I wasn’t raised Catholic, but even after I became one, I used to think of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as something outdated and hyper-pious—an attitude no doubt reinforced by bad artistic representations of Jesus’ heart.
Over time, I noticed that various saintly people had a devotion to the Sacred Heart (including Pope John XXIII), but it wasn’t until the mid ’90s that I discovered the Litany of the Sacred Heart when a priest encouraged me to pray it during Lent. I found that it opened up my prayers in new and unexpected ways.
In truth, this devotion had been sneaking up on me for a long time before I actually discovered it. Despite my initial aversion to the traditional Sacred Heart imagery, a spirituality of the heart has always appealed to me. Growing up, I always liked the part of the service in the Book of Common Prayer that enjoined us, “Lift up your hearts.” (On the other hand, I did not respond well to being pressured “to invite Jesus into [my] heart,” then and there, by a woman who had asked me to lunch one day when I was a student at Smith. I told her to leave me alone and let me eat my tuna-fish sandwich.)
Just after becoming a Catholic, I began to attend a largely Mexican parish in the Mission District of San Francisco. I was...