Christ of the Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart

Materials: moulded plastic, hand painted
Dimensions: 13 Centimeters high
Place acquired: small shop, Panjim, Goa
Place of manufacture: India

As a non-catholic, my guess as to what ‘Christ of the Sacred Heart’ is trying to say would go something like:

“Look at my heart. See how it burns with love for you and for all humankind. And see how you have made me suffer – the crown of thorns around my heart that was my torture and my humiliation, my pierced and bleeding hands that were the means of my death. I went through all that for you. Because I love you all so. And still I bless you. In return, you must love me and follow me.”

I have read theological texts that tend, as such texts do, to couch it in more esoteric terms. But when it comes down to it I think that most ordinary catholics would simply understand this image as no more or less than a gently admonishing guilt trip. It uses, after all, the familiar language of ordinary human relationships. The doleful eyes, the bowed head, the heart fully on show as if baring the soul, the blessing gesture that looks a bit like a wagging finger. It’s like a marriage that’s in difficulty “I love you and I sacrificed everything for you. Why don’t you love me in return?”  In relationship therapy terms it feels a bit passive-aggressive, a bit of gentle emotional blackmail, perhaps.

I bought this figure in a little shop, a kiosk really, in the centre of Panjim, Goa. It was sitting on a shelf covered in dust amongst ashtrays, batteries, cigarette lighters and lottery cards. The shopkeeper was Hindu, but of course he catered for all customers including the large Catholic community of Goa. It was cheap to buy and is cheaply made. The back is open and just shows the negative pressing of the figure in black plastic. But it stands upright on its own base and would easily form part of a small domestic shrine. This is what it is intended for. It may be cheap but it is a fully functional aid to prayer and worship.

My ex-mother-in-law (Donna Carmen, to me) who I remember with real affection, lived most of her adult life in Panjim. A devout Catholic, she had a large picture of Christ of the Sacred Heart hanging on her living room wall, and she would delight in pointing out to me how the eyes of Jesus followed you wherever you were in the room. Now there’s guilt for you.