Have you ever uncovered an amazing story behind a devotion you grew up with, one that was an unquestioned part of your prayer life? As you matured in faith, did you discover a particular devotion and wonder at its growth and integration in our Church?
The Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion was that for me. Discovering its connection to the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Holy Hour in Adoration commemorating Jesus’ agony in the garden, and the First Friday Mass devotion as a memorial of Good Friday — linking the Stations of the Cross … well, the beauty of it was overwhelming! The weaving of this devotion with so many other practices of faith made sense; we are transformed through the inexhaustible mercy of God poured out for us through Christ’s love — his Sacred Heart — and given the opportunity for new life in him.
June is dedicated to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recognizing his willingness to endure the passion of the cross for our sake. It is during this month that we give our hearts as an act of consecration to him in return.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a localized and private practice when it began in the 11th century. But after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, this devotion increased in popularity and became universal.
Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque numerous times and urged her to spread a devotion to his Sacred Heart. The “great apparition” on June 16, 1675, took place during the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi and is the source of the modern Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In that vision, Christ asked St. Margaret Mary to request that the Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice Christ made for them. (Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost. This year that date is June 3.) The Sacred Heart of Jesus signifies not only his physical heart but also his love for all mankind.
His greatest sacrifice of love was the passion. We honor his great suffering with the Stations of the Cross. Paradoxical is the 12th station where his side and heart are pierced — an assurance of his death as well as his lifeblood fully poured out for us.
There are many beautiful ways to commemorate the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a garden. You can do so by using images, pavers, or symbolic plants and colors. The beauty of a liturgical garden is that it’s a place where we express our faith in an outdoor setting and open up communication with others about a garden that is more than a landscape.
The most familiar image of devotion to the Sacred Heart is a heart entwined with a crown of thorns with a cross surrounded by flames at the apex; a piercing in the lower lobe with droplets of blood is also seen. This rendering can be recreated as a simple outline, a complex mosaic worked into a cement stepping stone, painted on smooth surfaces using exterior paint, or carved into wood. If you want to do a little extra, make a companion piece of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There are hundreds of images online or at a library, or you can look for prayer cards to use as a guide.
Plants for a Sacred Heart garden would include a monochromatic or harmonious color scheme of reds and oranges. If you plan to honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary, white, pink, or red roses are appropriate.
The range of plants to use in your liturgical garden depends on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone where you live. Simply put, a “zone” is an area based on temperature ranges in which plants will grow; plants that thrive in New Mexico may not survive in Minnesota. If you’re a new gardener, look for a general gardening book suited to your state to guide your selection.
You can choose plants that represent the Sacred Heart of Jesus based on leaves or flowers shaped like a heart, with reddish color, or because of plant symbolism. Listed here are some plants to consider.
- Alstroemeria: Commonly called Peruvian lily, it symbolizes exceptional strength and bond of devotion. Such devotion is clearly an attribute of Jesus’ love for us and, we hope, our love for him.
- Carnation: The Latin name for this flower, dianthus, comes from the Greek, God’s flower, and alludes to the passion of Christ and his enduring love. It is a flower frequently used in Christian art.
- Colocasia (and Alocasia): Both genuses are larger tropical plants commonly called “elephant ears” because of the size of their heart-shaped leaves. In cooler climates the plants are grown indoors and placed in the landscape when temperatures are warmer.
- Cyclamen: This tuberous flower grows throughout the Mediterranean and parts of Europe and is called Persian violet. It has heart-shaped leaves; red cultivars are readily available. It is symbolic of resignation — both to love and in death.
- Dicentra, Bleeding Heart: This spring-flowering plant with its two-tone heart-shaped string of blooms is both bold and dramatic. An excellent choice for a wide range of liturgical gardens — reminding us, by its color and shape, of the mixture of blood and water that flowed from our Lord’s pierced side. It is symbolic of deep love, compassion, and a connection that goes beyond death.
- Hoya Vine: An amazing vine with waxy umbels of fragrant flowers that individually form a five-pointed natal (Bethlehem) star. Look for cultivars with heart-shaped leaves; some are variegated with cream and yellow.
- Ivy: The genus Hedra symbolizes the loving dependence of clinging to God, and in a garden dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, many species offer heart-shaped leaves.
- Oxalis: The set of three heart-shaped leaves attached to a single stem were used to teach about the Holy Trinity. It symbolizes true joy, which we know can only be found with God. Look for the dark red cultivar known as the “love plant” (Oxalis triangularis papilionacea). It has the characteristic of photonasty where leaves fold down at night; as you observe this, contemplate the love of Christ as he was taken down from the cross, his body gently folded in the shroud and placed in the tomb that decisive Friday night.
- Passion Flower: This is another beautiful vine, rich in symbolism. In preliterary times it was used as a teaching tool for religious practices about the passion of Christ.
- Phlox: Dubbed “lady’s wedding flower,” it implies purity of heart and the uniting of souls. It too can be used in a number of liturgical gardens, including a Marian garden.
- Ranunculus: This beautiful flower has a dense whorl of petals and is called the Persian buttercup. It’s mentioned in the Bible as one of the “flowers of the field” in Matthew 6:28–30. It signifies the radiance of a love that is everlasting.
- Rose: Always associated with love, roses represent love waiting to be revealed, opening up to being loved, and devotion to love. The rose also alludes to the crown of thorns — “no greater love than this.” This flower is used in other liturgical gardens — and Christian art — because its symbolism also includes the Virgin Mary, a rosary, an attribute of angels who wear a crown of roses, and souls, especially those who were martyred.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is about God’s love for us. Love is the only gift we can give to God who needs nothing, and it’s the only gift he desires from the sacredness of our heart.