Profound Beauty of Sacrificial Love: Lessons from the Sacred Heart

04 June 2024

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

“Love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman, it is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends upon the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.”[1]

~ Pope John Paul II in Love and Responsibility

            The Feast of the Sacred Heart was first celebrated in 1670 by a French priest, Fr. Jean Eudes.[2] “Around the same time, a pious sister by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque began to report visions of Jesus. He appeared to her frequently, and in December 1673, he permitted Margaret Mary to rest her head upon his Heart. As she experienced the comfort of his presence, Jesus told her of his great love and explained that he had chosen her to make his love and his goodness known to all.”[3]

In the Gospel of John, it is recounted that after Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out,” (John 19: 34). The pierced heart of Christ serves as a poignant expression of the magnitude of Christ’s love.[4] A love so great that He gave His life for us. The blood and water from Christ’s side remind us of the abundant life that Christ bestowed upon us. The feast of the Sacred Heart is an opportunity to recognize and grow in our appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the inexhaustible source of life for those who believe in Him.[5] During the month of June, as you honour the Sacred Heart and the sacrifices Christ made for you, take some time to consider ways you can imitate Christ and embrace self-sacrifice to deepen your connection with God and your spouse.

Melissa Guzik

While modern perspectives on marriage often prioritize personal happiness, our Catholic faith sees marriage as a sacred covenant, mirroring Christ’s selfless love for the Church. We are called to love our spouses selflessly, putting their needs above our own and making their well-being a priority. Furthermore, the sacrifices we make in our marriages are considered acts that sanctify the relationship, fostering spiritual growth and strengthening the bond between spouses.*

The Church points out various ways couples are called to live out their vocation in a sacrificial way. According to Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, couples are called to cultivate a steadfast love, generosity, and willingness to sacrifice in order to fulfill their marital duties.[6] Furthermore, Familiaris Consortio, an apostolic exhortation written by Pope John Paul II states that, “family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation.”[7] Then in Ephesians 5: 25, St. Paul calls husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Although not widely studied, sacrifice in marriage has been the subject of some interesting research, with studies revealing thought-provoking conclusions. One author found that in relationships, people often have to give up what they want for the relationship and sacrifice becomes necessary when spouses’ interests do not align, forcing individuals to put their spouse’s needs or the relationship ahead of their own.[8] However, the author emphasized that the motives behind sacrifices hold significance with the relationship outcomes being greatly influenced by whether the sacrifices were driven by genuine care or fear of reprisal.[9] The act of selflessly sacrificing for others cultivated a strong sense of intimacy, trust, and commitment, while sacrifices driven by fear or manipulation only resulted in bitterness and distrust.[10] High levels of commitment and willingness to sacrifice correlate with better relationship quality and satisfaction, highlighting the importance of mutual selflessness for marital success.[11]

These results show how important it is for spouses to be able to rely on each other. In a marriage, interdependence involves relying on one another for support and achieving success. This means that both spouses depend on each other to meet their needs and achieve common goals. They don’t just think about themselves, they think about each other too. This cooperation strengthens their relationship and helps them build trust and commitment. When spouses

Jean MacKenzie

put each other first and work together, they build a strong bond that lasts. This kind of interdependence requires unconditional love. As Catholics we can look to the Sacred Heart for inspiration as Christ provided us with the ultimate example of selfless love that can encourage us to prioritize each other’s needs and work together for mutual well-being.

When your marriage is thriving, it may not be challenging to make compromises for your spouse or your relationship. However, the task can seem a lot more daunting if you feel like things are not going well or you sense that your good intentions will not be reciprocated. Marriage can be difficult and challenging, regardless of whether a couple is Catholic or not. Nonetheless, offering sacrifices for your spouse is important. Letting go of expectations and making selfless sacrifices can sometimes serve as a catalyst for positive change in a spouse. However, whether your spouse joins you or not, directing your attention to the Sacred Heart can serve as a source of motivation, deepening your love for Christ.

If you are seeking inspiration for sacrifices to make for your spouse, consider turning to 1 Corinthians 13: 5-8, where St. Paul provides insight into what love truly entails:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

These ideals may seem daunting, so a helpful strategy could be to direct your attention toward a specific segment of the scripture passage. Is there a part of this passage you could use for inspiration? For example, you could focus on “love is kind.. and not easily angered” if you are feeling frustrated with your spouse for not doing something you had discussed. Could you kindly take a few deep breaths and share with your spouse how you are feeling? Then, could you take some time to discover what was going on that prevented them from fulfilling their end of the agreed upon task, and share your needs with them in a calm and understanding manner?

In doing so, you are making the sacrifice of time by taking the time necessary to calm yourself down, be kind in your speech, seek out your spouse’s perspective, and be vulnerable in sharing your own. These things are not always easy to do, yet they have the potential to have a profoundly positive  influence on your relationship.

Embracing sacrificial love in marriage, inspired by the Sacred Heart, means honouring your spouse’s needs and fostering a deep, selfless love that mirrors Christ’s unconditional love. Even when it’s challenging, these acts of sacrifice strengthen the marital bond, build trust, and enhance spiritual growth. By following the example of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, you can deepen your connection with each other and with God, creating a resilient and fulfilling marriage grounded in unconditional love and mutual support. This month, as you honour the Sacred Heart, may the sacrificial love of Christ inspire you to make selfless sacrifices that deepen your love for God and your spouse.

*Please note, if you’re in an abusive relationship, we encourage you to prioritize your safety and seek the necessary help for yourself and your children. If you need information on resources in Edmonton and across the province, please call the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818 (toll free).

-Melissa Guzik and Jean MacKenzie are registered psychologists who work in private practice in Edmonton. They are co-authors of the Catholic marriage enrichment book and workbook To Know, Love and Serve: A Path to Marital Fulfilment. For more information, see:


[1] Wojtyla, K. (1993). Love and responsibility (Juan Pablo, and H.T. Willetts, Trans.). Ignatius Press, p. 139.

[2] Schiffer, K. (2020, June 19). Where did devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus come from? National Catholic Register.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Grou, C. (2020, June 19). The feast of the Sacred Heart: June 19, 2020 – Faith, feasts and celebrations, spirituality. Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.,Joseph’s%20Oratory%20of%20Mount%20Royal.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Paul VI (1965). Gaudium et spes. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

[7] John Paul II (1981). Familiaris consortio. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

[8] Shitamoto Figuerres, K. (2008). Sacrifice in marriage: Motives, behaviors, and outcomes. Brigham Young University: BYU ScholarsArchive.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.