Zach, a teen in cancer treatment smiles with his friends at a Catholic youth retreat

“My Heart Can’t Do This”

By Annie Grandell

I was sitting in my car outside my apartment on a frigid Minnesota evening in autumn. I had turned off the car, but despite the encroaching cold, I couldn’t move.   

I was a youth minister at the time. It was another Sunday night after our usual large group youth ministry gathering, but that night was anything but usual. Just a couple hours before, we had prayed over one of our most involved teens, Zach, who was going to the doctor the next day to confirm that he had cancer. 

Zach and his friends were just freshmen, but clearly were already shaping up to be a force in our ministry. The news of Zach’s likely cancer diagnosis weighed on me like a ton of bricks. Not only was it painful to watch one of “my own kids” and all his friends around him suffer, but at the same time, my 3 year-old nephew was in the throes of his own battle with cancer. I hated cancer. I was angry that cancer was breaking into my life, and now my ministry again.

I remember sitting in my car – paralyzed – and saying out loud to the Lord, “I don’t know if my heart can take this. I am already weary from my nephew’s battle. How do I walk with them when I am so tired myself? How can my finite, broken, weak heart love these teens enough?”

Now, I don’t regularly hear direct answers to my prayers, but this was one of those moments in which I heard God answer me with a clarity that I can hardly describe. “You’re right. Your heart can’t,” He spoke. “But mine can. Love them with my Heart.”

It was that moment that sparked in me the beginning of a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  

It’s an image that is all too familiar to us as Catholics, but if we step back for a moment and look with fresh eyes we see something radical: God – the infinite God – is making himself vulnerable, revealing his innermost self. And not just revealing, but offering it to us. Look even closer. The heart of Jesus is not made of impenetrable steel. Nor is it made of ethereal light. No, he presents his heart to us as flesh and blood. It is wounded, broken, bleeding. He shows us that he is not distant from suffering, but understands it intimately. It is also on fire, aflame with love for you. Aflame with love for those closest to you. Burning with an incomprehensible desire for those you don’t love.

My heart’s capacity is limited; His is not because he is infinite and yet fully and profoundly human. As St. Margaret Mary (the first person to whom Jesus revealed his heart) reminds us, “God reigns in heaven with a human heart.”

In youth ministry, we are regularly asked to love teens in difficult situations or even to love teens who are difficult to love. Our human hearts are weak, but look at any image of the Sacred Heart. Jesus is offering us his Heart. A heart that burns with love. A heart that can empathize with our suffering. A heart that is pierced and is pouring itself out.  We do not have to do it on our own.

Do you feel insufficient? Love them with his Heart.


For more on this devotion, check out this video from our friends, the Pro Ecclesia Sancta Sisters.

Visit his foundation site to learn more about  Zach Sobiech and his amazing story and heroic family.


Portion of Pompeo Batoni's "Sacred Heart"
Portion of Pompeo Batoni’s painting of the Sacred Heart. Public Domain



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