In the nineteenth century, the Sacred Heart of Jesus was always represented as profoundly kind, merciful, ready to forgive, but also as profoundly serious, profoundly serious!
Some of His attitudes toward souls were symbolized in His images. These expressed overflowing affection, but were never smiling. They always had a background of the sadness of one who had plumbed the depths of wickedness in men’s souls and suffered entirely on account of it. This is symbolized by the heart surrounded with a crown of thorns and wounded by the spear of Longinus.
Both crown and wound represent the affectionate sadness, patient but profound, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The depth of that sadness is unfathomable, infinite, yet it is not ill-tempered, it is not vindictive. It is a kindness that extends further than the eye can see. It is a kindness in face of our offenses – which He knew. He saw their full extent and He suffered in due measure for them.
In short, those images adequately symbolize all that He suffered in His Passion on account of our sins. That implies a deeply serious evaluation of what happens in the soul of each man, of the moral seriousness of every sin of every man, and a prior disposition to see in man more than a beloved son who gives joy, but a sinner who is pardoned.
Thus, the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, fashioned by artists of a good school, do not present Him joyful at all. Nevertheless, His Heart was full of joy; when He looked at Our Lady, for example, or when He thought about her, His joy would know no bounds.
But men must know that God is like that in His relationship with them. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the most holy humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was a reflection of the Divinity and of God’s attitude regarding the sins of men.
Near those images there were painted, engraved, or carved phrases such as “Son, give me your heart” as He pointed to His own heart. It was an invitation for an exchange of hearts, but as if saying, “Son, have you not given me your heart? I am the Master of your heart. Give me your heart!” There is something special in this.
On the other hand, there is a phrase painted on the ceiling of the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus [in São Paulo]: Our Lord Jesus Christ appears to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in a convent in France, showing His heart and saying, “My daughter, behold this Heart that has so loved men but that has been so abandoned by them.”
It is the perfect balance: a Love that immolates Himself on the Cross – I need say nothing more! – to save men, but that sees the ingratitude they are capable of and is saddened. It is not the Heart of Jesus filled with the spirit of justice, cursing Corozain and Bethsaida, for example; it is not Christ with a sword. It is Christ full of mercy, but a mercy that can be evaluated by the measure He takes of the sins of men.
It is obvious that this is not just an affective attitude of His, but His whole being. All the good images of the Heart of Jesus present Our Lord – in His bearing, His gestures, His way of being, and so on – in a serious, serene attitude, but with an unalterable determination: What He decided, He decided; what is, is; and what is not, is not.
Good iconography presents Him like that, and that is as it would be.
The above text was taken from informal talks given by Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira, and he never had the chance to review them after they were translated and posted in English.