is the hand that wards off our enemies, both physical and spiritual, who would do us harm, it is the hand that feeds us with good things, that gives us this day our daily bread. Was there ever a reason to feel more safe, more confident, more at peace, than knowing that we are indeed under the mighty hand of God? Every night, before we sleep, we should re-strengthen our grasp on that mighty hand, echoing the words of the Church’s night office, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
St. Paul puts it very simply in today’s Epistle: “Dearly beloved,” he says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God… that he may exalt you in due time.” Humble yourselves. That doesn’t mean grovel like an animal or a slave. It means simply, know your place. Our place is that of a creature towards our Creator, our divine Creator who, out of love, made us out of the dust of the earth so that we can love him in return. It’s not hard to understand. We owe God everything, down to every single breath we take. Without him we would be literally nothing. He is all good and deserving of all our love. This is humility—to know in our heart that we are nothing without God, and that it is only his mighty hand that preserves us so that we can do his will, save our souls, and be united with him in heaven for evermore. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
Of all the creatures the good Lord ever made, the most exalted, and yet the most truly humble of all, was the Blessed Virgin Mary. Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, and yet, no matter how much God has exalted her, she humbles herself beneath the mighty hand of God. Indeed, her humility is so great because her exaltation is so great. In her divinely inspired canticle, the Magnificat, she declares her extraordinary humility, yet without losing that humility. She recognizes that even her own humility is the work of Almighty God within her. It is the mighty hand of God that has exalted her. “For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name.” She truly understands that if “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” it is only because God “hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.” She humbles herself under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt her in due time.
This Canticle of our Blessed Lady, the Magnificat, should inspire us to follow her example and humble our own selves under the mighty hand of God, so that, like a child holding on to the hand of his father, we might know our place and experience that feeling of protection and peace of mind that God’s mighty hand provides. “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath exalted the humble and meek.” By holding on tight to God’s hand, we shall learn to feel that love for him who is our Father and protector. The words of the 90th Psalm, chanted at the night office of Compline, say it best: “Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope, and my stronghold; my God, in him will I trust.”