At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Catholics have long celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It seems to be a response, conscious or not, to the Industrial Revolution and the depersonalization of human labor. Early in the nineteenth century, first in Europe and then in North America, work to support oneself and one's family moved from the home to the factory.
Men, women and children worked in factories to produce consumer goods. Working intimately with machines, they were regarded as cogs in the machinery. The enormous building was itself a machine with human parts. In many cases those very people were the cheapest, most expendable parts of the machine. They needed little training to do their jobs; if they took sick, were injured or killed they were quickly, easily replaced by others.
Conditions like this prevail in many parts of the world, especially where labor has not been permitted to organize, or unions have been suppressed by political factors. There are well-documented reports of Syrian refugee children being used in camp factories in Turkey.
"...they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd," and "his heart was moved with pity for them."
If the image of the Sacred Heart seems treacly or sappy to some, it represents great comfort to those who look not at the image but at the Lord.
But the Sacred Heart is a devotional image, not liturgical. Powerful interests permit the troubled and abandoned little time and less energy to celebrate their faith with the enthusiasm liturgy demands.
I witness the weariness of the Sunday congregations in many Catholic churches. They are too tired to sing; their responses are mumbled; their gestures, distracted. Devotions to the Sacred Heart cannot replace the liturgy; but, for many, they have to do.
Given the collapse of the middle class and increasing poverty in the United States and around the world, we cannot expect a resurgence of liturgical energy. Many people cannot attend the church of their choice on Sunday or any other day because of their continually shifting work schedules. So long as the demands of work shred family life, church life will also disintegrate.
In its place the Sacred Heart of Jesus will call the Church to set up field hospitals for his troubled and abandoned people.
In today's first reading we hear the Israelite prophet Hosea railing against the powerful interests who ignore God's laws.
When they sow the wind,
they shall reap the whirlwind;
The stalk of grain that forms no ear
can yield no flour;
Even if it could,
strangers would swallow it.
The scriptures and our liturgies assure us that, where men fail to care for one another, where they consistently abuse, degrade and exploit the needy and the helpless, God will hear the cry of the poor.
How justice will prevail we cannot imagine and shudder to think, but we pray that it comes soon.