by Clare Oldenburg
It had been a month since the breakup. My heart was still aching; my mind still clouded with uncertainty. The agonized words of Psalm 143 had become the refrain of my soul: “My spirit is faint within me, my heart despairs…Hasten to answer me Lord, for my spirit fails me.”
As I laid in bed, the pain seemed like it would overwhelm me for the hundredth time. I didn’t understand why my relationship had ended. After all the hours I spent discerning and doubting, I still couldn’t see why God would take this away from me. I simply failed to comprehend the sheer magnitude of this pain, or why it was happening to me. God’s plan made no sense, while my heart continued to bleed.
I curled up in a ball, clutching my pillow, and I remembered how I used to hold him close and listen to his heartbeat. It was steady, comforting, and reassuring, all things I was craving at this moment. The ache of the memory was almost too much to bear. Between body-wracking sobs, I choked out a prayer. “God, why?”
At that moment, Christ entered my imagination. I pictured Him wrapping me in a hug, pressing my ear to His chest, and listening to the gentle thump of His heartbeat.
The Sacred Heart of Christ is often portrayed with a crown of flames, which possesses a three-fold symbolism. The flames recall the burnt offerings of the Old Testament that were perfected in Christ’s sacrifice, as well as the traditional images of divinity, like burning bushes and pillars of fire. The flames also represent the passionate, all-consuming love Christ has for humanity. Despite the rich symbolism, in my moment of sorrow, Christ’s heart was rather weeping in its burning.
I began to contemplate the heart of Our Lord, how broken, how bruised, how wounded it is. Christ too experienced rejection, not just from scornful Pharisees and jeering crowds, but also from those he loved the most. Betrayed by Judas and renounced by Peter, our Lord was no stranger to heartbreak. Almost laughing, I thought, “Hey Lord, we’ve both got broken hearts. I know what that feels like.” And suddenly I understood.
The longing that I felt for my former partner, the craving for his company, the hope that he would choose to return to me, and receive the love I still desire to give him, every feeling my heart directs towards him- pale in reflection to how Christ longs for each of us. Each moment, we have a choice, to cling to the words of Christ and keep his commandments, or to reject that which he offers for our good. In turning from Him, in choosing to freely walk away from Him, we, in a sense, “break up” with God.
God supasses the standards of gentlemen in the face of rejection. He will accept our departure, sadly, but with composure. He will not manipulate us into staying with Him, nor will He chase us down like a jilted lover, begging us to take Him back. He won’t spam us with endless messages, or fly into a jealous rage. He will not force us to stay or guilt us into any obligation to Him.
But He will wait, and He loves while in wait. He will be patient and love us as we wander. His heart will long for us to return freely to Him. Even in our diversion, He will continue to selflessly provide for us. And when we do return, all He wants is to express His love for us, and to likewise receive our love.
I know that with my former partner, all I want is for him to walk up to me, hug me, and tell me that breaking up was a mistake. I want him to tell me that we can love each other again. I want to show him all the love my heart has for him, and to receive the same love from him. It’s one of the deepest desires of my heart, and I yearn so keenly for that chance to give and receive that love. In this waiting space, my heart feels like it’s slowly bleeding, pierced by an inability to love as I want.
But I am an imperfect human with imperfect love, and therefore, imperfect pain. If I can feel this much so deeply and so painfully, how much more does Christ, with his perfect love, feel my absence from His heart?
Christ is longing for me the way I long for him, but His longing is perfected. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “He has loved us all with a human heart,” (CCC#478) and the essential desire of each human heart is to love and be loved. So Christ, with His human heart, perfectly desires to love me and to be loved by me.
Fr. Michael Gaitely, MIC, speaks of “consoling the heart of Christ,” but I’ve never understood quite what that means. Christ is perfect and His heart is perfect, so why would He need consolation? What could I, a small human being with a flawed heart, ever offer that could “console” Christ?
But laying in bed, trembling and wiping away my tears, I understood. After feeling a small shadow of the heartbreak Christ feels, all I wanted was to ensure that, even if my heart was broken, His would not be. I can’t control if a partner leaves me, but I can control if I leave Christ.
I begged Christ in that moment, let me return to You. Let me choose You freely, let us reconcile and “get back together,” no more breakups or rejections. Let me comfort You with the consolation I don’t have, and let me offer You my heart, small and broken and weeping though it may be.
Christ adores us as a lover adores his beloved. He desires to constantly be with us, communicate with us, listen to us, support and encourage us, provide for us, shower us with blessings, and to continually affirm and demonstrate the depth of His love for us. This love is no mere infatuation. His love consumes all.
His love is why He was incarnated in our Blessed Mother, why He was born and lived for thirty years as one of us, why He preached and healed, why He let himself be unjustly condemned to a horrifying death. His love is why He suffered unspeakable torments, why He took the punishment we justly deserve onto Himself, going before us in all things, even death. This love is why He overcame death, and why He provides us a path to heaven even now.
As we choose to leave Christ, so He chooses to wait for our return, and His waiting is not passive. At each moment He longs for us; at each moment, He loves us.
Christ’s heart is pierced, and so it is opened. The heart of Christ can be entered by our own pierced hearts, wounds speaking to wounds, love speaking to love. I think that as I lay crying in my bed, trying to clutch my broken heart, Christ showed me His own heart, how it too is broken. If our Lord Himself has a heart that is broken for love of us, then we too can endure the shattering of our hearts. If it is good enough for Christ, it is good enough for us.
My heart is still broken. It weeps every time I see him, every time a memory of us pricks my heart, every time I pass places we used to go. My heart bleeds when I think of all the hours I spent in prayer, finally concluding that I should enter a relationship with him only for it to end so suddenly and so painfully. My heart yearns to love him as I did before, to give myself to him more fully than ever. My heart craves his company, pleads for his presence, and begs for a new beginning.
Yet I now realize that Christ’s longing for me surpasses my own longing for him. However much I desire to begin anew with him, so Christ desires that more perfectly with me. However much I long to love him, so Christ longs to love me even more fully. However much pain I feel at his leaving, Christ feels so much more pain at my own sins and rejection of Him. If Christ loves me so much, how can I refuse Him? How can I, who desires only love, reject the most perfect love possible?
Although my heart bleeds, it does not bleed alone. It bleeds with the heart of my Savior, who loves enough to allow His heart to be broken over and over. Through the Blood of the Lamb, the world was brought to salvation, and suffering was thus redeemed. This pain, this cry of my heart will not endure, but the love of Christ will. And so, I rest in the bleeding of my heart, because this pain has brought me closer to my Beloved, my Lord, and my God.
Clare Oldenburg is a sophomore studying physics. “This pain, this cry of my heart will not endure, but the love of Christ will.”